Sunday, 22 May 2016
Paganism and the Status of the Cat: From Hero to Zero.
The cat was much persecuted in the later Middle Ages because of her link to witchcraft. But in the early Middle Ages she was revered and had a value equivalent to an adult goat.
So how did cat PR deteriorate so dramatically?
Well, it’s all to do with paganism.
The first factor was how early culture was organized in western Europe around 500 AD. Most people lived in villages that were scattered around the countryside, and there was a lack of central government. This meant it was hard for the church to exert a major influence over the population as a whole. As a result pagan religious traditions were able to persist.
Particularly popular was the cult of Diana, the huntress.
“Wicked women perverted by the devil…in the hours of the night to ride up certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans….wander from the right faith.”
Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. J B Russell
Part of Diana’s legend was that she rode out into the night on a wild hunt, accompanied by women and their cats. Diana’s female companions were said to obey her, rather than the one true god. Indeed, documents from the early church put worship of Diana on the same level as devil worship.
As Christianity began to spread, the early church had to tackle paganism head on if it wanted to dominate. This meant demonizing paganism and especially the cult of Diana. They did so with mixed success.
“Christian people continued to practice ancient superstitions in a more or less disguised form, and pagan and magical elements entered the saints’ cults.”
So what next?
The Church upped the ante by perverting the worship of Diana into a form of witchcraft. Their propaganda preached the message that those who refused to give up the ‘old ways’ were actually worshipping the devil.
Taking things further still, the Inquisition were doing their part by coercing people into converting. They weren’t afraid to use terror and intimidation in order to make converts, and this often meant persecuting women who resisted and still followed pagan ways. To be accused of “cat worship” became a dangerous thing, which could result in being burnt at the stake. Then according to the Inquisition, many of these ‘agents of the devil’ admitted in their dying confessions that they worshiped cats as agents of the devil.
In the 11th century these confessions were then seized up by Pope Gregory VII who issued a Papal Bull stating that black cats were agents of the devil…and so the persecution began.