Cats as familiars have a long and dark history in western mythology.
The cats often found their way into literature. Some of the well-known was Grimalkin, the witches-cat from
Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Cats as witch’s companions are still a symbol associated with the modern holiday of Halloween.
What is a familar? In western mythology a familar was an animal companion
given by the satan to a witch to be able to help her along with her evil magic. These animals
would have names just like some other pets. In the the middle ages, if you happen to were caught speaking to your pet (like lots of people do) you were considered to be consorting with the satan .
The Center Ages were a very dark and violent period in Europe. Their alternative name “Dark Ages” are no surprise.
Studying was confined to clergy and nobility. The general population was because of this quite ignorant and prone to superstition.
A familiar could be any kind of animal comparable to a toad, dog or cat. Black cats
became to be the traditionally companion and therefore cats became particularly reviled. In
1233 Pope Gregory IX wrote in his Papal Bull “Vox in Rama” really denounced black
cats as satanic. The Popes proclamation began the persecution of cats all over Europe.
Hundreds and hundreds of cats were burned alive in the attempt to drive out the evil
Satan. Wild tales of these cats shape shifting into other creatures were common among
the population and justified these horrible acts in their minds.
When the power of the Knights Templar was broken, some of the knights confessed to
worshipping cats. These so-called confessions were given under extreme torture. This
seems to show more the attitudes of the inquisitors than anything the
Templars themselves had done.
Why were black cats in particular singled out? There are a few legends that
may clarify this.In the first legend, the story goes, is that cats
who were born on the end of blackberry season were called blackberry cats. Based on
this legend, the end of blackberry season is the same time as the expulsion of Satan from
heaven. When he fell he landed on a blackberry bush which he marked with his urine and
spit. Blackberry cats, especially black ones are associated with the satan in this tale.
The second story comes from Italy.Italian witches, were called “streghe” and there is a legend about Diana who is goddess of the moon and called “Queen of the Witches”. Her brother who was known in historical times as Apollo, is renamed Lucifer (Light Bearer) in this tale.
It is told that Diana wantet to have a son from Lucifer, so she tried to trick him by taking the shape of a black cat.
As you can see, these tales were pretty wild, but the people of these dark
times took them as the truth. The irony of this superstitious hysteria towards cats
was that by killing all the cats the Europeans almost destroyed themselves. Cats had been
used for hundreds of years to keep the population of mice and rats down. When
their predators were destroyed, the vermin population exploded. They ate a lot of grain that had been meant for human consumption leading to widespread starvation.
Even worse than the starvation was that the large numbers of rats
grew to become illness carriers. The worst of these illnesses was the bubonic plague,
often known as the Black Death. The Plagues of the Center Ages have been horrible events ,because of the believe of mislead superstitious People.
Read more Cat Mythology