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Kitty Tails: Cats In Myth and Folklore

Updated on January 8, 2015

The White Cat - France

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Originally a tale starring frogs from Germany's Brother's Grimm, Madame d'Aulnoy rewrote this tale about a desperate young prince who meets an enchanting court of cats. In the French story, an aging King realizes he must soon relinquish his throne to one of his three sons. Reluctant to do so, he tells the princes they must first bring him several things over the course of three years: the prettiest dog in the land, the finest piece of muslin, and the most beautiful princess.

The youngest prince manages to satisfy the first two requests with the help of a mysterious white cat who lives in an enchanted castle far away. When the time comes to present a princess to his father, the prince is surprised to find the white cat is actually a cursed princess who has been waiting for her true love to break the spell. Of course, she turns out to be the most beautiful princess in the land and, as it often goes, they all live happily ever after.

Sinh - Burma

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With piercing eyes and gorgeous coats, its no surprise that the Birman breed of cats is known as the "sacred cat of Burma". History is shaky as to how this illustrious breed came into being, but folklore tells of an oracle in the form of a cat who was dedicated to serving his master Kittah Mun-Ha, the Grand Lama of Khmer priests. Sinh, the name of the cat, had a glorious white coat and gorgeous yellow eyes. Sinh's paws, tail, ears, and face became stained dark over time, as these parts of his body touched the impure ground the most.

The two lived at the temple of the goddess Tsun Kiankse, who had golden skin and sapphire eyes and possessed the power to transform priests into any animal they wished upon death. One day, when invading robbers from Siam neared the temple, Mun-Ha died while praying to Tsun Kiankse. After the death of his master, the oracle Sinh took over his prayers and was magically transformed. His fur became golden and his eyes changed color into sapphire, just like the beloved goddess. After helping the priests of the temple to defeat the robbers, Sinh took the soul of Mun-Ha to the goddess. After he left, the remaining priests realized that all the cats in the temple had changed to resemble Sinh, traits that have remained through time.

Puss In Boots - Italy and France

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A popular "Mother Goose" tale across Europe, this fantastic feline story's earliest origin can be traced to Italy's Giovanni Francesco Straparola. The most popular version (by Frenchman Charles Perrault) tells of the youngest son of a miller inheriting a truly extraordinary cat. The cat requests that his new master provide him with a pair of boots to wear. When this favor is fulfilled, the cat vows to bring his master into new fortune.

Through an entertaining series of bribery, deception, and outright threats, the clever Puss in Boots manages to convince a king that his master is actually a very wealthy marquis. The king decides to let the young "marquis" marry his daughter, a beautiful princess. The cat, for all his effort, is made a lord who spends the rest of his years gleefully chasing mice for fun.

The Faithful Cat - Japan

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A Japanese fairy tale that has been featured in many classic Ukiyo-e woodcuts and other art. The story features a paranoid merchant who fears his daughter's favorite cat may be a sorcerer in disguise. One night the merchant decides that he will kill the cat the next morning. Imagine his surprise when the cat appears to him in a dream to warn him not to commit such a crime. The cat claims to be the messenger of a god, who sent him to protect the merchant's daughter from a terrible evil rat who lives in the merchant's storehouse.

The next morning, joined by a friendly cat who was owned by a family acquaintance, the guardian cat does battle with the giant rat. It's hardly an easy fight, and both cats and the rat are quite beaten by the row. When the humans come to the storehouse later, they find all three animals so wounded they can barely move. After finishing off the rat, the humans tend to the cats. Unfortunately both cats soon die, but are honored in the local temple for saving the family.


King O' The Cats - England and Scotland

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Well-known throughout the British Isles, the earliest confirmed printing of this tale dates back to 1782. Told as a conversation between two people, the story relays an account of a man witnessing a group of nine cats carrying a coffin to the graveyard one dark night. Each cat was all black, save for a small white patch on the chest. The man was astonished by the sight, particularly because his own pet cat bared the same marking.

The man followed the procession, overhearing the cats speaking of the being in the casket. He notices that atop the casket there lay a spectacular golden crown, though too small to fit on a human head. As the cats bury the coffin, one familiar cat jumps up and exclaims that he is the new King of the Cats, before the entire group disperses. Bewildered, the man returns home to tell this unusual tale, only to discover his very own cat has gone missing. It doesn't take long for him to realize it was his cat who was now the King!

Cat and Mouse in Partnership - Germany

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From the dark-as-always Brothers Grimm we have the story of a cat and mouse who have become friends, despite their natural inclinations. They become such good friends that they decide to live in the same home together. Planning for the future, they agree to keep a jar of fat hidden in a corner of the local church, saving it for a time when food may be slim.

Of course, the cat eventually finds himself unable to resist, so he manages to sneak away to the church under the guise of attending the christening of a friend's kitten. After eating the top layer of fat from the jar, he returns home. The mouse asks him what the name of the newly christened kitten was. Thinking fast, the cat replies "Top-off". The story continues, with the cat attending non-existent christenings and eating more of the fat and returning with ever more suspicious names to relay to the mouse ("Half-gone", "All-gone"...). Eventually, winter arrives and the mouse decides to bring the jar home. By this time it is empty, and she begins to realize it was the cat's fault. Knowing he's been caught, the cat soon devours his friend. In true Grimm fashion, the story ends with "that is the way of the world".

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