Kattenstoet is an uncomfortable amalgamation of ancient cat persecution and modern cat celebration. In English it is the ‘Festival of the Cats’. It is a parade that takes place in Ypres, Belgium every three years and the next occasion is 2024. The reason why it takes place every three years is because it’s so big it takes too long to organise it.
And the reason why it is an uncomfortable festival for animal and cat lovers is because it originates in mediaeval times when it began with a feast and culminated in the throwing of live cats from the top of a tall tower in the city centre. This was the era of the persecution of domestic cats because they believed that cats embodied the devil.
And when the cats fell to their deaths the watching crowd cheered because they believed that in destroying the cats, they had beaten the devil. Of course, some cats survived because we know that cats can fall from buildings and survive as they fan out their limbs to slow their descent. These cats managed to crawl away and were regarded as innocent; a sign that there would be a good harvest that year. The festival was ravaged with superstition and cruelty of the worst kind.
And building upon that inauspicious origin we have the Kattenstoet today. It is shocking to think that these cruelties persisted until the 19th century. They were stopped in 1817 but by the 1930s the citizens of Ypres wanted to restart it because they missed their annual festival.
As times had moved on and that era of mass cat cruelty was a distant memory, they used dummy cats instead of real ones to throw off the tower. Although, to do this brings back the memory of the original cruelty and therefore, personally, I cannot see how it can be justified.
The festival was abandoned during World War II and recommenced in the 1950s and since then it has grown in popularity and in size, becoming a major spectacle which requires three years preparation hence a three yearly event.
Dr. Desmond Morris in his book Cat World sets out the order of events for Kattenstoet on Sunday, 7 May 1994. The official programme was as follows:
2 PM.: Introduction to the Parade
3 PM: 37th Cats’ Parade Begins
6 PM: Throwing (Bellfort Tower)
8:30 PM: Evening spectacular: “Witches’ Brew”, including Witch Burning in the Great Market
10:30 PM: Grand Musical Firework Display
As you can see in the photographs, they have floats of giant cats. Dr. Desmond Morris makes a nice illustrative comment about the festival. He says that the “modern cat celebration has about it a peculiar contradiction, as though Walt Disney had been asked to mount his version of the Spanish Inquisition”!
Apparently, the floats include set pieces such as Cats in Egypt and Cats in Celtic times, the Cat in Germanic times, Cat Proverbs, Puss in Boots etc..
The sobering thought which must go against the jollity of the celebration is that the modern-day theatrical re-enactment which takes place in the city centre has origins between 1561 and 1595 in the burning of 300 witches.
And so, we have the burning of witches, clearly innocent women, and callous animal cruelty against vulnerable cats as the backdrop or origins of this contradictory festival.
From my perspective, I would simply ban the whole thing as it is so deeply rooted in a cruel and unacceptable past. The organisers have converted what is a cruel festival into a palatable and acceptable one, but you can’t rub out the past can you? My thoughts will be unacceptable to almost everyone ???.
Here is a video.
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