This month, we will be collecting objects focused around Halloween and the traditions that surround it. Today’s post focuses on the black cat and how it came to be the Halloween symbol we know today. For further research and exploration, here are some saved searches on Halloween poetry, Halloween-centered literary criticism, and the late 19th century ‘strange fiction’ magazine entitled The Black Cat.
Contrary to modern superstitions, the black cat was originally seen as a symbol of luck and prosperity dating back to 2890 BC in Egypt. In that era, the cat goddess Bastet was worshipped by Egyptians; she was believed to bless those who hosted black cats in their homes.
Over 4,000 years later, Charles I of England supposedly treasured a black cat in his home to bring him good luck. The story goes that the day Charles’ cat passed away, he claimed that his luck was gone and was arrested for treason the next day (March 1641).
Despite these positive associations, black cats became symbols of witchcraft and evil beginning in the late Middle Ages throughout the Renaissance and Puritan era. Black cats were drowned and killed on spot as they were considered inherently evil and agents of Satan.
As the celebration of All Hallow’s Eve gradually turned into the tradition we know today, black cats and witches became synonymous with October and Halloween festivities.
So whether you believe that they will bring you good luck or misfortune, it is clear black cats have an interesting and mysterious history that continues to fascinate cultures to this day.
Have more interest in the history and lore of black cats? Search the 18thConnect database to find various images, poems, and historical documents that revolve around this mysterious (and nefarious) animal.
Images provided by the New York Library Digital Collection
Written by Taylor Phillips