Where did the black cat get its bad reputation?


Pope Gregory IX has got a lot to answer for!

Cat in a night Garden By Daniel Mackie at The DM Collection

Historically the black cat has been seen as lucky, but also unlucky, depending on whether it's walking towards or away from you. The black cat is a shapeshifter, a courier for witches, a witches familiar. Yet if you are a lady and own a black cat, you shall have many suitors!

It wasn't until the early 19th century that the black cat managed to shake off its "unlucky" reputation. Its name was blackened in the middle ages and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.

The black cat's reputation was, to put it bluntly, ruined by Pope Gregory IX in 1232. He issued a Papal Bull, or decree, called the Vox in Rama which was sent to King Henry (VII) of Germany demanding that all efforts must be made to stop the practice of Luciferianism, a form of devil worship.

Now, the 12th century wasn't such a great time to be anything but a catholic. It was a time of great superstition and the start of the “demonisation of heretics". Prior to the Vox in Rama, Conrad of Marburg had been sent out by the pope to uncover satanic cults. You guessed it, he found them and not only were they worshipping the devil - but also a diabolical black cat! 

This looks like where it all went wrong for the black puss. Read more about the bizarre contents of the Vox in Rama here. But I must press on.

The Vox in Rama is the first official document that condemns the black cat as an incarnation of Satan. As a result it was effectively a death warrant for black cats everywhere and they were slaughtered without mercy. 

Some scholars claim that this worsened the Black Death a century after Gregory's time. This was because the plague was spread by rats who were unchecked in Europe due to the decline of cat numbers.

Thankfully that was a long time ago and the black cat's reputation is now fully restored.

Take a look at the beautiful black cat design I've included in the Nocturnal Collection - I think you'll agree he's far from a 12th century demon! 

 Image © Daniel Mackie 

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1 comment


I discovered your work on a greetings card stand yesterday in the Webb Street Co. shop in Chichester and fell in love! I wanted to buy them all up! I bought the “tomorrow is another day” red squirrel & made a note to web-search later on. Now I’m musing over your blog with my tea. Lots of food for thought: folklore, pre-Christian religion, old phrases and fables. And such beautiful animals! Now I want a Kitsune fox for my birthday. XD

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