CATS AND MAGIC

No description of the cat and its involvement with witchcraft is complete without the accompanying examples of it as an essential ingredient for magic.  Cats and magic had been inseparable since Egyptian times. The black cat was especially important, as it was commonly believed that the blood of a black cat when mixed with certain herbs was extremely powerful for incantations and to also ward off disease.  Only three drops of the cat’s blood were needed, and these were gotten by making a small cut on its tail. 

In addition, the ashes of a black cat were very potent to magicians. By killing a very black cat without any white on it, and taking only its heart and mixing it with swallows and then burning them together could produce a very strong magical brew (Thompson, 1908).

Another belief was that if a black cat were killed and a bean placed in its heart before it was buried, beans sprouting from that seed would contain amazing magical powers.  If a man placed one in his mouth, he would become invisible and be able to go anywhere without being seen (Speranza Wilde, 1887).

Yet another spell for invisibility was made by gathering the following ingredients: a black cat, a new pot, a mirror, a piece of flint, an agate, charcoal, dry wood, and water drawn from a fountain at midnight.   After lighting a fire, the cat would be put in the pot making sure that the cover was held down firmly with the left hand without moving or looking behind.  After the cat had boiled for 24 hours, the contents were put into another dish.  The cat carcass then would be thrown over the left shoulder while repeating these words, “Accipe quod tibi do et nihil amplius.”  Then by chewing the bones of the cat while looking into a mirror and walking backward, the spell would be complete (Van Vechten, 1921 p.101-2).

 

Three Sketches of a Cat's Head Pisanello 15th Century, cats in magic

Three Sketches of a Cat’s Head
Pisanello
15th Century

 

 

In the states of Georgia and South Carolina, witches were believed to be able to receive power from particular bones from a black cat.  A concoction to see what others cannot was to mix the bile of a male cat and the fat of an entirely white hen and anoint the eyes with it (Kieckhefer, 2000). Another measure used to gain unusual power was to pet a cat, and by so doing it was believed that it could help a woman find a husband. Likewise, eating a cat would cause a girl to become pregnant. In 1929, it was reported in a Pennsylvania newspaper that the whole county of York had been taken over by witchcraft evidenced by a lack of black cats which had been boiled alive in order to use a special bone as a protective amulet against Satan (Oldfield Howey, 2003).

 

END OF THE MIDDLE AGES

In conclusion, during both the Dark and Middle Ages, weak corrupt woman and the maligned misunderstood cat had fallen into the netherworld of men’s fears. Cat and woman whose fates had been intertwined from the very beginning of history fell from graced goddesses to vilified symbols of the Devil, witchcraft and magic.  Their degradation and persecution would be complete, but once these fears began to wane, over time both cat and woman would slowly rise from this reviled abyss. But yet, they would never again be regarded as the powerful goddesses they once had been.  

 

REFERENCES

Kieckhefer, Richard. (2000). Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press.

Oldfield Howey, M. (2003). The cat in magic and myth. Courier Dover Publication.

Speranza Wilde, Lady Francesca. (1887). Ancient legends, mystic charmes, and superstitions of Ireland. London:  Ward and Downey.

Thompson, R. Campbell. (1908/2003). Semitic magic: its origins and development. Kessinger Publishing.

Van Vechten, Carl. (1921). The tiger in the house. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

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