rat nap

A Witchy Bestiary: Cats!

Kitties! The source for the never-ending squee (for those of you unfamiliar with anime or internet culture, “squee” is the word for that high-pitched squeal of delight when someone sees something incredibly cute… like a kitten). Cats have a wonderful, loving relationship with most of the world, and have solidified their place in internet culture due to their antics. And, of course, many of us are lucky enough to be the loving and subservient human to a feline master or two (or, in my case, four).

But, as often seen when the stores begin their commercial takeover of the Halloween season - when we witches prepare for Samhain and take delight in popular culture’s enjoyment of our New Year’s - cats and witches go paw-in-hand.

Yes, Josh. This couch is comfortable. Now pet me. ~Whitney

Ancient Origins

Cats have a very long history alongside humans. Most famously in ancient culture, the Egyptians revered cats as a sacred animal. However, something that has always puzzled archaeologists is when and how humans started domesticating cats. With dogs, it’s much easier to track (just like their muddy paw prints on the carpet…), but cats are fittingly mysterious in when humans chose to add them in their societies. (Let’s face it. Humans did not choose the cat. The cat chose the humans. I think that’s where scientists and historians keep getting it wrong.)

As far as we can tell today, cats can be traced to several areas in early human history, but the two most significant areas from which modern kitties can be traced back to are the Middle East and China. As early as 12,000 years ago, the rise of agriculture had begun attracting rats, mice, and other rodents. In turn, wild cats began being drawn closer to human settlements. Clearly, having a friendly animal around to help keep your grain safe is ideal, so these cats would then be fed and protected by the humans that they’d begun helping.

Over the centuries, these two breeds of cats began to evolve, growing closer to humans and starting weave their ways into our lives (if we trust them and love them, it’s easier for them to accomplish their goal of world domination).

A Divine Link

Cats eventually began to find their way into our spirituality. In the Middle East, cats were respected as guardians of spiritual texts and sites. In Egypt, cats were deified. This was the case so much so that to be accused of having killed a cat in ancient Egyptian society was to face punishment by execution. In fact, cats were so revered that they were mummified and treated with the same respect as royalty.

To the ancient Egyptians, cats were associated with the goddess Bastet (or Bast). And sure enough, what is her domain within the Egyptian religion? Protection. As a lioness protector, she was a goddess of great importance, and was a prominent goddess long after Egypt’s civilization began to fade.

Toward the end of Egyptian civilization, the Greeks had come to respect Bast, as well, and connected her with another goddess - Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon (a goddess often associated with Hecate).

The Romans came to respect cats, as well. While more secular than the deeply spiritual Egyptians, Romans respected cats for their independent natures and wild demeanors, and attributed cats to two of their goddesses: Diana and Libertas.

What? You said I’m a protector goddess. So I protect. I protect your PS3 from the cold. ~Whitney

Demons, Witches, Plagues, and Cats

Unfortunately, the high status that our feline overlords deserve would not be respected into the Middle Ages. With the rise of witch hunts, anyone who welcomed an animal into the home would be faced with accusations of witchcraft and heresy. Cats in particular were targeted due to their independent and nocturnal natures.

The ambivalence with which cats rule their lives was seen, particularly by witch hunters, as a link to demonic nature. For a man or woman to welcome cats into their home was surely a sign that the feline was truthfully a demon performing fiendish deeds for the evil magician inside.

This was the origin for the modern stereotype of witches and black cats. Just as men and women were rounded up on accusations of witchcraft, cats were killed by the hundreds.

Little did Europe know how much it needed its feline population. As the number of cats began to dwindle, the number of rodents exploded, and with the rats came plague. The protection cats long provided against disease (something Bastet was long honored for as a goddess of healing) was no longer present, and the bubonic plague ran rampant and caused the world population to drop by more than 100 million. Of course, reactions did not help cats or witches any, for often witches and cats would be accused of further spreading the plague.

Eventually, when the focus was taken away from the cats, they began to resume their time honored magical duty of rat hunting and disease prevention.

Yeah, we’ll hunt those rats… after our nap.~ Whitney, Lilly, and Barnabus

A Return to Glory, and a Witch’s Best Friend

Every so often after the Black Death, cats would be the subject of witchcraft accusations, both in the old world and the new. But their popularity as mousers would earn them a respected job for both the navies of the 17th and 18th centuries and of the United States Postal Service clear up to the early 20th century.

By the end of the 19th century, cats were walking beside humans again without fear, happily going about their way as humans began to rely less on their utility and more on their company.

Up until some rather important innovations of the 20th century (namely refrigeration, the invention of kitty litter, and the rise of spaying and neutering), the thought of having an indoor cat was on the preposterous side. Even the President’s cat had free reign to wander in and out of the White House. But as these amenities became prevalent, kitties started to have a place as permanent indoor companions, safe from the dangers of the outside world, and more comfortable than even their own humans!

Today, cats have come to dominate not only the world of pets (much as many dog owners would refuse to admit, more pet owners have cats than dogs), but also the Internet. They’ve become the penultimate companion to the millenial due to the ease of care (food? water? easy. Litter? unpleasant, but easy. Love and cuddles? Well, these kitties will never want for attention!) and the stress-relief that cats often provide in a world that tends to promote stress and anxiety.

To many witches, cats are perfect companions. In addition to the connections with gods and goddesses worldwide, cats also have a role to play in witchcraft! Cats are natural teachers for us when we need to focus on our independence, confidence, and overall attitude towards life.

As familiars, cats can provide us with a link to the divine, to Hecate and Bast, while also helping to magnify our magical energies and naturally cleansing energy from spellwork (even Feng Shui acknowledges the natural abilities of cats in energy cleansing - it is believed that wherever a cat spends a considerable amount of time, chances are that stagnant energy is pooling there, and the cat is doing what it can to get it flowing again).

Don’t mind me. Just cleansing away the negativity! ~Cody

When working spells that involve cats, pay attention to what goddesses you use - Diana, Freya, Bast, Isis, and Cerridwen are all great picks for cat magic (Cerridwen was often accompanied by white cats… which is probably why I can’t seem to cast a spell in this house without Whitney showing up and helping!). Then, think about what aspect of the cat you want to emulate or encourage in your spell:

  • Adaptability
  • Orderliness
  • Getting in touch with your inner kitten (er, child)
  • Promoting restful sleep, or banishing insomnia
  • Healing
  • Protection (from evil spirits, disease, and anxiety and depression)
  • Encouraging curiosity
  • Longevity
  • Cleansing
  • Connecting with Spirit
  • Communicating with the dead
  • Helping the dead move on
  • Love Spells (Especially self love)
  • Femininity

There are many more aspects to cats in witchcraft. Whether you have a cat or use cat imagery, a witch is bound to find quite a bit of assistance from our feline overlords. If you are blessed enough to be owned by a cat, and wish to have the cat as a familiar, be sure to ask it first. Chances are, it will agree. Sometimes, it will simply decide to be your familiar anyway (like I said, Whitney never seems to miss a spell).

In Conclusion…

Cats are sacred. Both in the eyes of the ancients and in their own eyes. To be a witch working with a cat is a blessing and a joy, and there is so much that our feline masters can teach us about ourselves. When working magic, they are both inspiration and mentors.

As usual, my bestiary entries are meant to be a stepping point to help you in your own research. If you plan on making cats a central feature of your practice (as I’m sure that our kitties are intent on us doing), be sure to research and do some digging. Every tradition sees cats in a different way, and there is a lot of history that is shared between humans and cats.

And above all, treat all kitties as royalty. They are gods and goddesses in their own right, after all!

Blessed Be! )O(

*This article was brought to you in part by my four beloved furry masters: Whitney, Lilly, Barn, and Cody.