A black cat crosses in front of you. What do you do? It depends on what part of the country you're from. In some places, black cats are a sign of ill omen and bad luck; in other places they're a symbol of fortune and good luck. How can the humble black cat mean both good and bad luck? History and superstition are to blame for both sides of the coin. You might say that in some cases the black cat simply had a streak of, well, bad luck.
Black Cats as Bad Luck
Black cats -- and cats in general -- show up often in mythology and ancient lore. There's something about the animal that makes people believe them to be mystical creatures, a physical connection to the spiritual realm. They have the power to sneak around undetected, as well as hunt down and drive away disease-ridden pests. It's no wonder the animals were revered in ancient Egypt!
Black cats didn't get their negative reputation until the Middle Ages. The 13 and 1400s were a pretty difficult time for everyone involved, especially black cats. Somehow the belief spread that these graceful creatures were actually linked to the devil, and the cats were thought to have spread the Black Death. For this offense, the cats were nearly wiped out, which of course worsened the plague since its real source was in the rats and mice that cats had been so graciously hunting down until then. Meanwhile in Scotland, mythology spoke of the large black cat Cait Sith (pronounced Shee, no relation to the Star Wars lord), who would steal souls from the dead before the gods could get to them.
And then the witch hunts began, and with them the downfall of the black cat. When Europe and America became obsessed with hunting down so-called "witches," the black cat became associated with their witchcraft and evil-doing. This was further perpetuated in the mid-1500s when a story started getting passed around about a man and his son who saw a black cat lurking around a suspected witch's house. The two threw rocks at the cat, and when they saw the woman limping the next day, came to the obvious conclusion: witches have the power to turn into black cats under the cover of night.
This depiction of cats as a sign of witchcraft and evil has stuck around to this day, showing up in Halloween and superstitions.
Black Cats as Good Luck
If this seems to be pretty specific to certain areas of Europe and America, you'd be correct: many other cultures around the world believe black cats to be good luck. In fact, black cats are pretty closely connected with luck no matter where you go. In some part of Europe if a black cat walks towards you, he is bringing you luck; if he walks away, he's taking that luck away from you instead. Still, most other portrayals of the black cat are pretty positive. Here are some of the ways cultures and people around the world still believe in the positive power of the black cat:
Scotland: If a black cat enters your home, you will soon gain riches or fame.
English Midlands: A black cat as a wedding present will bring good luck to the bride.
Pirates and sailors: Black cats keep sailors safe. (Sailors' wives used to keep a black cat around at home for extra luck.)
West Africa: Eating a black cat will keep you safe and prevent you from dying on a foreign land. (Not one of our favorites, we'll admit.)
Japan: Black cats will bring fortune and prosperity to a business, and will ward away dangers and bad luck. In the Edo period, people even saw owning a black cat as a cure for everything from tuberculosis to love-sickness.
So really, black cats only got the short end of the stick in some select places. The rest of the world knows how excellent these beautiful animals are!
Celebrate Black Cats
No matter where the superstition comes from, the belief that black cats mean bad luck has stuck around to the day, with some lasting effects. Black cats might enjoy the attention they receive from Halloween, but this infamy has also led to black cats being less likely to be adopted.
Luckily, many animal shelters hold special black cat adoption days throughout the year to get these great kitties into loving forever homes. You can spread the love for black cats by celebrating Black Cat Appreciation Day this year, on August 17th. We're positive it will bring you nothing but prosperity and good luck in the future.
Sources: Mental Floss, Today I Found Out, Historic Mysteries, Quora