Some of us out there are probably still ardent believers in the omens that black cats bring with them. None I’ve ever asked have had any real insight into the belief, or why or where this comes from. But the belief has kept itself latched on to the Indian consciousness for a while now.
Here’s the origin of the myth of the bad luck, bad cat.
The history of the black cat and its supernatural power dates back to 3000 BC, during the time of the Egyptians.
Although it was more of a good omen than a bad one, the Egyptians held black cats to a high degree of respect and admiration. In fact, the injuring or killing of a cat in Egypt at the time was considered a capital crime. But it was really during the middle-ages in Europe that black cats starting gaining a bad reputation.
Particularly with the Spanish community, they began the association of black cats with witchcraft and witches.
The most popular and widely believed superstition was that of the morphing or shape-shifting of witches into the body of a black cat. But it was a story out of folklore that went around during the 1560s in England that the black cat crossing the path superstition came along.
The first recorded instance of the urban legend involved a father and a son who came across a black cat crossing their path.
When they noticed the feline scuttling across the path they were walking across, the duo apparently pelted stones at the cat in a bid to make it run away. They were successful enough in their endeavour to ward off the creature which they noticed ran into a house along the street. At the time, the house was considered to be under the ownership of a lady that was locally infamous for practicing witchcraft. Lore says that the father and son ran into the woman in question the next day, only she was limping from what seemed like an injury to her leg. Thus, the long association of black cats and witchcraft came about.
Beginning with Europe, the superstition spread across parts of the world like wildfire. With word of mouth and a bit of Chinese whispers of course.
We can only speculate as to how far back the origin can be traced within India. The most plausible of the lot seems to have come from having to pacify domesticated bullocks who pulled carts and would panic if they saw a cat cross the road. The driver would then have to take time to calm the animal or just turn around and leave. Another very probable origin could’ve arrived along with the British and the Portuguese during colonisation.
While witchcraft has been a superstition in India since kingdom come, its association with cats – and, subsequently seeing a black cat – as a bad omen is a very recent belief in history. Needless to say, this particular superstition has a good chance of not having taken birth in our culture at all.