Why does a cat have nine lives?

by Michael
(London, UK)

Why does a cat have nine lives and not five or ten or any other number? The phrase, as we know, means that a cat is resilient, smart and athletic – being able to get out of life threatening situations but why nine times?

See cat falling – one way to use up one of those nine lives.

In an earlier post made some time ago I said it was because in ancient times the number nine was considered lucky as it was based on the “trinity of trinities”1. The trinity is one God existing in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three times that is nine.

It is interesting that there is another well know phrase: the cat ‘o nine tails that contains the number nine. Is there a connection with the nine lives of a cat? There would seem to be.

This as we know is the whip with nine thongs that was used to punish sailors. Why nine strands to the whip, though? Incidentally, the term “cat” when referring to this instrument of punishment must have come simply from the fact that the strands were like a cat’s tail and at the time ships cats were commonplace (to keep down rodents on board).

Going back to the religious context, it is said that Jesus was whipped with a cat o’ nine tails (before being crucified). Although it was a far more damaging whip than the one used against sailors as it had glass or some other such material attached to the strands of the whip that tore the skin. He was whipped 39 times it is said. This form of whipping usually killed the victim. I am not sure if it is true that the whip had nine “tails” but it is a neat connection with the trinity of trinities theory.

In an 1830s book, An analytical dictionary of the English language.. it is said both of the above phrases are associated with witches who assumed the shape of cats which they could do nine times in succession; surviving death in each of the preceding metamorphoses. The idea of witches doing these strange things at night is said to come from the caterwauling of cats, the erie calls of cats at night. Here is a clip from this book:

Where does this leave us? Slightly confused…! The number nine has significance. It has been adopted in various ways and for that reason it probably goes back to early times, which supports the theory that it originates in Christianity. The concept of purification through punishment (my idea) from flogging with a cat ‘o nine tails may also support the biblical connection.

If anyone knows better, I would be pleased to hear from them – please leave a comment.


1. Cat Watching by Dr Desmond Morris.

2. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com

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Why does a cat have nine lives?

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Dec 17, 2010Link
by: MichaelThanks Gail. I didn’t realise the wider significance of the number nine.

Here is a link to the URL that you provided:

Properties of the number 9

Dec 15, 2010Why does a cat have nine lives?
by: Rudolph.A.FurtadoI have personally experienced this proverb with my own pet feline”Trixie”. Trixie was the first cat that i owned between 1995 to 2007, an adopted mixed “albino-siameese” breed. Read her blog to understand her “Charmed life” and “Luck” during her life-span of 12 years in my hoosehold.Prior to trixie i was a “dog-man” having had dogs as pets.Check out my blog on “Trixie-the cat that lived its 9 lives”.

Dec 15, 2010Significance of number 9
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA) Where to start… The number 9 is a very spiritual number, biblically and spiritually. Rather than expound for pages here, I have added a link that I found that is pretty definitive. I will leave it up to the forum and Michael to decide how to interpret its meaning. Enjoy!

Dec 15, 2010Update
by: Michael An example of a cat that has nine lives is Big Bob an all grey cat who was shot, run over and who has FIV! That makes three lives actually but you know what I mean.

His story is here: Rescued Cat Beats the Odds to Survive

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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