Tuesday, September 17, 2013
The Black Cat
With next month being Halloween, I thought it appropriate to speak about the connection between black cats and magickal traditions. To start with, there have been many sick and twisted individuals over the years that have tortured and maimed black cats simply because they believe them to be familiars of witches or incarnations of the Devil. Sadly, this is a practice that can and does still occur on occassion. However, black cats are like any other cat in the sense that they hold the same finicky tastes, have the same humorous interest in chasing string and ribbons and take the same path from point A to point B (across your face as you sleep) that other cats take.
The difference in black cats versus other creatures, when it comes to the magickal tradition, is not in the animal's traits but more in the symbolism behind the animal. The symbolism of the cat, being an animal that is known to have closer ties to other planes, can be a strong way to visualize one's will and intent. If one believes that the animal they are working with is more capable of helping them to reach their goal, then the person trying to attain the goal will indeed have a better chance of achieving said goal. Mentally it can be viewed as something of a placebo effect. However, most do not wish to view it that way because they do not like to think that magick comes purely from mind and Will rather then tools, props and ritual. Also, the symbolism of a black animal holds meaning as well. Black can symbolize things like death, transition, rebirth, a changing of guards, the fall of one system and subsequent rise of another, and so on and so forth. There are a multitude of things that can hold meaning to the practitioner as they work with the animal and there is no limit to what can be accomplished when the practioner comes to the understanding that the animal is simply a focal point of visualization rather then the actual power coming from the animal in question.
So let's talk a little about history. Why do people still have such a strong reaction to black cats in general and where does the belief that they are either good or bad luck come from? In El Libro de San Cipriano, first published in 1510 and later smuggled from Spain to Mexico among other grimiores in the early 1540's, we see reference to El Gato Negro (The Black Cat). This grimiore was known to make reference to both black magick and white magick and even had a special section that was specifically for rituals and spells involving the black cat. Previous to that black cats were made reference to but not in the context we are discussing here. In ancient Kemet (modern day Egypt), there are many references to cats, however the color was not a major factor. At the time they were becoming known for their symbolism and connections to other planes of existence. Later, as the dark ages approached and mysticism took a back seat to the crusades in Europe, societies views toward cats changed from one of reverence to one of revulsion. Because cats had become so overpopulated, entire colonies of them were beginning to starve. This coupled with the prevelance of biting insects and the spread of disease due to unclean practices when dealing with animals that are likely to come into contact with rats, gave cats a very bad reputation in Europe for being the bringers of bad luck, misfortune and even death. With the spread of the Black Plague, cats saw the depths to which they could be hated by a society that does not understand their nature. Without the scientific understanding of germs and the spread of such, cats became the scapegoat by which European society explained the multitude of deaths that occured. It became acceptable practice to kill cats as well as those that "kept" them, for fear that they were the bringers of the devil's work. How far we have come from this foolish and misled view of such an inspiring creature!
The grimiore of El Libro de San Cipriano, which later became one of the fundamental grimiores from which Mexican Burjeria was derived, gives many examples of ways in which the black cat can assist one's magickal practices. However, it is unfortunate to say that because of the views of cats in general at the time that this grimiore was written, there are some scewed views of what sorts of things one would do with the animal in order to utilize it's focal powers. Over time we have come to see that the will and intent behind the magick performed are more important then the literal translation of the actions suggested. For instance, there is a spell that refers to using a black cat to bring harm to an enemy by setting the cat loose at a crossroads. This is not the entirety of the spell but for the purposes of this article will suffice. This can be viewed as neglectful if the cat you are setting loose is a family pet, but in the view of the day, it was much more humane then the actions most others would have performed on the animal. On another note, the black cat was also used to bring good fortune to the practitioner in another spell which simply involves keeping a black cat as a pet and spreading ground sea salt on it's back once a week. In my opinion, that would make for a better day anyway because of the subsequent purrs and snuggles involved by giving kitty a nice rub and scratch. There are many beliefs and traditions that follow, in one form or another, the use of black cats to invoke a variety of outcomes. However, it is always important to research things thoroughly before ever performing any ritual. Understand that it is your own will that drives the action of any ritual performed, not the animal, nor the tools involved. With this in mind, you may find that you are better prepared to begin to create your own rituals and practices. They may include El Gato Negro, or they may not. The choice is yours.