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Home > Cat Symbolism

Cat Symbolism
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Cat Symbolism
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.

One supernatural 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.

 

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