1. THEY’LL EAT YOU FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER.
Iceland, for all of its twee elven aesthetic and excellent quality of living, has some pretty savage Christmas stories. It seems that Íslendingar grow up in fear of the ferocious Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat, who prowls the frozen countryside around Christmastime, looking for humans to eat. But this giant, ʙʟᴏᴏᴅthirsty cat-monster isn’t looking to make naughty children into his meal, as you might expect. He’s got an eye for fashion and is looking for people—kids, adults, whatever—who aren’t wearing fine new clothes for Christmas Eve. (Farmers tell this tale to their workers as an incentive to finish processing wool before autumn comes, so everyone can get their new clothes made before the slob-eating Christmas Cat shows up.) This very weird fable sounds like something from the Viking Age, but it isn’t really that old—it first appeared in print in the 19th century and wasn’t popularized (in poem form, in true Icelandic style) until the early 20th.
2. THEY’RE JUST MYSTICAL BEINGS IN GENERAL.
In many cultures, as you might have gathered by now, cats are considered mystic creatures. Egyptians considered them deities, and ᴋɪʟʟing a cat was punishable by ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ. When a family cat passed on, the whole clan went into mourning. Meanwhile, up north, every Norwegian Forest Cat is supposedly thought to be either a fairy or a goblin in disguise—and the difference can be ascertained if you stare into their eyes. It’s said the cat’s eyes act as windows to the fairy world (or goblin world, which are possibly the same world), and if you peer through them, you can see visions of the magical realm beyond.
3. THEY’RE SCORNED WOMEN IN DISGUISE WHO LIKE TO FEAST UPON NEWBORN BABIES.
This one comes to you from the Bible. As you may know, Adam’s sassy, insubordinate ex-wife, Lilith, is mentioned in the Book of Isaiah, referencing a much-older ᴅᴇᴍᴏɴic figure from Hebrew folklore who likes to eat babies. But did you know she could also turn into a cat? According to some Sephardic Jews, Lilith was also known as El Broosha, a ᴅᴇᴍᴏɴ who eats babies and takes a giant, black, polymorphous, cat-shaped form. She likes newborns best and stalks them in the night, draining them of every drop of ʙʟᴏᴏᴅ, vampire-style. She sometimes shows up in folklore as a screech owl too.
4. THEY CAN PREDICT THE WEATHER.
Or, rather, by watching them, you can. It’s said in England that a cat who claws at the curtains or the carpets is predicting windy weather, and the Welsh believed rain was coming when a cat’s pupil broadened. Rain is also foretold if a cat busily washes its ears. As well, if a cat continually looks out a window on any day, rain is on the way, and some say that when a cat sleeps with all four paws tucked under its body, it will rain. A rainstorm is coming if the cat sleeps on its back too. Basically, if a cat does anything, it’s gonna rain.
5. THEY ARE CACTI, AND THEY LIKE TO DRINK BOOZE.
About a century ago, tall tales in the Pueblo and Navajo country in northern Mexico and Arizona described a living, moving, breathing cat-shaped cactus, with needles in place of fur and two sharp blades for forelegs. The cactus cat liked to go around slashing the bases of real cacti with its knife-paws, to let the milky juices collect and ferment into pulque. It would do this to 80 cacti at a time, specifically. Once his work was done, the creature would return to the beginning of the circuit, get drunk on the pulque inside the cacti, then go around causing trouble in the region, swiping at cowboys and leaving telltale red welts.
6. THEY’LL STEAL YOUR BABY’S BREATH.
For centuries, folks in England believed that a cat is liable to climb into an infant’s crib and “suck” the child’s breath until it sᴜꜰꜰᴏᴄᴀᴛᴇs and ᴅɪᴇs. (In some versions of the tale, the cat is jealous because the newborn infant has suddenly deprived it of attention; other versions say it’s not jealousy but the scent of milk on the baby’s lips that inspires them.) In 1791, a jury at a coroner’s inquest in Plymouth, England, found a cat guilty of ɪɴꜰᴀɴᴛɪᴄɪᴅᴇ in this way. This has been a persistent myth that followed emigrants to the New World; in 1929, the Nebraska State Journal printed an alleged report from a doctor who said he’d witnessed a housecat “lying on the baby’s ʙʀᴇᴀsᴛ, a paw on either side of the babe’s mouth, the cat’s lips pressing those of the child and the infant’s face as pale as that of a ᴄᴏʀᴘsᴇ, its lips with the blueness of ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ.”
7. THEY’RE BASICALLY LIVING URNS FOR HUMAN SOULS.
A certain sect of Buddhism once practiced in the former kingdoms of Siam and Burma believed that when you ᴅɪᴇ, if you’re holy enough, your soul is transferred to a cat for safekeeping. In this way, special souls lived in a sort of feline purgatory, and when the kitty ᴅɪᴇd, the chaste soul would ascend to paradise. The sect obviously holds cats in high regard, depicting sleeping cats at the feet of Buddha statues. Although Siam is now called Thailand, a ritual that’s still strictly observed during the coronation of a new Thai king is to present him with a live cat adorned in gold jewelry. (A Siamese one, of course.) In this way, it’s thought, the spirit of the old king is able to witness the coronation, through the cat’s eyes. A gold-trimmed cat was present at the crowning of the Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, in 1950.