Cats are an image
of wholeness - a merging of the physical and spiritual, the psychic and the
sensual. For a cat, these are not separate worlds, but one. They have been tagged
with a variety of traits, including curiosity, nine lives, independence, cleverness,
unpredictability, and healing.
During the thousands
of years in which the cat has lived among human beings it has been venerated
at one period as a deity, and at other times cursed as a demon.
Cats have long
been held sacred and linked to images of power. Egyptians named the Goddess
Bast as the divine mother of cats. The cat was sacred, and to kill one might
be punishable by death. Diodorus Siculus, the Greek historian, described how
a Roman who killed a cat was murdered by a mob despite the pleadings of high
Egyptian officials. If a cat died, from any cause whatever, its owner went into
mourning, shaving his eyebrows and performing elaborate funeral rites. Cat cemeteries
were established on the banks of the Nile, where the sacred animals were mummified
and then laid to rest, together with vast quantities of cat mascots and bronze
cat effigies. The Egyptian term for cat was Mau, an imitation of a cats cry
and a mother-syllable. Cat worship began in Egypt, where the first domesticated cats descended
from a wild ancestor, felis libyca.
In her Cult
of the Cat, Patricia Dale-Green says, 'Like the moon it (the cat) comes
to life at night, escaping from humanity and wandering over the house-tops with
its eyes beaming out through the darkness.' Many people believed the cat was
the child of the moon and it was said that 'the moon brought forth the cat'.
This curious link has been regarded as due to 'the changeableness of the pupils
of the eye, which in the daytime is a mere narrow line, dilatable at night to
a luminous globe.' From the magic of their eyes arose the belief that cats were
seers with strong mediumistic powers. In the East the cat is said to bear away
the souls of the dead, and in some parts of West Africa, is is accepted that
the human soul passes into the body of a cat at death.
To the Greeks,
Bast's equivalent was Artemis, and to the Romans she was Diana. Cats are at
home after dark, and because darkness is the home of fears and those things
humans do not want to see and cannot see, the cat has come to be associated
with magic and mystery.
By the Middle Ages
Diana was the name of the Queen of the Witches. The cat was then becoming linked
with witchcraft and goddess worship. It was said any witch could assume a cat's
shape nine times in her life. (She could also assume the shape of a hare, which
were moon goddess totems. When cats were brought to England, they were confused
with hares as symbols of the moon goddess.)
To the Scots, the
Goddess of Witches was Mither o' the Mawkins. (Mawkin or malkin was either a
hare or a cat.) As the cat became the primary lunar animal, the traditional
witch's familiar was Greymalkin or Grimalkin, a "gray cat". The Goddess Freya
was pictured in a chariot drawn by cats - recalling earlier images of Cybele,
the Mother of the Gods, with her chariot drawn by two lions.
skill attributed to cats is the ability to forecast the weather. When cats scamper
wildly it means wind; when they wash their ears, rain; and when they sit with
their backs to the fire, frost or storms. The Indonesians believe that it is
possible to produce rain by pouring water over a cat. A single sneeze may portend
rain. Seamen were invariably kind to a cat, believing that it brought luck to
any ship it boarded. In addition cats were infallible weather guides and were
thought to be invaluable when a ship was becalmed, as a wind could be raised
by placing a cat under a pot on the deck. To throw a cat overboard, particularly
if it were black and without a single white hair, was unthinkable since this
could cause a storm.
In modern times
although the cat has not yet recovered its lost status as a goddess, it still
remains serene, civilized, god-like and utterly mysterious. If a cat is your
totem animal, look for magic and mystery to come alive.