A Spooky History of Cats
Oct 17, 2023
The lore of cats throughout the ages has been one of curiosity and suspicion, ranging from revered god-like creatures of the Egyptians to persecuted familiars alongside their witch owners. If you’d like to know a little more about your feline’s genesis, you’ve come to the right coven, just in time for Halloween!
Purrcival wearing Count Catula Bat Wings @purrcival.cat
The belief that cats had a mystical quality all started with the Egyptians, who saw them as holy, often immortalised in Egyptian artwork and sculptures sitting next to the ruler. However, around 1400 BC, many giant cat statues were built in the image of the goddess Sekhmet, the cat-headed goddess who raged destruction on the enemies of the sun god, Ra.
Perhaps this is where the Medieval Christian Church began to evolve their perception of the cat as a representation of the devil, if not himself, to warn against the pagan religions slowly creeping against Christianity.
From the medieval ages onwards, cats were portrayed in the church and varying artwork as a demonic force, as well as familiars to witches.
For instance, as goddesses of the Roman dynasties were dismissed, so were what lay at their feet. The Roman Goddess of Liberty had always been presented with a cat at her feet, but the Medieval Christian Church began to interpret this similarly to the demons that stood at the feet of Jesus.
What had once been the sacred feline, was now becoming a source of evil, a source potentially still evident to us cat owners at 6am via a paw in the face.
It was not just in the western world that the lore of cats began to change. The Quechua Indians of South America believed in a powerful evil cat-spirit named Ccoa. Known to be 2 feet long with a 1 foot tail, the Quechua witch-doctors are said to have gained their great power from it, despite it being said Ccoa worked for an even greater evil being.
There was also a legend in Japan of how the eldest daughter of a family was required to be offered as a sacrifice to the evil mountain spirits who presented in the form of felines, their leader a monstrous cat.
Scottish witchcraft literature saw witches in Lanark (Strathclyde) charged with riding their cats to their sabbat ritual, a witchy baptism, while others in Humbie (Lothian) were said to have baptised a cat as part of their practice.
It was the witch trials of the 17th century, however, that put our furry little friends firmly on the mystic map, seen as demonic familiars to witches who were put on trial.
According to witchcraft literature, a familiar is a demon in disguise and gifted to the witch by the Devil once they had been induced to attend their sabbat. For some context, a cat was one of the most common pets due to their rat catching skills, so was simply the most frequently exposed animal to suspicion.
Suspicion went as far to see these chief mouser’s slip in vampirism, with details in witchcraft trials of the time noting how a witch was supposed to feed her familiar with an irregular mark on her body or even a third nipple!
Some famous names of cats believed to be familiars during the witch trials of the 17th century include Sathan, Pyewackett, Vinegar Tom, Griezzell Greedigutt and Ilemauzer. So if you want a ghoulish name for your feline, look no further!
It is certainly no coincidence that Shakespeare used cats as his witch’s familiars in the opening scene to Macbeth!
It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that the role of cats began to creep back to their celestial origin. In 1805 astronomer Lalande rearranged the stars into different constellations, making one of them a cat!
It was during this century where felines came back into popular culture, from the creation of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat to the portraits of Louis Wain! Anything sound familiar?!
For now, cats are firmly back on the map! Universally loved as companions and pets alike. This still doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a little spooky celebration with our feline friends!
Munchie playing with his Spider Teaser Toy