Why do we identify black cats with Halloween?
The longstanding association between Halloween and the black cat may well have started as a matter of color--black. Traditionally, white has been a symbol of goodness and purity while black represents danger and evil. The fur of a black cat blends with the night, which is spooky enough, but its eyes--specially adapted to collect the maximum available light—glow and seem to float in the void.
Our uneasy relationship with black cats has been a part of folklore for centuries. The pagan practice of witchcraft was identified with animals, including the cat. When, after the rise of Christianity, the church decided witchcraft was evil, cats were deemed evil by proxy. It was believed a witch had the ability to change into a cat, and cats were often tortured and killed by Christian puritans. Many cultures attributed bad luck to cats. Supposedly, King Charles I of England owned a black cat and the day his cat died, he was arrested. It was an old sailor's legend that encountering a cat in the shipyard meant a stormy voyage or other trouble at sea. In Babylonian folklore, a curled-up cat on the hearth was an omen comparable to that of an evil serpent.
Still, not every culture thought ill of black cats. In ancient Egypt, cats were held in high esteem. To kill one, even accidentally, was punishable by death. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that when a cat died, the household would mourn as if for a human, and family members would often shave their eyebrows to signify their grief. Ancient Egyptians mummified beloved cats so that they could accompany each other in the afterlife.
So don’t forget, cat lovers--especially on a dark and stormy night--what cats have endured to get to the place they now hold in our hearts.