We Have Always Been Cat People | Mythology Mondays

So, I’m in the process of looking for/getting a cat. I’ve written up my pro and con list; everything from ‘cats are cute and nice to cuddle’ to ‘Cat faeces contain toxoplasmosis which can be harmful to humans even with frequent litter cleaning’. Needless to say, I’ve exhausted out the possible ‘what if’s’ available with cat ownership.

I’ve also decided to go into some other forms of research.

Cats have been the constant companions, guides, deities and nuisances of the mythological world.

In Egypt, cats were thought to be sacred, pretty much worshipped. When a cat died, they were given burial rites similar to humans, including small offerings within their tombs. Bastet is probably one of the better known of Egyptian goddesses (aside from Isis), patron Goddess of warfare in lower Egypt, defender of pharaoh's, and consequently of the chief male deity, Ra. Bastet was originally depicted with the head of a lioness, a warrior Goddess of the sun yet, she later changed into the Goddess of domestic cats (and given her more domestic cat appearance). Greeks occupying ancient Egypt toward the end of its civilisation changed her into the Goddess of the moon as well.

Cats had a prominent roll within Celtic lore and mythology. In Ireland, and across the Celtic worlds, the skin of a wild cat was worn by warriors to invoke the protection of the Gods. The cat was also a totem animal amongst many clans, particularly Scottish. They believed that cats were guardians of the of the gates to the Otherworld, guardians of their treasures and also bring to the people the wholeness, as a spiritual link between humans and the universe. However, black cats in Celtic lore were considered evil, and were sacrificed.

One Celtic creature is the Faerie Cat or Sìth, said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its breast. Legend has it that this spectral cat haunted the Scottish highlands, with other tales suggesting that the Sìth was indeed not a fairy, but a witch that could transform into a cat nine times. If the witch would turn to a cat more than nine times then they would remain a cat forever. Sìth were untrustworthy, believed to be able to steal souls from bodies before burial. Methods of “distraction” such as games of leaping and wrestling, catnip, riddles, and music would be employed to keep the Sìth away. On Samhain, it was believed that a Sìth would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out for it to drink, but those houses that did not let out a saucer of milk would be cursed into having all of their cows’ milk dry.

In Norse mythology, cats were sacred to Freyja, the Goddess of love and fertility. She was viewed as the protector of the weak, healer and granter of magick. The chariot that Freyja rode was drawn by two large cats, and were in art often depicted alongside her. Farmers would leave out precious milk for them, to ensure that Freyja blessed their harvest. 

An Underwater panther, called Mishipeshu or Mishibijiw in Ojibwe, is one of the most important of several water beings among many Great Lakes and Northeastern Woodlands Native American tribes, particularly among the Anishinaabe peoples. Mishipeshu translating into “The Great Lynx."  

In Native American mythology, underwater panthers were seen as an opposing yet complementary force to the Thunderbirds, and they were engaged in eternal conflict. As late as the 1950s, the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians performed a traditional ceremony to placate the Underworld Panther and maintain balance with the Thunderbird.

The transformation to either a domestic cat, a tiger, a lion, a lynx, or any other type, including some that are purely mythical felines.

A surprising cat figure of mythology that I feel is unrepresented is actually the werecat. European folklore usually depicted werecats as those who transformed into domestic cats. Some European werecats became giant domestic cats or panthers. They were generally deemed to be witches, even though they may have no magical ability other than self-transformation. During the witch trials, the official Church doctrine stated that all shapeshifters, including werewolves, were witches whether they were male or female.

Differently, mainland Asian werecats usually become tigers portrayed as a menace to livestock, who might at any time turn to man-eating. Chinese legends often described weretigers as the victims of either a hereditary curse or a vindictive ghost. In Thailand, a tiger that ate enough humans could become a full blown weretiger.

In both Indonesia and Malaysia there is another kind of weretiger, known as Harimau jadian. The power of this kind of transformation was regarded as due to inheritance, to the use of spells, to fasting and sheer willpower, etc. 

The foremost were-animal in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures was the werejaguar.  It was associated with the veneration of the jaguar, with priests and shamans among the various peoples who followed this tradition wearing the skins of jaguars to “become” a werejaguar. Among the Aztecs, an entire class of specialised warriors dressed in this animals skin existed. Depictions of the jaguar and the werejaguar are among the most common motifs among the artifacts of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. The balams (magicians) of Yucatán who could become werejaguars were said to guard the maize fields in animal form.

I can only hope my eventual cat companion is strong enough to guard my apartment.