How did the cat become associated with witchcraft?
The compact infographic below summarises how the humble and innocent cat became so unfairly associated with witchcraft. Once again, I rely on the best man or women on the matter of cat history and behavior: Dr Desmond Morris. Such clean writing and clarity of thought. He says that religious bigots, in this case Christians, portrayed the revered and sacred cat-gods of ancient Egypt as evil, the devil in Christian terms. The objective? To gather in new followers and worshippers (my thought). To increase the flock and back in medieval times almost everyone was gullible enough to succumb to this propaganda.
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Morris says that “anything considered holy by a previous religious faith must automatically be damned by a new religion.”
And this Christian attitude began a very dark and dangerous era, the Middle Ages, for the domestic cat which almost everyone knows about. It commenced centuries of persecution of the cat.
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But this is half the story. The persecuted and unwanted cat, the embodiment of the devil, found sanctuary with the elderly spinster who had been unable throughout her life to find a husband, perhaps because of her appearance, and the two formed an unholy pair in the eyes of the masses who had been indoctrinated with the idea of cats representing evil.
And so here, we have the witch with the witch’s familiar. The word “familiar” referring to an animal that was often with an elderly woman who they designated with the title ‘witch’. Of course, it is all mumbo-jumbo but in mediaeval times it was very real. Actually, come to think about it, even today people believe this kind of mumbo-jumbo.
The story can perhaps be completed by the well-known fact that the domestic cat is an independent individual which cannot be truly brought under the control of humans. And in mediaeval times they were always indoor/outdoor cats. A lot of the time they were outdoors hunting for their dinner. They were unspayed and unneutered. They were breeding. They were caterwauling at night.
The unholy sound of caterwauling in the depths of night simply added to their image of being witch’s familiars.
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It is ironic of course that both the elderly woman and her cat companion brought comfort to each other. But they were perceived by outsiders as dangerous. A very peculiar time indeed. But perhaps understandable because humankind is inherently superstitious. Even today. Fear governs a lot of human behaviour.
And if an individual happened to curse the old lady’s cat and then by pure coincidence happened to fall ill which was likely in those days because medical treatments were very rudimentary, the “witch” was to blame. As was their cat. This reinforced the fiction perpetrated by what can only be described as bigoted, perverted Christian beliefs of the time.
Cat meat consumption today based on mediaeval superstitions
Medieval domestic cat skinners
Medieval era domestic cats could not be fed or petted by dining owners
Medieval domestic cat monetary value (infographic)