It is widely known that cats are among the most beloved household companions around the globe. Unpredictable and mysterious, they are almost everywhere. When we say “everywhere,” you can see them not just in animal forms. You can see them as stuffed toys, garden ornaments, or clothing. But has it ever crossed your mind what cats represent in various cultures?
Many cultures have superstitious beliefs towards cats. Some consider them good omen, while others consider them bad—specifically, black cats. Nevertheless, some cultures view them as a symbol of something mystical and otherworldly. Today, we will talk about cat representations in different cultures and find out where their beliefs come from.
Cat Representations in Different Cultures
Domestic cats are a relatively new part of human lives compared to dogs. Humans and canines have been deeply connected for over 35 million years. On the other hand, the relationship between cats and humans began only 9500 years ago.
So what makes these furry felines so unique, and why do they keep a hold on our lives? To find out, let’s take a look at cat representations in different cultures around the world.
Some say that Ancient Egyptians were the first to treat cats as pets as far back as 3000 BC. They fell in love with their sweet nature and the ability to protect them from rats and snakes. For this reason, they started worshipping cats.
Bastet, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of beauty and fertility, was pictured with a cat’s head. She was a mysterious goddess that symbolized the sun, the moon, the light, and the warmth.
The Ancient Egyptians also held state funerals for the deceased cats. They performed the same ceremonies for the death of the Pharaohs.
Greece and Rome
The Ancient Greeks fell in love with the Egyptian cats, and they stole six pairs from them so that they could have their own. By the time they had raised a few litters, the popularity of cats grew in their country. They started selling them to the Romans, the Celts, and the Galls.
Soon enough, cats spread across the Mediterranean. They created a vast empire their owners could only imagine.
At first, the Ancient Greeks would give cats to high-class courtesans as luxury gifts rather than pets. In the Romans, however, their relationship with felines was very different.
Centuries ago in China, cats were a valuable commodity traded for their weight in silk. However, over time, they became more than just a means of trade and started being revered as symbols of peace, love, serenity, and good luck.
Nowadays, cats are widely kept as pets in China and are believed to bring good fortune to their owners and keep evil spirits at bay. Their presence is seen as a positive influence on the household and a source of comfort and joy.
Cat’s presence in Japan dates back to 999 when a young Japanese emperor received it as a gift on his 13th birthday.
While the Japanese believed that their presence could bring good luck, they also thought that the shape of a cat’s tail symbolized evil. Furthermore, they associate cats with feminine grace and elegance. That’s why they created and passed a law prohibiting cats’ confinement and commercialization.
In India, Sashthi, the fertility goddess, is often depicted with a cat’s face. To honor this association, artisans would carve statues of cats that were used as lamps and to deter rodents.
Interestingly, Buddhists also hold cats in high regard, believing their meditative nature can help keep evil spirits at bay. It should be noted, however, that while cats are revered in these cultures, they are not necessarily considered sacred.
Cats have been believed to bring good luck to Russians for centuries. It is said that owning one or getting one when moving to a new house can bring good fortune.
Cats have guarded the Hermitage Museum/Winter Palace since Empress Elizabeth’s reign. The city of Kazan in Tatarstan presented five of the best mousers to her to control the palace’s rodent problem.
Cats were pampered and had specialized servants until the October Revolution. After that, volunteers took care of them, but now the museum personnel is responsible for their well-being.
Not all cultures consider cats a good omen. Some believe they bring bad luck. For instance, Native Americans, particularly the Oglala tribe, avoided cats at all costs. They thought these furry kitties would bring bad luck to those who came across them. In Wabanaki folklore, Lusifee, a wildcat figure, is depicted as selfish, greedy, and evil.
In other Native American tribes, like the Zuni tribe, however, they believe their spiritual Wildcat figure has healing powers. They would carve Wildcat out of stone and bring it whenever they went hunting.
Like Native Americans, Europeans have mixed beliefs regarding our four-legged friends. Black cats are generally believed to bring bad luck—except in the UK. A black cat entering a house or a ship is a good omen. If you are married to a sailor, it is believed to bring good luck and safety to have a black cat with you while your spouse is at sea.
On the other hand, other parts of the content believe that crossing paths with a black cat is bad luck. There are also beliefs regarding white cats. In the UK, they are considered bad omen because they believe they bear the color of ghosts. Meanwhile, tortoiseshell cats are lucky.
As you can see, people in different parts of the world have various conceptions of cats. Some people admired and worshiped them to the point that they gave them a formal funeral service when they passed away. On the other hand, some people thought of them as evil omens to the point where they would do anything to avoid coming into contact with them.
One thing is sure, though, and that is the fact that our cuddly feline friends have become an essential component of our lives, regardless of the various beliefs and representations that exist around them.
How about in the nation that you hail from? What kinds of things do people associate with cats within your culture?