During witchcraft days in Europe and America, cats were considered
companions to witches and, as such, omens of bad luck. In the
early 1700's, people still believed that witches sometimes took
the shape of cats and that witches and cats spoke the same language.
Many persons still think that a black cat is an omen of bad luck
especially when it crosses one's path. (More than once I've watched
a houseguest shudder when my black cat, Max, came unexpectedly
into the living room!)
In ancient Egypt and Japan, spiritualists believed that cats
protected people from supernatural forces. Many Orientals credited
the cat with the ability to see in the past and forecast the future
and also to see beings and objects invisible to man. Even today,
the feline habit of looking steadily and unblinkingly at someone,
or of sitting for long periods with half-closed eyes, gives the
cat the reputation for being "all knowing" and wise.
In the seventeenth century, cats were considered excellent weather
predictors. A cat washing its face toward the wind, or an elderly
cat frisking about, meant that a storm was brewing. When a cat
sat with its back to the fire, it was thought that a frost was
These ideas aren't as far-fetched as they sound. Scientists have
reported that cats' supersensitive hearing powers have enabled
them to pick up the ground vibrations that precede a hurricane.
However, superstitions and myths through the ages have led to
many false ideas about cats. The common belief that cats see in
total darkness simply isn't so. But it is a fact that a cat's
eyes are constructed so its night vision is superior to that of
a human being.
The old saying that a cat has nine lives is now treated lightly,
but many people still think that a cat can fall many stories and
emerge alive, and even unhurt. Again, not so. Feline grace and
sinewy muscles may spare a cat harm in a short tumble, but many
cats die every year in falls from high places. If you have seen
(or heard) a cat that has been "treed" by a dog or one
that has climbed too high in a tree, you know that usually it
is frightened and is asking to be rescued.