When a black cat crosses your path...

Pet that good boi!

Most of us typically think of black cats as symbols of bad luck, even if we know that black cats are incredibly precious babies that deserve all our love.

But in many cultures and subcultures, that symbology is a little more complicated.

Most obviously, all cats were revered in Egypt, and the cat goddess Bast is often depicted as a black cat. The Welsh believed that black cats were good omens, bringing good health. Scottish lore held that a black cat showing up at your house was a sign that good fortune was on its way. In Japan, it’s believed that black cats were good luck, especially since they’re good at attracting quality suitors for young women. A British tradition held that if a black cat walks towards you, it brings good luck, yet if it walks away, it takes its good luck with it. Pirates wisely reversed the tradition because that cat is definitely going to walk away as soon as it walks toward you.

Pirates and sailors had a lot of superstitions surrounding black cats, actually. They believed if one walked onto and then immediately off of a ship at dock, it was doomed to sink. Many used black cats as the ship’s cat, believing it brought good luck. Fishermen’s wives would keep black cats, believing they would protect their husbands at sea (or at least eat a lot of mice on the homestead.)

It’s probable that you think of black cats as witches’ familiars. That association seems to be quite old. Some believed them to be shape-shifting witches, scouts for demons, messengers of witches and more. Many Christians believed this so deeply that they killed black cats to stop the work of the supposed witches or demons, and thereby, SATAN himself.

A Scottish belief is that a fairy called cat-sìth haunts the Highlands, taking the form of a black cat with a white patch on its chest. Why such a specific description? There’s a hybrid cat specific to the area, a mix of the Scottish wildcat and domestic kitties once thought to be a mere myth. He steals souls by passing over a corpse before it is buried. Some believed that the cat-sìth was a witch who could voluntarily transform into a cat nine times before being permanently transformed. Nine lives?

A lot of people feel that having a black cat cross your path is the moment when the cat decides your luck. Many cultures feel it universally means bad luck. In Germany, however, they believe that a cat crossing left to right is good luck while crossing the other way is a bad omen. So that’s something. My mom always felt that a black cat running in front of your car was bad luck, though to be fair, I’m more worried about that kittle’s luck…

Black cats as symbols of anarchy and workers’ rights? Oh yeah. The high-backed Thriller pose black cat – hilariously called the “sabo-tabby” – is a symbol of anarchist labor organizing. A 1918 trial of the Industrial Workers of the World had the symbol’s creator, Ralph Chaplin, explain:

“The idea being to frighten the employer by the mention of the name sabotage, or by putting a black cat somewhere around. You know if you saw a black cat go across your path you would think, if you were superstitious, you are going to have a little bad luck. The idea of sabotage is to use a little black cat on the boss."

All these superstitions have real world consequences. Black and mostly black cats represent 30% of cats brought into animal shelters. They tend to take longer than other animals to adopt out, and get adopted at a lower rate than they’re brought in. So while you’re cackling under the full of the moon, consider adopting a little black fur baby. They’re definitely evil, but absolutely no more than any other kitty.