Like pumpkins, candy, and monsters, black cats are a staple in Halloween imagery and lore.
But do you know why?
Cats have long had significance in the ancient religions of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Celts. The Celts in particular, had many beliefs about cats—often on their presence bringing good or bad luck, predicting death, illness, or even changes in the weather. Many beliefs involved people, demons, or other entities shapeshifting into cats. The direct connection between Halloween and black cats is Cat-Sith (Cat-Shee). In Celtic lore, Cat-Sith is a faerie spirit that takes the form of a black tom cat with a white patch of fur on his chest and is said to steal the souls of the unburied dead. There was a pagan tradition that involved leaving a saucer of milk out for Cat-Sith on the night of Samhain (the holiday that became Halloween). Cat Sith would bring the resident good luck if he got his milk. If not, he would stop their cow from producing milk altogether!
Though the legend of Cat Sith is menacing on its own, any Pagan traditions or beliefs were further demonized when Christianity took over medieval Europe. When literal witch hunts persecuted innocent women accused of witchcraft, their cats or any who lived nearby were frequently killed. Witches were said to have “familiars”, or a demonic spirit in the form of an animal that connected them to the devil and acted as servants or spies. Often these were said to take the form of a cat, precisely a black one. Throwing back to the shapeshifting myths, some believed witches could also transform into their feline familiars.
Through the years, this association of black cats with witches and Samhain/Halloween has been further immortalized in ghost stories, literature, television, film, and décor. However, the years have softened their reputations, going from evil creatures to cute costumes or sharp-tongued sidekicks in TV and film. So whether you prefer the spooky spirit of Cat-Sith, or the silly Salem from Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch, black cats everywhere will be pleased they are being celebrated the way they know all cats deserve to be recognized!
– Tracie Koehnlein