You can easily link black cats with the specific superstition that they were agents of the Devil. Some people still believe it. You can link black cats to witchcraft and cat familiars i.e. cats belonging to witches, but it is harder to link black cats to Halloween because Halloween is a celebration in which people remember the dead “including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed”. Or at least that was the original reason for its existence. It has transmogrified into a holiday when people watch horror movies and play trick or treat. There are Halloween costume parties and people carve pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns. The general tenor of this holiday is to frighten people and black cats and witches embody darkness and the Dark Ages when cats were persecuted, particularly black cats because they were considered to be especially fiendish (and scary).
- Why cats were hated in Medieval Europe
- The earliest record of the belief that cats are witches in disguise
- Cats and Familiars Part 2: Wiccans and Witches
Back in the Middle Ages with high levels of superstition, the Christian church organised annual burning-cats-alive ceremonies on the day of the feast of St John. The all-black cat was considered the most depraved of Satan’s felines.
I think today the black cat is linked to Halloween because it is black and blackness signifies darkness and in turn darkness signifies a time when evil is carried out. The description of the Dark Ages is a tenuous link itself to darkness. The black cat is dark as well. You have a link there through the word “dark”. The black cat is an unfortunate vehicle through which people’s superstitions are manifested.
To be honest, it is a tenuous connection between black cats and Halloween in my view. In short, the connection comes from the cats of witches in the Dark Ages or Middle Ages when witches and their cats were persecuted and when black cats were considered to be especially fiendish.
It should be added that witches did not always live with black cats. The last witch to be killed in America lived with a bicolour cat (white and another colour). It is argued that because of black cat persecution in the Middle Ages, there are less black cats than their should be which resulted in black cats with a small white spot on their bodies becoming more commonplace. In other words religion was indirectly involved in selective breeding, if you like, by putting pressure on a cat’s colouration. Many black cats today are what we call tuxedo cats with a small patch of white hair on the body, normally their chest and around their whiskers. It is thought that this white patch is a sign of innocence and has been given the name of “Angel’s mask” or “God’s finger”.
Witchcraft was still practised in the UK in the 1970s. There are good and bad witches and I’m sure that witchcraft is still practised in various countries including America but it’s gone underground (but see below). Perhaps this is where some black cats unfortunately find themselves; at witchcraft ceremonies were sacrifices are made. Yes, people still believe in witchcraft and superstition. Superstition appears to be deeply ingrained in humankind’s psyche.
Gail writes in a comment:
Witchcraft/Wicca is practiced widely in the USA and in the open. Wicca is a recognized religion. For newbies, Wiccans are the “white” witches – those who believe in peace and are caretakers of the earth. We’re located about 30/miles from Salem, Massachusetts – whereby their major economy derives from the Witch Trials and all things related. There are covens everywhere throughout the USA.
Sources: Myself, PoC (previous articles and research), Cat World by Desmond Morris and Wikipedia.
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