Remember Felix the cat? Not only was Felix one of the first universally appealing cartoon characters, he also was a well-loved black cat. Felix was not a harbinger of bad luck — as many believe black cats are — but an adored cat known for working his way out of tight spots.
Black Cats In History
Although mentions of black cats appear throughout history, the dark-colored companions are not always bestowed with an unlucky reputation. In fact, many cultures and communities consider black cats tokens of good luck.
- Ancient Egypt: People paid homage to Bastet, the cat goddess who represented prosperity and truth. Bastet often was depicted as a woman with the head of a cat, frequently with dark or black coloration. To gain favor from the goddess, Egyptian households kept black cats as pets.
- England & Ireland: Celtic folklore contains stories of Cat Sith, a mythological creature that took the form of a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. And here is one instance where bad luck enters the black cat’s past. While some believed Cat Sith was a fairy in cat’s clothing, others believed the creature was another form of a witch.
- North America: Black cats were associated with witches throughout history, with many of the tales originating during early settlement of North America. Folklore includes stories of witches assuming the shape of black cats or of the feline companions acting as witches’ familiars. Rationale for the association likely stemmed from the cats’ nocturnal nature and was heightened by a black cat’s natural and obvious ability to be nearly invisible at night. Added to uncertainty brought about by unfamiliar surroundings and suspicion of anything unusual, the tales grew more elaborate.
- Continental Europe: Similar stories of the black cat’s relationship with witches may have led people to seek out and kill the dark-colored companions during the Middle Ages. Some speculate that this led to an increase in the rat population, eventually allowing diseases carried by rodents to spread throughout Europe.
Other cultures held — and continue to hold — similar views about the positive influence of black cats. Sailors considered the companions good luck on long voyages, beyond the cats’ rodent-catching skills. In Japan, black cats often are considered symbols of good luck. The same holds true in England and Ireland.
Black Cat Breeds
Today, black cats add festive touches to Halloween celebrations—but they also enjoy popularity with cat lovers. Felix gained immediate popularity when he first appeared in the 1920s, and black cats continue to attract positive attention. Remember Shirley’s pet cat, Booboo Kitty, on the television sitcom “Laverne and Shirley”? Isis, a black cat, appeared on an episode of “Star Trek” during the original series second season. In fact, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) recognizes 22 cat breeds (listed below) that can come with solid black coats. Apparently breeders and owners know the true appeal of a black cat!
• American Bobtail: A medium-sized cat, this breed is known for its bobbed tail and exotic looking features.
• American Curl: Ears that curl back slightly are the hallmark trait of this breed, which comes with either short or long hair.
• American Shorthair: Best known for its classic silver tabby pattern, this popular breed features a medium-sized body and a shorthaired coat.
• American Wirehair: The kinky, wiry coat of this medium-sized cat can come in a range of colors and patterns.
• British Shorthair: One of the oldest breeds in the cat world, this solid, muscular cat features a short, plush coat.
• Cornish Rex: This long, slender cat features a short curly coat and an active, social personality.
• Japanese Bobtail: Though better known for its bold bi-color and tri-color patterns, this unique bobbed tail breed also comes in solid colors.
• LaPerm: A medium-sized cat, this breed features a wavy, curly, spring coat in both short and long lengths.
• Maine Coon: This gentle giant is known for its large size and long, flowing fur.
• Manx: This tail-less breed also can have a stubby tail, and comes with either short or long hair (the longhaired variety is called the Cymric).
• Norwegian Forest Cat: Another larger breed with long fur, this cat traces its heritage back to Viking-era Scandanavia.
• Oriental: Cousin to the Siamese, the Oriental comes in a rainbow of colors and patterns.
• Persian: One of the most popular breeds, the Persian features pansy-like features and a luxurious, longhaired coat.
• RagaMuffin: This longhaired breed has a sweet personality to go with its good looks.
• Scottish Fold: Available with either short or long fur, this breed is known for its charming folded ears.
• Selkirk Rex: A medium to large cat, this breed also features curly fur in either short or long lengths.
• Siberian: A native Russian breed, this cat features a thick, triple-layer coat and a solid, muscular body.
• Sphynx: This distinctive hairless breed shows its color on its skin, proudly displaying a rainbow of colors and patterns.