Ethical Issues

Do Black Cats Bring Bad Luck?

You may think of them as miniature panthers, friends of witches or simply felines that have dark coats, but not many people are neutral on the subject of black cats. Some cultures have traditionally believed that black cats are a sign of prosperity and good fortune whereas others have shunned and feared them due to the belief that they were associated with witches and had dark magical powers. Black cats have fascinated people for many eras, and there is no doubt it is partly because of their mesmerizing eyes and almost mystical appeal.

There are many different cat breeds that can appear completely black. Bombay cats have pure black coats, but other breeds usually have some lighter hues among the black hairs. Cats with pure black fur tend to be male rather than female, and most of them tend to have yellow or golden eyes. A solid black cat can be as dark as coal or have grayish or brownish black. Whenever a cat has a single color, it is usually the result of a recessive gene that suppresses the tabby markings. You may see traces of the tabby pattern in an otherwise black cat. A pure black cat has a solid black color from the tip of the fur down to the base. Excessive exposure to the sun can cause the black fur to turn a brownish or rust shade.  This is the reason why feral cats tend not to be pure black. They spend so much time out in the sun, their black fur turns into a brownish shade.

In the West, there has been a lot of negative superstition about black cats through the centuries, but some cultures have kinder things to say about cats with dark fur. According to Scottish tradition, a sudden arrival of a black cat to a home is a sign of prosperity. The Japanese have traditionally had a positive view of black cats. However, at least in Europe, the attitude towards black cats is been one of mistrust and in some cases even dread. Superstitions hold that the black cat is either a bad omen or is actually in league with evil spirits and witches.

According to Celtic legend, Cat Sith is a fairy that wanders the Scottish Highlands in the form of a black cat with a white spot on his chest. Some versions of the story say that Cat Sith is not a fairy but a witch that would repeatedly turn itself into a cat. Some say the witch would turn itself into a cat nine times, which may be the source of the notion that cats have nine lives. Wildcats that wandered the Scottish Highland might have been the original inspiration for Cat Sith. These cats are called Kellas cats and are large black wildcats with some features shared by domestic cats. The traditional depictions of black Sith show a cat the same size as the dog and often with a curved back and bristling fur.

If anyone has ever told you that they are afraid of black cats because they might steal their soul, the Celtic myth of Cat Sith may be the source of the superstition. According to the legend, Cat Sith would steal a dead body’s soul before the gods could claim it. This is one source for the tradition of keeping watch over a corpse. The purpose guarding the corpse was to chase away Cat Sith so it would not steal the soul before was buried. Those who were put in charge of watching the corpse would play games to distract Cat Sith. Sometimes they were armed with catnip that they would throw far away when they saw black cat to keep it away from the corpse. They would also refrain from lighting a fire because according to legend, Cat Sith was attracted to light and warmth.

Most European cultures have negative superstitions about black cats, but there are some positive takes on this. In the United Kingdom, a black cat crossing one’s path was a good omen, whereas, in Germany, it depended on the direction. A cat crossing from right to left was considered bad luck, but from left to right, it was a good sign. England’s Charles I was so upset about the death of his black cat that he was certain that bad news would follow the pet’s death. His fears were fulfilled when he was arrested and charged with high treason the following day. The English traditionally believed that a black cat walking towards you would bring good luck, but walking away, it would take the good luck with it.

The pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock were notable for their extreme piety, and that extended to their mistrust of anything considered sinister. Owning a black cat could bring lashes or a death sentence because it was firmly believed that black cats were companions of witches and might even contain devilish spirits. Many of these pilgrims would kill a black cat on sight, and in Europe, black cats were regularly massacred and burned in midsummer bonfires.

Fishermen have traditionally liked cats, and there is no doubt that the feeling was mutual since cats like to sample the catch of the day. Many fishermen had an official cat for the ship and often they would choose a black cat for good luck. They would also encourage their wives at home to have black cats. The ancient Egyptians revered cats and had a special regard for felines with darker fur. An Egyptian goddess named Bast is depicted as a black cat, and ancient Egyptian households had black cats to earn her favor.

Despite the high regard which ancient Egyptians and fishermen held black cats, the view that black cats are unlucky has persisted even to the modern era. According to data from animal shelters, it is harder to find adoptive owners for black cats than felines of other shades. There are cases of black cats being harmed and tortured because the shade of their fur and some animal shelters are careful about the people who want to adopt black cats because they fear they will be harmed or tortured. There is also concern about people adopting black cats around Halloween for decorative purposes and then abandoning them afterward.

Black cats were associated with the anarchist movement in the United States and were used on leaflets to support anarcho-syndicalism or branch of the anarchist movement that was involved in labor strikes. During the 1918 trial of the Industrial Workers of the World, leader Ralph Chaplin said he gave the group the black cat symbol because it represented sabotage and was meant to frighten the employer. This was based on the superstition that a black cat crossing a path was bad luck.

Despite unease about black cats even in the modern era, some black cats made it big and won the hearts and minds of millions. Felix the Cat was a beloved cartoon character from the era of silent films. Even though Felix had a white face, his ears, and his body were completely black, and he became one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in history.  Once sound was introduced to films, Felix the Cat’s popularity waned and he was replaced by talking animations such as Mickey Mouse.

“Bad Luck Blackie” was voted the 15th best cartoon of all time and was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1949. The cartoon featured a bulldog tormenting a small white kitten that manages to escape and meets up with a black cat wearing a bowler hat and chomping on a cigar. Instead of teaching the white cat tricks on how to defend itself against the bulldog, all the white cat had to do was whistle, and whenever the bulldog approached, the black cat would cross the bulldog’s path and something would happen, such as the flower pot falling on the bulldog’s head. While this black cat was lucky for the white kitten, it was bad luck for the bully, and therefore, won the sympathy of the audience.

To counteract the superstition felt against black cats historically, several countries established a Black Cat Appreciation day. In the UK and Northern Ireland, it is on October 27, and in the United States, black cats are honored on August 17. The purpose of the day is to celebrate the beauty of the virtue of black cats and to encourage people to adopt one. One sad statistic is that according to the RSPCA 70% of abandoned cats are black. There is some indication that this might not have anything to do superstition, but that the owners consider the black cats unphotogenic. Some people think it’s the opposite, that black cats can be particularly photogenic because of their unusual glowing eyes and mystique. It could be that people do not want to admit to having superstition and claim that they simply do not find the cats interesting looking.

In a world obsessed with selfies and social media pictures, the challenge is not that the black cat is not interesting to look at or inherently unphotogenic, but they can be hard to photograph. A black cat can end up looking like a blob if you don’t have the right lighting. However, with the right photographic tips, you can take shareable photos of your black cat. One trick is to have a plain background so your cat will stand out. It is also a good idea to put to put them at an angle towards the sources of natural light. If you are using an iPhone to take pictures of your cat and want to brighten up the background, just tap on your cat’s face and then use the sun icon to touch it up.

Sometimes there is the bad luck associated with black cats, but it has nothing to do with the luck they bring other people. Black cats can be unlucky in the sense that they can be in more danger at night. It is important that if your cat spends some of the time outdoors that she wears a reflective collar so she can be seen.  It can be hard for a driver to dodge any kind of cat, but at night, it is virtually impossible to see a black cat, and they have a higher likelihood of being run over and killed by cars. This is yet another reason why it is a good idea to adopt a cat that is content remaining mainly indoors. If your black cat likes to venture out, make sure it is wearing a collar that is highly visible in the dark.

Your black cat may be providing luck to the human race in the form disease resistance. The gene that causes a cat’s fur to be black may be a member of the same gene family that provides resistance to some diseases. According to a study performed by the National Institute of Health, black cats have a gene similar to one that can create complete HIV resistance in humans. There is a current study that will show whether black cats are resistant to the feline form of HIV. Cats can suffer many of the same ailments as humans, such as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. If they are found to be resistant to HIV, that be a huge step in developing prevention and treatments for this serious disease.

People may avoid your black cat not because they are superstitious, but because the cat causes their eyes to water and makes them sneeze. It isn’t just a psychosomatic reaction to a black cat based on an old wives tales about bad luck, but people who suffer from allergies can have a more intense reaction to a black cat than cats of another color. The difference can be striking. According to a study at Long Island College Hospital, owners with black cats are four times more likely to have allergic reactions than those who are light-colored. According to one theory, cats with more melanin produce more fel d1 which is a substance that creates allergic reactions. It is believed that male cats may cause more allergies than female cats. You might not have trouble with the black cat if you do not have an allergy to felines in general but is a good idea to acquaint yourself and your family with a black cat before adopting one to make sure there won’t be any adverse reactions.

You may have heard of cat cafes, which can be found all over the world. In Nekobiyaka Himeji Japan, close to the city’s central station and his historic castle, is a café that is devoted entirely to black cats. Visitors report that there were only six black cats to greet them, but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in vivacity. Since the cats are all entirely black, they wear colored collars to help their owners and visitors distinguish them from each other. Visitors can order a cappuccino, an alcoholic drink or tea and talk to the staff about the cats. Visitors are shown a book filled with photographs about the felines with a list of their names and birthdays. The cats and the tourists enjoy the view and the casual café atmosphere that is like a living room with tall windows and splendid views of the city.

It isn’t so surprising that there would be a Café in Japan devoted to black cats. Although Western societies have tended to have a negative view of dark colored felines, in Japan and China, a black cat crossing one’s path is a positive omen and can ward off the evil. If you have seen the image of the cat with the raised paw in Asian grocery stores or restaurants, you got a glimpse of Maneki Neko, which is a symbol of good fortune. Although much of the time Maneki Neko is depicted as white or gold, in Japan this fortune cat is often black.

The Manek Neko first appeared in Japan during the Edo period from the 17th-century until the mid-19th century. According to one legend, a man was seeking shelter from the rain under a tree next to a temple. In the door the temple he saw a cat beckoning to him. He went into the temple and lightning struck the tree where he had been standing. The man was so grateful to the cat for saving his life that he built a statue to the cat out of gratitude.

In a much stranger and macabre story a geisha who had a pet cat that tugged on her kimono one night. The owner of the brothel thought the cat was possessed by an evil spirit and cut its head off. The cat’s head landed in the fangs of a snake that was going to bite the geisha. The owner of the brothel made a statue of the lifesaving cats to cheer the geisha up over the loss of her cat.

The paw that the cat is holding up indicates what it is going to bring the owner. If you walk into a business in an Asian neighborhood, you might see a figure of a cat with its left paw up. The left paw-up is meant to attract customers, and a raised right paw brings good fortune.  A black Maneki Neko is traditionally associated with warding on evil spirits. You may notice that the cat may carry objects such as a bell, a bib or a collar. The bell may not have mystical significance since it is meant to indicate the cat’s whereabouts in real life. The figurine cat may be holding money which is an obvious sign of wealth or a mallet which is supposed to attract fortune. The fish or marble in the cat’s paw may also symbolize financial abundance.

There are a number of people in the West reviving the notion that a black cat can actually be good luck. They argue that in ancient Egyptian times, Black cats were thought to bring good fortune and it was the prejudices of medieval Europe that demonized them and associated them with darker powers. Just as people no longer interrogate women about being witches, the anxiety about black cats should be consigned to the dustbin of history. While medieval Europe saw a sinister aspect to the cat’s association with the nocturnal, more so the black cat because of its color, the Egyptians viewed the black cats’ association with the nighttime is a sign of formidable power and connection with the afterlife.

Even people living in the 21stth century may still have some residual unease about black cats. Halloween is a particularly dangerous time for black cats, but it can happen all year round. Animal shelters may curtail pet adoptions around October for fear of increased abuse of cats around this time or adoption in order to have an ornament. Social media has become a place where black cat lovers unite and express their pride in a kind of pet that has been the object of scorn, abuse, and mistreatment because of superstitions created in medieval times. Those with a mystical bent can embrace the traditional attitudes about darker colored cats from Asia and Egyptian lore. Black Cat Appreciation day is one example of an effort to redeem the image of the black cat in the minds of the public.

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Many people report that not only are black cats photogenic but their eyes are so bright and mesmerizing that they create striking photographs. Black cat activists encourage others to go out of their way to adopt black cats because these animals are often the first to be euthanized in shelters. People are reluctant to adopt black cats because of abiding superstition or because their children have heard unpleasant tales. Conscientious parents can educate their children to avoid believing such stories. Some black cat owners on social media have a feeling of solidarity from the likes of other owners on photos of their pets. Black cats do not only bring joy to the lives of their owners, but they may provide a secret to curing serious diseases like HIV through ongoing research into their genetic makeup. Black cat owners feel lucky to have these pets that are wonderful companions to snuggle up with and enjoy.

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