Throughout the years, you’ve probably heard at least once that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck. You’ve also probably seen black cats portrayed in a negative light in media, whether it be an evil witch’s cat in a movie or a symbol of danger. Every year, we see millions and millions of people dressed up as black cats for Halloween.
But when did this begin? When did we start to associate black cats with evil omens or Halloween? Elizabeth Yuko, a doctor and bioethicist, had a lot to say on this topic.
Apparently, this superstition can be traced back all the way to the 13th century when Pope Gregory IX proclaimed that black cats were an “incarnation of Satan ” in an official church document. He made this declaration in the hopes that it would get rid of Luciferian cults in Germany, but it swept across the entirety of the European continent.
Along with this, cats in general were demonized by the Christian church and linked to witches and an overall attitude of disrespect for authority in medieval Europe. This “lack of respect” seems to be a negative interpretation of the cat’s tendency towards autonomy and independence.
According to studies conducted by animal behavior specialists at the University of Lincoln, adult cats do not crave stability or safety from their owners. This is very different from dogs, who tend to view their owners as a safe space of protection.
The study showed that cat relationships with humans aren’t “typically based on a need for safety and security.” While cats do make sociable connections, they are not based on needing a home or shelter. This may be why they became known for being disrespectful creatures.
It is not clear when the stigma around cats shifted to a stigma around specifically black cats, but the comments authorized by the pope, and the evil associated with the color black in general most likely had a lot to do with it.
This was exacerbated by the fact that in Europe witches and Satan were said to have the ability to transform into black cats. The superstition that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck stems from the belief that a black cat crossing your path is secretly a witch in disguise.
Defining black cats as strictly symbols of bad luck is an outdated, mostly Eurocentric view point. In fact, many cultures find that black cats bring good luck. In Egypt, Scotland and Japan they are actually revered and known for prosperity.
Black cats represent a lot of things. They manage to represent evil, bad luck, witches and even good fortune. The versatility of the black cat’s image shows how historical figures and events can create such different narratives across the world that leave a lasting impact.
If you dress up as a black cat this Halloween, be sure to tell everyone about the rich history of black cats and how your Halloween costume came to be.