Cat Symbolism and Meaning

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Cats have long captured the human imagination with their aloof and mysterious nature. Across cultures and throughout history, felines have accrued rich symbolic meaning and have been seen as everything from gods to demons. This guide will explore the mythology and folklore around cats to uncover what our furry friends reveal about civilization.

A Divine History: Cats as Gods

A Divine History: Cats as Gods

The ancient Egyptians deeply revered cats, associating them with Bastet, the goddess of protection, fertility, motherhood, music, dance, and joy. As early as 3000 BC, Egyptians worshipped a cat deity and even mummified cats to take into the afterlife. Bastet was depicted as a woman with a cat’s head wearing lavish jewelry. Her festivals celebrated intoxicants and sexuality.

This feline worship arose because cats protected Egypt’s bounty by killing venomous snakes and rodents that endangered grain supplies. As the protectors of Egypt’s prosperity, cats gained immense prestige. Killing a cat resulted in severe punishment, even death. When a household cat died, Egyptians mourned by shaving their eyebrows to demonstrate their grief.

Harbingers of Evil: The Demonization of Cats

Cat Symbolism and Meaning

In contrast to their godly status in Egypt, during the Middle Ages in Europe, cats were considered evil—even demonic. Their independence, unpredictability, and nighttime wandering led people to associate felines with witches. Some believed witches could transform into cats or that black cats assisted them in their dark magic. This suspicion even plays out in Halloween decorations today.

These superstitions had dire consequences for real cats. Stray cats were often killed out of fear of witchcraft. Even house cats suffered abuse when their natural behaviors seemed odd or inexplicable. Tragically, cats were also killed in large numbers during witch hunts and trials.

Symbolic Meaning: Mystery, Magic and Hidden Depths

Symbolic Meaning: Mystery, Magic and Hidden Depths

Today cats no longer symbolize gods or demons but still carry symbolic weight in myth and culture. Their aloofness makes them representations of an unfettered life outside domestication. When a cat stares out a window for hours, they exemplify freedom, longing, and a secret inner life.

Black cats in particular retain an air of mystery. Their dark color links them to the night while their inscrutable gaze suggests hidden depths. For this reason, black cats make perfect familiars for magic practitioners like witches or wizards. Their mystical reputation persists today.

Cats are also associated with multiple lives and resurrection. Historically cats have been difficult animals to kill, leading to folklore about their nine lives. Today “nine lives” references remind us of how cats cheat death by landing on their feet or surviving high falls.

In Japanese mythology, Beckoning Cats (maneki neko) with an upright paw attract good fortune. Golden cat statues adorn small businesses worldwide to summon wealth and success. Even today, cats promise prosperity.

No matter where you look, cats are creatures of symbolic depth—both light and darkness. Their rich mythology reveals human hopes and fears. They represent the unknowable, wild side of existence that cannot be tamed.

Key Takeaways: Core Lessons from Cat Mythology

Cat Mythology
  • Cats symbolize divine blessings, fertility, and goodness in Egyptian mythology where they were worshipped as gods.
  • They represent witchcraft, demons, and evil in European folklore during the Middle Ages when they were severely persecuted.
  • Today, cat mythology speaks to their mystery, aloofness, magical abilities, and multiple lives.
  • Black cats in particular are linked to the night, magic, and the unknown.
  • Cats still represent good fortune and success in cultures like Japan.
  • Their complex mythology illuminates the relationship between humans and the natural world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What did ancient Egyptians believe about cats?

Ancient Egyptians revered cats as representations of Bastet, the feline goddess of protection, joy, dance, fertility, and motherhood. Killing a cat resulted in severe punishment since Egyptians saw them as protecting their prosperity.

When did cats become associated with evil?

During the European Middle Ages, cats became connected to witchcraft and evil due to their mysterious independence, nighttime wandering, and unexplained behaviors. They were often killed out of fear they assisted witches.

Why are black cats considered magical?

Black cats’ dark color associates them with the mystery of night, while their luminous eyes suggest occult knowledge. Their hardness to kill also links them to multiple lives and cheating death. For these reasons, they make the perfect witch’s familiar.

What is the meaning of the Japanese Beckoning Cat?

The maneki neko figurine, with one paw raised in greeting, is believed to attract wealth and prosperity. Small businesses display these “Lucky Cats” to summon good fortune. Their meaning ties cats to economic success.

How do cats symbolize freedom?

A cat staring out a window for hours captures their reputation for aloofness and unfettered living outside domestication. Unlike dogs, cats resist total taming, keeping their wild spirit. This tendency makes them symbols of freedom and longing.

Why are cats seen as having multiple lives?

Folklore about nine lives arises from cats inexplicably surviving falls and accidents that would kill other animals. Their landing on four feet, speedy reflexes, and resilience grant them an aura of “resurrection” and cheating death.

What does cat mythology say about humans?

The complex, contradictory symbols cats embody reveal human hopes, fears, and struggles in engaging the natural world. Their mythology elucidates the relationship between civilization and wildness, freedom, and control.

In Closing

Cats have long captured creative human imagination as symbols of the mysterious and magical. Their rich mythology reveals civilization’s hopes, dreams and struggles with independence, vitality, and the untamed. A house cat staring out the window knows no master but itself. So the next time you lock eyes with one of these inscrutable creatures, ponder what it might represent. The true meanings might surprise you.

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