There are nine theories on why we have the phrase ‘a cat has nine lives’! Just joking. But there are several theories and I have mentioned a few in the past. I have another one today so I thought I would collate them on this page and try and formulate my own theory. I conclude that the origin of the phrase is found in ancient Egypt.
The nine-lives-saying was obviously created because of the cat’s resilience and ability to survive. Perhaps the classic example of this is the cat falling several stories from a block of apartments, or high up in a tree, and running away, unharmed, after hitting the ground.
1. 9 is considered a lucky number. The trinity of trinities (3 x 3). This theory does not reflect the true state of affairs, namely that there is no luck involved in the domestic cat’s ability to survive. It is down to the cat’s superb anatomy and athleticism.
2. The number nine has a been used throughout history in a spiritual context. Is there a connection between that context and the cat’s ability to survive? Not sure. As an aside, Christ was said to be whipped with a cat of nine tails. Another spiritual/religious context. But I don’t see a clear connection between spirituality and survivability unless we say that the former brings luck or magical powers to the cat which then leads to a greater ability to survive.
3. Another theory is referred to in Grace Elliot’s ebook available for the Kindle at Amazon.com called ‘Cat Pies’. It is a book about ‘feline historical trivia’.
Grace goes back to ancient Egypt for the answer as to why we have the phrase ‘a cat has nine lives’. The ancient Egyptians believed in nine gods or deities – The Ennead. The Ennead were:
- The god Atum (ATUM-RA ‘Cat god of the setting sun’)
- His children Shu (Air) and Tefnut (Moisture)
- Their children Geb (Earth) and Nut (Sky) and
- Their children Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys.
We know of the close connection between the ancient Egyptians and cats. It is where the domestication of the cat really took off. Although it was not all about worship of the cat. There was abuse too. But why should the presence of nine deities have anything to do with a cat’s resilience?
The number 9 was considered sacred in Egypt. The cat deity Bastet was worshiped by ancient Egyptians. The purpose was to improve the lives of the person doing the worshiping. Kittens were sacrificed for the purpose. We can see therefore a connection between the number 9 and the cat and living! But I would like to get to the bottom of why the cat had 9 lives.
Perhaps a literal interpretation is appropriate. Often the simplest answer is the correct one. Perhaps it was thought that a cat actually died when injured or became very ill and was reincarnated nine times. That makes sense to me. The ancient Egyptians believed in reincarnation. They believed that ‘the soul transmigrated from body to body’. OK, I think I’ll stop there.
Conclusion: My personal theory is that 9 was a number that had a spiritual meaning and that it was connected to the reincarnation of the cat nine times on occasions when the cat should have been killed or should have died.
Associated: Does a cat have nine lives?
Note: the picture of Atum-Ra is published under a Wikimedia Commons license – creator of image: Jeff Dahl