KITTY CORNER: Why do black cats get a bad rap?

The author owns two black cats, including Inky, left. (Photo by Rose Gates)

The dictionary defines superstition as belief in myth, omens, folklore and the supernatural, resulting from ignorance and fear of the unknown.

Without a doubt no animal has inspired as much superstition as the cat, and in particular, the black cat. Throughout history cats have been worshipped by some cultures and looked upon as demons by others. In ancient Egypt, where they were first domesticated, cats were considered sacred. The Egyptians believed that the life-giving rays of the sun were kept in the cat's eyes at night for safe keeping, and killing a cat was punishable by death.

In medieval times, black cats became linked with evil and witchcraft. Because cats have nocturnal habits and hunt at night they were thought to be the servants of witches, or even witches themselves transformed into felines.

Even in modern times the folklore survives, with Halloween being our most superstitious holiday. We have all heard the old superstition of how unlucky it is to have a black cat cross your path but not all cultures regard black cats as unlucky. The type of luck they are said to bring depends on where you live in the world.

For instance, in the United Kingdom and Japan, a black cat crossing your path brings good fortune! In the Yorkshires, if a fisherman's wife kept a black cat in the home it was sure to bring her sailor home safely. In Germany, a black cat crossing ones path from left to right will grant favorable times, and in the African American hoodoo tradition, black cats are considered good luck for gamblers. In Scotland, finding a black cat sitting on your porch is a sign of prosperity and happiness to come, and in Britain they believe if a black cat lives in the house the young maiden will have many suitors. In France, Lady Luck will smile upon you if you find one white hair on a black cat, and a Latvian farmer will dance with joy upon finding a black cat in his grain silo because it represents the spirit of Rungis, god of harvests.

The color black has powerful meaning. The Massai tribe associates it with rain clouds, the symbol of life and prosperity, and to Native Americans it is the color of earth and its life-giving soil.

The fashion and automotive industries portray black as sexy and stylish. Who can resist a shiny black motorcycle or sports car? Limousines are almost always black, and formal dress occasions call for black tie and tuxedo or a black cocktail dress. Dressing in black is considered hip and cool, with many artists, designers, actors and musicians dressing completely in black. By wearing black you appear thinner and more sophisticated.

Black is also the color of authority and power. Judges and graduates wear ceremonial black robes, and black is worn by many religious figures. In the financial world to be "in the black" is a positive thing.

So how did such negativity come to surround the harmless little black cat? If you have ever owned one, you would know how sweet and loving they can be. I share a home with two such black beauties and they are no more mysterious or unlucky than any other color cat, nor do they possess magical powers. However, having dark fur can certainly bring bad luck to a rescued cat seeking a home. They are often discriminated against by adopters. Superstition may be a factor, but more often a colorful calico or orange tabby simply catches the eye of prospective adopters first. Whatever the reason, black cats stay much longer in shelters.

It has also become a common practice among rescue groups not to adopt out black cats in the month of October. There are rumors of cats being abducted and harmed during this time of year. So, as always, it is far safer to keep your cat indoors, whatever color they may be.

If you're thinking about adopting a cat, please take a closer look at the black ones. Perhaps you'll fall under the spell of their playful, friendly nature and be charmed into making one a member of your family. These beautiful, affectionate creatures are just the same as other cats and if cared for properly will bring you years of love and companionship and GOOD luck.

ROSE GATES is a founding member of Angelcat Haven Feline Rescue and serves as volunteer coordinator and official PURR-tographer. She can be reached at UsedCatSalesman@aol.com and welcomes your comments and e-meows.

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