Are Black Cats Lucky or Unlucky?

No animal on earth is as divisive as the black cat.  At times throughout history, they have been revered and adored, while at others, rounded up and exterminated.  Some people believe black cats will bring good fortune while others deem them harbingers of doom. Differing cultures have placed black cats in superstition and folklore which has resulted in a confusing reputation.

Way back yonder in the years BC, pussies were put on a pedestal. The ancient Egyptian Goddess, Bastet, was a feline deity, often depicted as a woman with a black cat’s head.  She was the highly-regarded ‘defender of the kingdom’ and as such, black cats were seen as providers of protection and good luck. The wealthy would adorn their cats with jewels and feed them the very best food.  Cats became an object of devotion.  They were also good at keeping mice away from the crops which was good.

A statue of Bastet. An Egyptian deity who has the body of a woman and the head of a cat.

 Bastet via Wikimedia

It was for this reason that cats were brought to Europe.  Cats don’t eat crops, they prefer mice, so a mutually-beneficial arrangement was struck up between farmer and cat. Cats proved themselves to be useful members of society. They were a welcome addition into Pagan Europe and lived happily for centuries until the superstitions of the Catholic Church came into play.

In the 13th Century, a report about a Satanic Cult was presented to Pope Gregory IX. This detailed a demonic ritual which included kissing a black cat on the bumhole (not even kidding!). This saw Pope G declaring the black cat an enemy of the Catholic Church which led God-fearing folk to prove their love for baby Jesus by rounding up black cats and killing them. The word of the Lord was so powerful back then that cats almost became extinct.  And when the cats are away, the mice will play… well, the rats.  The 14th Century saw the rat population accelerate and their highly-efficient ability to spread disease flourished, resulting in the deadliest pandemic known to man. One-third of Europeans lost their lives to The Black Death… maybe they shouldn’t have been so quick to despatch The Black Cats, huh?

 a vintage illustration of a group of cute black kittens on a cloud in the sky.  There is a caption which reads 'if any cloud should cross your skies of blue, May it best laden with the best of luck for you'

Many years later, black cats became subject to some Middle Ages folklore. The story goes a man and his son encountered a black cat and threw stones at it.  The injured cat darted into a woman’s house who was believed to be a witch.  She emerged the next day walking with a limp so everyone drew the obvious conclusion that she was in fact able to shape-shift into feline form. The witch was a cat and the cat was a witch! One and the same. Like all good fake news this traveled far and wide and soon black cats became cemented with the dark arts.  In fact, by the time of the infamous witch trials in the 18th Century, black cats had become so synonymous with sorcery that just owning a black cat was seen as damning evidence of the accused being a witch.

With so many evil connotations levied at them – how did the black cat become a good luck symbol? Well, fortunately, not everyone is so easily swayed by hysterical witch hunts and nonsensical papal declarations.  And let’s not forget that the ‘witches’ were (largely) non-believing women who lived on their own and had cats – they sound great! So although black cats have been associated with evil there were also huge swathes of society who didn’t subscribe to this superstition.  They followed more in line with the Ancient Egyptians who regarded black cats much more favourably.

 A vintage cartoon illustration of 4 black cats walking and holding hands in a line. The caption reads May luck follow luck in all that you do.

Of course, the historical juxtaposition of positive and negative vibes attributed to black cats results in confusion to this day. Some cultures believe a black cat walking towards you is good luck while others believe it is bringing you bad luck. 

In the UK, a black cat is considered good luck and a sign of prosperity.  By the turn of the 20th century, black cat postcards kept the printing presses busy.  People bought them in stacks to send good wishes to their loved ones.  A trend which invaded America and over to Japan faster than a rat can spread a deadly virus. Black cats were bringing good wishes to millions of people the whole world over.

 A vintage illustration of 8 black cats each one holding a letter and spelling out the words, Good Luck

Even today the negative stigma is still attached to black cats.  They are less likely to be adopted at shelters with people preferring to take home tortoiseshell tabbies and ginger pussycats.  Although, from running The Vintage Card Company, I know there is a huge amount of affection for black cats out there.  Our reproductions of black cat images are among our best sellers which is what prompted me to write this article.  Also from fostering over 50 cats for the local shelter, I know black cats to be every bit as amiable and affectionate as other cats. And not one of them has cast a spell on me yet, other than to be its most devoted servant! 

If you liked the images in this article, take a look at my Black Cat Good Luck Pack, a curated set of 12 cards with images taken from vintage good luck postcards. Find them under Curated Packs in the menu.


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