8. THEY CAN TRANSFER THEIR FACES TO UNBORN BABIES.
In a few different areas of Europe, it was thought to be ɪʟʟ-advised for a pregnant woman to pick up a cat or let it sleep in her lap. In Portugal, it was once said the cat wɪʟʟ ᴀғғʟɪᴄᴛ the baby with a ᴡᴀʀᴛ or mole, usually a hairy one, and in England, it was thought the baby wɪʟʟ either be born with a cat-shaped birthmark or with the face of a cat. This is sort of not fair, because another English folk tale says that black cats are lucky as a wedding gift, as is a cat (of any color, apparently) who sneezes within earshot of the bride on her wedding day.
9. THEY HAUNT THE CELTIC COUNTRYSIDE (OR AT LEAST ONE OF THEM DOES).
In ancient Scottish and Irish folklore, an oversized black cat with a trademark white patch on its ᴄʜᴇsᴛ, called the Cat Sìth, skulks around at night looking for souls to steal. At wakes and ꜰᴜɴᴇʀᴀʟs, to protect the poor deceased’s soul from the wily Cat Sìth, various distractions were supplied to deter or distract it, such as catnip or loud music. A fire was also never burned in a room with a ᴄᴏʀᴘsᴇ, since every cat loves to curl up by a warm fireplace.
This spectral cat isn’t as huge as some of the others found in folk tales—it’s about the size of a dog—and it’s secretly a witch who can turn into a cat, but she can only do it nine times. (Sound familiar?) Upon the last transformation, she’s stuck in cat format forever. The Cat Sith wasn’t all bad, though. Each year, on the Gaelic festival of Samhain, saucers of milk were left outside houses for her, and she’d bless the houses in return. However, if you didn’t leave a saucer of milk for the sorceress, you’d be ᴄᴜʀsᴇᴅ and all your cows’ milk would dry up. Seems fair.
10. THEY LIVE IN THE SEA AND CAUSE STORMS.
Superstitious fishermen in the British Isles might throw a bit of fish back into the sea “for the cat.” This mythical cat was a woman who “knew more than a Christian should” (a.k.a. a witch) who went sailing with her fiancé, a fisherman. On the voyage, she ᴄᴜʀsᴇᴅ the whole fleet by calling up a storm to ᴡʀᴇᴄᴋ the ship, as revenge upon the crew members who thought it was unlucky to have a woman on board and wanted her to be ᴅʀᴏᴡɴᴇᴅ. She was turned into a four-eyed cat who haunted the ocean, and the fishermen stɪʟʟ throw her a morsel of food to appease her, lest she try it again. Many sailors and fishermen also think that if a cat falls overboard, a storm wɪʟʟ show up and the ship wɪʟʟ be capsized.
11. THEY CAUSED THE BLACK ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ.
In the Middle Ages, cats were commonly thought of as sinister beasts with basically the same powers as witches and warlocks, obviously in cahoots with Satan. A cat’s bite was ᴘᴏɪsᴏɴous, as was its flesh, and if you breathed its breath, you’d be ɪɴꜰᴇᴄᴛed with ᴄᴏɴsᴜᴍᴘᴛɪᴏɴ (also known as ᴛᴜʙᴇʀᴄᴜʟᴏsɪs). They could also make your beer go sour if they felt like it. As such, when ʙᴜʙᴏɴɪᴄ ᴘʟᴀɢᴜᴇ swept the European continent in the 14th century, kɪʟʟing up to 60% of the population in some regions, it was naturally assumed that the Devil was responsible, and his handiwork was attributed directly to his feline minions. Tremendous numbers of cats—especially black ones—were ᴅᴇsᴛʀᴏʏᴇᴅ during this wave of the ᴘʟᴀɢᴜᴇ, and sometimes their owners along with them. (To be fair, snakes were also blamed and ᴅᴇsᴛʀᴏʏᴇᴅ as well.) This was ɪʟʟ-advised, of course, because the real distributor of the ᴘʟᴀɢᴜᴇ was the Oriental flea, which lives on rats, and with dramatically fewer cats (and snakes) to keep their numbers in check, the rat (although some say it was a gerbil) population in Europe soared … as did the ᴘʟᴀɢᴜᴇ.
12. THEY WORK FOR THE DEVIL.
Medieval people thought that cats were the Devil’s personal soul courier, ferrying spirits to Hell. The three hairs on the tip of a cat’s tail were said to be “the devil’s hairs,” which compelled the cat to stay up all night, prowling, when all Christian creatures should be asleep. In the American South, it was thought that anyone who ᴅʀᴏᴡɴᴇᴅ a cat would be punished by the Devil himself (for the lesser crime of kicking a cat, he’d just give you ʀʜᴇᴜᴍᴀᴛɪsᴍ). Back in Europe, it was said that kittens born at the end of the blackberry season were especially rambunctious, and that was because when Satan was thrown out of Heaven around the end of summer he landed in the blackberry brambles, so he imbued their kitteny souls with mischief. Early Christians believed that if a cat sat on a grave, the soul of the deceased was possessed by Satan. Also, if two cats were seen ғɪɢʜᴛing on a grave during a ꜰᴜɴᴇʀᴀʟ or near a ᴅʏɪɴɢ person, it was believed that they were, in fact, an angel and a devil ғɪɢʜᴛing over that person’s soul—in cat form.
13. THEY CAN TALK, CARRY COFFINS, AND FORM A MONARCHY.
Speaking of black cats with white patches: In the British fable The King of the Cats, a s̴e̴x̴ton digging a grave (in some versions he’s just walking down the road) spies a clowder of nine black cats with white spots on their ᴄʜᴇsᴛs, carrying a miniature cat-sized coffin with a crown resting on it. One of the cats tells the man to “Tell Tommy Tildrum that Timmy Toldrum is ᴅᴇᴀᴅ.” The astonished man returns home to his wife and relays the news, while their housecat keeps interrupting his story with frantic meows. The couple ignores him, and they continue discussing the strange occurrence, amidst the racket. Finally, at the end, the man asks his wife if she knows who Tommy Tildrum is, so he can tell Tommy that Timmy has ᴅɪᴇᴅ, whereupon the cat cries out in the King’s English: “What? Old Tim ᴅᴇᴀᴅ? Then I’m the King o’ the Cats!” At this, the housecat—who is named Old Tom—scrambles up the chimney, never to be seen again.
14. THEY’RE LUCKY, BUT ONLY IN CERTAIN COLORS, AMOUNTS OF TOES, AND LEVELS OF CUTENESS.
The Japanese believe that cats are lucky, but there are a lot of qualifiers. The maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) is an iconic Japanese talisman that, it’s believed, brings good fortune to its owner, usually in the form of cash. One legend explains that a Japanese cat once waved a paw to beckon a lord into a house, which saved him from being sᴛʀᴜᴄᴋ by lightning a moment later, and so a cat who beckons with her paw is considered a lucky gesture. Tortoiseshell cats are also considered lucky in Japan, especially the rare male ones.
A Buddhist belief says a cat with a dark coat brings promises of gold, while a light-colored cat brings silver. In Russia, Russian Blue cats are considered lucky. Many cultures think that a polydactyl cat (one with extra toes) is a good-luck charm, and it’s said that early sailors who sojourned to America routinely brought many-toed cats with them to ensure safe travels, which is why there’s stɪʟʟ an influx of polydactyl cats in New England today. Finally, in China, the older and gnarlier a cat gets, the luckier it’s said to become.