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Updated March 09, 2013

The truth about black cats

"Whenever the cat of the house is black, The lasses of lovers will have no luck." An English Proverb

Perhaps no other pets’ name is cloaked by so many mysteries and superstitions as cats. Indeed, there are numerous supernatural powers that people ascribed to these furry and, no doubt, mysterious petite animals! What’s more, the attitude of humans to cats from the times of yore till now was, to say, mixed. In many myths and legends you can find dogs, horses and even cocks to be positive heroes, while our felines often act in negative avatar. Melanistic cats or cats with black fur have often been looked upon as a symbol of bad luck. Even nowadays in America if a black kitty happens to cross path with a person, it is interpreted as a bad omen, whereas the Chinese consider the ebony coated felines to be harbingers of famine and poverty. In Italy many hold the superstition that if an inky cat comes to lie on a sick person’s bed, the person has no chance of recovery. There is an old belief in Russia that black cats attract lightning during thunderstorm, so during nasty weathers the ivory fellows often get kicked out from the houses. Cats are not allowed in the room if the family is having a private talk in the Netherlands — the fear is that the cat will spread gossip all over town, and the family secrets will be out. During the Middle Ages, black cats were associated with witchcraft and evil arts. It was believed that witches could transform into cats and they could make that transformation nine times. Unfortunately, those superstitions had dire consequences for dark breeds of these innocent animals — there are records that in the early mediaeval period in Europe, there was a unique breed of pure black cats, however, during the inquisition they were completely exterminated by ignorant fanatics. So, why do people still dread black cats? To answer this question let’s take a look at the dawn of the human race. It was the time when men had a very simple lifestyle, doing all their activities during daytime and resting at night. However, even that plain routine contained a lot of risks, as nights were the favourite time of large predators of the cat family to go hunting. Humans also fell prey to hungry lions and leopards, and if in the light of the day they could somehow spot the sneaking animals and protect themselves, at night they were completely defenceless in front of the sharp claws and teeth of the “lords of nights”. Human have poor night vision as compared to lions and leopards. Perhaps, that was how the fright of felines (and, yes, fear of the dark as well) originated. And many years later, when our ancestors acquired the skill to produce and maintain fire, they learnt to beat this scare. But, as it turned out, not entirely! But what about black cats crossing one’s path? The representatives of the cat family have individual hunting areas, which they enviously guard to ward off strangers. Lions and other such male cats tour their territory and scent mark their area, signalling that the place is “owned”. Even today, during their round, these big cats sometimes lose vigilance and can be easily spotted by men, whereas many years back humans were hardly a danger to them. So imagine this picture: a tribe of ancient people wanders through the savannah, and suddenly they face a lion, who is touring his area. Definitely, no one would be happy to end up as a hungry animal’s dinner! Hence, the rule was born — to be very wary of dark nights and big cats! Probably, that was how the superstition about the tragic outcome of meeting with black cats originated. Why black? I guess, among leopards, the black leopards or panthers, were the easiest to notice, as compared to other species. That is why the mind of the ancient man subconsciously termed the panther as a symbol of mortal danger. And with time, the rule “to never cross your path with a black leopard” became applicable to all cats, irrespective of the size — what if that black kitty turned out to be a close relative of a panther? Quite a credible explanation, isn’t it? But on serious note, black cats have been proved to be more humble and friendly to people and even more resistant to various stresses than their “coloured” brethren. So, from now on, never be afraid if a black little fellow crosses your path. Most likely, he is in hurry doing his catty errands, and far from the thought of hurting you. But, if you happen to find yourself in a similar situation with black panther, it is better to change your route. You never know!