Japanese Neko, nodding cat. Black cat version
Anthropomorphic cats,  Cats and Magic,  Cats in Myth

Black cats for great luck? Some people think so.

Black cats have an undeserved bad reputation and have the hardest time of any color of cat in getting adopted from shelters. Yet almost two dozen cat breeds come in an all-black variety, with the Bombay cat coming only in black, so it seems some people do love them.

Ask anyone on the street in most places, though, and they will tell you black cats are bad luck, just like walking under ladders or having 13 guests at dinner.

They are generally tied to negative aspects of witchcraft and along with bats and pumpkins are the one of the symbols of Halloween. And now in the age of social media they face a new obstacle— they are less popular with influencers because they are harder to photograph for cute cat posts.

Bombay cat. All this breed are black cats
Bombay cat - shown under WikiCommons Creative Commons license.
Fortune Teller from Bohemian Cats Tarot and calendar
The Fortune Teller from The Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot (later edition) and The Bohemian Cats' Calendar

But they are not considered bad luck in every culture. What black cats need is better PR to dis-spell the stereotypes and show that they are in fact more often harbingers of good tidings. Black cats are seen as bringers of good fortune in several parts of Europe and Asia, though not in all circumstances. A black cat is also seen as an essential part of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) Tarot Queen of Wands, where it is certainly not meant as a harbinger of ill fortune.

While giving pets as gifts is not recommended (unless the recipient has clearly expressed a desire for one), traditionally in the Midlands of England giving a bride a black cat was seen as way of ensuring a long, happy and prosperous marriage. The cat was supposed to ward off evil from the home.

There may be a tricky logic to this. Any homeless evil that may come to the new couple would see they already have a sufficient amount, in the form of a resident black cat. So the itinerant evil would look for a more needy home elsewhere. Meanwhile, the back cat if treated well would be content and not cause any trouble. Indeed, it would use its powers to keep its home as cozy as possible.

Rats and mice can spread disease, so having a cat could help reduce one source of germs in the house. But any color cat should do.

King of the Cats. Black Cat Sith. From More English Fairy Tales
Cat Sith, a traditional Celtic fairy cat, always black with a white spot on the chest. Illustration by John Batten, More English Fairy Tales.
"At night she used to turn herself into a screech owl or a black cat". From Grimm's Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

In Wales, cats are also seen as a good predictor of weather. Sometimes this is attributed to just black ones, but other sources apply it to all cats. If the cat stands or lays with their face towards the fire, frost or snow will come; if they became frisky, bad weather was near.  If the cat washed its face, strangers might be expected; and if it washed its face and ears, then rain was sure to come.

A final bit of Welsh lore is that if a black cat leaves a house where a person has just died, it shows he has gone down below; but if a white cat leaves, that person has gone to heaven.

In Scotland a strange black cat showing up on one’s doorstep was a sign of the coming of prosperity. Nobody seems to remember why, though.

Scottish folklore also features a spectral fairy creature called the Cat Sith, which takes the form of a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. Said to haunt the Scottish Highlands, this feline fairy was believed to bring good luck and blessings to homes that left out a saucer of milk for it on the Celtic celebration of Samhain. Those who failed to leave out milk were cursed to have all of their cows’ udders go dry.

People in the south of France call black cats “matagots”, (magician cats) which can bring prosperity to a household as long as they are well fed. Italians maintain that if you hear a black cat sneeze then you will have a streak of good luck.

In general, owning a black cat in Asia is considered good luck. A single woman in Japan with a black cat would be guaranteed to have many gentleman callers. If a black cat crosses someone’s path in Japan, they say “konnichiwa” (good day) and take back control of their fortunes.

 Japan is also the source of the waving cat statues often seen in stores. The “maneki neko” (beckoning cats) most often are white, calico or gold, and these are meant to attract wealth and prosperity. Black ones also exist, and ward off evil, demons and stalkers.

Black Cat fortune telling cards
Black Cats fortune telling game. 1897. Salem, Mass. USA
Japanese Neko, nodding cat. Black cat version

To add a little personal postscript here, for many years a feral black cat lived in the courtyard behind our studio in Prague. A kind neighbour fed him and we also helped out (one freezing winter we provided a box lined in many old sweaters and well insulated!) We called him Cat-in-the-yard.

A Balinese friend came over one day and was thrilled to see the cat. She looked closely (or as closely as she could get to our cautious feral) and proclaimed excitedly that he had not one single white hair that she could see. “This is very good luck!” she exclaimed, “An all-black cat will bring protection and great luck to this house.” We still look back and wonder if indeed that lovely cat brought us luck as the studio grew. 

Baba Studio at Bretislavova Prague
Our studio at Bretislavova, Prague

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