CATS AND GODS
The fecund cat is often been associated with fertility. The Scandinavian goddess Freyja rode in a chariot drawn by cats so farmers left out offerings for her cats to ensure a good harvest. In parts of Europe, a cat decorated with ribbons was released in the field after harvest-time to appease the gods.
The Peruvian fertility god Ai Apaec could assume the form of a tomcat.
A Chinese cat deity Li Shou warded off evil spirits at night and the Roman goddess Diana sometimes wore the form of a cat. Chinese legends say that cats were put in charge of the world and had the power of speech. The cats soon delegated this job to humans so that felines could laze about. That is why cats can no longer speak and why they wear supercilious expressions when they see us scurrying about!
The shadowy patches on the necks of Siamese cats are said to be the thumbprints of gods who picked the cats up to admire them. Birman cats started out as a plain brown cats until one jumped on the body of a Burmese priest slain by Thai invaders and the priest's spirit passed into it. The cat's body turned golden while its head, tail and legs remained brown. The cat's feet went pure white as they had touched the holy man's skin.
In Ancient Egypt, cats captured the glow of the setting sun in their eyes and kept it safe until morning, making it unlawful for cats to be killed (except in ritual sacrifice by priests). When the Persians attacked part of Egypt they tied cats to their shields - the Egyptians dared not put up a fight in case they injured or killed the cats.
To Muslims pigs and dogs are unclean, but the fastidious cat is tolerated. The Prophet Mohammed had a tabby cat which fell asleep on the sleeve of his robe. Rather than disturb the cat, he cut off his sleeve when he answered the muezzin (call to prayer). This cat once warned Mohammed of danger and to this day tabby cats have the 'M' mark on the foreheads in remembrance of his blessing and three dark lines on their backs where he stroked his cat.
The Egyptians believed the 'M' to depict the sacred Scarab beetle while in Christian folklore it is the mark of the Virgin Mary who blessed a cat which killed a venomous snake sent by the Devil to bite the Christ child in his crib. In a related version from Christian folklore, the infant Jesus was laying in the mangershivering from cold. Alerted by his cries, a mother tabby cat lay next to the child to warm him up. In gratitude, Mary stroked the cats forehead, marking it with an 'M' and to this day, the caring mother cat's descendents all carry the mark of Mary. The non-religious version suggests that the 'M' is a set of frown-lines where the cat has been staring at a mouse-hole in concentration, waiting for the mouse emerge!
CATS FOR LUCK
In Russia, blue cats were often thought lucky while in Japan tortoiseshell-and-white ('mi-ke') is luckiest and tortoiseshell cats, especially tortie tomcats, are lucky for sailors wanting fair weather. Tri-coloured cats are also lucky in Canada, but naughty-torties are reputed to be troublesome in England.
In Japan, a black spot on a cat means the the cat contains the soul of a departed ancestor.
In Britain the black cat is considered to be a symbol of good luck and some people consider white cats to be unlucky, though "unlucky white cats" is not a widespread belief in Britain. In the USA, white cats are lucky while black cats are unlucky and some shelters claim it is harder to rehome black cats because of the association with bad luck.
In many countries cats are said to foretell the weather. In Indonesia cats are thought to control the rain. Pour water on a cat and it will summon rain. Even today, the cloud-grey Korat is ceremonially sprinkled with water to bring rain for the crops.
In China the older and uglier a cat is, the luckier it is. This is self-explanatory as pets are forbidden and, according to a Chinese houseguest, his people traditionally eat "anything with legs except the table".
In parts of northern Europe a cat which enters a house of its own volition brings good luck with it. In Russia, couples make sure a cat moves into their new home with them to bring good fortune. In Japan, a cat waved a forepaw to beckon a lord into a building, saving him from a lightning bolt and the beckoning cat is still used as a good luck charm. According to Buddhists dark coloured cats attracted gold and light coloured cats brought silver.
In Abyssinia an unmarried girl who kept a cat was a wealthy catch. In rural areas of England it was believed unwise for a pregnant woman to let a cat sleep on her lap as the baby would be born with the face of a cat.