With Halloween lurking just around the corner, Karen Bush is digging up some spooky myths and legends relating to our four-legged friends.
Cats are said to possess supernatural powers, such as the ability to see ghosts. In Finland, it was once thought they carried the spirits of the dead to the otherworld, while an ancient Chinese belief was that the glow from a cat’s eyes could scare away evil spirits. But that’s not all – read on, if you dare…
- During the American Civil War, Tom Cat was the cherished mascot of Fort McAllister in Georgia. He kept up spirits as he ran back and forth along the defences, miraculously dodging the hail of bullets and cannonballs. His luck eventually ran out on March 3, 1863, when he became the only casualty during seven hours of heavy bombardment. He was buried with full military honours — but that wasn’t the last of Tom. To this day, staff and visitors have reported seeing him still running around the fort, and have felt an invisible cat rubbing against their legs.
- A horrible belief of the past was that bricking up a cat in the walls of buildings would bring good fortune. The mummified remains of one such unfortunate feline were discovered at the old Mill Hotel in Sudbury, Suffolk. Despite his tragic end, the cat’s spirit takes affront at any attempts to move him. An art store where he was displayed burned down leaving the cat unharmed in the midst of the ashes, while floods and other disasters have followed subsequent rehoming efforts. But all has apparently been peaceful since his repatriation beneath the hotel’s floor in reception.
- Two other victims who met the same tragic fate as the Mill Hotel’s cat now haunt Ye Olde Starre Inne, in York — and are not above a bit of teasing of canine visitors, knowing they can do no harm. Dogs have been reported as growling and snarling at the section of wall behind which the cats had been imprisoned, and one even raced at the wall in such a fury, and with such force, that it knocked itself out cold.
- The Capitol building in Washington DC is home to the US Congress — and also to a mysterious cat. It can grow at will to the size of a small lion and, if approached, its eyes shine so brightly that it’s impossible to meet its gaze. Its appearance often foretells a national disaster. It was spotted before the assassinations of the US presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and Kennedy, and the attempted assassination of Reagan, as well as just before the stock market crash in the late 1930s. Security guards who have tried to shoot it find that it vanishes, and security cameras have shown them firing at thin air.
- Lady Ann Smith of Edmondthorpe, Leicestershire, was alleged to have been a witch, with a penchant for turning herself into a huge black cat. Confronted one night by the monstrous feline, her butler struck out with a cleaver, injuring a front paw. The cat fled, but the next morning Lady Ann was seen to have a wounded wrist. The bloodstains remained on the kitchen floor until the 1920s when they were finally removed by the simple expedient of taking up the flagstones. Lady Ann died in 1652, but the statue on her tomb, however, still bears a strange red stain on its wrist.
- Should you visit the Scottish Highlands, watch out for the fairy, Cat Sìth — a ferocious feline the size of a dog, with bristling fur and completely black in colour, except for a white spot on its chest. It was believed that, unless a constant watch was kept on the body of a deceased person until they were buried, the Cat Sìth would come and steal their soul. During this time, no fires would be lit in the same room as the warmth might attract Cat Sìth, and games such as leaping, wrestling, and telling riddles would be played to distract and confuse him should he turn up anyway. A visit from Cat Sìth was not all bad news, however. He would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out for him on Samhain (October 31 – November 1). But woe betide any who forgot — the household would be cursed with having all their cows’ milk dry up.
- There are many other ancient superstitions concerning cats and the deceased, with the folklore of many countries holding that cats should not be allowed near the bodies of the recently departed. In China, it was thought that they could call back the souls of the dead as zombies, while in Transylvania it was believed that a corpse would become a vampire if a cat jumped over it.
- Phantom cats are also known as ABCs (Alien Big Cats) — but are neither ghostly or from another planet. They are simply the labels hung on large, usually dark-coloured felines spotted in areas outside their indigenous habitat. Around 2,000 such sightings have been reported across the UK since the 1960s, most frequently in the south, and with The Beast of Bodmin being the most famous. Of course, there is a supernatural explanation if you prefer not to believe the more mundane one that they are zoo escapees or illegally released by private owners: that they are the feline counterpart of the spectral Black Dog.
- Japanese folklore tells of the bakeneko, or ghost cat — a feline with a taste for drinking lamp oil, and which can change shape, speak, and take revenge on any humans who are cruel to animals. While everyone in the UK is busy dressing up for Halloween parties as Dracula and such humdrum entities, in Kagurazaka, Tokyo, they dress as cats instead, and take part in a parade dedicated to the supernatural creature.
- Dress with care if you find yourself in Iceland over Christmas, or risk a visitation from Jolakotturinn — the terrifying black Yule Cat. Your choice of clothes should include something new and woollen if you want to avoid him feasting on your flesh.
This article was first published in the October issue of Your Cat Magazine. GET YOURS HERE.