Most all tabbies have a distinctive “M” on their foreheads, and there are a couple of legends that describe the origin of the mark.
The first legend comes from the ancient Egyptians. Cats were called Mau, most likely because of the sound they make. The word “Mau” also translated to seeing, or light. Since cats’ eyes appear so luminous at night, they are associated with the moon, and their marking is said to reflect that relationship. The Egyptian Mau is a direct descendant of those ancient Egyptian cats. An offspring of the African Wild Cat, it carries the “M” on its forehead to this day.
One of the most popular of the “M” legends goes back to the birth of Jesus. As the story goes, when the baby Jesus was lying in the manger, he began to shiver from the cold. Mary draped blankets over the infant, but he continued to shiver.
She spoke softly. “I don’t know what to do. I thought you were hungry, so I fed you. I thought you were wet, so I changed your diaper. I thought you were cold, so I wrapped another blanket around you.” She asked the animals in the stable to move closer so that their body heat would warm Jesus, but the child continued to shiver and cry.
She rocked the infant and then laid him back in a manger filled with hay. He continued to cry.
A small tabby cat who’d witnessed the scene knew what needed to be done. She leaped into the manger, cuddled next to the child and began to purr. It was the sweetest lullaby imaginable. The baby stopped crying and drifted off to sleep.
In her gratitude to the cat, Mary marked her own initial upon the tabby’s forehead so that tabby cats would forever remind the world of how one of their kind had comforted the newborn Jesus.
The Islamic world contends that Mohammed had a tabby named Muezza who saved his master’s life by slaying a snake that had slithered into Mohammed’s sleeve. Later, when he was called to prayer, he discovered the cat had fallen asleep upon his sleeve. To avoid disturbing the tabby, Mohammed cut the sleeve from his garment.
From that day forward, every tabby was born with an ‘M’ on his forehead to remind the world that Mohammed loved cats, and that cats should always be respected.
Another version of the Mohammed legend claims that when his cat killed the snake, the grateful Muhammad stroked her back – hence cats never fall on their backs. He also put his noble hand on her forehead and that is why every tabby has four dark lines on her forehead.
My theory? It stands for “Master of the Universe.”