• Cat Mythology Cats as Familiars

    Cat Mythology
    Cats as Familiars

    Cats as familiars have a long and dark history in western mythology. These cats 
    often found their way into literature. One of the most famous was Grimalkin, the witches' 
    cat from Shakespeare's MacBeth. Cats as witch's companions are still a part of the 
    popular symbology associated with the modern holiday of Halloween.

    What is a familiar? In western mythology a familiar was an animal companion 
    given by the devil to a witch in order to help her with her evil magic. These familiars 
    would have names just like any other pet. In the middle ages, if you were caught talking 
    to your pet (like a lot of people do) you were considered to be consorting with the devil in 
    speaking to w obviously your familiar. The Middle Ages were a very dark and violent 
    period in Europe. Their alternative name "Dark Ages" should come as no surprise. 
    Learning was confined to clergy and nobility. The general population was therefore quite 
    ignorant and prone to superstition. 

          A familiar could be any type of animal such as a toad, dog or cat. Black cats 
    became the traditionally cited companion and hence cats became particularly reviled. In 
    1233 Pope Gregory IX wrote in his Papal Bull "Vox in Rama" actually denounced black 
    cats as satanic. The Popes' proclamation began the persecution of cats all over Europe. 
    Thousands and thousands of cats were burned alive in the attempt to drive out the evil 
    Satan. Wild tales of these cats shape shifting into other creatures were common among 
    the populace and justified these terrible acts in their minds. When the power of the 
    Knights Templar was broken, some of the knights were said to have confessed to 
    worshipping cats. As these so-called confessions were given under extreme torture, they 
    would seem to speak more to the attitudes of their inquisitors than to anything the 
    Templars themselves had actually done.



    Why were black cats in particular singled out? There are a couple of legends that 
    might explain this singular revulsion. In the first legend, so the story goes, is that cats 
    who were born at the end of blackberry season were called blackberry cats. According to 
    this legend, the end of blackberry season coincides with the expulsion of Satan from 
    heaven. When he fell he landed on a blackberry bush which he defiled with his urine and 
    spit. Thus, blackberry cats, especially black ones are associated with the devil in this tale.  
    The second tale comes from Italy. The Italian witches, called streghe, tell a legend about 
    Diana who is goddess of the moon and also called "Queen of the Witches". Her brother 
    who was known in ancient times as Apollo, is renamed Lucifer (Light Bearer) in this tale. 
    Supposedly, Diana wanted to have a son by Lucifer, so she attempted to trick him by 
    taking the shape of a black cat.

    As you can see, these stories were pretty wild, and yet the people of those dark 
    times took them as the gospel truth. The irony of this superstitious hysteria against cats 
    was that by destroying the cats the Europeans nearly destroyed themselves. Cats had been 
    used for centuries to keep down the population of vermin, especially mice and rats. When 
    their predators were destroyed, the vermin population exploded. They ate large amounts 
    of grain that had been meant for human consumption resulting in widespread hunger 
    among the people.  Even worse than the hunger was that the enormous numbers of rats 
    became disease carriers. The worst of these diseases was the bubonic plague, otherwise 
    known as the Black Death. The Plagues of the Middle Ages are terrible instance of the 
    repercussions that can befall humans due to misplaced zeal.


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