Black Cat Night
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Take your undergarment off at Halloween, wash it backwards, dry it backwards, and then sit down before the stove backwards without speaking; and if you are to marry, you will see your future husband come down the steps. If you are not to marry, you will see a black cat come down the steps, followed by four men carrying a coffin.”
Despite their unfortunate reputation during the era when belief in witches and witchcraft was strong (and notwithstanding links to very complicated backwards underwear-washing divination charms), the black cat is actually considered a lucky omen in many cultures! Scottish folklore includes both interpretations. The spectral cat known as the Cat Sìth (a giant ghostly black cat with a small white spot on his chest) is said to haunt the highlands and has the ability to steal a dead person’s soul before the gods can claim it. This belief led to the creation of the "Late Wake" - night-and-day watches to guard bodies before burial against the Cat Sith! Methods employed to ward off potential feline soul-stealers included using catnip as a lure or by performing wrestling games near the coffin to distract the beast! Despite this soul-stealing reputation, the Cat Sith was also believed to bring good fortune. If a saucer of milk was left on the hearth on Samhain and taken by the cat, the household would be blessed with good harvests and ample milk for the year. Meow and Purr! 🖤 🐈 🖤
Black Cat Night is celebrated October 27th in the UK, while in the United States, Black Cat Appreciation Day is earlier in the year on August 17th.
The folklore surrounding black cats varies from culture to culture. In much of European history, black cats have often been looked upon as a harbinger of bad tidings or as the familiars of witches, and so the superstitions associating black cats with bad luck are rife.
The unlucky European association with black cats and bad luck appear to stem from the middle of the fourteenth century. The belief that they were associated with the devil's machinations were so persistent that they were all but exterminated during the Black Death pandemic around 1348 CE. Ironically, killing off the cats only worsened the plague, which was often spread via rodents, which all the cats could have helped kill.
Despite their unlucky reputation in some parts of the world, black cats are also considered good luck in many parts of Britain and Japan. In fact, in Japan there is a special black cat café, Nekobiyaka in Himeji. Black cats roam freely and wear different coloured bandanas to tell them apart!
There are three variants of the black fur gene (solid black, brown, and cinnamon), and the hue works in conjunction with the pattern. If a cat has a solid black hue, but also the dominant tabby stripe gene, heavy exposure to the sun can make the pigment in its fur break down to reveal its once-invisible stripes! The Cat Fanciers’ Association recognizes 22 different breeds that can have solid black coats—including the Norwegian Forest Cat, Japanese Bobtail, and Scottish Fold—but the Bombay breed is what most people picture. Its resemblance to a "black panther" is no coincidence. In the 1950s, a woman named Nikki Horner was so enamored with how panthers looked that she bred what is now refer to as the Bombay.
Although the negative black cat superstitions still resonate, fortunately, the idea that black cats are more likely to languish in shelters does not hold up to real statistical analysis, though this idea is still widely promulgated.
Drink a toast to these oft maligned animals during this Hallowe'en season with a Black Cat Martini, made with black vodka and Chambord.
And to read more about the black cat's unfortunate history with humans, click the vintage Black Cat Fortune Telling Game, issued from the same location where their reputation was further sullied, Salem, Massachusetts, during the infamous Witch Trials of 1692.