Cats hold a special place in many households. What makes the cat so interesting and unique? Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years yet only recently have they taken on new acclaim. However, thousands of years ago they were just as popular. In ancient Egypt, the cat was cultivated as an icon and eventually a God.
Cats were believed to be keepers of the dead as well as sacred and profane entities. Most every household in Egypt had a cat. Cats were revered in Egypt for their abilities to eliminate common pests such as mice and venomous snakes. What earned the cat its Deification was this dual nature. The cat was both a protector and a killer. With such an understanding for the animal as this, the cat now embodied two Gods. Bastet goddess of fertility and protector of children and cats and Sekhmet warrior goddess. However the love and worship of cats did not end here with the Egyptians. Cats received near royal treatment, all were mummified and if ever a household cat died. The family of the cat would go into mourning and shave their eyebrows. Should ever someone accidentally or intentionally harm a cat they would be put to death. Archaeological evidence shows that there were many temples and even necropolises devoted to felines.
Cats also held an enormous role in other world religions. In the Nordic religion Freyja is charioted by two large cats. These cats were called Gib-cats. Cats are often associated to Freyja and as such are sacred. Interestingly, Freyja is also a warrior goddess and shares this trait with Sekhmet.
In Japan there is what is known as the beckoning cat. The beckoning cat is portrayed as a seated cat with one paw in the air; as if it were waving hello. The beckoning cat is said to be an incarnation of the goddess of Mercy. Legend has that a wealthy lord took shelter from a rain storm under a near by tree. Getting wet and a shiver from being soaked he shook under the tree. Across the way was a poor temple. A temple which the lord did not want to be seen in. As the lord glanced up from under his tree he saw a cat come out of the temple and beckon to him. The lord got up and followed the cat. No sooner than he got up a bolt of lightning struck the very tree had been under. The tree split asunder and on fire astonished the lord. He had been given a second chance and was ever so thankful for the cat’s help. After this the lord donated money to help rebuild the old temple.
Despite so many favorable views of the cat there is one culture that has not trusted the cat. In 1484 Pope Innocent the VIII, issued a proclamation that decreed all cats as evil and involved with the devil. As result anyone seen with a cat or any cat seen was put to death. The guilty were charged with witchcraft and conspiring with the devil. It was thought that the cat was a familiar of a witch. The witch was able to use the familiar to cause his or her misdeeds. These accusations gained a tremendous amount of fervor as the plague swept through Europe. Since the plague was carried by rats and cats hunted rats, the beasts were seen as ill omens. Although the contagion methods were not known at the time.
In every classic tale of a witch there is always a black cat to be found. Many rituals and spells used by witches involved cat hair. In fact some of the rituals used were from The Lesser key of King Solomon in which many demons are known to “bring about great familiars.”
Despite the treason, revery and worship, cats have made their homes in many peoples houses. Now, with the advancement of veterinary medicine many of the problems cats had in the home are now mostly eliminated. The only worry or praise a cat need have now is from your everyday pet owner. Some people still continue the idolization of the cat today. So next time you see a cat think of the persecution and praise it has take it to get where it is today.