Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Whether you love or loathe the month of October; we all know how it ends, right? From trick-or-treating with your little ones, to hosting the party that everyone’s talking about, to a spooky Halloween-themed escape room, haunted house or haunted maze - Halloween is all about having fun. The food, the films, the decorations. So many things are synonymous with Halloween; ghosts and ghouls, skeletons, monsters, witches and wizards… But the one thing that comes to mind for us, is, of course, the humble black cat.
The witch's familiar, her faithful servant; hackles raised, hissing and yowling, helping scare off unwanted visitors and source ingredients for spells. Black cats have become synonymous with witchcraft, bad luck, and even death. Spooky, right? But where did these connotations come from, and what do they mean?
Contrary to popular belief, there are more black cats than any other colour because the black gene is most dominant for felines, and has slight preference for male felines over female; meaning, that, when a black male cat breeds with a female cat of a different colour, the litter of kittens are more likely to be born with black fur.
Any cat whose fur is a single color, including black, is known as a "solid" or "self". A "completely" black cat may be coal black, grayish black, or brownish black. Most solid-coloured cats result from a recessive gene that suppresses the tabby pattern.
Sometimes the tabby pattern is not completely suppressed; faint markings may appear in certain lights, even on a solid black cat. A cat having black fur with white roots is known as a "black smoke".
Black cats can also "rust" in sunlight, their coat turning a lighter brownish-red shade. Eumelanin, the pigment that is required to produce the black fur, is somewhat fragile, so the rusting effect can be more pronounced in cats that frequently spend time in the sun. Similarly, black cats can also turn brown with age - just like our hair may go grey or white as we get older.
In most Western cultures, black cats have typically been looked upon as a symbol of evil omens, specifically being suspected of being the familiars of witches, or actually shape-shifting witches themselves. Historically, black cats are negatively associated with witches, demons, wickedness, and just general bad luck.
Most of Europe considers the black cat a symbol of bad luck. In folklore, the black cat has been able to change into human shape to act as a spy or courier for witches or demons. The Pilgrims viewed the black cat as a companion, or a familiar to witches, who were said to "use black cats as an integral part of their craft". These superstitions led people to kill, injure, torture and abandon black cats. However, in the present day, many Westerners, including Christian clergy, have black cats as pets whom they care for.
Unlike in the United States, where they typically have negative connotations, other nations—like the United Kingdom and Japan—believe that black cats can bring prosperity, bless a marriage, ensure good harvests, and even help bring success to a theater production. Furthermore, it is believed that a lady who owns a black cat will have many suitors.
The mix of positive and negative associations in Great Britain may have given rise to the later belief that black cats were omens of both good and bad luck.
Check back next week on October 31st (spooky, right?) for the second half of this post, to learn even more about black cats - famous fictional felines, historic holidays celebrating them, and fur-bulous fun facts!