CATS AND WITCHCRAFT (Part 6 – Edward Topsell)

Further inflaming the fire of witchcraft accusations that revolved around cats, in 1607, Edward Topsell (1572-1625), first published his book The History of Four Footed Beasts, wherein he stated, “The familiars of witches do most commonly appear in the shape of cats, which is an argument that this beast is dangerous to the soul and body.”  He also added that cats were able to cause serious illnesses.  Their breath could cause consumption, their teeth vicious bites, and swallowing their hair would cause suffocation (Topsell, 1658, pp.81-83).

Cat From Edward Topsell's Four Footed Beasts

From Edward Topsell’s
Four Footed Beasts


Ambroise Paré, a famous physician of the age, had earlier claimed that by even looking at a cat a person could come under its spell and lose consciousness and that sleeping with one was highly risky as it would cause tuberculosis (Rogers, 2006).  Joannes Jonstonus (1603-1675) wrote a similar book to that of Topsell’s and agreed with both Topsell and Paré that cats’ “breathe is pestilent, and breeds consumptions, and ……., for the brains are poyson, and made an Uratislavian Girl mad….”(Jonstonus, 1678, p.97)

However, Jonstonus does claim that there are several cures to be gotten from cats.  He states that, “The ashes of the head burnt in a pot and blown into the eyes, clears them; the flesh sucks weapons out of the body, and eases emrods, and back-ache; the liver burnt to powder eases the stone, the gall fetches away a dead child, the fat is smeared on gouty parts; the pisse stiled helps  the thick of hearing, the dregs of the paunch with rosin, and oyl of roses in a suppository, stops woman’s flux of blood.  Some mince the flesh, and stuff a fat goose with it, salt, and rost it by a soft fire, and distill it, and annoint gouty joints with successe.  The fat keep iron from rusting.” (Jonstonus, 1678, p.97)

Ironically, the black cat would later become a cure for a myriad of diseases.  Its skin, blood and excrement would be used to cure shingles, hives, ringworm, stys, and fevers (Bergen, 1899).


Bergen, Fanny. (1899). Animal and plant lore. Houghton Mifflin.

Jonstonus, Joannes. (1678). A description of the nature of four footed beasts: with their figures engraven in brass. Printed for Moses Pitt at the Angel, against the little north door of St. Paul’s Church. . Accessed April 2011.pp.96-98

Rogers, Katharine. (2006). Cat.  Reaktion Books.

Topsell, Edward. (1658/1967). The history of four-footed beasts and serpents and insects. New York. Vol. 1 pp. 81-83.


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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