Why is it bad luck for a black cat to cross your path (origin)

Witchcraft is the origin of the long held belief in many countries and cultures that black cats bring bad luck if they cross your path. Confusingly the opposite belief – that they bring good luck – is also a superstition in some places.

Black cat crossing person's path

Black cat crossing person’s path. The origin of the superstition that it brings back luck is rooted in witchraft. Illustration: PoC.

It started in Europe in the Middle Ages and during three centuries of persecution of the cat. Cats were considered to be familiars of witches and disciples of Satan. ‘Familiars’ are ‘a demon supposedly attending and obeying a witch, often said to assume the form of an animal’.

The superstition evolved that a black cat crossing a person’s path brings bad luck. Specifically and precisely it originated in the belief that the black cat was marking a path to Satan.

Not all witches familiars were black. At the first official trial for witchcraft in 1566, Angnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan were executed as witches. It is reported that the woman had a ‘whyte spotted cat’. They ‘feed the sayde cat with breade and milkye’. This cat was white with spots. That sounds like a bicolour cat.

Another bit of witchcraft trivia is the origin of the well known saying that a cat has nine lives. A witch could take on the body of her cat nine times:

It was permitted to a witch to take on her catte’s body nine times. – Beware of the Cat.

I believe that this book was written by a printer’s assistant and a poet: William Baldwin. Some academics believe that it is the first novel ever published in the English language. The first two sections are horror stories inclusion supernatural elements and cats.

Sources: Wild Cats of the World and Wikipedia.

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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2 Responses

  1. Cat’s are cat’s, black or white or of any other colour.Superstition exists all over the World and sadly cat’s have been at the receiving end of most superstition .Most parts of the World including India is under “Coronavirus World War -3 Lockdown” which has become a nightmare to all of us.The fishmarket in my locality in Mumbai is closed and today morning visited the market to check if it was partly open and found a few of the fish market cat’s outside the locked gate of the market. Spotted this beautiful black cat along with a few other cat’s and it was “Good Luck” to me as cycling down a Km away to the next fish market found it open and purchased my stock of fish.Ahoy !

    • Great to hear from you Rudolph. It is a great shame the fish market is closed. The cats will miss the gifts of food. I hope they find food and that you are okay. Keep safe; you and your cats.

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