A friend in Hawai’i during dinner a few years ago mentioned that a black cat had crossed his path the previous day while he was en route to some big, math-related test for his big, math-related master’s degree. When he specified that it was a black community cat (the University of Hawai’i has a big community cat population), our group gave up three simultaneous reactions to black cats.
“Aww!” I said, because I’m me. And because I enjoyed the company of the University of Hawai’i community cats more than most students.
“Uh-oh!” my born-and-raised American friend said
“Oh!” said my Japanese friend — with a smile.
Most understood my American friend’s reaction — “Did you feel jinxed for your test?” some people asked — but I preferred my Japanese friend’s response: “But that’s good!”
Black cats and luck — an overview
Unlike much of the western world, Japanese culture sees a black cat crossing your path as a good omen. In fact, black cats are generally seen as good luck in Japan and much of Asia. My Chinese mother, the Feng Shui master, specifically put her black cat’s bed on the north side of her home to ward off evil.
“Tiptoe is a very lucky cat,” she said. “Good luck follows her.”
I think Tiptoe just likes that her bed is nearest the coveted space heater in the winter.
So are black cats good luck? Let’s look at these good black cat luck superstitions around the world:
1. They bless marriages
English superstition says that giving a bride a black cat on her wedding day will bring her good luck in her marriage. It’s also thought that newlyweds with a black cat in their home will have a long, happy life together, and the black cat will ward off evil spirits. In much of the UK, the black of a cat is a lucky color.
While I don’t necessarily condone giving cats as gifts, newlyweds or spouses-to-be should rejoice in sharing their home with a black kitty.
If you’re a woman still looking for that special someone, Japanese superstition says a black cat will bring a single woman many good suitors.
2. Black cats draw wealth and prosperity
You might have seen the “Fortune Cats” or Maneki Neko that populate Japanese culture. Those little cat figurines with the raised paws are meant to draw good luck, wealth and prosperity to their owners. Often they are white, but Lucky Cats also come in black.
A black Lucky Cat not only brings luck but also frightens away demons, evil energy, and stalkers. (Yes, stalkers.)
3. They make safe homes and good harvests
Also, as my Feng Shui-inclined mom says, black cats possesses strong powers of good. If you keep your black cats happy and safe, they will keep you happy and safe. If you don’t have a black cat in real life to guard your home, a black cat figurine facing north will keep bad energy and spirits away.
And while we’re on the subject of gods and demons, in Norse mythology the goddess of love, fertility and beauty, Freya, rides on a chariot pulled by two black cats. To win favor with Freya, farmers would leave bowls of milk for her companions in their fields. Freya would then bless them with a good harvest.
4. Black cats in the audience help a play
Cats are excellent audience members. Just ask my cat Brandy when I am moved to dance when my playlist cycles through to “Build Me Up Buttercup.” To theater folks in many cultures, there is no better audience member than a black cat. If a black cat finds its way into your audience on opening night, your play will have a long and prosperous run.
5. Black cats lead to treasure
It’s also been long believed that black cats invite not only fortune in the way of good luck, but also in the way of wealth. French peasants long believed that if a black cat was released at a crossroads where five roads intersect, the black cat would lead them to treasure.
6. Respecting a black cat brings fortune
And in the south of France, black cats have been called “matagot” and are known as “magician cats” or even “money cats.” If shown the proper respect — like being given the first bite of dinner, having a nice bed to sleep in or having a home even after their owner’s death — the matagot will reward their person with wealth and good luck. (This belief does have some ties to black cats and negative connotations of witchcraft, but I choose to look at it as those who do not treat their cats well get their comeuppance.)
7. Black cats give sailors safe travels
English sailors could probably have used a matagot in their home to bring them some extra wealth. In ye olde times, black cats were thought to be so lucky and such and assurance that sailors would return safely home from sea that many black cats cost so much as to be unaffordable for seafarers.
Black cat or not, I’m sure most of our feline family members would agree that having the first bite of our dinners is well within their rights.
Thumbnail: Photography by Vincent Mounier / Shutterstock.
This piece was originally published in 2015.