Sunday, 7 November 2010
'Familiar Felines' - cats and witchcraft.
A Norse legend, tells that Freya, the goddess of love and fertility, rode in a chariot pulled by two black cats. The latter were actually her swift horses that had been possessed by the devil. The cats served Freya well for seven years, and at the end of this time were rewarded by being turned into witches – disguised as cats!
Centuries old insecurities led the cat to be labelled as the witch’s familiar. The Hungarians even specified that this happened at seven years of age – the cat could be spared this fate by incising a crucifix into its skin before it reached this significant age.
So great was the association of cats with witchcraft in 15th century
Europe that they became synonymous as a symbol of evil. had its own sinister cat, the Cait Sith or Highland Fairy Cat. More a demon than a fairy, this monstrous black and white animal with a spot on his chest, was said to be a transformed witch. Scotland
Pope Innocent VIII legalised the persecution of witches, and as a result many women who kept cats were tortured. The hysteria spread, encouraged in the name of ‘casting out the devil.’ When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne, some protestants staged a mocking ceremony of this superstition, by filling a wicker dummy of the Pope with cats, which they threw onto a bonfire. The screams of the cats was said to be,
‘The language of the devil from the body of the Holy Father.’
This sick cycle continued with Catholics shaving the heads of cats, to represent protestant friars, before hanging the poor animals.