From elegant aesthete & celebrated master portrait photographer Carl Van Vechten's book on cats, The Tiger in the House (1922):
CHAPTER FOUR - The Cat & The Occult
Notre dame la Lune blonde
Est la patronne des bons chats.
Elle préside a leurs ébats
Avec sa grosse face ronde.
Quand le Uent siffle un air de ronde,
Elle rit à leurs entrechats.
Notre dame la Lune blonde
Est la patronne des bons chats.
Mais quand, après de long pourchas,
Folle d’amour, la bande gronde,
Elle se voile et cache au monde
Le mystère impur des Sabbats
Notre dame la Lune blonde.
THE MYSTICAL character of the cat has challenged attention, delighting her admirers and terrifying her detractors, since she strolled rather suddenly and magnificently into history about 1600 B. C. Her origin itself is veiled in the deepest mystery, for those who believe her to be a gentle descendant of some tamed wild cat must overlook the fact that of all terrestrial beasts the wild cat of today most persistently and ferociously resists all attempts at domestication.“Peut-être est-il fée, est il dieu,” writes Baudelaire of puss, and again the French poet speaks of the “chat mystérieux, chat séraphique, chat étrange.” A writer in the “Occult Review” informs us that cats have green auras and assures us that they are the most magnetic of quadrupeds. Sir Walter Scott once observed to Washington Irving, “Ah! cats are a mysterious kind of folk. There is more passing in their minds than we are aware of. It comes no doubt from their being so familiar with warlocks and witches.” Sir Walter, however, reversed cause and effect. Warlocks and witches are familiar with cats because cats are occult. Their tread is soft and noiseless. They leap lightly, and apparently blindly to the top of a high-boy littered with glass and china without disturbing an element in this brittle composition. The pupils of their eyes, wide open, vary with the light; in China it has sometimes been the fashion to tell the time of day by them; in Suffolk cats’ eyes are popularly supposed to dilate with the ebb and flow of the tide. Madame Michelet asserts that it is their very transparence, their clearness, which gives these eyes their mystery, these wide open eyes which see on and beyond, which stare in an ecstatic gnostic gaze which has nothing in common with the begging or reproachful eyes of a dog. At night these eyes glisten and shine in the dark. Maister Salmon, who writes of puss in his “Compleat English Physician,” published in 1693, seems to be sufficiently bewildered: “As to its Eyes, Authors say that they shine in the Night; and see better at the full, and more dimly at the change of the Moon. Also that the Cat doth vary his Eyes with the Sun; the Pupil being round at Sunrise, and long towards the Noon, and not to be seen at all at Night, but the whole Eye shining in the darkness. These appearances of the Cat’s Eyes, I am sure are true; but whether they answer to the times of Day, I have never observed.” The half-shut lids are even more suggestive and significant of strange thaumaturgic powers. They can be feral, too, these eyes, a fact that Prosper Mérimée has recorded in “Carmen”: “Eye of a gipsy, eye of a wolf is a Spanish proverb which signifies acute observation. If you have not the time to go to the zoological gardens to study the stare of a wolf, look at your cat when he lies in wait for a sparrow.” The fur harbours electricity and sends swift currents of this lightning up the arm of him who strokes the animal. Sometimes, alone with a cat in the dead silences of the night, I have watched the creature’s eyes suddenly dilate, her ears point back; with arched spine a startling, unexpected, unexplained prance across the floor follows; then puss settles back again to laundry and repose as if nothing had happened. What has happened? What has awakened this fit of wildness? Is it some noise unheard by humans, an unwelcome smell, or some reminiscence of the terrible mediaeval nights when the cat joined the witch in her broom-stick trails across the face of the moon?
The cat walks by herself, retains her pride, her dignity, her reserve, keeps the secret of the ciborium, and gives no sign of the cupellations she has witnessed in alchemystical garrets. She is perverse, refuses to be “put” anywhere, often takes delight in manifesting her affection for some one who has an inherent dislike for her, while she frequently ignores an admirer. “You never get to the bottom of cats,” says a writer in “All the Year Round.” “You will never find two, well known to you, that do not offer marked diversities in ways and dispositions, and, in general, the combination they exhibit of activity and repose, and the rapidity with which they pass from one to the other, their gentle aspects and fragile forms, united with strength and pliancy, their sudden appearances and disappearances, their tenacity of life and many escapes from dangers, their silent and rapid movements, their sometimes unaccountable gatherings, and strange noises at night—all contribute to invest them with a mysterious fascination, which reaches its culminating point in the (not very frequent) case of a completely black cat.”
Is it wonderful that these qualities have served to cause her to be worshipped as a god, or reviled as a demon? Animals not infrequently play important rôles in mythology and enter into the elements of religion, but no other animal, it would seem, is so intimately bound with the arcane rites of several ages as the cat, waited upon by the priests of Egypt, the “familiar” of witches in the middle ages, the companion of Saint Ives and Saint Gertrude, “gentlest of mystics,” in Sicily sacred to St. Martha, the friend of Mohammed, the time-piece of China, and the weather-vane of Scotland and England; puss saunters with noiseless pads, through the folklore and legends of Europe, Asia, and Africa, now petted, now hated or feared, now regarded with awe or horror, now with tenderness and veneration.
The cat is not mentioned in the Bible, (Note 1) a fact which offers consolation to many dog-lovers, and her name appears only once in the Apocrypha. (Note 2) The allusion is significant. We learn that a cat may not only look at a king, she is also permitted to sit on a god’s head. Painters of Biblical scenes have evidently regarded puss’s omission as an oversight or an impertinent perversion and they have put her into their pictures while an old Arabian legend connects her creation with the story of the ark. According to this charming folk-tale the pair of mice originally installed on board this boat increased and multiplied to such an extent that life was rendered unbearable for the other occupants, whereupon Noah passed his hand three times over the head of the lioness and she obligingly sneezed forth the cat. Another oriental story which obtained wide credence has it that the first day the animals entered the ark they rested quietly in their state-rooms. The first to venture forth was the monkey who persuaded the lioness to forget her vows of fidelity. The result of this initial transgression of natural laws was not only the birth of the cat but also, the old author assures us, “the spreading of a spirit of coquetry which endured during the whole of the sojourn the animals made there.” Still another story is related by Pierre Palliot in “La vraye et parfaicte science des armoires” (Paris; 1664): “The cat is more harmful than useful, its caresses are more to be dreaded than desired, and its bite is fatal. The cause of the pleasure it gives us is strange and entertaining. At the moment of the creation of the world, says the fable, the Sun and the Moon emulated each other in peopling the earth with animals. The Sun, great, fiery, and luminous, formed the lion, beautiful, sanguinary, and generous. The Moon, seeing the other gods in admiration before this noble work, caused a cat to come forth from the earth, but one as disproportionate to the lion in beauty and courage as she (the Moon) is to her brother (the Sun). This contention gave rise to derision, and also indignation on the part of the Sun, who, being angry that the Moon should have attempted to match herself with him,
Créa par forme de mépris
En même temps une souris.
As, however, ‘the sex’ never surrenders, the Moon made herself still more ridiculous by producing the most absurd of all animals, the monkey. This creature was received by the company of stars with a burst of immoderate laughter. A flame spread itself over the face of the Moon, even as when she threatens us with a tempest of great winds, and by a last effort, in order to be eternally revenged upon the Sun, she set undying enmity between the monkey and the cat, and between the cat and the mouse. Hence comes the sole advantage which we derive from the cat.”
The cat was known in Egypt at least 1600 years before the birth of Christ, as certain tablets prove. Bast or Pasht was the cat goddess, worshipped at Bubastes, and it is from this name that certain wise philologists wish to derive the word, puss; still others like to think it comes from the Latin, pusus, little boy, or pusa, little girl. Herodotus informs us that Pasht occupied a similar position among the Egyptians to that of Artemis among the Greeks; this was the Diana of the Romans. Diana, indeed, assumed the form of a cat, when Typhon forced the gods and goddesses to hide themselves in animal shapes. There is also a connection with the Norse goddesses, Freyja, the Teutonic Venus, whose chariot was drawn by cats, and Helda, who was accompanied by maidens on cats or themselves distinguished in feline form. Pasht was the goddess of light, but more than Diana, of both the moon and sun. The Egyptian word mausignified both light and cat. Moreover the sun-god Rä was frequently referred to as The Great Cat. Puss prefers the moon; the Hindu poet says, “The cat laps the moonbeams in the bowl of water, thinking them to be milk.” Diana was also the goddess of wisdom, hunting, and chastity. Wise and a huntress the cat certainly is, but chaste, never! (Note 3)
Vulson de la Colombiere, whose science was heraldry, in the “Livre de la science héroïque,” speaks quaintly of the cat’s relation to the moon: “Comme le lion est un animal solitaire, aussi le chat est une bête lunatique, dont les yeux, clairvoyants et étincelants durant les plus obscures nuits, croissent et décroissent à l’imitation de la lune; car, comme la lune, selon qu’elle participe à la lumière du soleil, change tous les jours de face, ainsi le chat est touché de pareille affection envers la lune, sa prunelle croissant et diminuant au même temps que cet astre est en son croissant ou en son décours. Plusieurs naturalistes assurent que, lorsque la lune est en son plein, les chats ont plus de force et d’adresse pour faire la guerre aux souris que lorsqu’elle est faible!”
The Egyptians shaved their eyebrows and went into mourning when a cat died and the penalty for killing a cat was very severe. As any one who witnessed a feline death scene was often suspected of murder, Egyptian citizens took care to be as far away as possible on such occasions, not a very difficult precautionary measure, one would believe, because pussy’s instinct is to conceal herself when she is sick, as she is unable to confront her enemies in that condition. G. A. Henty has chosen as the central episode for his story, “The Cat of Bubastes,” the dilemma of an Egyptian who was inadvertently responsible for a cat’s death. Cats were painted in fresco, sculptured in stone, and even mummified after death. The countless examples of these mummies in contemporary museums bear silent witness to the veneration in which the animal was held. There were several methods of embalming in use among the Egyptians. Of these only the most elaborate has left its record. The working classes might have their bodies soaked in an antiseptic mixture and so preserved for a time, but it was the privilege of kings and rulers alone to have their bodies imbued with costly drugs and sweet spices and to lie unchanged in their tombs for thousands of years until their mummied remains were removed from their long repose.… The privilege which was denied the workingman was granted to the cat. (Note 4)
The fact that mummied mice have been discovered in the cat tombs has puzzled some scientists. But in the royal tombs food was always provided for the mummied ruler; what more natural than to provide food for the mummied cat!… We may better understand this worship of the cat if we know something of animal symbolism and credit the priests of Egypt with having known more than we do. It is well also to bring forward the testimony of Professor Maspero who is of the opinion that the worship of cats among the lower middle classes of Egypt was largely adoration of the cat herself, not of the official god incarcerated in the animal. In support of this belief he describes certain stelae in the museum of Turin. On one, belonging to the age of the eighteenth dynasty, huge figures of a cat and a swallow are painted with a table of offerings before them, as well as two kneeling scribes. Accompanying phylacteries state that these offerings are to the “good cat” and “good swallow,” not to any of the state gods hidden under these forms. Further it must be taken for granted that following each inundation of the Nile every farm became an island on which mice, serpents, and insects flourished, from whose depredations the farmer depended upon the cat and the ibis to free him.
I remember a night in a villa on the Florentine hills, a green Florentine night … a dumb curiosity seized two of us and caused us to leave our chairs on the loggia where the faint breeze flickered the flames of the Roman lamps and the tall bottles of golden strega stood half-filled, to mount the stairs, led on by a nameless questioning, and to seek the chamber directly above the spot where we had been sitting, the temporary abode of two white Persian cats.… The room was empty when we entered; the bright moonlight streaming in from the doorway which led to a terrace which formed the roof of the loggia told us that. Noiselessly, and apparently unreasonably, we stole carefully across the broad chamber and looked out.… I can still see the expression of horror on my companion’s face, perhaps reflected on my own, as we stood just hidden by the hangings at the doorway and saw the two cats softly lift their paws from two white doves who rose unsteadily, dizzily, and lazily into the green atmosphere, while the cats rolled on their backs, stretching their claws to the air and making faint mews.… Did we learn why the hawk and the cat sit together in the temples of the Nile?
We lose sight of the cat in the early history of Greece (Note 5) but that does not prove that she did not exist during this civilization. Emily James Putnam, in her ironic book, points out that the lady suffered a similar eclipse. In Rome dogs were not permitted in the Temple of Hercules but pussies were admitted. Sacerdotal cats were welcomed even in the adytum. The priests were wise to make a virtue of necessity; it is impossible to exclude cats from any place which they desire to enter. To this day they attend Christian churches of any denomination whenever they have the inclination. In Hone’s “Every-day Book” there is a reference to a curious mediaeval custom, for which credit is given to Mills’s “History of the Crusades:” “At Aix in Provence on the festival of Corpus Christi, the finest Tom cat of the country, wrapped like a child in swaddling clothes, was publicly exhibited in a magnificent shrine. Every knee was bent, every hand either strewed flowers or poured incense, and, in short, the cat on this occasion was treated in all respects as the god of the day.” This curious anecdote has found wide credence and has been repeated in most of the cat books. A writer in the Catholic periodical, “The Month,” however, finds little to believe in it. (Note 6) According to this savant, King Rene of Anjou in 1472, although they had been in existence long before that, formulated a definite plan for the games of this day, theatrical interludes between the serious religious business. Unfortunately King Rene’s manuscript has been lost, but a full account of the games, with curious illustrations, made just prior to the French Revolution when the Aix procession was still unshorn of its splendour, still exists and it is from that that the writer in “The Month” derives his information. There were, it seems, twelve jeux and the cat appeared in the first one, which was called, indeed, The play of the cat: One of the performers carried a tall staff with a gilt image of a calf on top of it, round it were grouped some of the Israelites, while Moses, easily recognized by his horns, and Aaron, distinguished by his breastplate, stood aloof and rebuked them. However, the chief subject of popular interest was the cat. How he came to be introduced into the picture we can only conjecture, but at any rate there he was. One of the performers carried poor Tom in his arms, muffled up in some sort of covering, probably to keep him from scratching. As the scene proceeded he tossed him up as high as he could in the air, catching him again, amid the plaudits of the crowd, with more or less dexterity. Grégoire’s engraving represents the cat in the act of being tossed, and depicts the agonized expression of the victim. “We can readily understand that this bit of cruel buffoonery will have been the most popular feature of the procession,” adds the Catholic author, “but we can only explain the presence of poor pussy by supposing that besides the golden calf, King René wished to suggest that the Israelites had also remembered something of the animal worship of the Egyptians. At any rate it is this sense and this sense only that the inhabitants and priests of Aix can be described as paying divine honours to the cat.”
The cat seems to have been at home in China from the fifth century, A. D., and she was introduced into Japan from China as late as the tenth century. In both these countries she generally plays a demonaic and reprehensible part in legend and folklore, although there are stories about cats who befriended mortals. Usually, however, she steals precious objects; she has the pernicious habit of producing dancing balls of fire; she wraps a towel around her head and walks the roof-top on her hind legs; sometimes she grows a forked tail and thereby becomes a nekomata. When she is ten years old she begins to talk. In China she is employed by old women to negotiate obliquities; in Japan she destroys these beldams. Her spiritual strength increases with age and she is able, if she attains the proper number of years, to effect certain transformations. This belief finds confirmation in European folklore in which it is held that a cat twenty years old turns into a witch, and a witch a hundred years old turns back into a cat. Nevertheless, in spite of the animal’s turpitudes, the killing of a cat was a sin for which a heavy spiritual penalty existed in Japan. The curse of the beast was said to fall not only on the man himself but on his family to the seventh generation. Sometimes the cat killed the culprit; sometimes she was satisfied to haunt him. The Persians also hesitate before slaying a cat as Djinns or Afreets often assume feline forms and the angry evicted demons are frequently willing to spend the rest of eternity haunting the person responsible for destroying their dwellings. In Egypt the Arabs believe that a Djinn takes the form of a cat when he wishes to haunt a house and the last born of twins is capable, in order to satisfy her desires, of turning herself into a cat. A traveller who had killed a cat for making ravages in his storehouse at Luxor was visited next day by a neighbouring apothecary who begged him to kill no more cats. “My daughter,” he explained, “often visits you in the form of a cat to eat your dessert.”
There is further the doctrine of metempsychosis to consider. There was a belief held in China that one became a cat after death. This belief caused the mighty Empress Wu to forbid cats entrance to her palace because a court lady, whom she had cruelly caused to be put to death, threatened to turn Her Royal Highness into a rat and tease her as a spectre-cat. There is a story in the “Konjaku Monogatari” of a man who was terribly afraid of cats, probably because he had been a rat in his previous existence. This belief prevailed in India, too, of course. General Sir Thomas Edward Gordon in “A Varied Life” (1906) tells the following remarkable story: “For twenty-five years an oral addition to the written standing orders of the native guard at Government House near Poona had been communicated regularly from one guard to another on relief, to the effect that any cat passing out of the front door after dark was to be regarded as His Excellency, the Governor, and to be saluted accordingly. The meaning of this was that Sir Robert Grant, Governor of Bombay, had died there in 1838 and on the evening of the day of his death a cat was seen to leave the house by the front door and walk up and down a particular path, as it had been the Governor’s habit to do after sunset. A Hindu sentry had observed this, and he mentioned it to the others of his faith, who made it a subject of superstitious conjecture, the result being that one of the priestly class explained the mystery of the dogma of the transmigration of the soul from one body to another, and interpreted the circumstance to mean that the spirit of the deceased Governor had entered into one of the house pets.
“It was difficult to fix on a particular one, and it was therefore decided that every cat passing out of the main entrance after dark was to be treated with due respect and the proper honours. The decision was accepted without question by all the native attendants and others belonging to Government House. The whole guard from sepoy to sibadar, fully acquiesced in it, and an oral addition was made to the standing orders that the sentry at the front door ‘present arms to any cat passing out there after dark.’”
The orientals are more astute about cats than we are. They ascribe to them a language, a knowledge of the future, an extreme sensitiveness which allows them to perceive objects and beings invisible to man. They are aware that this animal wavers on the borderland between the natural and the supernatural, the conscious and the subconscious. They even allow them to have ghosts. It may be said here that an occidental clergyman has written a book (Note 7) to prove that animals have souls and will share our future existence. A heaven without cats would, of course, be deserted for a hell with them.
In Professor de Groot’s “Religious System of China” we find an early story of cat sorcery. The incident occurred in 598 A. D., under the Sui Dynasty. In that year the Emperor was about to order his brother-in-law, named Tuh-hu T’o, and his wife to commit suicide for having employed cat-spectres against the Empress and another lady, who had fallen ill simultaneously. By the personal intervention of the Empress herself and that of her younger brother they were granted their lives, but the man was divested of all his dignities and his wife was made a Buddhist nun. During the trial a female slave told the judges that T’o’s mother used to sacrifice to the cat-spectres at night, on every day of the rat. Whenever a cat-spectre murdered a victim the possessions of the dead man transferred themselves automatically to the house where the beast was kept. T’o had commanded her, so the slave testified, to make the cat-spectre enter the palace in order to secure valuable presents from the Empress. When the judges had heard this confession they ordered the woman to call the spectre back, whereupon setting out a bowl of fragrant rice-gruel, and drumming against it with a spoon, she exclaimed, ‘Come, pussy, remain no longer in the palace.’ After a time her face turned blue and moving as if driven by some unseen force, she muttered, ‘Here is the cat-spectre.’ In the same year the Emperor ordered all families keeping cat-spectres to be banished to the farthest frontier regions. This act seems entirely consistent with modern governmental procedure. De Groot also tells of a hag who tormented a child and made it cry incessantly at night. She did this riding on her cat, that is on its soul as a spectral horse, but was discovered and routed by an exorcist. The cat was beaten to death and the hag starved, whereupon the child became appeased and stopped crying. The result seems worthy of almost any means.
The domestic cat was imported from China into Japan in the reign of the Emperor Ichigo (986–1011). The animal was at first a rare and high-priced luxury and consequently only the noble families could afford to keep it. How much the Emperor himself liked cats we may learn from the “O-u-ki” and the “Makura no soshi.” The former book states that “on the nineteenth day of the ninth month of the year 999 a cat brought forth young in the palace. The left and right ministers had the task of bringing up the kittens, and prepared boxes (with delicacies) and rice and clothes for them (as for newborn bades). Uma no myobu, a court lady, was appointed wet-nurse for the kittens. The people laughed at the matter and were rather astonished.” The attitude of the people does not seem to be unusual or surprising. The Emperor further bestowed the fifth rank (that of the court ladies) on a cat in the palace and gave her the name, Myobu no Omoto (Omoto, the lady-in-waiting).
But poor puss, who began her life in Japan as a pampered pet, the favourite of the court, in less than three centuries began to be associated with demons in the popular mind. In the “Kokonchomonshu” (1254) there is a tale of a Buddhist Archbishop who received a visit from a beautiful Chinese cat, who came, like Mélisande and Mr. Warner’s Calvin, apparently from nowhere. The Archbishops was vastly diverted by the antics of the graceful animal, who liked to play with a ball and was very skilful at the game. One day, by way of jest, the priest substituted a precious mamori-sword (a sacred sword with protective magical powers) for the ball. The cat seized it in her mouth, ran away, and was never seen again. “She was,” remarks the author solemnly, “probably a transformed demon, who by taking the protective sword could more easily attack people.”
In the “Yamato Kwai-i ki” (1708) there is an account of the strange happenings in the house of a samurai. At night, luminous balls, which no one could catch, bounded about the rooms, about three inches from the floor. Once a group of these mysterious balls illuminated a tree. The maid-servants were attacked by spirits in their sleep; one of them especially was troubled by demons. Her spinning-wheel turned of its own volition and her pillow circled as if on a pivot while she slept. In vain she sought relief from sorceresses, Shinto priests, yamabushi, and Buddhist priests; neither their charms nor their prayers assisted her. At last the master of the house saw a very old cat walking on his hind legs on the roof, with a towel belonging to the maid-servant bound round his head. (Note 8) A slave brought down the cat with an arrow and the house was no longer haunted. The animal was five shaku long and its tail was split (nekomata).
The “Mimi-bukuro” (1815) introduces us to talking cats, which occur in other oriental and mediaeval tales. In 1795, the seems, a cat observed, “What a pity!” when his master, the abbot of a monastery, frightened away some doves for which he had been lying in wait. The abbot seized the cat and threatened him in this manner: “It is very strange that you, an animal, can speak. You can certainly transform yourself and haunt mankind. As you have spoken once you must speak again; otherwise I shall break the commandment to spare all living beings and kill you.” Whereupon puss replied in stately periods: “We cats are not the only creatures who can speak; all creatures are able to do so when they are more than ten years old. When they reach the age of twenty-four or five they can also change themselves in a miraculous way but no cat ever reaches that age. A cat who is a cross between a fox and a cat can speak before the age of ten.” At the conclusion of this lesson in unnatural history the good abbot reported himself satisfied and gave the cat leave to remain in the monastery, but grimalkin took his departure with three ceremonious bows and was never seen again.
So late as 1875 a man of Toulon informed Bérenger-Féraud that one of his friends had owned a wizard cat who was accustomed to take an active part in the evening conversation, at least when it was sufficiently interesting to keep him awake. His mistress consulted him before making plans, giving her reasons for taking one course or another, and she invariably followed the cat’s advice. The animal stated his preferences for meat or fish and was very indignant when his wishes were not respected. From time to time he disappeared for several days and the members of the household believed that he took human form during these absences. When he lay at the point of death he prayed that his body might be decently buried. His mistress not daring to inter him in a grave prepared for a human being, laid the coffin behind the cemetery wall adjacent to a Christian tomb and at the funeral the cat’s soul was recommended to the care of his Creator. The fabulists all ask the cat to speak and the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland” is as epigrammatic as an Oscar Wilde duchess. “If we had not in our intercourse with human beings acquired a certain contempt for speech we could all speak,” says Hinze the Tom Cat in Ludwig Tieck’s delightful play, Der Gestiefelte Kater.
In the middle ages cats attended witches’ revels, went to the Sabbath, and frequently shared the fate of the witch, which was to be drowned or toasted alive. Many witches about to be burned confessed that they had often taken the shapes of cats,
Chatte dans le jour, la nuit elle est femme,
and these confessions stimulated the persecution of the feline race. It must also be remembered that in the middle ages cats, like other animals were moral agents and could be sued or criminally tried. Trials of this sort were not rare. Again the Roman Church claimed full power to anathematize all animate and inanimate things. Doubtless these facts, added to the gleaming eyes and generally mysterious nature of the cat, her inexplicable disappearances and appearances, made it very easy for the judges to believe the witches’ confessions. “What explanation can be given of the evil repute of our household friend the cat?” asks Moncure Daniel Conway. (Note 9) “Is it derived by inheritance from its fierce ancestors of the jungle? Was it first suggested by its horrible human-like, sleep-murdering caterwaulings at night? Or has it simply suffered from a theological curse on the cats said to draw the chariot of the goddess of beauty?” The sceptic Fontenelle told Moncrif that he had been brought up to believe that all the cats in town went to the Sabbath on the eve of Saint John’s day. Therefore the peasants, in order to rid the country of sorcerers, threw all the cats they could catch into the fire on this day. Cats play a part in the horrid masonic rites described by Dr. Bataille in his “Le Diable au XIX Siècle.” The she-cat is one of a dozen animals to which Dante compares his demons. Mgr. Léon Maurin, once Archbishop at Port Luis in Mauritius, writes about the sacrifices of cats by devil-worshippers at midnight on the altars of rifled churches. The devil, himself, indeed, frequently borrowed the black robe of a cat, for bad cats are usually black, as good cats are usually white. The worthy Père Bougeant writes: “Les bêtes ne sont que des diables et à la tête de ces diables marche le chat.” Saint Dominique, when he preached of the devil, described him as a cat. The large green or topaze fixed eyes of the inky felines contributed to the stability of the legend. There were spectre-cats, “familiars,” but most often the cat was the pythoness herself in animal form. We still celebrate the union of cats and witches on Hallowe’en. How were these cat demons raised? Cornelius Agrippa in his “Occult Philosophy” (1651) says that if “Coriander, smallage, henbane and hemlock be made a fume, spirits will presently come together, hence they are called the spirit herbs. Also it is said that a fume made of the root of herb sagapen with the juice of hemlock and henbane, and the herb tapsus barbatus, red sanders and black poppy make spirits and strange shapes appear. Moreover it is said that by certain fumes certain animals are gathered together …” In the “Conjurers’ Magazine” (1791) there is to be found a recipe “to draw cats together and fascinate them”: “In the new moon, gather the herb Nepe, and dry it in the heat of the sun, when it is temperately hot. Gather vervain in the hour and only expose it to the air while [symbol] is under the earth. Hang these together in a net, in a convenient place, and when one of them has scented it, her cry will soon call those about her that are within hearing; and they will rant and run about, leaping and capering to get at the net, which must be placed so that they cannot easily accomplish it, for they will certainly tear it to pieces.” There must be other recipes in the “Grimorium Verum,” the “Grimoire of Pope Honorius” and the “Grand Grimoire.” But when a witch wanted to transform herself into a cat she rubbed herself with a certain ointment. This art, along with that of polishing intaglios, seems to be lost.
The Taigheirm was an infernal magical sacrifice of cats, the origin of which lies in remote pagan times, in rites dedicated to the subterranean gods, from whom particular gifts and benefits were solicited by nocturnal offerings. The word itself, in Gaelic, signifies the invocation of the house. Through Christianity these sacrifices were modified and were offered now to the infernal powers, or as they were called in the Highlands and the Western Isles of Scotland, the Black-Cat Spirits.
According to Horst’s “Deuteroscopy” black cats were in-dispensable to the incantation ceremony of the Taigheirm, and as will presently appear, plenty of black cats. These were dedicated to the gods of the lower world or later to the foul demons of Christianity. The midnight hour between Friday and Saturday was the authentic time for these horrible practices and invocations to begin; the ceremony was protracted for four days and nights, during which period the operator was forbidden to sleep or to take nourishment.
“After the cats were dedicated to all the devils, and put into a magico-sympathetic condition by the shameful things done to them, and the agony occasioned them, one of them was at once put on the spit, and amid terrific howlings, roasted before a slow fire. The moment that the howls of one tortured cat ceased in death, another was put upon the spit, for a minute of interval must not continue if an agent would control hell; and this must continue for four entire days and nights, if the exorcist could hold out, still longer, and even if till his physical powers were absolutely exhausted, he must do so. After a time infernal spirits appeared in the shape of black cats. There came continually more and more of these cats and their howling mingled with that of those roasting on the spit was terrific. Finally a cat of monstrous size appeared with dreadful threats. The gift of second sight was usually the recompense of the Taigheirm.”
One of the last Taigheirm, (Note 10) according to Horst, was held in the middle of the seventeenth century in the Island of Mull. The spot is still marked where Allan Maclean, at that time the sacrificial priest, stood with his assistant, Lachlain Maclean. He continued his sacrifices to the fourth day when he was exhausted in mind and body and sank into a swoon.
The infernal spirits appeared, some in the early progress of the sacrifices, in the shape of black cats. The first, glared at the sacrificers and cried, “Lachlain Oer” (Injurer of Cats). Allan, the chief operator, warned Lachlain that he must not waver but must keep the spit turning incessantly whatever he might see or hear. At the end of the second day a monster cat arrived with a horrid howl and assured Lachlain Oer that if he did not cease putting pussies on the spit before their largest brother arrived he would never see the face of God. “Bring on all the devils of hell and I will not stop until I have completed my work,” cried Lachlain. At the end of the fourth day a black cat with fire flaming from his eyes perched on the end of a beam in the roof of the barn and his howl could be heard quite across the straits of Mull into Morven. One is not surprised to learn that on the last day Allan was wholly exhausted by the apparitions and could only utter the word “Prosperity” before he became unconscious. But Lachlain was still self-possessed and able to continue. He demanded prosperity and wealth. Both got what they asked for. It might be added that men of such nerve should be able to get anything they wanted on earth.
On his death bed Allan informed his friends that if he and Lachlain (who had died before him) had lived a little longer they would have driven Satan from his throne. When Allan’s funeral cortege reached the churchyard those persons endowed with second sight saw at some distance Lachlain Oer, standing fully armed at the head of a band of black cats, from which streamed the odour of brimstone.
In some old French records an account is given of how a man buried a black cat at a spot where four cross-roads met. In the box with the cat he placed bread soaked in holy water and holy oil, sufficient to keep the animal alive for three days. His intention was to dig up his innocent victim, slay him, and make a girdle of his skin, by which means he expected to be able to transform himself into an animal and gain the gift of clairvoyance. Unfortunately for his projects, however, the buried puss was exhumed by hounds. The affair thus came to public knowledge and ended in the courts where the guilty man was condemned for sorcery and probably subsequently burned at the stake.
One of the mediaeval grimoires gives a curious recipe by means of which a sorcerer might make himself invisible, in which a black cat again is the central figure: “Steal a black cat, buy a new pot, a mirror, a piece of flint, an agate, char-coal, and a tinder; draw water from a fountain at the exact hour of midnight; after that light your fire, put the cat in the pot, and hold the cover with the left hand without moving or looking behind you, whatever noise you may hear, and after it has boiled for twenty-four hours, always without moving or looking behind you, put the mess into a new dish, taking the meat and throwing it over the left shoulder, repeating these words: Accipe quod tibi do et nihil amplius. Then crunch the bones one after the other, under the teeth, from the left side, looking at yourself in the mirror, and walk backwards.”
When Sir Walter Scott was a young man he went to see that curious being, the Black Dwarf,“bowed David Ritchie,” in his den, a gloomy bit of hut. After they had sat together for a while the dwarf, glancing at Scott, asked, “Man, ha’ye ony poo’r?” meaning of course, supernatural power. Scott disclaimed any gift of the sort. The dwarf then stretched his finger out to a corner, where for the first time Scott became aware that a green-eyed black cat was sitting, staring at him. As the dwarf extended his finger towards the cat he cried, “He has poo’r,” and Scott admitted that a strange feeling of awe and terror crept over him. A century or two earlier bowed David and his cat would have broken on the wheel. In 1607 a witch bearing the name of Isobel Grierson was burned at the stake after having been accused and convicted of entering the house of one Adam Clark in Prestonpans in the likeness of the man’s own pet cat and in the company of a mighty rabble of other cats, who by their noise frightened Adam, his wife, and their servant, the last-named being dragged up and down the stairs by the hair of her head, presumably by the devil in the shape of a black man. Isobel also visited the house of a certain Mr. Brown in the shape of a cat, but being called by name she vanished, not, however, before she had caused him to fall ill of a disease of which he afterwards died. And Alice Duke, alias Manning, of Wincanton in Somerset, who was tried in 1664 for witchcraft, confessed that her familiar visited her “in the shape of a little cat of dunnish colour, which is as smooth as a want” and that “her familiar doth commonly suck her right breast about seven at night” after which she fell into a kind of trance. Any book on witches will furnish a score of such examples and almost all of them give a long account of the famous Rutterkin case, which has likewise been retold so frequently in books about cats that I will not repeat it here. In a story called “Ancient Sorceries” Algernon Blackwood has utilized the theme in fiction. (Note 11) Arthur Vezin, an Englishman travelling in France, descended with his bag at some way station intending to pass the night. As the train moved slowly away one of his companions in the compartment, a stranger, leaned out of the window and whispered into his ear a long sentence of which he was only able to catch the last few words, “à cause de sommeil et à cause de chats.” Vezin at once began to notice “the extraordinary silence of the whole place. Positively the town was muffled. Although the streets were paved with cobbles the people moved about silently, softly, with padded feet, like cats. Nothing made noise. All was hushed, subdued, muted. The very voices were quiet, low-pitched like purring. Nothing clamorous, vehement, or emphatic seemed able to live in the drowsy atmosphere of soft dreaming that soothed this little hill-town into its sleep. It was like the woman at the inn—an outward repose screening intense inner activity and purpose. Yet there was no sign of lethargy or sluggishness anywhere about it. The people were active and alert. Only a magical and uncanny softness lay over them like a spell.”
Presently Vezin had the feeling that he was being spied upon and “he began to see how it was that he was so cleverly watched yet without the appearance of it. The people did nothingdirectly. They behaved obliquely.… They looked at him from angles which naturally should have led their sight in another direction altogether. Their movements were oblique, too, so far as these concerned himself. The straight, direct thing was not their way evidently. They did nothing obviously. If he entered a shop to buy, the woman walked instantly away and busied herself with something at the farther end of the counter, though answering at once when he spoke, showing that she knew he was there and that this was only her way of attending to him. It was the fashion of the cat she followed. Even in the dining-room of the inn, the bewhiskered and courteous waiter, lithe and silent in all his movements, never seemed able to come straight to his table for an order or a dish. He came by zigzags, indirectly, vaguely, so that he appeared to be going to another table altogether, and only turned suddenly at the last moment, and was there beside him.” At length, the daughter of the keeper of the inn returned, a beautiful, panther-like creature; she brushed past Vezin in a dark hallway, with the touch of kitten’s fur, and awakened in him a most intense passion. And it was from her that he learned the secret of the town, the consecration of its folk to the ancient sorceries. He joined her and her mother in a wild but stealthily noiseless dance on the flagstones of the courtyard of the inn, and then in terror fled to his room, from whence he saw the inhabitants of the town in the guise of cats climbing from the windows, over the roofs, and leaping to the streets below. Rushing into the open he met the girl who cried: “‘Transform, Transform!… Rub well your skin before you fly. Come! Come with me to the Sabbath, to the madness of its furious delight, to the sweet abandonment of its evil worship! See! the Great Ones are there, and the terrible Sacraments prepared. The throne is occupied. Anoint and come! Anoint and come!’ She grew to the height of a tree beside him, leaping upon the wall with flaming eyes and hair strewn upon the night. He too began to change swiftly. Her hands touched the skin of his face and neck, streaking him with the burning salve that sent the old magic into his blood with the power before which fades all that is good. A wild roar came up to his ears from the heart of the wood, and the girl, when she heard it, leaped upon the wall in the frenzy of her wicked joy. ‘Satan is there!’ she screamed, rushing upon him and striving to draw him with her to the edge of the wall. ‘Satan has come! The Sacraments call us! Come, with your dear apostate soul, and we will worship and dance till the moon dies and the world is forgotten.’”
In the old tales human beings frequently assumed the form of cats in order the better to carry on their turpitudes. The transformation was usually accomplished, as in Blackwood’s story, by the application of a magic salve. In these stories the phenomenon of repercussion is the most interesting feature. It was the belief that if you injured an animal inhabited by a witch spirit when she regained human form she still bore the marks of the injury. Variations of the belief in repercussion occur in the folk-tales of every language and evidence of repercussion was frequently introduced at witches’ trials. A woodman whose dinner was stolen from him daily by a cat made many attempts to put an end to these depredations. At last, catching pussy in the act, he chopped off one of her paws, and when he returned home he observed, to his horror, that his wife had lost one of her hands. There is the similar tale of the Swabian soldier who used to visit the young woman to whom he was betrothed every evening when he was off duty. But on one occasion the girl warned him that he must never come to her on Friday because it was not convenient for her to see him then. His suspicions were accordingly aroused and the very next Friday night he set out for his sweetheart’s house. On the way a white cat dogged his steps and as the animal become importunate he drew his sword and slashed off one of her hind paws, whereupon she ran away. Arriving at the girl’s house he found her in bed and when he asked her what was the matter she gave a very confused reply. Noting stains of blood on the white coverlet he drew it back and saw that his betrothed was bathed in blood for one of her feet had been chopped off. “Witch!” he cried and left her. In three days she was dead. (Note 12) There is further the history of the woman of Ceyreste whose children were always ailing, a state of affairs for which there was no natural way of accounting. A neighbour told her that she thought her mother-in-law might be responsible. “She may be a witch.” The woman spoke to her husband and they determined to watch the cradles of their offspring. That very night observing a black cat crawling over the side of the baby’s crib, the man struck the animal a violent blow with a club. With a howl the beast sprang through the open window and vanished. The mother-in-law had been in the habit of paying daily visits to her son’s family but the next day she did not appear, nor yet the next. After a few days her son went to see her and found her in a bad temper with her hand bandaged. In response to his query as to why she had not come to his house as usual she replied in a rage: “Look at the state of my fingers. Whatever should I come to your house for? If I had been struck by a hatchet instead of a stick my hand would have been cut off and I would have had nothing but a stump.” One more: the witches of Vernon in the shape of cats inhabited an ancient castle. Three or four men determined to pass the night in this castle; they were attacked by the cats and many wounds were exchanged. Afterwards the women returned to their human forms and were found to be suffering from corresponding gashes.
It seems rather surprising that Arthur Machen has not touched upon the repercussion phenomenon in any of his mystic masterpieces. Again we must turn to Algernon Blackwood, this time to his story, “The Empty Sleeve.” (Note 13) The violinist Hyman “believed that there was some fluid portion of a man’s personality which could be projected to a distance, and even semimaterialized there. The ‘astral body,’ he called it, or some such foolishness, claiming that it could appear in various forms, according to its owner’s desire, even in animal forms.” John Gilmer was awakened one night by a noise in the flat; seizing a Turkish sword from the wall he entered the sitting room where he saw a moving figure. The encounter and terror of both beings in the dark is described, and as the creature, which John finally recognized as an enormous cat, fled, John struck it with his weapon, almost severing one of the front legs from the body. Months afterwards the Gilmers met Hyman wearing spectacles and a beard. William pointed out to his brother the difference.
“‘But didn’t you notice—’
‘He had an empty sleeve.’
‘Yes,’ said William. ‘He’s lost an arm!’”
The supernatural plays a part in many other stories. On the twenty-sixth of March, 1782 (it is remarkable how many such miracles are carefully dated) a gentleman of wealth consulted Count Cagliostro, in an attempt to discover if his wife, who was young and beautiful, had been unfaithful to him. Cagliostro assured the anxious husband that the proof was a simple one and gave him a phial of liquid which he instructed him to drink before going to bed. “If your wife has broken her vows,” he added, “you will be transformed into a cat.” The husband returned home and told his wife the whole story; she laughed at his credulity but he swallowed the draught and went to bed. Rising early, the lady left him sleeping, but later as he did not appear, went to seek him, when to her astonishment she found in his place a huge black cat. She screamed, called out her husband’s name, and finally knelt at the foot of the bed and begged for pardon, confessing that she had committed a sin with a handsome young soldier who had cajoled her by means of tears and tales of heroic deeds to forget her marriage vows. A story known as “The Devil’s Cat” is current in North Germany: A peasant owned three beautiful cats. A neighbour begged one of these from him and obtained her. To accustom her to her new home he shut her up in the loft. At night, puss, popping her head out of the window, asked, “What shall I bring tonight?” “Thou shalt bring mice,” answered the man. The cat set to work, casting all she caught on the floor till the loft was so full of dead mice that it was almost impossible to open the door and the man was employed the entire day in throwing them away by bushels. That night again the cat put her head through the window and asked, “What shall I bring tonight?” “Thou shalt bring rye,” answered the farmer. In the morning the loft was stacked with rye. The man now saw the true nature of the cat and carried her back to his neighbour, “for had he given her work the third time he could never have gotten rid of her.” His mistake, of course, was in not asking for gold on the second night.
It is her unusually fine nervous system, her electricity, which made the cat useful to the sorcerer, and this same nervous system, her extreme sensitiveness and susceptibility often enable her to perform seeming miracles. In the year 1783 two cats belonging to a merchant of Messina warned him of the approach of an earthquake. Before the first shock they tried to scratch their way through the floor of a room in which they were confined. Their master, observing their fruitless efforts, opened the door for them. At two other closed doors they continued to exhibit symptoms of frantic terror and when finally set at liberty they ran swiftly through the town and made for the open fields where they began to dig. The earthquake destroyed the house they had left and several surrounding it but the merchant who, filled with curiosity over the strange behaviour of the cats, had followed them, was saved. This story has a perfectly natural explanation: the extremely sensitive nervous organization of the cats was affected by the seismic disturbances long before they registered on the infinitely coarser nervous system of man, who if he ever possessed these finer perceptions has almost completely lost them, except in isolated cases. Earthquakes do not occur with sufficient frequency to obtain much evidence in this direction, but cases in which cats have warned householders of fires, sometimes saving many lives thereby, are numberless. (Note 14)
Cats have some uncanny fashion of reckoning time. A London barrister, one of the staff of a well-known provincial newspaper, told Lindsay that his cat was accustomed to meet him regularly on a certain road on his way home from his office. There is an infallible method by which you can test your own cat in this respect. Feed him regularly at a certain hour each day for a few weeks and thereafter, if you have no clock in the house, he will inform you himself when the hour arrives. Alexandre Dumas relates a story of a clairvoyant cat which goes even further. (Note 15) His Mysouff used to accompany him from his home in the Rue de I’Ouest every morning as far as the Rue de Vaugirard and wait for him every evening at the same point. “The curious thing was that, on such days as some chance circumstance or casual invitation tempted me to break my dutiful habits as a son and I was not going back to dine at home, Mysouff, though the door was opened for his exit as usual, positively refused to go out, and lay motionless on his cushion, in the posture of a serpent biting his own tail. It was quite different on days when I meant to return punctually. Then, if they forgot to open the door for him, Mysouff would scratch at it persistently with his claws till he got what he wanted.” When Avery Hopwood visits his country-house he is accustomed to take his cat with him in his automobile. Abelard sleeps peacefully during most of the journey, but invariably as the motor ascends a certain hill, a quarter of a mile from the house, he gets up and begins to stretch himself.
Cats in many quarters of the globe are held responsible for the weather; they are actually said to make it good or bad. In other localities they are regarded as competent barometers. This is not strange when it is remembered that cats are extraordinarily sensitive to the changes of temperature, while by storms they are sometimes affected almost to the point of madness. Colette Willy, who has more delicately expressed the psychology of cats than almost any one else, in one of her dialogues called, “I’Orage,” (Note 16) gives us what may very well be an accurate vision of a cat’s mind during a hot summer tempest. Kiki-la-Doucette is speaking to Toby-Chien: “I have a headache. Do you not perceive under the nearly bare skin of my temples, under my bluish and transparent skin of an animal of fine breeding, the beating of my arteries? It is terrible! Around my forehead my veins are like vipers in convulsions and I do not know what gnome is forging in my brain. O, be silent, or at least speak so softly that the coursing of my agitated blood will cover your words.” Again, “The storm is here. Gods! how I suffer! If I could only quit this skin and this fur which smother me, if I could only turn myself inside out, naked as a skinned mouse, towards the freshness! O dog, you cannot see but I feel the sparks which crackle at the tip of each of my hairs. Do not come near me: I am about to send forth a bolt of blue flame.…” Presently the dog describes her: “You are changed, Cat! Your drawn figure is that of a starved creature, and your hair, like burnished metal here, ruffled there, gives you the pitiful appearance of a weasel which has fallen into oil.” And when the Lady approaches, Kiki mutters, “If she touches me I will devour her.” Pierquin de Gembloux (Note 17) describes a different reaction to the effect of a storm in which a surplus of electricity in the air, a state of high electrical tension, sometimes produces hilarity, gaiety, noisiness, amounting occasionally to a kind of joyous mania, a morbid exuberance of animal spirits, especially in young cats.
This strange behaviour of cats during atmospheric changes has disturbed the imaginations of many peoples at many times. If a cat tears at cushions or carpets or is generally uneasy she is said to be raising a wind. This superstition is still widely prevalent in seacoast towns, on Cape Cod and elsewhere. Idle terrors of this character all have for a basis the science of divination, which neglects no token, but from effects overlooked by the ignorant ascends through a sequence of interlinked causes. This science knows, for example, that atmospheric conditions which cause a dog to howl are fatal to certain sufferers, that the monotonous wheeling of ravens, who frequent localities of murder and execution, in the air means the presence of unburied bodies. The flight of other birds prognosticates a hard winter, while others are haruspices of coming storms. It may even be stated categorically that the superstition that it is unlucky to walk under a ladder is based on an accident that has befallen some one who has done so. Perhaps the hod-carrier on the ladder has dropped a brick on his head. On that which the mystic discerns ignorance remarks and generalizes. The first sees useful warnings everywhere, the second is terrified by everything. As a matter of fact the cat with her superior nervous organism is conscious of the approach of the wind before man is and the condition of her fur alone will indicate weather changes to the careful observer.
It is a common notion that the weather will change if a cat sneezes, scratches the leg of a table, or sits with her tail to the fire. Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the author of “The Origin of Species,” in a poem, “Signs of Foul Weather,” notes the behaviour of the cat at the approach of a storm,
Puss on the hearth, with velvet paws,
Sits wiping o’er his whiskered jaws.
“She useth,” writes John Swan, in his “Speculum Mundi” (Cambridge, 1634), “therefore to wash her face with her feet, which she licketh and moiseneth with her tongue; and it is observed by some that if she put her feet beyond the crown of her head in this kind of washing, it is a sign of rain.” In his “Hesperides” Herrick refers to this belief:
True calendars as pusses eare,
Wash’t o’er to tell what change is neare.
But there is another old English saying which has it that when the cat wipes her face over her ears it is a sign of fine weather and when a cat sits with her back towards the fire it is a sign of frost. Willsford remarks quaintly enough: “Cats coveting the fire more than ordinary or licking their feet or trimming the hair of their heads and mustachios presages a storm.” There is something in the superstition assuredly. Moncrif noticed that cats opened or closed their fur according to the weather and I have observed that cats lick their fur more than ordinarily in an atmosphere surcharged with moisture, just as they dry themselves with their tongues when they get wet. But cats always wash their faces after dinner, following the custom of the Romans rather than that of the Americans in this respect. A folk-tale has it that a cat caught a sparrow who observed, “No gentleman eats before washing his face.” The cat relinquished his hold on the bird to prove himself a gentleman and the sparrow flew away. Since that date cats have found it wiser to wash after dinner. They also wash themselves to sleep. “Oh! that all females made as good use of their tongues,” apostrophizes one Isobel Hill. If a cat’s washing indicates bad weather, failure to do so indicates a sick cat. “The cat cleans her face with a look of delight” is the phrase of John Clare. My Feathers puts her paw over her crown rain or shine. Who has described the operation more delightfully than Leigh Hunt? “Pussy … symbolically gives a twist of a yawn, and a lick to her whiskers. Now she proceeds to clean herself all over, having a just sense of the demands of her elegant person,—beginning judiciously with her paws, and fetching amazing tongues at her hind-hips. Anon, she scratches her neck with a foot of rapid delight; leaning her head towards it, and shutting her eyes, half to accommodate the action of the skin, and half to enjoy the luxury. She then rewards her paws with a few more touches; look at the action of her head and neck, how pleasing it is, the ears pointed forward, and the neck gently arching to and fro! Finally she gives a sneeze, and another twist of mouth and whiskers, and then, curling her tail towards her front claws, settles herself on her hind quarters, in an attitude of bland meditation.”
The cat’s relation to the weather is recognized in these United States, although different districts are not in agreement as to the meaning of the signs. In Eastern Kansas a cat washing her face before breakfast foretells rain; in New England a cat washes her face in the parlor before a shower; in Western Maine rain is assured if the cat scratches a fence. It is held also in Western Maine that when a cat is sharpening her claws the way her tail points shows the direction in which the wind will blow the next day. In Eastern Massachusetts the face of the washing cat points towards the direction from which the wind will blow. In New York and Pennsylvania the mere washing of the face signifies clear weather. If you see a cat looking out of the window you may be certain that it will storm soon, according to the inhabitants of Central Maine, where there must be continual storms because a cat in the house will spend half the day gazing out of the window. The belief in Cambridge, Massachussetts, that if the fur shines and looks glossy it is a sign that it will be pleasant the following day is credible. (Note 18)
The belief held in Scilly Cove, Newfoundland, that a cat drowning in salt-water will bring on rain is directly in line with certain precepts of ceremonial magic. According to W. W. Skeat (Note 19) if a Malay woman puts an inverted earthenware pan upon her head and then, setting it on the ground, fills it with water and washes a cat in it till the animal is nearly drowned, heavy rain will certainly follow. In this performance the inverted bowl is intended to symbolize the vault of heaven. A similar custom prevails in Java where usually two cats are bathed, a male and a female. Sometimes the animals are carried in procession with music. In Batavia also children carry cats around for this purpose. After ducking them in pools they release them. In Southern Celebes the inhabitants attempt to create a shower by carrying a cat tied in a sedan chair thrice around the parched fields, while they drench him with bamboo squirts. When the cat mews they cry, “O Lord, let rain fall upon us!” In a village of Sumatra to procure rain the women wade into the river, and splash one another. A black cat is thrown in and made to swim, and then is allowed to escape pursued by splashing women.
Other superstitions surround the cat. “In the eyes of the superstitious,” writes Mr. T. F. Thiselton Dyer, “there is scarcely a movement of the cat which is not supposed to have some significance.” If a cat jumps over a coffin she must be killed or great misfortune is sure to follow. The Chinese believe that a cat can cause the dead to rise in this manner. As this would frequently prove awkward to the heirs and assigns cats are kept as far as possible from dead people in China. In case, however, the accident occurs it becomes necessary to swat the resurrected dead man with a broom whereupon he will become recumbent again. “My name,” declares the sorrowful vampire in James Branch Cabell’s incomparable “Jurgen,” “is Florimel, because my nature no less than my person was as beautiful as the flowers of the field and as sweet as the honey which the bees (who furnish us with such admirable examples of industry) get out of these flowers. But a sad misfortune changed all this. For I chanced one day to fall ill and die (which, of course, might happen to anyone), and as my funeral was leaving the house the cat jumped over my coffin. That was a terrible misfortune to befall a poor girl so generally respected, and in wide demand as a seamstress; though, even then, the worst might have been averted had not my sister-in-law been of what they call a humane disposition and foolishly attached to the cat. So they did not kill it, and I, of course, became a vampire.” Another superstition has it that if a cat jumps over a corpse the soul of the deceased enters its body. There is a reference to this superstition of the cat and the dead in “Bleak House.” When Lady Dedlock’s miserable lover dies the doctor drives Krook’s cat out of the room. “Don’t leave the cat there!” he says. “That won’t do!” Lady Jane goes furtively downstairs, winding her lithe tail and licking her lips. In one of Ambrose Bierce’s horror stories (Note 20) a cat conceals herself in a coffin and mangles the features of the corpse. But a superstition prevails in Devonshire that a cat will not remain in a house with an unburied corpse and stories are often told of cats, who, on the death of one of the inmates of a house, have disappeared and not returned until after the funeral. According to one authority in spiritualism (Elliott O’Donnell: “Animal Ghosts”) catsscent death, that is they smell the presence of the guiding spirit who has come to take the new soul away. “Before a death in a house I have watched a cat gradually showing signs of uneasiness. It has moved from place to place, unable to settle in any one spot for any length of time, had frequent fits of shivering, gone to the door, sniffed the atmosphere, thrown back its head and mewed in a low, plaintive key, and shown the greatest reluctance to being alone in the dark.” In Germany the presence of a cat on the bed of a sick person means that death is approaching and to this day black cats are kept away from children’s cradles. There is a legend, indeed, to the effect that cats suck children’s breaths in their sleep, a silly legend as Harrison Weir has pointed out, for the jaw formation of the cat is not adapted for sucking purposes. The factual foundation for this belief is that cats, liking warm and luxurious places to lie, frequently creep into cradles and if the cat is big enough it may happen occasionally that a baby may be accidentally smothered.
If a kitten comes to the house in the morning it is lucky; if in the evening it portends evil unless it stays to prevent it. In Scotland if a white cat enters the house it is regarded as a forerunner of sickness or trouble; if, however, a black cat enters it is regarded as a harbinger of good luck, and he who presumes to kill or drown the animal may expect ill luck for nine years. The sneezing of a cat on a wedding day is said to be a fortunate omen for the bride. In Lancashire it is regarded as unlucky to allow a cat to die in the house; hence when they are ill they are usually drowned, which is certainly unlucky for the cats. It is likewise a Lancashire superstition that those who play with cats never enjoy good health. But the magnetism of the cat and her repose should have the most beneficial influence on human health. Louis Wain, whose word may be said to have some weight on this subject, offers the following evidence: “I have found as a result of many years of inquiry and study, that people who keep cats and are in the habit of petting them, do not suffer from those petty ailments which all flesh is heir to. Rheumatism and nervous complaints are uncommon with them, and pussy’s lovers are of the sweetest temperament. I have often felt the benefit, after a long spell of mental effort, of having my cats sitting across my shoulders, or of half an hour’s chat with Peter.”
Another English country superstition is that black cats will bring lovers to a girl. The rhyme goes as follows:
Whenever the cat o’ the house is black,
The lasses o’ lovers will have no lack,
and another amusing folk-rhyme has it:
Kiss the black cat,
An’ ’twill make ye fat;
Kiss the white one,
’Twill make ye lean.
But what will happen if you kiss a tortoise-shell, a tabby, or a blue cat does not appear to be certain. These rhymes are to be found in Hone’s “Every-Day Book” which gives us further particulars about the strange customs of cat: In Devonshire and Wiltshire it is believed that a May cat or, in other words, a cat born in the month of May, will never catch any rats or mice, but contrary to the wont of cats, will bring into the house snakes, and slow-worms, and other disagreeable reptiles. In Hungary there is a superstition that before a cat can become a good mouser he must be stolen. If a man with a cat’s hair on his clothing rides, his horse will perspire violently and will soon become exhausted. If the wind blows over a cat riding in a vehicle that too will weary the horse. There is a further superstition that on the death of a tom cat the life will depart from all his unborn progeny. The Japanese have a superstition that if you rub a bamboo brush on the back of a female she can conceive of herself. In Cumberland, England, it is believed that the hair of a cat if swallowed by a human being will turn into a kitten inside him.
Cats in the Isle of Man have no tails; neither have those of the Bismarck Archipelago off the North Coast of New Guinea. Natives sometimes eat cats and unscrupulous neighbours might steal a cat for a meal. Accordingly in the interest of the higher morality people remove this stumbling block from the path of their weaker brothers by docking their cats and keeping the severed portion in a secret place. If now a cat is stolen and eaten the lawful owner of the animal has it in his power to avenge the crime. He need only bury the piece of tail with certain spells in the ground and the thief will fall ill. If a South Slavonian has a mind to pilfer or steal at market, he has nothing to do but to burn a blind cat, and then throw a pinch of the ashes over the person with whom he is higgling; after that he can take what he likes from the booth, and the owner will be none the wiser, having become as blind as the dead cat with whose ashes he has been sprinkled. (Note 21)
In the United States Fanny Bergen has collected numberless examples of these curious superstitions concerning cats. In New England it is bad luck to kill a cat. In Pennsylvania it is believed that if a farmer kills a cat some of his stock will die. Cats of three colours bring luck in Canada, Washington, and Eastern Kansas. Japanese sailors share this superstition. In Eastern Kansas the possession of a tortoise-shell is a surety against fire. In New England a “smutty-nosed” cat brings prosperity to its owner and in Maine a white cat brings poverty. In Massachussetts a double-pawed cat is a lucky omen but in New York a black and white cat is sure to bring sickness to the family. The belief that it is bad luck to allow a black cat (Note 22) to cross your path is pretty general in the United States and elsewhere as well. But to be followed by a black cat signifies good luck in New England and Eastern Kansas. In Eastern New England you are sure to quarrel with any one to whom you have presented a cat. In Alabama if a cat washes her face in front of several persons the first she looks at will be the first to get married. In Eastern Kansas it is unlucky to move into a house where cats have been left by former occupants. Their owners should have killed the animals. In some parts of the United States it is considered bad luck to move a cat when the family moves; in other parts it is considered bad luck not to move the cat. In Ohio (Hamilton County) it is believed that a child who plays with a cat will become stupid. Cats go mad if allowed to eat too much meat or if they lie much before a fire, according to authorities who live in Brookline, Massachussetts. And in Maryland there is a superstition that if you shave off a cat’s whiskers you deprive him of his sense of smell! (Note 23)
The Negro superstitions concerning cats, connected as they are with ancient African voodoo worship and noxious paludal ceremonies, are extremely curious. One has it that in the tip of every cat’s tail are three hairs of the devil, which give the cat a tendency to prowl. Sandy Jenkins, the hero of James David Corrothers’s “The Black Cat Club,” “was dressed to kill; his linen was spotless; his clothing faultless; his cane, chrysanthemum, and patent leathers matchless,” and under one arm he carried his black cat, Mesmerizer, to hoodoo his enemies. In some verses, called “De Black Cat Crossed his Luck” in this same book (Note 24) Mr. Corrothers epitomizes the Negro felling about the animal. An old Negro named Sambo Lee was “cotched” by a Black Cat, and cursed. Sam lost his job, was bit by a policeman’s dog, beaten by the policeman, put in jail, quarreled with his wife’s mother, lost his “ladylub,” was worsted at fisticuffs, was robbed, and spent three weeks in a hospital as a direct result of this curse.
Den to de cunjah-man Sam sped,
An’ dis am whut de cunjah-man said:
“Black Cat am a pow’ful man;
Ruinin’ mo’tals am his plan.
Ole Satan an’ de ’Riginal Sin
Am de daddy an’ mammy o’ him.
He’s got nine hunderd an’ ninety-nine libes—
Nineteen thousan’ an’ ninety-nine wibes—
He’s kin to cholera an’ allied
To smallpox on de mammy’s side.
An’ all de ebils on de earf
Stahted at de Black Cat’s birf!—
Jes’ stop an’ die right whah you’s at,
Ef yo’ luck bin crossed by de ole Black Cat!”
An’ den Sam read in history
Dat a cat crossed Pharaoh by de see,
An’ burried him, as sho’s you bo’n,
Too deep to heah ole Gabriel’s ho’n!
An’ dat de cat crossed Jonah once,
An’ made him ack a regular dunce.
Crossed Bonaparte at Waterloo,
An’ got Jeems Blaine defeated too.
“Oh, Laud a-mussy now on me!”
Cried Sam, “an’ on dis history!”
An’ den Sam went an’ killed de cat—
Swo’e he’d make an end o’ dat;—
Burried him in de light o’ de moon,
Wid a rabbit’s foot an’ a silver spoon.
But de Black Cat riz, an’ swallered him whole—
Bu’nt his house an’ took his soul!
The terrifying consequences of killing a cat are referred to again in a poem by Virginia Frazer Boyle: (Note 25)
Dar’s er shakin’ an’ er achin’ ermongst dese ole bones,
And I cries in de night wid de ’miseration moans,
An’ I hears sumpin ’mawkin’ wid er solemn sorter groans—
I kilt er cat!
I feels an’ I knows dat dar’s sumpin’ ain right,
’Ca’se er black streek’s er ’pearing in de broad daylight,
An’ de debbil he rid my chist all night—
I kilt er cat!
I wan’ers res’less laek, all erbout frough de wood,
Wid de rabbit fut fur comp’ny, but hit cain’t do any good,
An’ dese ole feets cain’t be quiet, an’ dey wouldn’ ef dey could—
I kilt er cat!
I drowns ’im in de water, but he sneakted out ergin,
Den I feels dat I ’mittin er mos awful kind er sin,
Fur I hangs ’im ’dout er chance an’ I cain’t furgit ’is grin—
I kilt er cat!
Hab mercy on dis darky, oh! I cain’t git shet er dat,
Fur I sees de porten’s pintin’ des es shore’s I sees dis hat,
I’s hoodooed wid de sperrit uv ole Jonas’s black cat—
Fur I kilt dat cat!
“Wizard cats,” writes Frank Hamel, “have been known to do serious harm to those against whom they have a grudge, and it is well to be sure, if you value your life, whether you are dealing with a real animal or a ‘familiar’ when you feel angry.” There is, for example, the very moral story of the young man of Radnorshire who threw a stone at a cat on his wedding day. His health began to fail at once and he frequently disappeared for weeks at a time. During these periods the legend has it that he took feline form. After his death his soul entered a cat’s body and the animal prowled the district at night and struck terror into the hearts of naughty children.
Sailors are almost as superstitious as negroes about cats, but the superstition assumes a more favourable form. Evidence that the sailor loves puss may be gathered from the number of words used on board ship derived from the word cat. In certain sea-coast towns in England sailors’ wives keep black cats to protect their husbands at sea. The liveliness of a ship cat portends a wind and the drowning of a ship cat seems to be fatal for all on board as well as for the cat himself. Japanese sailors regard three-coloured cats (black, white, and brown), as an excellent charm against spirits and are said to be unwilling to put to sea without one. A well known superstition has it that a cat will desert a ship about to start on its last voyage and there is evidence to show that sailors have refused to undertake voyages following the desertion of the ship’s cat. (Note 26)
Charles Henry Ross in “The Book of Cats” quotes an anonymous author on the meaning of cat dreams. It is possible that Dr. Freud might not agree with these conclusions at all points: “If any one dreams that he hath encountered a cat or killed one, he will commit a thief to prison and prosecute him to the death, as the cat signifies a common thief. If he dreams that he eats the cat’s flesh he will have the goods of the thief who robbed him. If he dreams that he hath the skin then he will have all the thief’s goods. If any one dreams that he fought with a cat who scratched him sorely, that denotes some sickness or affliction.”
There are cat remedies: a cure for erysipelas was to cut off a cat’s ear (or to take three drops of blood drawn from a vein under the cat’s tail) and allow the blood to drop slowly on the affected part. The brain of a cat, taken in small doses, has been used as a love potion. Ben Jonson in his Masque of Queens, makes a witch sing thus:
I, from the jawes of a gardener’s bitch,
Did snatch these bones and then leapt the ditch;
Yet went I back to the house againe,
Killed the black cat and here is the brain.
A nostrum for preserving the eyesight was to burn the head of a black cat to ashes and have a little dust blown into the eyes three times a day. A whitlow could be cured by placing the affected finger a quarter of an hour each day in a cat’s ear, and the foot of the wild cat was considered an excellent remedy for erysipelas and lameness. Cat’s grease was a useful commodity but of no avail for magical or medicinal purposes unless the cat made a voluntary offering of it. T. F. Thiselton Dyer, in “English Folk-Lore,” quotes Hunt as follows: “In Cornwall those little gatherings which come on children’s eyelids, locally called ‘whilks’ and also ‘warts’ are cured by passing the tail of a black cat nine times over the place.” (Note 27)
Possibly just here you may grin a little, sink comfortably into your chair, and reflect that the people of the United States are at least superior to such silly superstitions. No assumption could be more incorrect. (Note 28) Probably every one of these beliefs has been current in some part of America at one time or another. In certain parts of England there is credence put in the statement that a cat’s hair is indigestible and if one is swallowed death will ensue. It is possible that Americans do not entertain this legend but I can personally vouch for the fact that every boy I knew as a child in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, believed that a horse hair immersed in a tumbler of water would eventually turn into a snake. As for the wart cure, we learn through no less an authority than Mark Twain that such a belief existed along the banks of the Mississippi. When Huckleberry Finn enters the pages of “Tom Sawyer” (Note 29) he carries a dead cat with him, and when Tom asks him “what dead cats is good for” Huck answers, “cure warts with.” “But say,” queries Tom, “how do you cure ’em with dead cats?"
“Why, you take your cat and go and get in the graveyard ’long about midnight when somebody that was wicked has been buried; and when it’s midnight a devil will come, or maybe two or three, but you can’t see ’em, you can only hear something like the wind, or maybe hear ’em talk; and when they’re taking that feller away, you heave your cat after ’em and say, ‘Devil follow corpse, cat follow devil, warts follow cat, I’m done with ye!’ That’ll fetch any wart.” (Note 30)
We no longer burn witches and we no longer, in groups, persecute cats. Indeed puss has settled down to a life of luxury and appreciation which she has not hitherto enjoyed since the days when she watched the temple altars of the Nile, near the catadupe, or strolled among the guests at the Sultan’s banquet. If she is no longer a god, at least she is still worshipped. But do not be mislead by these signs. We have forgotten the dark days but the cat remembers; the racial consciousness, the hereditary traits in cats are strong. And she will never forget her wild rides with witches, her appearances at the Sabbath, frequently attached to the belt of the pythoness, the use of her body as a casket for the soul of the sorceress, her persecution. And today, for that reason, she is more in touch with what we call the supernatural than any other animal, including man. Wood (Note 31) gives a case of a lady and her cat simultaneously seeing and being variously affected mentally and physically by a vision of an old wrinkled hag. The lady became the victim of a helpless fascination, of paralysis of mobility and speech, while the cat, on the contrary, made frantic efforts to escape. (Note 32) Perhaps this cat had had an unfortunate experience in some past life with the old hag; at any rate other cats have been known to entertain a vast liking for spiritualistic seances. Algernon Blackwood has written an astoundingly astute story (Note 33) on this theme, “A Psychical Invasion,” in which he contrasts the effects of the presence of spirits on a cat and a dog. In an attempt to discover the causes of certain phenomena John Silence visits a house at midnight, accompanied by a dog and a cat. “Cats in particular, he believed, were almost continuously conscious of a larger field of vision, too detailed even for a photographic camera, and quite beyond the range of normal human organs. He had, further, observed that while dogs were usually terrified in the presence of such phenomena, cats on the other hand were soothed and satisfied. They welcomed manifestations as something belonging to their own region.” The result of his experiment justified his faith. The dog, an unusually courageous collie, was terrified beyond belief by the presence of the spirits and lay whimpering in a corner, finally, indeed, losing his sight. But the cat! The doctor alone in the darkened room, with a low fire, waited he knew not what. “Smoke … began to wash. But the washing, the doctor noted, was by no means its real purpose; it only used it to mask something else; it stopped at the most busy and furious moments and began to stare about the room. Its thoughts wandered absurdly. It peered intently at the curtains; at the shadowy corners; at empty space above; leaving its body in curiously awkward positions for whole minutes together.” The doctor at length fell asleep. Sometime later “a soft touch on the cheek awoke him. Something was patting him. He sat up with a jerk, and found himself staring into a pair of brilliant eyes, half green, half black. Smoke’s face lay level with his own; and the cat had climbed up with his front paws upon his chest. The lamp had burned low and the fire was nearly out, yet Dr. Silence saw in a moment that the cat was in an excited state. It kneaded with its front paws into his chest, shifting from one to the other. He felt them prodding against him. It lifted a leg very carefully and patted his cheek gingerly. Its fur, he saw, was standing ridgewise upon its back; the ears were flattened back somewhat; the tail was switching sharply. The cat, of course, had awakened him with a purpose.… Two things he became aware of at once: one that Smoke, while excited, was pleasurably excited; the other, that the collie was no longer visible upon the mat at his feet. He had crept away to the corner of the wall farthest from the window, and lay watching the room with wide-open eyes, in which lurked plainly something of alarm.… Smoke had jumped down from the back of the arm-chair and now occupied the middle of the carpet, where, with tail erect and legs stiff as ramrods, it was steadily pacing backwards and forwards in a narrow space, uttering, as it did so, those curious little guttural sounds of pleasure that only an animal of the feline species knows how to make expressive of supreme happiness. Its stiffened legs and arched back made it appear larger than usual, and the black visage wore a smile of beatific joy. Its eyes blazed magnificently; it was in an ecstasy. At the end of every few paces it turned sharply and stalked back again along the same line, padding softly, and purring like a roll of little muffled drums. It behaved precisely as though it were rubbing against the ankles of some one who remained invisible. A thrill ran down the doctor’s spine as he stood and stared.… For an instant, as he watched it, the doctor was aware that a faint uneasiness stirred in the depths of his own being, focussing itself for the moment upon this curious behaviour of the uncanny creature before him. There rose in him quite a new realization of the mystery connected with the whole feline tribe, but especially with that common member of it, the domestic cat—their hidden lives, their strange aloofness, their incalculable subtlety. How utterly remote from anything that human beings understood lay the sources of their elusive activities. As he watched the indescribable bearing of the little creature mincing along the strip of carpet under his eyes, coquetting with the powers of darkness, welcoming, maybe, some fearsome visitor, there stirred in his heart, a feeling strangely akin to awe. Its indifference to human kind, its serene superiority to the obvious, struck him forcibly with fresh meaning; so remote, so inaccessible seemed the secret purposes of its real life, so alien to the blundering honesty of other animals. Its absolute poise of bearing brought into his mind the opium-eater’s words that ‘no dignity is perfect which does not at some point ally itself with the mysterious.’” (Note 34)
I do not remember that Hermes Trismegistus or Paracelsus mention the cat in their alchemystical formulae, but both of these philosophers sat at the feet of this animal, just as certainly as later alchemists often found the presence of grimalkin convenient or his body necessary in preparing some mixture for the arcane cauldron. Probably the sylphs, gnomes, undines, and salamanders of the Comte de Gabalis were really white, black, silver, and orange pussies. But I do not think a magic system of divination by cats, ailuromancy it would be called, has yet been evolved. He keeps his secrets too closely to afford much aid to the hierophant. He retains those instincts of transcendental sensualism, those strange currents from the past, which man and even most of the other animals, especially the domestic animals, have exchanged for the inferior benefits of “civilization.” He is in touch with the infinite and unknown; he remembers the cult of the Egyptians and the strange secrets of Babylon, the apozemical soups of the sorceress. He recognizes Wotan in the storm and Katschei in the dark of the night. In the flames he sees Loge and Aphrodite rises for him on the waves of every sea. Eros haunts his rooftops and Diana directs his hunting expeditions. Sekhet and Pasht sit in the temples of his imagination. All the gods, all the devils are his friends; he knows the fairies, the elves, and the kobolds, and stryge and vampires come when he calls. The rustling of the leaves tells him a story, warns him of a danger, and a flight of birds prophesies a fair day. The touch of a wall against his whisker presses a signal into his brain and the crackle of a dried fern under his padded paw is to him the threat of a black-handed camorra. He is Swedenborgian and Pagan, Palladian and Kabbalist, Mohammedan and Jew. He walks on the sea with Christ and on the clouds with Buddha. He promenades in the poet’s brain. He understands and salutes the pale petunia; the esoteric begonia is his brother. The ithyphallic rites of Heliogabolus are as familiar to him as the cruel diversions of Gille de Retz. He learns the meaning of the Signs of the Zodiac, Solomon’s Sigil, the Tarot, the Ibimorphic and Serapian Triads, the Pantacles of the Planets, the Ten Commandments, and Science and Health while he is yet a kitten. Far from being the apprentice of the Wizard, he is more often the Master.
Note 1. “In the illuminated manuscript known as Queen Mary’s Psalter (1553) there is a picture of the Fall of Man, in which there is a modification of the idea which gained wide currency during the middle ages that it was the serpent-woman, Lilith, who had tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. In this picture, while the beautiful grace and ample hair of Lilith are shown, instead of the usual female breast she has the body of a cat.” Moncure Daniel-Conway: “Demonology and Devil-lore,” Vol. II, p. 301.
Note 2. Baruch, VI, 22.
Note 3. But Professor W. M. Conway says in “The Cats of Ancient Egypt” (“English Illustrated Magazine”; Vol. 7, p. 251): “Pasht for her part was lady of love and corresponded in a crude sort of way to that much nobler conception, the Aphrodite of the Greeks.” Freyja, of course, was an amorous goddess.
Note 4. “But the ghost or double of a body (in ancient Egypt) had to have a material something to be the double of. The actual body was of course best; second best was an image of it made in some lasting substance. Hence arose mummification to preserve the body, and portrait sculpture to replace it if destroyed. In later times a wealthy Egyptian was often buried with no less than some hundreds of little images in the shape of a mummy, ticketed with his name, besides one or more really fine portrait statues of him. Such statues were called Ka statues. If the mummy were destroyed the Ka could still be kept in existence by means of them.… As with men, so with cats; they too had their Ka and all the rest of it, and their Ka had likewise to be kept from annihilation against the great day of resurrection of cats, crocodiles and men. A rich man’s cat was elaborately mummied, wound round and round with stuff and cunningly plaited with linen ribbons dyed two different colours. His head was encased in a rough kind of papier maché, and that was covered with linen and painted, even gilt sometimes, the ears always carefully pricked up. The mummy might be enclosed in a bronze box with a bronze Ka statue of the cat seated on the top. Even finer burial might await a particularly grand cat.… A poor man’s cat was rolled up in a simple lump, but the rolling was carefully and respectfully done.” W. M. Conway: “The Cats of Ancient Egypt”: “English Illustrated Magazine”; Vol. 7, p. 251.
“The cases in which the cats were placed after embalming were capital representations of the cat in life. Many of them were of carven wood, remarkably lifelike affairs, the form and even the individuality and expression being remarkably preserved.… Some of the cat cases are curiously decorated and some of the faces are fitted with queerly made eyes, inlaid with obsidian, or rock crystal; others are done in coloured paste.” W. S. Harwood: “The Mummification of Cats in Ancient Egypt”; “Scientific American”; Vol. 82, p. 361.
There are several excellent examples of cat mummies, wound in linen of two colours, Ka statues in bronze and faience, and bronze enclosing boxes in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Note 5. Sir George Lewis thought he had proved that there were no cats in Athens, but a vase of the best period represents a cat chasing mice.
Note 6. “Cats in Catholic Ritual” (signed H. T.): “The Month,” Vol. 87, p. 487; London, 1896. This writer asserts that the story is not to be found in “The History of the Crusades.” As I have not read this book I cannot offer corroboration of his statement.
Note 7. Rev. J. G. Wood: “Man and Beast: Here and Hereafter.”
Note 8. Pierre Loti found the following in a rare old Japanese book: “Une certaine nuit de chaque hiver, les chats tiennent, dans quelque jardin isolé, une grande assemblee qui se termine par une ronde générale au clair de lune.” Vient ensuite, continues Loti, cette clause adorble, que je recommande à l’attention de Jules Lemaitre et de tous ceux qui sont assez affinés pour comprendre le charme des chats: “Pour être admis à cette réunion, tout chat est tenu de se procurer un fichu ou un mouchoir de soie dont il se coiffe pour danser.”“Japoneries d’Automne,” p. 150.
Note 9. “Demonology and Devil-Lore.”
Note 10. John Gregorson Campbell in “Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland” describes the Taigheirm as a “devil’s supper” and he says that tradition in the West Highlands makes mention of three instances of this performance, all of which are similar: Allan the cattle-lifter (Ailein nan creach) at Dail-a-chat (subsequently called The Cats’ Field) in Lochaber; Dun Lachlain in the big barn at Pennygoun in Mull; and the Children of Quithen, a small sept at Skye in a cave. The night of the day I first learned of the Taigheirm I dined with some friends who were also entertaining Seumas, Chief of Clann Fhearghuis of Stra-chur, who informed me that to the best of his knowledge the Taigheirm is still celebrated in the Highlands of Scotland.
Note 11. “John Silence.”
Note 12. Ernst Meier: “Deutsche Sagen, Sitten und Gebräuche aus Schwaben”; Stuttgart, 1852.
Note 13. “The London Magazine”; January 1911.
Note 14. For a particularly good example see “Lady Jule” by Francis Wilson; “Ladies’ Home Journal”; November 1902.
Note 15. “Mes Bêtes.”
Note 16. “Sept Dialogues de Bêtes.”
Note 17. “Traité de la Folie des Animaux.”
Note 18. These examples are from Fanny D. Bergen’s “Animal and Plant Lore, collected from the oral tradition of English speaking people.”
Note 19. “Malay Magic.”
Note 20. “John Mortonson’s Funeral” in “Can Such Things Be?”
Note 21. From Frazer’s The Golden Bough
Note 22. “I slink away, being superstitious regarding cherry-coloured cats, stepladders, and cross-eyed theatre managers,” writes James Huneker in “Bedouins,” p. 142.
In a poem by Susan K. Phillips, the following lines occur:
I’m no way superstitious as the person called our Mat,
When he’d none sail with the herring fleet, ’cause he met old Susie’s cat.
Note 23. “Animal and Plant Lore, collected from the oral tradition of English speaking people.”
Note 24. Page 37.
Note 25. “I Kilt er Cat”: These verses may be found on page 89 of Graham R. Tomson’s anthology, “Concerning Cats.”
Note 26. On page 276 of “Rabbits, Cats and Cavies,” C. H. Lane quotes the following story: “The morning before the recent accident to H. M. Destroyer Salmon, that vessel was lying alongside of H. M. S. Sturgeon. Upon the former vessel dwelt two cats, the special pets of the crew, and who had never been known to show the slightest inclination to leave the ship. But on this particular morning in spite of being chased by the crew and worried by the dogs, the cats never faltered in their determination to get off the Salmon and on to the Sturgeon. And when the first-named destroyer had weighed anchor for what was to prove the disastrous voyage, the cats made one last spring as the vessels separated, and landed on the deck of H. M. S. Sturgeon.”
Note 27. Of course Topsell in his quaint “History of Four-footed Beasts” (1658) has a good deal to say on this subject: “Alsius prescribeth a fat Cat sod for the Gowt, first taking the fat, and anointing therewith the sick part, and then wetting wool or tow in the same, and binding it to the offending place. The liver of a Cat dryed and beat to powder is good against the stone: the dung of a female Cat with the claw of an Oul hanged about the neck of a man that hath had seven fits of a Quartain Ague, cureth the same: a powder made of the gall of a black Cat and the weight of a groat thereof taken and mingled with four crowns weight of Zambach, helpeth the convulsion and wryness of the mouth: and if the gall of a Cat with the black dung of the same Cat, be burned in perfume under a woman travelling with a dead childe, it will cause it presently to come forthe: and Pliny saith that if a pin, or thorn, or fish bone, stick in one’s mouth, let him rub the inside of it with a little cat’s dung, and it will easily come forth. Given to a woman suffering from the flux with a little Rozen and oil of Roses and it stayeth the humour; and for a Web in the eye of a horse, evening and morning blow in the powder of Cat’s dung and it shall be cured.”
Note 28. There is really no panacea, mystical, moral, political, or physical, that Americans will not believe in. Moncure Daniel Conway gives the following examples in “Demonology and Devil-Lore”: “Dr. Dyer, an eminent physician of Chicago, Illinois, told me (1875) that a case occurred in that city within his personal knowledge, where the body of a woman who had died of consumption was taken out of the grave and the lungs burned, under the belief that she was drawing after her in the grave some of her surviving relatives. In 1874, according to the ‘Providence Journal,’ in the village of Peacedale, Rhode Island, Mr. William Rose dug up the body of his own daughter and burned her heart, under the belief that she was wasting away the lives of other members of his family.” A recent criminal trial in one of the Middle Western States brought out the fact that many an American pocket, even today, carries a silver bullet as a talisman against the witch-cat.
Note 29. “Tom Sawyer,” Chapter VI.
Note 30. In her book, already alluded to, Fanny Bergen gives a long list of examples of cat remedy superstitions which are credited in various parts of the United States. In Eastern Kansas the skin of a black cat worn in one’s clothing will cure rheumatism. In Somerset County, Maine, the blood of a black cat is used to cure shingles. In other parts of the United States it is believed that shingles may be cured by applying the freshly removed skin of a cat to the affected surface. A correspondent from Western New York wrote Mrs. Bergen in regard to this: “This is no hearsay matter with the writer, for in his boyhood he was afflicted with this disease and passed a night with the bloody skin of his favourite pussy covering his left side and the pit of his stomach.” In Eastern Massachusetts this same cure is prescribed for hives, and in Salem, an old Negro was cured of consumption by this method. In Southern Illinois three hairs from the tip of a black cat’s tail are sufficient to cure a felon and in the South a sty may be cured by brushing it nine times with a black cat’s tail.
Note 31. “Man and Beast: Here and Hereafter,” p. 320.
Note 32. Elliott O’Donnell, in “Animal Ghosts”; William Rider and Son; London; 1913, speaks of similar experiences: “From endless experiments made in haunted houses, I have proved to my own satisfaction, at least, that the cat acts as a thoroughly reliable psychic barometer. The dog is sometimes unaware of the proximity of the Unknown. When the ghost materializes or in some other way demonstrates its advent, the dog, occasionally, is wholly undisturbed—the cat never. I have never yet had a cat with me that has not shown the most obvious signs of terror and uneasiness both before and during a superphysical manifestation.” Mr. O’Donnell not only believes that cats see ghosts; he also believes that they have them. If the curious reader will turn to his book, he may find therein descriptions of the cat-spectres who have returned to haunt the scenes where they have been tortured. Mr. O’Donnell even goes so far as to assert that there may be something in the superstition that occasionally a black tom cat is the devil in animal form. “It would be idle, of course, to expect people in these unmeditative times to believe that there was ever the remotest truth underlying these so-called fantastic suppositions of the past; yet, according to reliable testimony, there are, at the present moment, many houses in England haunted by phantasms in the form of black cats, of so sinister and hostile an appearance, that one can only assume that unless they are the actual spirits of cats, earthbound through cruel and vicious propensities, they must be vice-elementals, i. e. spirits that have never inhabited any material body, and which have either been generated by vicious thoughts, or else have been attracted to a spot by some crime or vicious act once perpetrated there.”
Note 33. “John Silence.”
Note 34. Mr. Blackwood has treated this motive again in a more sentimental vein in his story, “The Attic,” in the volume entitled “Pan’s Garden.”
|Carl Van Vechten|