The history of cats as witches familiars.
For as long as Halloween has existed and before, there has been a strong link between cats and witches. Cats are the most commonly associated familiar with women believed to practice magic. But what is a familiar, and why is this belief held?
Wicca, the art of witchcraft is a religion. The religion holds a strong belief there is divine spirit within nature, and utilises natural properties of plants and herbs to cast or use for ailments, when possible. A lot of practicing Wiccans were misunderstood – and because they were misunderstood, it was believed they were malevolent which meant they were isolated. Cats, for a very long time, have recognised the advantages to coexisting with humans and so many of these people would strike up a friendship with a cat.
Familiars were believed to be a demon that assisted the witch by doing her bidding. In history, there were even stories of the witch being able to assume the form of her familiar when it would be useful.
Because of this association, for some time, cats were vilified and viewed negatively by many people. In the stories regaled about witches and their familiars, the cats are usually black presumably because that is the colour most commonly associated with evil. As years progress, in most countries that stigma lessens, but the association between witches and cats continues to be recognised and highlighted at times like Halloween.
In many places in Europe, because of this, a black cat crossing your path is believed to signify bad luck. Personally, I tend to hold with the quote made famous by Grouch Marx:
“A black cat crossing your path signifies the animal is going somewhere.”
Wishing you all a Happy Halloween, or Blessed Samhain.