The silhouette of an arched, black cat against a full harvest moon needs no explanation.
The black cat has long been a favorite symbol of Halloween, topping the charts as one of the three most popular Halloween costumes of all time.
The image of black cats is also a staple in Halloween decor, and is portrayed in every manner from vintage stuffed dolls, lanterns, and figures, to paper cut outs, party plates and napkins. Even festive Halloween lawn displays would not be complete without a 10 foot, blow up black cat to greet holiday trick or treaters.
So how does a domestic pet like the black cat become synonymous with other more terrifying Halloween symbols like witches, ghosts, werewolves and monsters?
Anyone who has owned and loved a black cat may have a hard time relating to this majestic, beautiful creature in the same category as other traditionally scary Halloween creatures.
In certain parts of the world, like Asia and Egypt, black cats are considered good luck and are even considered sacred and worshipped. However, other parts of the world throughout history have considered the black cat to be evil and bad luck.
This bad reputation was most likely based on the color of their fur, as the color black was often associated with evil, Satan, and witchcraft. The cat’s somewhat aloof personality may also have contributed to the notion of evil intent.
The historical reference of black cats as an evil sidekick to Satan or sorcery can be found as far back as ancient Greek mythology, with the story of Hecate. She was the Greek Goddess of witchcraft, ghosts, death and the moon, and had an assistant who was a black cat.
For centuries, Scottish folklore spoke of a black cat creature named Sith, who was thought to steal the souls from the dead in order to take on human form as a witch.
In 1232, Catholic Pope Gregory IX denounced the black cat, fearing it was an incarnation of Satan. Because this statement came directly from the church, it held great influence over Europe, continuing the unfounded fear of black cats for generations.
The fear of black cats made its way to the Plymouth Colony with the arrival of the Pilgrims. The Puritan Pilgrims distrusted anything associated with witches and black magic, including black cats, and anyone caught with a black cat would be punished or killed.
At the height of this unfounded paranoia against black cats and witchcraft, black cats were ritually killed in order to protect the community from their so-called evil ways.
During the witch-fearing histeria of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, black cats were thought to assist witches in carrying out their evil deeds, thus sealing their connection to witches and witchcraft.
As the strong influence of the Puritan religion eased throughout the growing United States, the fear of the evil of black cats changed to more of a superstition that black cats were bad luck. Many believed that if a black cat crossed your path, it was an omen for misfortune.
Today we now know that the opposite may actually be true, as there is scientific research to back up a positive relationship between humans and the black cat.
Most solid-black cats are actually the popular and beloved, striped Tabby cat, but they have a recessive gene that suppresses the Tabby pattern.
Researchers at the National Institute of Health have discovered that the genetic change that causes cats to have a black coat may offer protection from certain diseases, affecting the same genes that offer HIV resistance to humans.
Since cats experience many of the same health issues as humans, including cancer, HIV, and Alzheimer’s, they are a good model to study in fighting these diseases in humans. By studying how the cat’s genes evolved to resist certain illnesses, researchers hope to learn how to prevent these illnesses in humans.
Even though the black cat has the same character traits of the popular, striped Tabby, the black cat is up to 70 percent less likely to be adopted out of a shelter.
This is most likely due to “judging a book by its cover” or rather, judging a cat by its fur, but many don’t realize, as black cats age, their dark coat can change.
Sunlight can break down the pigments in their fur causing their coat to turn a rusty brown, or reveal their underlying tabby stripes.
There are also several advantages to adopting a black cat. Besides the fact that they are generally thought to have an advantage in battling certain feline diseases, they statistically tend to live longer than other cat breeds.
As any fashionista will tell you, black goes with everything! But, seriously, black cat hair shows up much less on furniture and clothing than lighter colored fur, and black cats need less grooming.
You will be in good company if you own a black cat, as Fred Astaire, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, and Queen Victoria all had black cats as pets.
Perhaps the most important reason to adopt a black cat is because you will know that you are giving a loving animal a second chance that they otherwise might not get.
In recent years the black cat has received a new and improved image thanks to the magic of Hollywood. Black cats have been featured as smart, helpful, wisecracking sidekicks, rather than evil henchmen, in such movies as “Escape from Witch Mountain” and “Hocus Pocus.” Popular TV shows like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and the long running cartoon, “The Simpsons,” also feature a regular “black cat” character that is kind, charming, and funny.
Although the black cat continues to be associated with the Halloween witch, it has progressed into a cuter, more friendly version of its former self, emphasizing the fun and playful side of the Halloween season.
This Halloween, celebrate all that is magical and wondrous about the iconic black cat, and leave the spooky folklore for the “professional” Halloween terrors, like Dracula and Frankenstein.