As we approach National Black Cat Day on October 27th, it’s time to celebrate everyone’s favorite Halloween felines!
You’ve probably heard that black cats are unlucky, but do you know where that superstition came from — or that actually, it’s the opposite in some cases? Or maybe you’re just wondering what the heck a “void cat” is!
Here’s seven of our favorite hair-raising myths and facts about black cats.
Why Are Black Cats Associated With Witches?
Today, the idea of black cats as a witch’s familiar is a fun concept and a great Halloween décor theme — so it’s easy to forget that people long ago took the idea very seriously!
The link between black cats and witches goes back hundreds and even thousands of years. One of the first stories linking the two is the tale of Galinthias in Greek mythology. Galinthias was a servant of the goddess Hera, and was punished for impeding the birth of Hercules by being transformed into a black cat.
The now-feline Galinthias escaped his former mistress and eventually became the trusted assistant of Hecate, the goddess of — you guessed it — witchcraft. The image of a black cat as a witch’s familiar has endured ever since.
Throughout the Middle Ages, when witches were believed to draw their power from demons and evil spirits, it was commonly known across Europe that all black cats were acting on the orders of a witch — and that some black cats were actually witches in disguise!
One popular folktale at the time was the story of a man who came across a black cat and hit it with rocks, assuming the feline was evil. The cat fled into a local woman’s house — and the woman appeared bruised and limping the following day. This “evidence” was, of course, undeniable.
The situation became even worse for our feline friends in 1233, when Pope Gregory IX declared black cats to be “an incarnation of Satan” in an official church document. For hundreds of years afterwards, villagers actively hunted and killed black cats and quite genuinely believed the kitties were evil.
In a horrible twist of irony, this belief became even stronger during the Bubonic Plague in the 1300s. So many cats were killed during this time that they almost went extinct in some areas! It was only later discovered that rodents had been the main spreaders of the disease — and that decreasing the cat population almost certainly made the plague worse.
The link between black cats and witches (and by extension, between black cats and the forces of evil) persisted throughout the 1600s and 1700s, during the infamous Salem witch trials. Any woman at the time who adopted a black cat was immediately under suspicion, especially if she lived alone or was thought to be odd in any way.
Thankfully, the situation finally began to turn around for black cats during the 1800s and beyond. Cats in general were starting to be seen as beloved pets and not just pest control, and it became impossible to deny that black cats are every bit as sweet and lovable as any other kitty. For the last two hundred years, black cats have been nothing but loved.
Today, while most people have heard of the superstitions surrounding black cats, very few people genuinely believe there is anything malevolent about them.
Finally, black kitties have been embraced as the gorgeous and wonderful cats they truly are!
Are Black Cats Lucky or Unlucky?
Thanks partially to their witchcraft connections, many cultures across Europe and Asia have viewed black cats as powerful beings — but whether these feline magicians are helpful or harmful to humans depends on who you ask (or, sometimes, on how you treat the kitty!).
In many areas, a black cat sighting was considered a bad omen. A cat laying on someone’s sickbed might have meant that person was going to die; a black cat being spotted at a funeral indicated another family member was soon to follow.
The most classic black cat superstition of all — that it’s bad luck if a black cat crosses your path — has had many variations over the years. At times, the direction seemed important: a black cat crossing your path from right to left was bad luck, but if the cat crossed left to right, you were fine (or may even have good luck).
Other superstitions were grounded in the belief that black cats could predict (or possibly even control) the future through their fortune-telling sixth sense. For example, if a black cat wandered onto a ship while it was at harbor, but departed before the ship set sail, it was believed this indicated the ship would sink during its voyage.
Sailor’s wives would even keep a black cat at home as a supernatural indicator of how their husband’s journey fared. If the cat was content, the sailor was fine, but if the black cat ran away, it meant the husband’s ship had encountered hardship.
You may be surprised to hear that because of black cats’ supposed magical powers, they are also believed to bring good luck in some circumstances! For example, in Scottish and Welsh folklore, a black cat appearing at your doorstep unexpectedly means prosperity is coming.
Black cats are also seen as lucky in Japan, where they serve as magical matchmakers to help single women find suitors! Japanese belief also commonly holds that black cats will chase away evil spirits, as well as the unwanted attention of stalkers (making them truly a woman’s best friend).
Continuing this Cupid-esque role, there’s an old English superstition that giving a black cat to a bride on her wedding day will bring good luck and ensure the newlyweds have a long, happy life together. We’re not sure why this tradition died out (jealous husbands?) but we’d love to bring it back!
Other black cats enjoy the benefit of divine association. Freya — the goddess of love and fertility in Norse mythology — drives a chariot pulled by two giant black cats. Norse farmers would often leave out bowls of milk for Freya’s kitties, hoping the goddess would then bless them with a good harvest as thanks.
Finally, one of the most powerful superstitions surrounding black cats comes from southern France. Black cats are known there as “magician cats” and it’s believed that they’ll reward you if you treat them well (or punish you if you don’t!).
Following this belief, giving a black cat the first bite of dinner, a warm place to sleep and kind treatment increases the chances that the benevolent feline will bless you with good luck and prosperity, or even lead you to hidden treasure.
While some of these superstitions are fun and others alarming, the truth is that black cats are physically and behaviorally no different from any other cat. They don’t have any magic powers — other than the power to charm almost anyone to fall in love with them, an impressive ability shared by all cats everywhere!
Are Black Cats Adopted Less?
Some well-meaning pet lovers worry that innocent black cats may be discriminated against and left languishing in shelters, due to their historical witchy association or because solid black cats may be seen as “boring” compared to brightly-patterned kitties.
Never fear: The idea that black cats are being completely abandoned in shelters and cruelly ignored because of anti-black-pet discrimination is thankfully an urban myth.
ASPCA studies into “Black Cat Syndrome” show that although black cats sometimes take a few days or weeks longer to get adopted, they do get adopted and ultimately find their loving furever homes just as much as cats of other colors.
Realistically, most potential adopters don’t walk into a shelter with a particular cat color in mind. They are more influenced by behavior. Cats that reach out through the bars for attention, are chatty, purring loudly, or extremely affectionate are the ones most likely to be adopted — regardless of coat color.
A friendly black cat is just as capable of charming potential adopters as any other kitty. Besides, many cat-lovers adore black cats not in spite of but because of their supernatural connections!
What Happens to Black Cats on Halloween?
They take their true witchy forms! (Just kidding.)
There’s a deeply alarming urban myth that’s been circulating for many years that black cats are commonly attacked or ritualistically sacrificed around Halloween, either by deeply troubled individuals or by actual satanic cults. The fear of this myth is so strong that many shelters even refuse to adopt out black cats in October.
“That’s pure myth. It’s just an old fear that black cats are going to be adopted by people with bad intentions…First, there is no data to support the notion that black cats, or any cats, are harmed more often on Halloween than any other day. In the disturbing cases in which cats have been attacked, those stories are powerfully imprinted on our memory. However, there is no evidence this is a widespread problem.”
Realistically, while animal abuse is a grim and tragic reality year-round, there’s no reason to believe it spikes in October or that black cats are especially targeted.
Furthermore, any individuals who do have harmful intentions are more likely to take a cat off the street than they are to seek out a cat from a shelter or rescue, where they would be required to pay an adoption fee and fill out forms that list their personal information. Plus, rescue cats are almost always microchipped, creating a clear link back to the perpetrator of any crime.
According to Robinson, instead of putting a halt on black cat adoptions, shelters should do the opposite and embrace the magical reputations of black cats throughout “spooky season.”
“Halloween is a marketing season for black cats,” she said. “A lot of animal shelters actually use this time of year to promote black cats for adoption.”
What Breed is a Black Cat?
There is no one cat breed that encompasses all black cats. According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association, up to 22 different cat breeds can be solid black — more than any other coat color.
Black cats can be large or small, long-haired or short-haired (or even hairless!). The Bombay is one of the most common black cat breeds, but it’s definitely not the only one.
What Makes Black Cats Black?
The gene B (yes, really) causes cats’ bodies to produce high levels of the pigment eumelanin, giving them that striking black coat. This gene is dominant over genes of many other colors, which is why black cats are so common.
Almost all black cats also have yellow or green eyes, since the same genes that are linked to black color also result in green-gold eyes. While black kittens may have blue eyes, it’s very rare for black cats to retain blue eyes as adults.
While some black cats are completely solid black, did you know that most black cats are tabbies in disguise? If you take a close look at your black kitty under bright sunlight, you may be able to see traces of a tabby-stripe pattern on their head or legs!
Why Are Black Cats Called “Voids”?
If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you may have stumbled across the popular meme trend referring to all-black kitties as “voids.” More specifically, the term refers to any black cat curled up into an indistinguishable black blurr with only a pair of glowing eyes visible.
This meme seems to have originated from a viral Tumblr post by the user @cheinsaw. The post read, “Black cats are wonderful because you can stare into the void and not only does the void stare back, sometimes it trots up to you happily and begs for pats…the void is loud and wants chicken.”
The post seems to be referencing the famous and dramatic Friedrich Nietzsche quote, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Charmed by the juxtaposition of black cats as both solemn, awe-inspiring phenomena and adorable innocent pets, the term quickly caught on.
From witch’s familiars to the guardians of single ladies or the abyss personified, black cats have been called many things by many cultures over the years. Most of these myths and superstitions have no basis in fact whatsoever — but many are fun to think about anyway!
Whether they’re truly magical or not, every black cat’s ability to cast a spell of enchantment over their loving parent cannot be denied. If you share your home with an inky kitty, don’t worry — your soul is safe. (But your leftover dishes may not be!)