Witches and Cats

The Witch Craze

In Western culture, the cat has had a long association with black magic and witchcraft. Why? Well, it all seems to have begun in the late Middle Ages, when the persecution of 'witches' took hold in Europe with a firm grip until the 18th Century.

Thou shall not suffer a witch to live~ Exodus 22:18

The witch hunts of course, were born of supersition and ignorance, fueled by the power and authority of the Roman Catholic Inquisition and continuing to increase in various parts of Europe under the Reformation and beyond. For hundreds of years witch burnings came and went in great waves of fanaticism and hysteria. Many thousands of women who were deemed to be engaging in supernatural, satanic activies, were rounded up, tried in unjust courts and executed.

How did elderly women and their cats get transformed into this?
How did elderly women and their cats get transformed into this?

Satanic Companions

Some sources posit that in pagan mythology, a human could be turned into a cat as a punishment for wicked transgressions.As the fear of witches grew and expanded throughout Europe, so too did the superstitions, absurdities and folklores surrounding the women who were targeted, many of whom would have owned cats. (Elderly spinsters and their feline companions were particularly vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.)

It seems plausible that this, together with the cat's already prominent place in ancient and pagan mythology and its natural aura of slinky, stealthy mystery, created a new kind of cat meme.

However it arose, at some point. a belief emerged that cats were the familiars (familiar spirit) of witches - facilitators of evil who, among other satanic powers, could change shape and form. Black cats in particular suffered a bad rap, representing the forces of darkness.There was even a belief that cats and witches were interchangeable or that the source of the evil came directly from the cat. Although the witch craze eventually died out, the cat/witch association remained, by now embedded in our popular cultural motifs.

Condemned "witches" burning. Unknown artist, circa 1800s.
Condemned "witches" burning. Unknown artist, circa 1800s.

Cat Wednesday

One of the earliest recorded events linking witches and cats occured in Northern France, in the City of Metz, where the locals whipped themselves into an anti-witch frenzy and mercilessly burned dozens of cats in a single day known as Cat Wednesday, having decided they were probably witches incognito. Cat burnings were not uncommon in some parts of Europe, as a kind of public amusement but the people of Metz excelled at it.

Better cats than women but such episodes were indicative of the kind of fear, ignorance and mass panic and brutality that marked the whole of the witch craze. It's hard to understand how such a seeming a seemingly wilfullly backward mindset could have been carried over through several centuries. And yet....

A Witch and her Cat. From"Weird Tales". 1941
A Witch and her Cat. From"Weird Tales". 1941 | Source

Although it is true, as mentioned earlier, that the original witch craze did eventually fizzle out, largely due to the efforts of the secular intellectuals of the Enlightenment, who shamed the Church into change, in more recent times a new form of hysterical witch hunt has resurfaced in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, driven by a peculiarly dangerous blend of imported fundamentalist Christianity and locally grown superstition. Tragically, it illustrates that, just as conditions were in the Dark Ages, ignorance and religious fanaticism are still a lethal mix.

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Comments 27 comments

davidkaluge profile image

davidkaluge 5 years ago

It is a shame that Christains that were once persecuted did same to others. Men do not learn from history even from their own history and pains of rejection.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Ignorance is the greatest of all dangers. Today, it's Islam.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Very interesting facts about witches and their so-called familiars, black cats. I remember reading somewhere long, long ago that if you dream of a black cat, that is a lucky omen.

But on the negative side, if a black cat crosses the path of a funeral procession, someone else in the family will soon die. Those black cats do get a bad rap!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

David, it seems that way. Thanks for the comment.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Will, I guess any sort of ideological fanaticism, religious or otherwise,is potentially dangerous but particularly so when combined with ignorance.Thanks.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi drbj, they do...although someone told me once that in Australia a black cat crossing your path is good luck as everything is topsy turvy-here. They were probably just talking through their neck but I've always stuck by it!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Cats are very useful creatures. They kill mice which carry fleas that carry bubonic plague. They also kill snakes and other pests. I've never understood why cats were ever thought of as 'evil'. I refuse to trust anyone who does not like cats. They are just too ignorant for words.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

"I've never understood why cats were ever thought of as 'evil'."

Ignorant superstition. It was a combination of their penetrating stares and their remarkable ability to heal themselves (the nine-lives myth).

Our cat suffered a broken pelvis with complete bone separation (the x-rays were horrendous). The treatment was simply six weeks of cage rest, during which, the pelvis knitted itself neatly!

Amazing.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I will vote up. Actually,'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' is a poor translation that went into the King James bible. It should have read: 'Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live'. Since there was the belief that witches were poisoners not much was made of this discrepancy for a long time. Even so, because of this line, a lot of people lost their lives.


davidkaluge profile image

davidkaluge 5 years ago

If we do not learn to tolerate others by learning from our own pains of rejection, and struggle to be accepted then the trade may continue. Even today men still fight with words because they no longer have the power to sentence people to death so they make hate speeches which show that if a fanatic religious leads any nation or group he is likely to enforce his laws acceptable religious laws on others. That is his people/ fellowers.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hey Austin, I think cats are great but they do have their downside - one of which is killing off native animals, which is not their fault of course. It's strange but some people do seem to have a real phobia - they just don't trust cats. Maybe it's because they're not all over us like a rash as dogs tend to be. Rather than idolise us they treat us like staff...lol. Thanks for popping in btw.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Rod,

I didn't know that about the poisoners..although I'm always a bit suspicious of these 'retrospective translations', which always seem very convenient. Netherless you might be right..I guess we'd have to go back to the original Hebrew.

I'll pop over to your HQ later and check out what you've been up to. Thanks for commenting


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

David, thanks for that. Yes, it's a scary thing. Living in a theocracy, under the guidance of some sort of morally bankrupt, ancient religious doctrine would be one of my worst nightmares.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Good to see you back in the saddle, Jane.


ErosRyder profile image

ErosRyder 5 years ago from OH

Great HUB!!! Learned something new!!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Rod. I"m determined to get to 100 hubs, just for the sake of symmetry!

Thank you too Eros, for the nice comment...


alezafree profile image

alezafree 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

If cats are satanic, then I don't wanna be angelic!!!!! Very interesting and timely hub! I think I need to give my kitties some extra hugs tonight.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi aleza..and thanks


Shahe Asekeen profile image

Shahe Asekeen 5 years ago from Bangladesh

hey nice writing style!


Elaina Grinias 5 years ago

cool idea for a hub. i enjoyed reading this. sad that they burned kittys though :(


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks very much Shaha and Elaina


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Hello, Jane! Today is 12/22/2011 and I was on a Hub Tour reading, at random, some great hubs by writers, such as yourself, that I would love to learn from. I loved this hub. A LOT. Voted up and away. Very well-written. Informative. Interesting. I am a follower of your works and I would love it if YOU ARE NOT ALREADY, you followed me. My hubs can give you the good laugh that you need. I will be looking for you. Merry Christmas! Sincerely, Kenneth Avery, from Hamilton, a small northwest Alabama town that favors Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show. Peace to you and yours.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 4 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Kenneth and Merry Xmas to you.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

You are very welcome, Jane. And I am looking for you to check my hubs and BEST OF ALL, follow me. Sincerely, Kenneth.


Rusti Mccollum profile image

Rusti Mccollum 4 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

I own a "black" cat. The salem witch hunt and others, really killed alot of innocent women. Someone just had to say she's a witch .I love cats,I after reading this I am grateful,I wasn't raised in that era. I'd be deemed a witch for sure.Merlin ,my black cat,is my buddy.I have a bad heart and back. So I'm pretty much in bed.He is always with me. Glad I am in the time I'm in.Well, I think the 60's,life was so much more innocent.


Daniel J. Neumann profile image

Daniel J. Neumann 4 years ago from Harrisburg, Pa

Jane Bovary,

This was an interesting and informative hub. I've a black cat myself. His name is Onyx.

Thanks,

Dan


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 4 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Nice name for a black cat. Thanks Daniel..

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