Here's How Black Cats Became a Traditional Halloween Icon October 25 2018
Halloween is known for its celebration of all things spooky: ghosts, pumpkins with creepy faces, shambling skeletons, and things that go bump in the night. So how did cats, especially black cats, get tangled up in all this spooky business?
As with most holiday celebrations, it has everything to do with history. The origins of Halloween are generally traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, a sacred celebration that marked the end of summer. While it did not originally involve witches and sorcery, the Celtic people did wear ghostly and ghoulish costumes to keep wandering spirits from bothering them by making themselves appear as spirits themselves.
The Fairy King of Cats
While black cats being a symbol of Halloween seems to be a fairly recent commercial evolution, Samhain did have one very special feline guest: Cait Sidhe. Cait Sidhe (pronounced “kate shee”) is known to be a magical, mischievous creature known as a “fey” or “faerie”; Cait Sidhe is known as the Faerie King of Cats. Cait Sidhe was said to be a large, all black cat with a single white spot on its chest. On the night of Samhain, if you left a saucer of milk out for the fairy cat, your house would be blessed – much like leaving milk and cookies out for Santa Claus! If no milk was left for the mysterious black cat, you would be cursed and all your cow’s milk would dry up.
Black Cats And Witches
Beyond the mischievous Cat King, black cats have long been surrounded by myth, legends, and superstitions. They have been cast as omens of bad fortune and associated with witchcraft and Satan. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX declared that cats, specifically black cats, were symbols of Satan; this is often traced back to the beginning of the vilification of cats and black cats in particular.
Legends began that the devil would gift black cats to witches to act as their servants – often called an “animal familiar.” From there, the legends only grew. Puritans in the 1700s, the people responsible for the infamous Salem Witch Trials, believed that witches could shape-shift into black cats, and would do so to prowl through their neighbors’ homes and spy on them to bring back information to the devil himself. The witch hunts eventually subsided in the colonies, but the damage had been done: black cats were cemented as spooky, evil figures alongside witches.
Tying back to the festival of Samhain, it is believed that the Druids, the "mystical" pagan figures who originated the celebration would later be labeled as "witches," thus linking black cats with Halloween. And as Halloween developed into a more commercially celebrated holiday that celebrated witchy figures, black cats came along for the ride.
Today, thanks to these historic origins, many black cat superstitions still make their way around the world, especially around Halloween. Unfortunately, this reputation can make Halloween a dangerous time for black cats, as they may become targets for animal cruelty. Some debate that this too is urban myth and legend, but many shelters refuse to adopt out black cats in the month of October to keep them safe from abuse. While this may be an urban legend, it's still probably better to err on the side of caution if you have a black cat at home. Keep them indoors this Halloween.
Thanks for reading - and Happy Halloween!
Love black cats and want more? Check out our Black Cat Halloween Collection!