Magical Cats: Ancient History, Folklore, & Cats As the Witch’s Familiar
Since ancient times, cats have been regarded as sacred creatures. Those of us who have the privilege of caring for a cat understand just how spiritual and mysterious they are. It’s said cats see the spiritual realm easier than any other animal…so it’s no wonder witches and cats are such good friends! In this article, we talk about just how magical cats truly are: their history, folklore, silly superstitions, magical cat hair, cats as familiars and how we can protect and care for these enchanting beings!
Magical Cats in the Ancient World
A few years ago there were rumors going around that historians had confirmed the first domesticated cat was in Turkey. I remember shaking my head and knowing instinctively that the scholars were wrong – cats were first domesticated in ancient Egypt. Then, another discovery (which in my opinion was no NEW discovery at all), they said NOPE. The scholars admitted their mistake – cats were indeed first domesticated in ancient Egypt. I doubt we could truly ever tell who the first person was to adopt or befriend a cat. But history shows us the ancient Egyptians regarded cats as highly sacred and spiritual animals. Basically, they put that pussy on a pedestal (pun intended). And if you killed a cat in ancient Egypt? It was punishable by death!
Cats were allowed to venture and live in sacred temples where only priests, priestesses and the pharaoh were allowed to go. They were also mummified, a funerary process reserved for the middle class to elite. Archaeologists discovered hundreds of mummified cats in 2018, along with a bust of Bastet (the cat goddess) and a bronze cat statue. These were found near Cairo at a dig site that would have been ancient Memphis. Mummified cats have also been found at the ancient site of Bubastis, Bast’s sacred city. In addition to mummifying their cats, the ancient Egyptians mourned the death of a cat and according to Herodotus “shaved their eyebrows” as a symbol of grief.
The Import-ance of Cats
Still other sources claim wild cats roamed the streets of ancient Mesopotamia and were used to rid homes of pests as early as 9500 BC! In addition, the skeleton of a cat was found in a tomb on the island of Cyprus. This is significant in that cats were not native to the island, which means they were imported. Import = important. In ancient Ireland and Britain, cats were sometimes believed to be fairies. They were referred to as the cait sidhe.
Ancient Magical Cat Goddesses
Multiple ancient cultures associated cats with their deities including the Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Norse, and more. Probably the first cat goddess that comes to mind for most people is Bast (Bastet), the Egyptian cat goddess of the home, women, children and pleasure. But there were many others. Sekhmet preceded Bast in ancient Egypt and is believed to be Bast’s ancient lioness form. Freya, Norse goddess of fertility and the home, rode in a chariot pulled by two cats. To the ancient Greeks, Athena, Artemis and Circe were just a few goddesses with connections to cats. In India, Durga and Parvati are linked to cats and in ancient Israel Asherah or Qadesh. Read more about ancient cat goddesses and gods here.
Silly Cat Superstitions
Because of the connection between cats and witches, there are unfortunately quite a few old superstitions that put the cat in a negative light. For instance, if a black cat crosses your path you’ll have bad luck. Never leave a cat in the same room as a baby, it might suffocate it and “steal its breath”. My grandmother used to tell me this one as if it was the gospel! These are typical old cat superstitions in the United States perpetuated by the early Puritan settlers. In other parts of the world, black cats are good luck and bring fortune to their owners (my cat’s name is Fortuna – the goddess of fortune!) Sadly, the black cat is the most un-adopted cat in the U.S. today!
The Magical Cat as the Witch’s Familiar
In Medieval Times and the early modern era, the cat became associated with witches. Modern theories explain this connection, and most agree it’s because of the ancient pagan reverence of cats. To associate the cat with the witch meant to demonize it and further wipe out the old ways. Or so the Church thought. Witches were thought to be able to shift into cat form OR take on their cat’s body to exact their “evil deeds”. Another potential reason the cat was the witch’s familiar is because of its link to the moon – the cat is naturally a nocturnal creature and it’s eyes “glow like the moon” according to Scott Cunningham.
The Modern Witch’s Familiar
As a modern witch’s familiar or magical pet, the cat grants good fortune to its magical owner. It also protects its owner’s body at night while the owner is “out traveling” the astral realms (during sleep). Cats see into the spirit realm, making them the perfect magical companion. Read your cat’s movements and behaviors – unusual movements may indicate bad weather OR spiritual activity. Ever notice your cat playing with something invisible? He or she could be making mischief with your household spirits! According to Doreen Valiente, cats enjoy being present during seances and have been known to astral project!
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Protective Charms for YOUR Magical Cat
I don’t know about you, but I LOVE my magical cat friend! So I’ll do whatever I can to make sure she’s safe and comfortable. Here’s a few ways you can magically protect your feline friends:
- A small bell on a cat’s collar scares off evil spirits
- Cowry shells on a cat’s collar protect it from the evil eye
- The first day your cat comes home, let it see its reflection in the mirror – this anchors it to your home so it won’t run away
- Feeding your cat the last of your meal from your plate keeps it at home according to Cunningham (I’m sure it does! LOL)
- Invoke and pray to Bast for your magical cat’s protection and good health
- A statue of Bast in the home guards your household cats from harm
- Burn a cat candle and carve protection OR protective symbols on the sides then burn with prayers of protection over your cat
- Save the cat’s baby teeth and add to a protective charm bag which you keep somewhere safe for the cat’s life
Magical Cat Hair Charms and Properties
In certain folk magic traditions like American Hoodoo, cat’s hair and whiskers are used in various charms and spells. It should go without saying you should never remove a cat’s hair or whiskers for your own magical selfishness! But, we all know, cats shed and their hair is used in the following ways:
- Black cat hair is lucky for gamblers (keep in the wallet or pocket before gambling)
- Add cat hair to nearly any spell to intensify its effects
- Depending on the color of cat hair the desired effects will vary. For instance, white cat hair brings clarity and connection to the gods while black cat hair is lucky and good for use in divination
- Use black cat hair in combination with other ingredients in Hoodoo to break up a couple
- Use cat hair in shapeshifting rituals when shifting into cat form
Cat Whisker & Claw Magic (Contributed by Koala Anne)
A magical friend of ours named Koala Anne has forged a new path with cat magic including using whiskers and claws in unique and potent ways. Here we include her inspirational cat magic contribution.
Whisker thickness represents strength/resolve. Meaning a very thick sturdy whisker would make a stronger, sturdier spell/intention. The personality of the cat also lends to whisker correspondence—
- The Dream Weaver: aids with dreams and realizing goals, sleep, astral travel
- The Guardian/Protector: protection, strength, power, focus, healing
- The Familiar: protection, guidance, love, strength, release, sensuality, healing
- The wise owl: spirituality, astral travel, psychic awareness, heightened sensitivity
- The Skittish One: aids in unseeing, protective, luck, navigation
- The Bubbly One: luck, protection, healing, magic potential, aids with difficulties, self love
- The Lazy/sleepy One: sleep, astral travel, aids with dreams, guidance, healing, love
Whiskers and claws combined are helpful in dealing with difficult people. Cat claws are used for sharp wit and ferocity, “digging your claws in”, holding fast, not letting go, and protection.The length of the cat whisker represents the length of time the spell will last, or takes to manifest. A very long whisker will aid in a long term goal. A short whisker – a short term goal.
Whisker Color Properties:
- White whiskers generally aid with protection, purity, healing, and luck
- Black whiskers generally represent warding off negativity, binding, and spiritual powers
- Brown whiskers generally aid in grounding, balance, family, animals, familiars, and decision making
- Gray/Blue whisker represents neutrality, shielding, deities, resolve, persistence
- Orange/Copper whisker generally represents joy, happiness, strength, peace, truth, success, and encouragement
- A colored whisker with white bands aids in stability, love, comfort, physicality, peace, and closeness
A Whisker Crystal Spell Bag for Healing
For ailments, put a whisker inside a satchel of crystals that have been cleansed, programmed and have been working all day. The whisker goes into the satchel at bed time until morning, working throughout the night. Program intentions while in the satchel and also ask the crystals to give the down low. In the morning, whisper your wish to the whisker then burn it completely. Rub the ashes onto the ailment.
Please Note! It should go without saying that whiskers, claws, and cat hair should never be taken from the cat. But the cat itself will gift you with these items, should it deem you worthy.
More Cat Magic and Ailuromancy Omens
There’s so much magic exuding from cats, it’s difficult to end this article! So here are some more ways in which to use magical cats in your practice:
- Use cat shaped candles for various purposes: black for reversals, green for good luck and red for love
- Cat’s eye stones aid one in “seeing in the dark” OR to promote invisibility
- Applying the cat’s eye make-up makes the wearer seductive and aids in attracting a lover
- Use black cat oil in seances and divination to call on the spirits
- Attract your cat to your rituals with a little catnip in the center of circle!
Every type of animal can be used to read fortunes and divine messages. But the magical cat in particular is a powerful messenger of otherworldly omens. Performing divination by means of a cat’s behavior is called ailuromancy. Interestingly, old tradition says that if a cat licks itself against the grain, a rainstorm is coming. In addition, depending on how the cat acts the morning of a wedding will determine the outcome of that marriage. When certain stray cats of certain colors appear in your path, certain gods are imparting you with their wisdom.