Sunday, 19 November 2017
The Appreciation of Black Cats
In any diary or calendar one will find, spaced rather unevenly throughout the year, International Days and Days of Appreciation. These days set aside to encourage us to remember groups within our society, many appear rather peculiar in focus, while some have a rather obvious historical or political function.
International Women’s Day is the 8th of March and International Men’s Day was originally observed on the day following, the 9th of March. Today many countries have for some unknown reason, moved that observance to the 19th of November. The International Day of Happiness is the 20th of March, International Children’s Day is the 1st of June and International Safe Abortion Day is the 28th of September. International Nurse’s Day is the 12th of May and International Lefthanders Day is the 13th of August. Yes, really.
There are an awful lot of these days and each one has a unique history. The origins of International Women's Day lie in the first stirrings of the Russian Revolution and one does find that the question; 'What is the point?' to be almost unavoidable. We can set one day aside in the year to celebrate one particular social group and Governments can pretend to support it. That isn't going to stop the erosion of rights, pay reductions, the cutting of holiday or vacation rights. Perhaps it is every day that needs to be set aside as a day of action.
There is at the end of October, appropriately falling just a few days before All Hallows Eve, Black Cat Appreciation Day. As the supposed owner of two black cats, I find this amusing. What I want to know however, is this. Is there an International Day set aside, for the appreciation of middle-aged, heterosexual white Englishmen who wear tweed? Oh yes, that it is my birthday.
I have always had pets. Since childhood I have shared a home with a pet of some nature, cats, dogs, rabbits, mice, hamsters, birds or reptiles. Some were family pets, some were my siblings and some as I grew older, were mine.
Grimalkin a ginger male died in August 2015, he was 16 years old. Cleopatra a tortoiseshell female died in January 2016, she may have been only a couple of years younger than Grimalkin and I did not replace either straightaway. They were my pets and I miss them both.
On the 15th of September 2016 a work colleague went into her garage and found that a stray had littered there, producing five charming kittens. Being the soft hearted woman that she is, my colleague adopted the mother and took in the entire litter. Then after a short while, what I have come to call the black-cat-mail began.
First there were a few comments at work. Hints that a black kitten or two, would suit a Pagan who had recently lost his beloved pets. Then came the photographs, taken on a mobile phone and sent via Facebook, then a video. All were showing a group of adorable kittens, some black and some not, playing around the house.
It became increasingly apparent at work when comments such as “I hear you’re getting a kitten,” were made, that it was assumed I would be taking at least one. Eventually I agreed to visit the pets, mainly to see if they actually liked me. Cats will often choose their own human companion.
Meeting the kittens for the first time, just before Christmas 2016 went well enough, they were very small and quite charming. So it was agreed that I would take the two black sisters and they came to live with me on the 30th of December. All five of the litter had now been homed, shared between the work colleagues past and present of the original finder.
My choice of names had been discussed amongst friends but to my surprise, caused a degree of puzzlement amongst my work colleagues. I had decided to name both kittens after Goddesses and since one was a domestic longhair, somewhat reminiscent of a Persian but obviously not with such a long coat, Eastern names suggested themselves. This sister was almost called Ishtar but I eventually decided on Tanith. This is a variant spelling of Tanit, an Arabian, Levantine or Mesopotamian Goddess, often equated with Astarte and in turn, often linked to the Persian Goddess Ishtar herself.
It was the chosen name of the other kitten, a domestic short hair, which was destined to cause bewilderment. From the very moment I saw her, I knew she was destined to be named not after a Mesopotamian Goddess but an Egyptian one. Her name is Isis.
Once named I soon discovered that my choice of names was not at all original, several friends and acquaintances, either had or knew of people with pets of the same name. Isis in particular is popular and almost commonplace within the Pagan environment. Outside of the Pagan community however, the reaction was quite different.
A total ignorance of Eastern mythology meant that many had never heard of either Goddess. This was understandable but thanks to the media, the name Isis was now equated with a terrorist organisation. I found myself quite surprised at having to explain the origin of the name, that the Goddess has a documented history of thousands of years, that her name predates any organisation of the same name. I have made it quite clear, that I have no intention of renaming my cat, just as the Fellowship of Isis have no intention of changing their name.
Tanith and Isis are just over a year old now, growing, playing and eating. I have grown to know them and they have perhaps, grown to know me. I have a furry alarm clock that like my previous cats, fails to comprehend that I do not have to get up for work every day at the same time.
Certain aspects of feline behaviour perplex us but I find myself equally confused by descriptions of feline behaviour that I have no experience of. One of these being the deliberate act of knocking items off a surface and onto the floor causing breakage. I have never witnessed this behaviour in any cat I have ever had, not even the males. I have certainly had my fair share of breakages, caused by accident and the remarkable clumsiness shown by a usually graceful species.
Having two black cats has brought other matters to mind. The association of the cat, particularly those that are black, with witchcraft and the occult. This is so obviously apparent when looking at popular superstitions, that allegedly cats were a witch’s familiar. Although it should be noted that a familiar is so much more than a pet, the definitions of such are perhaps fluid.
One such superstition, contradictory when viewed from either side of the Atlantic, is based upon this association with witches and witchcraft. Here in Britain the black cat is predominantly regarded as lucky and the white cat is sometimes perceived as unlucky. In the United States of America, this belief is completely reversed.
Due perhaps to global communication, the web, books, film and others forms of entertainment; the belief that black cats may be unlucky has crossed the Atlantic. Far worse however, is the peculiar persecution of black cats. Historically cats were persecuted in Europe, hunted by packs of dogs and burnt in the strange belief that their cries caused pain to the Prince of Darkness.
Tragically, within the past few years and primarily in the United States of America, the physical persecution and torment of black cats has been documented. Animals have been killed in a variety of brutal and horrific ways by members of minority Christian groups, believing that black cats are inherently evil creatures. I cannot understand this inhuman behaviour but I can observe that it is an aberration, a behaviour at odds with modern Christianity and disowned by the mainstream churches.
The presence of Tanith and Isis in my life brings joy and worry. I baby them, I call them my children and yes, I do talk to them. Occasionally they bring a gift or a toy inside to play with. A branch and the occasional dead mouse is bearable. Finding a mauled but still breathing pigeon behind the curtains is far from ideal. I would prefer not to have living prey deposited behind the furniture.
To me black cats are and always will be, regarded as lucky. Their association with the Craft makes them my ideal pet, even if having one or two, is unoriginal and rather predictable. They are mysterious and magical creatures that are quite at home, within my own rather eccentric and magical existence.