Don’t Turn Your Back on that Black Cat
October 15, 2013

Don’t Turn Your Back On That Black Cat

It’s October, which means that many of us are preparing for one of America’s most enjoyable holidays: Halloween. What is most fun about Halloween is obviously dressing up (and trick or treating for the younger generations), but a close second is the scares and creepiness that we associate with it. Every year around Halloween, I read Edgar Allan Poe because it just seems to fit. I also indulge in superstitions, which I usually ignore. Superstitions are creepy, after all.  So, for the next few weeks, I will write about different superstitions.

For this first one, I decided to go with the superstition that first came to mind: the black cat. Now, the black cat has both bad superstitions as well as good ones. The cat is one of the oldest domesticated companions of humans, which probably explains the superstition. Dating back very early in history, many millennia ago, ancient Egyptians revered and honored the black cat, yet many today find her spooky.

Why is this?

Well, NBC News says “Most likely, this superstition arises from old beliefs in witches and their animal familiars, which were often said to take the form of domestic animals like cats.” I can definitely see this. I teach early American Literature, and during the time period of the Salem Witch Trials, many wrote about their suspicions that neighbors transformed into black cats to prowl around town, eaves drop, and learn who would be accused next.

I tend to think that perhaps Poe’s short story The Black Cat may have influenced or even propagated this superstition. I could not find any real support for that, but I speculate some truth in this.

Of course, all of this is absolutely absurd, yet still today many people see a black cat and actively avoid crossing its path. At the least, they look at the cat with weariness. Some take this superstition to the extreme and actually seek out black cats to kill in order to eliminate the superstition’s threat. The latter sickens me while the former simply baffles me. I am not particularly superstitious, so to think that people avoid a cat simply because it is black is beyond me.

Still, other people see the black cat as a symbol of good luck. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s website lists several ways that a black cat is a sign of good luck.

Good luck associated with black cats include:

  • Possessing a black cat.

  • Having a black cat greet you at a door.

  • Having a black cat enter your home.

  • Meeting three black cats in succession.

  • Touching a black cat.

To further the black cat’s role as good luck, Today I Found Out explains, “The Scottish believe that a strange black cat’s arrival to the home signifies prosperity, while Pirates of the 19th century believed if a black cat walks towards you, it’s a sign of bad luck, but it’s good luck if it walks away from you. In the English Midlands, a black cat as a wedding present is thought to bring good luck to the bride!”

When we think of the black cat and superstition, though, we automatically think of the bad luck associated with it including meeting one in the morning, having one turn its back on you, scaring one away, walking after one, or having a black cat cross your path. Each of these is enough to make many people avoid the black cat to the extreme.

This really is a shame because one of the best cats ever to grace my life was a black cat I had as a little girl. I adored her, and she loved me back. I did not know what superstition was. All I knew was that my black kitty loved me. My second best cat was a Russian Blue, who might as well have been black for how dark she was. In both cases, I never had any bad luck. All I ever had was the love and devotion of my black and then almost-black cat.

I guess that just goes to show that the color of a cat matters not when concerning luck.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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