There is a reason why I talk about the cat now. It's about this time in late February that the cat had a really terrible fate all around the medieval Europe. They were killed in thousands, and the history about these cat-killings is gruesome. In Denmark we put the cat in a barrel, and the village guys beat he barrel, until the cat was dead. In articles about Fastelavn/Shrove Tide in this blog are descriptions about various customs.
Today children beat the cat out of the barrel, and a cat-king and a cat-queen are the winners, but inside the barrel is now candy and the picture or drawing of a cat. The children won' t even put their beloved toy-cat in a barrel. We are friendlier to animals today. They have become members of the family, and there is an immense grief in the family when they lose their beloved cat or dog.
The domestic cat, felis domestica, was introduced to Europe probably in Iron Age, but outside Europe it was known long before. The ancient Egyptians had cats already 3.000 years B.C. They considered the cat a sacred animal, and balmed cats were found from that period. The Egyptians had a goddess, Bats, with a cat's head and always accompanied by cats. In the ancient Egypt it was a mortal sin to kill a cat. If the favorite cat of the house died, the owner would shave off his eybrows as a sign of grief.
|Cats from a flock living in a fishing harbour.|
During the Middle Ages, when the cat became common in Europe, an idea spread that some cats - especially the black cats - were transformed witches, or they were controlled by witches. This belief that the cat was an animal of the witches is seen in European witch-processes and in the stories about witches, which were told from mouth to mouth since the Middle Ages and up to our time.
|You're not black. Please cross the road.|
Is Superstition still Alive?
We are still a little superstitious today. Or not? Some of us? If a cat crosses the road in front of you it brings bad luck - especially if it's a black cat. There is actually some evidence that traffic accidents were caused by a superstitious driver, who suddenly put the brakes on when he saw a black cat crossing the road. In a report in the Danish morning-paper B.T. from 28. February 1963 is read:
"a black cat wanted to cross the road in front of N.N, Ølstrup at Holstebro. He put on the brakes violently, and the car hit a lamp standard, which broke. The car then drove into a house, where the outer wall tumbled into the living room. Neither cat nor people were injured."
|A white cat is a rare sight.|
So - when it came to superstition - the black cat was as popular in England as it was unpopular in many other places in Europe - but only if you met it in the road! You can break the bad omen, if you spit three times where the cat came running. Or cross your fingers!
|So you think you're hiding?|
|The Dangerous Hunter|
No matter if you are superstitious or not, the cat is a lovely family member, a beautiful gracious creature with the same sharp senses as the big wild cats. Out little sweet cat, who sits there so peacefully in the sun at the terasse is no less than a mini-tiger with the brilliant physical and mental skills of a tiger. But the cat is however - in spite of the close relationship to the big predators - the most charming and friendly little animal, who comes up to us trusting, rubbing itself against our leg and spinning in delight.
|A very affectionate little cat|
|Karel Appel: Cat, Herning Museum|
Source: Iørn Pio, Håndbog om hverdagens magi, Politikens forlag 1973.
Arne Eklund og Maj-Britt Ericson: Fakta om katten
photo cats: grethe bachmann