Cats and World Mythology
"I have studied many philosophers and many
cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior."
Cats have been the protagonists of myths
and legends from all over the world. Some have worshipped them, some
have condemned them, and today people are idolising them again, though
maybe not with that fervor of the Ancient Egyptians.
You may choose to view the whole document
simply by scrolling down. Alternatively, you can go directly to
the sections that interest you by clicking the links below.
Cats - Norwegian Goddesses - Witches
and their Cats - Islam and Cats - The
Legend of the Burmese Cat - The Sacred Siamese
- Rain Cloud Cats - the Korat - Malaysian
Cats - The Beckoning Cat, Japan - Noah's
Ark - Ngariman, Australian legend - Cat
All these images have been taken from other pages, with the permission
of the respective authors. I think it is the least I can do to link
their pages. After each section, in fact, you'll find a link or two.
Besides that, if you click on the images, it will send you to the page
they came from.
started in Ancient Egypt...
the Egyptians started identifying the lions that roamed around their land with the Sun. They believed that at sunset, Ra,
the Sun God, would die and descend through the underworld in the West, to
be born again in the East, at sunrise. During the night, however Ra was
always in great danger, as his enemies, headed by the great serpent Apophis
would not hesitate to attack him, thus putting the whole Universe in
However, the lions would look unto the
setting sun, and keep its rays in their eyes, for they, like domestic
felines, have eyes
that reflect in the dark. With that fire burning in their eyes, the lions
would go forth and kill the serpents of the night, as we were going to do
afterwards, when the domestic cat was bred in the temples of the Black
Land (Kemet, the name applied by the Ancient Egyptians to their
the image of the lion in mind, the Egyptians built the Sphinx, a huge
effigy of the Sun God, with the body of a lion and the head of a Pharaoh,
and they also worshipped the goddess Sekhmet, who with the head of a
lion (see picture) was the goddess of war, who descended to the earth to
destroy the enemies of Ra, and was known as the Eye of Ra. Amongst the
list of Egyptian feline goddess we find Mau, a personification of
Ra as a cat (Mau being the ancient Egyptian word for cat); Tefnut,
a lion headed goddess whose name means Moisture and represents one
of the most primeval forces of creation; and Mafdet, a goddess of
protection. In an Ancient Egyptian
spell which repels snakes, the protection of Mafdet is invoked: 'O cobra,
I am the flame which shines on the brows of the Chaos-gods of the Standard
of Years. Begone from me, for I am Mafdet!'
the domestic cat was specifically claimed to be under the protection of Bast.
Bast, like Sekhmet was often said to be the daughter of Ra, and she was
the protector of cats and those who took care of cats; her gifts were joy
and pleasure. Her cult was centred in the city of Bubastis (called Per-Bast,
or House of Bast, by the Egyptians), where, once
her temple stood. The Greek historian, Herodotus said "there is no
temple more beautiful than that of Bubastis". Bubastis also
a necropolis where hundreds of mummified cats were buried. She also had an
annual festival, which seems to have been one of the most popular in the
whole of Egypt, accompanied by loud music and chanting. She is often represented either as a woman with a cat's head, or as a cat.
The significance of Bast can only be understood by comparing her to
Sekhmet. Indeed, there is evidence that the Egyptians viewed them as
aspects of the same divine force - Sekhmet being the violent aspect of the
divine sun, and Bast being its gentler aspect.
However, while Bast is recently growing in
popularity, it must be remembered that Egyptian deities were not without
their macabre side. In an Egyptian legend, which talks about the
search for the Book of Thoth, one of the characters is a mysterious
seductress who is a priestess of Bast. She seduces Prince Setna,
telling him: 'Be joyful, my sweet lord, for I am destined to be
your bride. But remember that I am no common woman but the child of Bastet
the Beautiful - and I cannot endure a rival. So before we are wed write me
a scroll of divorcement against your present wife; and write also that you
give your children to me to be slain and thrown down to the cats of Bastet
- for I cannot endure that they shall live and perhaps plot evil against
The quote above also sheds light on a
popular concept amongst Egyptian women seems to have been that the ideal beauty was that of a
cat. The make-up they used accentuated particular features,
especially the eyes, which gave them a mysterious
Often children were consecrated to Bastet - a cut was made
on their arm and drops of cat blood poured into it. A marble coffin of a
royal cat refers to the cat contained inside it as "Lady Cat". A
human who killed a cat, even accidentally, was put to death, and when a
cat died, the owners used to shave off their eyebrows as a sign of
mourning. In the tomb of Tutankhamun, the image of a serene Bast was found
on a gilded shrine, housing the royal coffin. One of the discoverers
of Tutankhamun's tomb, Lord Carnarvon, is said to have become interested in Egyptology after
discovering a cat coffin.
The increase in internation trade with
Ancient Egypt, especially by Phoenicians and Romans, spread cats to other
lands, from Egypt to Europe
and Asia. In these countries, cats have their own stories too.
In the meantime, the domestic cats in Egypt are
still highly respected, for in that land, the bond between cat and human
is now eternal, with cats walking among the streets in the market place,
where till today, the images of Bast are still being offered to
tourists, as they must have been offered once, a long time ago, to
pilgrims, who would have been going to the annual celebration of Bast!
- Want to learn more about Bast?
"Then with the Norse...
... cats were associated with Freyja. The
name Freyja (alternatively spelt Freija, Freiya, or Freya) means 'the Lady', and she is the mistress of magic (her
particular form of magic being called Seidh, a system involving
trance and very similar to shamanism). The day Friday is named after her. Her personal transport
is a magnificent
chariot, drawn by two large grey cats.
Freyja picture by Kris Waldherr, creator
of the Goddess Tarot: http://www.artandwords.com/goddesstarot/
More info at:
the witches! Never to be forgotten!
history is marked by a very dark craze, centering on a phenomenon
popularly called 'witchcraft'. The classical stereotype of the witch in
our culture and folklore has come to be an old woman, possibly with
green or gray skin, wearing a pointed hat, clad completely in
black. She possesses a flying broomstick, and a black cat.
But what is behind this myth?
First of all, the 'witches' involved in
the witch trials included a variety of people. While our concept
of the witch is as an old woman, the 'witches' which were put to trial
included men, young women and horribly enough, children, though the vast
majority can be said to have been adult women.
The traditional black cat accompanying the witch
derives from the tradition that a witch would be given a 'familiar',
that is an animal helper from the Devil, to help her in her magical
workings. Most of these familiars would have a name (just like
ordinary pets) but the very natural fact of giving a loved pet a name
and occasionally talking to such a pet was already an implication that
one is involved in 'witchcraft'. Most might recall that one of the
witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth calls her cat Grimalkin,
(Gri meaning 'grey'; and malkin meaning 'cat' but also
meaning promiscuous or eccentric woman) ; an actual case from a witch
trial concerns a cat called Pyewackett. According to
Matthew Hopkins, the Witch-finder general, this was a name 'no mortal
could invent'. The name might be familiar to some from the movie Bell,
Book and Candle.
Out of all the possible familiars (cats, dogs,
toads, bats, and even horses) cats got the worst publicity. Pope Gregory IX
denounced black cats as Satanic in his 1233 Papal Bull 'Vox in Rama' and
this launched the extermination of many cats, and subsequently thousands
of cats were burned alive in the cause of searching out the devil. Tales
of these witches' cats turning into mice, dogs, bats and all sorts of
creatures flourished during the Middle Ages.
Another instance of the oppression of
cats was in the downfall of the Knights Templar. Under torture,
the Knights Templar were compelled to confess to heresy, renouncing Christ and,
in some instances, the worship of cats. It is debatable whether
these confessions tell us more about the practices of the Knights
Templar, or rather, whether they speak more loudly of the popular
conceptions held by Church officials of the time.
Another explanation (though highly
questionable) of why black
cats are often associated with witches and the Devil is this. The
"blackberry" cats are often born at the end of the blackberry
season, which according to legend is the time of the year in which Satan
was thrown out of heaven, landing on a blackberry bush which he then defiled with his urine and spittle.
In the late 19th Century, folklorist Charles G.
Leland wrote about groups of women around Italy, known as streghe
ie. witches, who still worshipped the goddess Diana, deity of the moon,
and in this Italian tradition Leland was writing about, was known as
'the Queen of witches'. Her brother, who in classical mythology
was Apollo, is here called Lucifer, which though not without references
to Christian concepts, means 'light-bearer'. In trying to trick
Lucifer to conceive a son with her, Diana takes the shape of a
Much irony has come from these historical
instances. First of all we find conflicting versions of black cat
superstitions. Some groups (especially Southern European
countries) tend to associate black cats with bad luck; others
(especially England) attribute good luck to the same animal. Secondly we
find that the mass-burnings of cats led to a very unhappy fate - the
proliferation of rats, which not only decimated food resources, but
acted as the carrier of illness, the culmination of which was the Great
Plagues. Finally, it is interesting how several people have
re-interpreted the concept of 'familiar', and feel that their pets are
indeed helpers of a sort. This is coupled with a growing interest
in what was once termed witchcraft, and what was once the Order of the
modern perspective on familiars.
Witch Directory - a good historical resource.
critical review of Leland's Aradia
...are considered to be very clean
animals. The Prophet Mohammed is said to have kept cats himself, and
popular legend tells that one time, the Prophet had to respect the call
to prayer, but his cat was sleeping on the sleeve of his robe.
Rather than awake the cat, the Prophet simply tore his sleeve, and went
of to prayer.
there's the Sacred Cat of Burma...
legend of the Birman takes place in a temple built on the sides of Mount
Lugh, in Burma. The temple housed the golden image of the Goddess
Tsun Kyan-Kse. The
holy Kittah (monk) Mun-Ha was head monk. The God Song Hio himself braided
Mun-Ha's beard with gold.
Mun-Ha always used to meditate in front of the
Goddess with the sapphire eyes. The Goddess Tsun Kyan-Kse made sure that
the Kittahs would be reborn as an animal for the duration of a life, after
which the soul would be in Nirvana (the heaven beyond illusion), shining with a golden halo.
Accompanying him in his meditation was Sinh,
a white cat whose ears reflected the yellow of the golden Goddess and the
golden beard of his master, and whose nose, tail and paws were brown like
the earth on which he stood.
As the moon shone, one night, Mun-Ha
entered a transcendental state which was so deep that he felt no pain when Siamese invaders murdered him. Sinh placed his gentle paws on
the monk's robes. Facing the Goddess, Sinh's fur became gold, like the
golden statue before him, and his eyes became the beautiful blue shining
eyes of the Goddess. His legs, his tail, his ears and his face became a
velvety rich brown. His paws, which were gently laid on his master's body
became a purest white.
The Kittahs, though in a state of
panic due to the invasion, obeyed Sinh's commanding but serene look, and
closed the heavy bronze doors of the temple, thus saving it from the
The next morning, the remaining ninety-nine
cats had been similarly transformed, and thus the Birman breed has its
origins. Sinh did not move from the place of his master's death, and
exactly seven days after, he died, carrying with him the soul of Mun-Ha, which it was his duty to present to Tsun Kyan-Kse who would
reward him with Nirvana.
On that same day, the priests were arguing
about who should succeed Mun-Ha. All the transformed temple cats entered
the temple and in complete silence surrounded the youngest of the Kittahs,
who was to succeed Mun-Ha.
Thus it is believed that when a Kittah
he would be reincarnated as a Birman cat before attaining Nirvana. Another
belief, according to Major Russell Gordon is this: "But woe also to
he who brings about the end of one of these marvelous beasts, even if he
did not mean to. He will suffer the most cruel torments until the soul he
has upset is appeased."
Temple of the Sacred Cat
"The Birman Cat (The
Sacred Cat of Burma)" by Vivianne Smith.
has it's own legend. It was said that when Siamese kings died, their souls
would pass on to a Siamese cat, so that he could be present at the
coronation of the succeeding king before attaining heaven. This cat would
have been treated as part of the Royal family, and would have resided in
Besides that, there are some Siamese cats
who have a kinked tail and who have yet another legend. They're considered
auspicious in the Far East, and legend has it that an ancestor of this
breed voluntarily kinked it's
tail so as to provide a safe place for the princess' rings while she was
bathing. She used to slide her rings along the cat's tail, and there was
no danger of them being lost, as the kinked tail prevented them from
falling. Of course, if the cat ran away, it would be a different story,
but if a cat is so faithful so as to kink his/her tail, try picturing him running away.
Rain Cloud cats!...
cat myth from the mysterious Orient is that of the Korat, a blue grey cat.
originally called Si-Suwat, meaning "grey cat". However they were later
renamed by King Ramu V of Siam after their region of origin. Their blue-grey
colour resembles a rain cloud, and these cats are used in ritual
processions meant to bring rain to the fields. This is
what a local poet had to say about them:
"The hairs are
with roots like
and tips like silver,
and eyes that shine
like dewdrops on a
Rather unlike the royal
Siamese, they are linked with the farmers, who to induce rain carry one of
our kind in procession, while they themselves chant and pray to the sky
gods. After the procession, the water is sprinkled on the cat's face so as
to induce rain.
another story from the Orient...
...has its origins in Malaysia, where
people believed the cat would help souls journey from Hell (in this case,
the equivalent of the Christian Purgatory) to Paradise. The punishment for
killing a cat was to carry and stack as many coconut tree trunks as the
cat had hairs. (Talk about deforestation!)
after that, we'll go on to Japan...
we find the origins of the Beckoning Cat, or the manekineko as he
is called in Japan. This cat, long long ago, stood in the door of the
Gotoku-ji temple and raised her paw in the traditional Japanese beckoning
gesture to a feudal lord who was passing by.
The feudal lord followed the cat into
temple and instantly, a lightning bolt struck the place where the lord had
been standing. Thus the cat had saved his life. From then on, the manekineko
was considered as an incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy.
The Gotoku-ji Temple now houses dozens of
statues of this Cat, and owners of lost or sick cats stick up prayer
boards with the image of the Beckoning Cat in this temple.
In business the manekineko is
said to bring success. This
is because her raised paw beckons in customers. It also welcomes in
personal happiness and harmony. A black Beckoning Cat brings health, while
a gold one, which is quite rare, brings in riches. Beckoning Cats are
often sold as money boxes and in a house they are supposed to beckon in
All photos except the one
labelled "Manekinekos in cling film" were provided by Catseye
Creative Services, whose website was available at http://www.2cowherd.net/catseye/
but seems to be now defunct.
cats in Noah's Ark...
been the subject of many folk legends. Such legends are not as well
established as the previous mythological accounts referred to.
Nevertheless, they are not less interesting. According to one of these, at the time of the flood, Noah took pairs
of rats and mice too. However, the rodents multiplied very quickly and
the Ark was, after a while, infested by rodents. Noah consulted the lion,
who as king of the beasts may have known a solution. The lion sneezed and
from his nostrils, a pair of ready made domestic cats came out, who
instantly set down to work, having a natural instinct for being "verminators".
Sometimes, it is said that God created the
cat, but that the mouse is the Devil's work. The Devil's mouse set out to
destroy all life forms by gnawing a hole in the Ark. However, God's cat
saved the day by killing the mouse, and a frog crept in the hole, thus
getting it's amphibian tendencies, by being in contact with water and dry
Yet another Noah's Ark cat legend is that
of the Manx cat, who has no tail because it was unpunctual in its arrival
to the Ark, and the careless Noah closed it's tail in the door of the Ark.
Well, after all he was only human, ey?
page - cat legends and folklore
even say that in the Australian Dreamtime...
..., when the ancestral spirits sang the
world into existence, there was a cat-man called Ngariman. The
Bagadjimbiri brothers, that is the Creator Gods of Karadjeri tradition,
travelled far and wide while creating the world. One of the strange things
they saw was Ngariman, the cat man, who in their eyes was so funny that
they were paralysed with laughter. Ngariman was offended, and together
with his relatives, killed the brothers. The Earth Goddess, Dilga was
moved by this scene and from her breasts a torrent of milk flowed which
drowned Ngariman and his relatives and revived the Bagadjimbiri brothers.
However Ngariman was probably not a
domestic cat, as those arrived in Australia around 1785 from Britain
(though some may have arrived earlier from Indonesian ships). Rather, he
was probably a native Australian marsupial cat (Vasyurus Maculatus).
...concerning cats are the following: In
the Ozark Mountains of Tennessee and Arkansas, a girl not knowing what to
answer to a marraige proposal would take three hairs from a cat's tail
(ouch!) and put them in a folded piece of paper, which she placed under
her doorstep. She would answer according to whether the hairs formed an
"N" or a "Y".
A cat on a grave meant that the buried
person's soul was in the possession of the Devil, and if two cats were
fighting on a grave, this signified the Devil and the defunct person's
Guardian Angel fighting for his/her soul.
In the early 16th century, a visitor to an
English home would always kiss the family cat. In Ireland, however, a
black cat passing infront of you by moonlight foretells death by an
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