May 13, 2024 3 min read

Cats have lived amongst humans for centuries. As a result, cats have become the center of many fairy tales, folklore, and mythology all around the world. Cats have taken the form of gods, supernatural creatures, familiars, and much more. Throughout history cats have been given the role of protectors and destroyers depending on the tale. Let’s take a look at some of the many roles cats have played in mythology and folklore.

Cats are commonly associated with different goddesses. One of the most well-known being Egypt’s Bastet (also known as Bast), a feline deity with the head of a lion. Sekhmet, an Egyptian goddess of war and destruction, was also depicted as a feline deity and said to be an alternate form of Bastet or Bastet’s sister depending on the tale. Due to their association with goddesses, cats were held in extremely high regard in Egypt. Some were even mummified along with their owners after death. Egyptians were not the only ones to worship goddesses associated with cats. The Greeks worshipped the goddess Artemis who they believed would sometimes appear in a cat form. The Norse goddess Freya rode in a chariot pulled by two giant cats. The Hindu goddess Durga is depicted as riding a lion or tiger. All around the world cats are seen as goddesses or companions of them. However, not all cat tales were based on goddesses.

Some cats are seen as supernatural creatures. The Scottish cat-sìth is said to be a fairy creature that appears as a large black cat with a white spot over its chest. Some legends say the cat-sìth was a witch who could shapeshift into a cat form, but they could only transform nine times. On the ninth transformation, they would be stuck in a cat form. This may be where the modern idea of cats having nine lives comes from. Other legends tell of the cat-sìth preying on dead spirits. If a cat-sìth encountered a corpse before a burial, they would steal the spirit. To prevent this, people would distract the cat-sìth with games or catnip and would keep watch over the bodies so the cat-sìth would not come near. The cat-sìth could also help bless people if you paid tribute to it. On Samhain, a Gaelic festival to celebrate the end of the harvest season, the cat-sìth was said to be walking around. People would leave a saucer of milk outside their house for the cat-sìth to drink and would be blessed with good fortune. However, if a house did not leave a saucer of milk, they would be cursed with their cows’ milk drying up.

Cats around the world are thought to bring luck to people who cross their paths. Whether it’s good luck or bad luck will depend on where you are and what the cat looks like. In Western cultures, black cats are seen as bad luck, most likely due to their historical association with witches. However, black cats aren’t seen as bad luck in all cultures. A Buddhist belief says a cat with a dark coat brings promises of gold, while a light-colored cat brings silver. In Japan, the maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) is a talisman that is believed to bring good fortune to its owner. In China, it’s believed the older a cat gets, the luckier it becomes. Many cultures believe a polydactyl cat, a cat with extra toes, is a good-luck charm. Sailors used to bring polydactyl cats with them on their journeys to ensure safe travels.

Cats have also been the stars in many fairy tales around the world. “The White Cat” is a French fairytale about a prince meeting a lovely white cat who helps him with his tasks. The prince falls for her and after breaking her spell, she is transformed into her true form as a human princess. “Kip the Enchanted Cat” is a Russian fairy tale about a mother and her daughter cursed to be cats. The kitten is raised with a human princess and aids her, leading to breaking the spell. One of the most famous cats in fairy tales is Puss in Boots. Puss in Boots is a clever and bold rascal of a cat. Puss’ story has been told and retold many times by different people as Puss takes on new challenges and adventures. There are many more fairy tales that feature cats as they are popular and mischievous creatures.

Cats have been part of cultures worldwide for centuries, playing different roles in myths and legends. They are always a part of human stories, no matter where you are. Cats play an important role in our lives and tales everywhere.

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