The black cat has always been considered a cat of mystery and at times has been a portent of bad luck and even of witchcraft. In legend, the black cat was lithe, but muscular, and could glide around corners and hide in dark nooks. Part of its mystery was its slightly slanted green or amber eyes which give him his inscrutability.
The ancient Egyptians revered cats and protected them from injury and death. This included all cats, even black ones. A pet cat’s death was mourned by the whole family. Everyone, whether they were rich or poor, embalmed the bodies of their cats. They were wrapped in fine linen and placed in mummy cases made of bronze or wood-a rarity in tree poor Egypt.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, especially in England, for some reason black cats fell out of favor. Poor, single old ladies often fed the stray cats that roamed the streets. When the witch hysteria stuck Europe many of these women were thought to be witches practicing black magic. Their cats, particularly the black ones, were thought to be guilty by association. Many innocent women and their harmless pets were killed.
Beliefs about black cats began to change in the late 1600’s. In the early 17th century, Charles I, when his beloved black cat died, claimed that his good luck was gone. The next day he was arrested and charged with high treason. On the Yorkshire coast of Britain, the wives of fishermen believed that if they kept a black cat in the house their husbands would return safely. The sailors themselves believed that keeping a black cat happy while it was on their ship would ensure good weather when they were at sea. They also believed that if a black cat walked onto a ship and then walked off, the ship would sink on its next voyage. Black cats became so expensive that only a few sailors could afford them.
The pirates of the 18th century had a slightly different superstition. They thought that if a black cat walked toward them, they would have bad luck. If it walked away from them, they would have good luck. However, if you weren’t a pirate, it was just the opposite. If the black cat walked toward you, it would bring you good luck, but if it walked away from you your good luck would go with it.
Superstitions about black cats have changed over the years. Many people now associate black cats with good luck. One belief is that anyone who finds one perfect white hair on an otherwise solid black cat and can pluck it out without being scratched will be wealthy and lucky in love.
Some people connected with the theater believe that having a black cat in the audience on the opening night of a play will ensure that the play is a hit. It doesn’t seem to matter if the cat likes the performance or not. In southern France, black cats are thought to bring good luck to owners who take good care of them and show them the respect they so obviously deserve. In Scotland, if a strange black cat shows up at your door and you take it in, it will bring you prosperity. A woman who has a black cat will have many suitors.
People who have black cats say they make loving and playful family pets. I have a black cat and I can attest to that.
To adopt a cat, black or otherwise, visit the Pittsburg County Animal Shelter at 1206 N. West St., McAlester. The hours are Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The phone number is 918-423-7803. The adoption fee for cats is $15 and all have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.