Happy Halloween! The holiday has long been associated with cats but, unfortunately, some of those connotations are negative. Let’s look at some particularly scary and untrue cat superstitions and myths — as well as some lucky cat superstitions.
The thought that black cats are unlucky, or even evil, is perhaps the most well-known and harmful cat superstition. “With Halloween [being] the second most popular holiday after Christmas, the negative stereotypes about black cats are reinforced every year,” says Cat Wisdom 101‘s Layla Morgan Wilde, author of Black Cats Tell All, a book and nonprofit initiative to boost adoption of black cats. “The actual roots of the superstitions have been muddied over the years with inaccurate reporting. The Papal bull of 1233, Vox in Rama is the first official document to condemn black cats as the incarnation of Satan. Superstitions already abounded and the inquisition, or witch hunt, sealed the fate of black cats.”
The negative stereotypes may be centuries old, but they still unfairly impact black cat adoption.
“While volunteering at a shelter, the statistics came to life,” Wilde recounts. “The visceral moment came one day when I overheard a couple discussing which cats they liked. ‘Maybe the gray but not the black.’ My ears perked up and I politely asked, ‘Why not the black one?’ The woman glared at me and spat out, ‘Because they’re evil.’ No one had ever said that to my face. It felt like a slap — one that woke me up to take action.”
In addition to her book, Wilde founded Black Cat Awareness Month in October (Halloween season) to further the message about black cat adoption.
According to Mental Floss, pregnant women in a few European countries were discouraged from picking up cats or letting them sleep in their laps. Why? The superstition says that if this happens, “the baby will either be born with a cat-shaped birthmark or with the face of a cat.”
While the absence of cat-faced children proves that this legend is untrue, another more modern myth says that pregnant women shouldn’t have cats for fear of catching toxoplasmosis, which may cause birth defects. This is also false! For starters, toxoplasmosis is rare in indoor cats and it’s even rarer to catch it if you take simple measures like washing your hands or getting another friend or family member to clean out your litter box.
Another wildly untrue superstition, this myth stems from the thinking that cats are attracted to the milk that babies drink (we now know that cats shouldn’t even be drinking milk unless it’s kitten milk or from their own mothers, another myth!) and get jealous of all the attention.
According to Live Science, the superstition appeared in writing back in 1791. The Annual Register recorded that an 18-month-old child in Plymouth died because of “a cat sucking its breath, thereby occasioning a strangulation.” In modern times, this unfortunate condition is known as sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, and it has nothing to do with cats.
Going along with the untrue and outdated belief that cats were evil, Europeans blamed the Black Death in the 14th century on cats. This unfortunately meant the widespread killing of cats and, sometimes, their owners. Getting rid of cats was ironic because, according to Mental Floss, the Oriental flea, which lived on rats, was the real perpetrator of the plague. With fewer cats to kill these rats, the plague decimated up to 60% of the population in some places.
Talk about the nightmare before Christmas — and one of the more ridiculous cat superstitions out there. According to Mental Floss, Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat, is a kitty who patrols Iceland’s cold countryside in the winter, looking for humans to snack on. What fuels his appetite, you ask? Poorly dressed people. Farmers spread this story as a way to encourage workers to finish processing wool on time so that Jólakötturinn didn’t gobble up any fashionably challenged folks. The craziest part — this tall tale isn’t even that old. It first appeared in the 19th century but really took hold in the 20th century.
On the flipside, there are loads of positive cat superstitions out there. Wilde details the following superstitions surrounding black cats in particular:
Cat superstitions — bad or good — should be taken with a grain of salt and should never influence your thinking, especially when it comes to what kind of cat to adopt. “They’re all ridiculous when examined logically and a reason not to believe everything we read,” says Wilde. “Google is a blessing and curse, as is sloppy journalism. Be as curious as a cat. Dig deeper. Here’s a funny one. When you see a one-eyed cat, spit on your thumb, stamp it in the middle of your palm, and make a wish. The wish will come true. I have two one-eyed cats and I’m still waiting for my wish to come true.”
This piece was originally published in 2017.
Thumbnail: Photography ©adogslifephoto | Thinkstock.
Read more about cats and Halloween on Catster.com: