The spooky season of October is upon us and that means the annual traditions of trick or treating and Halloween movie binging is here as well. This would mark the second Halloween since the start of Covid and this year the classics of witches, ghosts, skeletons, and zombies are back in town. However, a specific mascot of this holiday stands out as different from the rest being the black cat. From the blood sucking vampire bats and creepy crawling spiders, it’s a wonder why the cat was chosen to be a staple animal in our festivities.
Believe it or not, black cats have been around even before any zombie or skeleton were part of Halloween celebrations. Their presence can be seen ever since the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain—the origins of Halloween. This pagan festival was a celebration of the harvest at the end of summer. Celts believed that on the day that marked the beginning of winter, a season synonymous with death, the lines between the supernatural and the real world blur. During this time, many people would come together to light bonfires and wear costumes to ward ghosts away.
During this celebration, nocturnal animals were given a certain charm in these nightly festivals. One of these animals were black cats who the Celts believed were witches who dabbled in black magic and were transfigured into their feline form. Unlike our culture nowadays, witches acted like healers and wise elders in their communities. It clearly set the feline and the witch apart from each other on opposing ends.
As Christianity spread to the Celts’ lands in the 9th century, so did their ideas and ideologies. Celtic religions bled into and assimilated into Christian celebrations like Samhain traditions and dates being synonymous with All Hallow’s Eve. However, witches were an outlier in this situation as a woman in a leadership position conflicted with the new all male Holy Trinity that Christianity was built around. They were reimagined as evil hags and the worship of them was said to be devil worship. As the bubonic plague rolled around, witches who were medical women and cats who consumed the rats who were the actual cause were blamed. While many traditions of Samhain stayed with us in our modern Halloween, witches definitely got the short end of the stick.
This October, if you do see a black cat, remember its old origins of black magic. This might be the year for you to converse with an actual witch and maybe if you ask nicely, maybe she'll teach you some witchcraft. Happy Halloween everyone and have fun in the spooky season.
Daniel (October 2022)