A "DIVINE" CAT HISTORY:
FELINES AS GODS AND GODDESSES:
From some of the earliest recorded histories of humankind
come tales of deities who were, in whole or in part,
felines. The ancient world of the Egyptians, Sumerians and
other peoples in the North African - Mediterranean region
honored the divine nature of the cat. In many cases,
these entities combined cat characteristics with those
of other creatures.
One of the most notable gods was the Sphinx (which also
appeared in Greek mythology), which has the body of a lion
and the head of a human - a mirror of our desire to merge
with the feline family. The Sphinx sets forth a riddle to
all who pass it and destroys those who cannot answer.
WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN:
The Egyptians had many other feline deities:
Menhit, a lion goddess of war whose name has been translated
as "she who slaughters"
Mahes, the Egyptian God of summer who is a lion or a man
with a lionís head, known as "Lord of the Massacre" (also
know in Greece as Miysis);
--Sakhmet, a powerful war goddess depicted with a womanís
body and the head of a lioness, who was summoned to wreak
No depiction of the sacred nature of cats is more familiar
than that of Bast (or Bastet). Always shown as a statuesque
black feline, Bast was the positive aspect of Sakhmet and
protected cats and those who cared for them. She was a
goddess of the home and important in Egyptian mythology.
(I managed to get a great photo of one of these statues at
Her fur-bearing charges are often shown attacking the
serpents who threaten the Sun. In all likelihood, her image
was brought from that region to Europe and Britain by
ancient mariners whose travels were dictated by the winds
and seas and... perhaps... by the cats themselves.
The neighboring Sumerians had their own sacred feline
Ningirsu was the god of rain and fertility in both ancient
Babylon and Sumer. His visage combines the majesty of the
eagle with a lionís head. The Sumerian deity who ruled the
South Wind, Imdugud, was the messenger of Enki, the water
God, and carried the spring rains on its back to the arid
lands of its worshippers. It, too, is a blend of the body
of a bird (perhaps eagle or hawk) with a lionís head whose
mighty roar was the very sound of thunder.
Other cultures honored the feline family:
Indian legends identify the fourth incarnation of Vishnu as
a lion, while another mythical creature, the Yali, is a
curious mixture of lion and elephant. In Bali, Barong is a
protective spirit who appears as either a lion or tiger.
In addition to the Sphinx and Miysis, the ancient Greeks
also had two other cat hybrids: the Griffin, with the body
and hind quarters of a lion and the forelegs and head of
an Eagle, who guards a treasure; and the Chimera, with a
lionís head, goatís body and the tail of a snake.
Even the ancient Norse knew of the felineís association
with the gods and goddesses; Freyaís chariot is often
shown as being drawn by two gray cats.
LIES AND LEGENDS: MYTHS AND SUPERSTITIONS:
From an object of worship to household companion, the cat
has always been a source of myths and superstition, often
contradictory, but almost universal across cultures and
times. The belief that a black cat crossing your path can
lead to bad luck is the best known of these legends; yet,
to those who followed the Olde Path, the appearance of a
feline of sepian hue was a fortuitous event. It was also
believed that the tail of a black cat could cure a stye.
Black cats seem to be the object of most of the cat
superstitions. Italians in the 1500s were certain that
if a black cat appeared on a sickbed, the occupant would
die. The Gaelic peoples believed that seeing a black cat
crossing the path by moonlight foretold death by plague
(the precursor to the more modern and less dire superstition,
no doubt). At funerals, they avoided the "dark ones" to
prevent another family member from perishing.
Yet even white cats do not escape myths: even today English
children fear that seeing a white cat while heading to school
will lead to trouble.
Throughout Europe the catís connection to the divine powers
was believed to be so strong that to harm a cat would bring
evil to the perpetrator. If that person was a farmer, evil
would befall his crops and cattle.
Not all cat myths are negative in nature. In Pennsylvania
Dutch communities, the old world tradition of placing a cat
into an empty cradle to ensure the birth of a child is still
In the hills of Tennessee and Arkansas, a young woman takes
three hairs from a catís tail, puts them into a folded paper
and places them under a doorstep to help her decide whether
she should accept a marriage proposal. If the hairs form a Y
she accepts and if an N appears, the answer should be no.
The cat-deity has been fortune teller, source of fear, source
of knowledge, and domestic companion. For all that we know
about our furry feline friends, their secrets remain their
own and are a source of wonder and curiosity for all who
would walk in the world of the cat.
An article by Lou Cheek