Cat moves elegantly through our lives with grace, independence and an unquenchable self-assurance. “My dog believes its human; my cat believes its god” is a saying reflected by the beliefs of our ancestors. Since Neolithic days cats have been associated with goddesses.
Cats, domesticated members and the smallest of the family Felidae in the Carnivora order, are a study in balance – between quiet calm and powerful action, independence and connection, the seen and unseen.
Mystery and Magic, Powerful Femininity, Exploring the Unknown
Active during the liminal moments of dusk and dawn – with some being more nocturnal like wild cats – Cat’s association with magic, mystery and an ability to see what is unseen is ancient.
Cat has excellent low-light vision provided by large, elliptical corneas, pupils that expand greatly or contract to thin slits and a special layer behind the retina called a tapetum. This acts like a mirror- allowing light to enter the eye, reflect out, then enter again – creating the eerie, nighttime glow of Cat’s eyes.
Cat, in its association with goddesses, is the ultimate symbol of powerful femininity.
Cats, though not domesticated in Egypt until around 1500 BCE., were sacred to Egyptians since 2465 BCE.
Bastet, Egyptian Goddess of Hearth, Women’s Secrets, Healing and Cats, was closely associated with Sekhmet, Goddess of War, Plagues and Healing. Like Sekhmet, she was originally depicted as a lioness – gaining her the fearsome title, Lady of Slaughter. As cats became domesticated so did Bastet, taking on a gentler image – most often portrayed as a sitting cat gazing serenely about or as a woman with a cat’s head. Sometimes she appears with kittens at her feet.
Hekate, Greek Goddess of Life, Death, Rebirth and Mystery, originated from the Black Sea area of modern Georgia. Often seen as a dog – sometimes a black cat, Hekate flourishes after dark, like Cat, and sees deeply into the mysteries of life.
Freyja, Norse Goddess of Love, Fertility, War, Divination and Magic, strode across the heavens in a chariot pulled by two giant gray cats. Surrounded by mystery, she was able to see what others couldn’t.
To the Celts Cat was associated with the Goddess and the feminine. Most likely because of this and its believed ability to see into the spirit world, the Christian church viewed cats as evil. Seen as threats to the Church’s power over spiritual matters, cats and women were severely persecuted.
Cats’ situation deteriorated after Pope Gregory IX issued his papal bull, Vox Rama (1233 CE), the first to associate cats with witches and the devil. Many believe that mass killings of cats followed, or at the very least a mass abandonment of cats after their mistresses – Healers – had been killed. Medieval and early modern European documents describe dozens of instances of cats being burned alive. This issued in an unwelcome side effect – without cats’ predation the population of vermin exploded, further spreading the Bubonic Plaque of 1348 CE.
Various Scottish clans like the MacIntosh, MacNeishe and MacNicole have Cat as their totem animal.
The Welsh Goddess of Transformation, Cerridwen, in her manifestation as the sow Henwen, gave birth to a variety of beings – a grain of wheat and of barley, a bee, wolf, eagle, and cat – spreading life across the land. With the changing times Henwen’s cat, Cath Palug, was transformed into one of the Three Plagues of Anglesey and killed by King Arthur.
In the former kingdoms of Siam and Burma a Buddhist sect believed that upon the death of the truly pure, the soul migrates into a cat.
Shashti, Hindu Vegetation Goddess and Children’s Protector, was depicted with a cat head or riding a cat while carrying one or more infants.
A Persian tale reveals the magical nature of Cat. A magician took a handful of smoke, added flame and two bright stars – then rubbed his hands together. Opening them he presented a smokey-grey kitten, with star-bright eyes and a dainty red tongue to the hero, Rustum, in gratitude for a recent rescue.
Adventurous Spirit, Curiosity, Flexibility, Patience
Cat, an excellent hunter, relies equally on deadly force and quiet patience. Cat stalks its prey, then stealthily positions itself with muscles ready to pounce when the chance for success is best.
“A cat has nine lives.” Ever curious about their world, cats – agile and coordinated – almost always land on their feet. Cat’s ability to get into and out of situations is allowed by its flexible body, with a spinal column held together by muscles – not ligaments.
Cat opens your eyes to life’s mysteries, invoking a sense of curiosity – empowering you with courage to explore the unknown – encouraging flexibility and openness to new perceptions. Cat teaches the need for patient observation followed by decisive action.
Independence and Companionship
Genetic research reveals that cats were first domesticated around 12,000 years ago as agriculture began in the Near East. In typical feline style, cats called the shots – eventually domesticating themselves as they learned that humans provided extra food as reward for their hunting efforts. Cats probably all descend from a wild cat native to the Near East – Felis s. lybica.
Unlike most domestic animals who have been selectively bred by humans for certain traits, cats maintain control over their choice of mates. Cats come and go as they please, often choosing wild mates with excellent night vision and hearing genes, allowing house cats to remain deadly predators themselves. Cats, knowing full well they can survive on their own, teach their kittens through example how to stalk, wait and pounce. Cat remains a wild visitor who graces you with its presence.
The Romans viewed Cat with its aloof attitude as synonymous with independence.
Though solitary by nature, when food is abundant, cats establish friendships and tolerate other cats very well. Cat owners know their pets love to cuddle. Research shows that cats form a strong attachment to their owners.
Through a reservoir of expressions, vocal sounds, and tail and body postures, Cat is able to communicate its emotions and intentions, signaling its desire to increase, decrease or maintain social distance.
Cat reminds you to maintain balance between the self-discovery allowed by solitude with the joys of companionship and sharing – to leave unhealthy dependencies behind – to trust in yourself.
Serenity, Self-awareness, Self-healing
A purring cat perfectly expresses serenity. Cat’s purr, often a sign of contentment and pleasure, can indicate injury or pain. Our ancestors associated Cat with healing goddesses. Today scientists concur that Cat’s purr has a healing effect on itself and others. Holding a purring cat has been shown to reduce one’s own heart rate. The pattern and sound frequencies of its purr are in the range that can improve bone density and promote healing. Cat’s purr might mitigate bone damage that can happen in its nap-filled life.
Cat teaches that the path to serenity and self-healing lies within. Cat, with eyes half open as if in a trance, purrs you toward a state of calmness and peace
Protection, Good Luck
Chinese goddess Li Shou, depicted as a cat, presided over pest control and fertility. One tale reports that when the world was young the gods placed Li Shou and her cats in charge of running the world. Needing good communication for that task, cats were given the gift of speech. But true to their nature the cats, who much preferred to bask under warm sunbeams, chase butterflies, and sleep, neglected their protector role. The gods were displeased. Finally Li Shou told the gods that cats had no real interest in running the world, preferring instead to playand nap. The power of speech was taken from them and given to humans to run the world. But Cat retained the role of timekeeper, helping to keep the world on track.
The Japanese credit Cat with having saved the life of an emperor. The “Beckoning Cat,” with one raised paw, grew out of legend. As the emperor passed by a temple, a cat sitting in front raised its paw in acknowledgement. Being attracted by the cat’s gesture, the emperor entered the temple just as a bolt of lightening hit the very spot where he had stood. Still today the Beckoning Cat is considered a guardian of the home and its image is frequently gifted for good luck.
The Polish god Ovinnik, who took the form of a black cat, protected domestic animals and drove away ghosts and fairies.
In the Irish tale, the Voyage of Maelduin, a cat guards Otherworld treasures from plunder.
Cat beckons you to embrace magical possibilities, to adopt new ways with curiosity and flexibility, to trust that luck is with you. Calling forth your own desire to run free, Cat teaches balance between patience and action while offering protection and luck. Cat, always proud, independent and courageous offers insight into this world and the world beyond the veil.
Sources: Catster, History of Vikings, Occult World, The Druids Egg, Ancient History Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Mental Floss, Domestic Cat Facts, Britannica, Spirit Animal, Spirit Animal Totems
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith began studying the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.
19 thoughts on “Cat – Mysterious and Magical by Judith Shaw”
As usual Judith, I am delighted to learn more about the mythological side of animals. That Cat has a name like “Lady of Slaughter” gives us a well rounded picture of this animal, who heals. also lowers B/P through her purring but is also a silent killer… In this country we lose millions of birds to cats every year – Climate Change isn’t doing enough damage? …
As an advocate for all animals and former cat ‘owner’ I was forced to make a decision to give away the last cat I owned after she killed my cardinals. The loss of theses beloved bird triggered such terrible grief that I couldn’t get passed it. It was time. It took me a year to find my cat a good home and she still lives in Boston these 20 years later…Some folks like my vet keep cats in the house and give them a fenced in space to play outdoors mitigating Cat’s killer aspects. Others keep cats indoors – the problem with this solution is that cats are wild by nature – which is why I couldn’t make that choice myself. Others simply accept the nature of Cat. This is a multi-valences issue and like all wild animals some cats make amazing and loving companions…
Interestingly, when cats show up in my dreams or in card spreads I prepare myself for problems with instincts…
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I’m sure that was truly horrible to witness your beloved cat kill your beloved cardinals. Finding her a good home was a great solution. It would be hard to live with her after having seen that.
I personally would never be able to keep a cat inside – it feels too cruel to me. I guess I fall on the side of accepting their nature – the good and the bad. Life is a very strange affair in which all beings feed on the life of other beings in myriad forms. Even grasses, fruits and vegetable must have some desire to live – otherwise why do they exit at all. Though I understand that vegans feel they fall into a different category because though you might pick an apple or a squash the mother tree or plant still lives, whereas eating an animal or even a root vegetable takes the whole life.
That’s interesting about how you interpret cats showing up for you. Why do you read their appearance as indicating problems with instincts? Is it a result of lived experience or something you see in their mythology and lives?
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Feral cats are one of the biggest threats to birds in our country.By the end of this century Audubon predicts that two thirds of our birds will be dead/extinct. Cats are part of the problem.
Worse, domestic cats don’t need to kill for food – they kill for FUN – and that is what happened to my cardinals – they had been tortured and one lived for two days before dying in my hands.
Instincts are tricky – one has to develop awareness around instinctual behavior.. Many women exhibit destructive behavior towards other women by knifing them in the back. This is a reality we can’t ignore.
So, to answer your question – before or after I am taken in by a woman’s deceit or harmed by one – I have cat dreams.
I am definitely dumb on lots of levels.
I see what you mean now about how you read trouble with instincts when cat appears. For sure women can be mean and destructive toward other women – I’m sure we have all experienced it. As cats are strongly associated with the feminine, a cat in a reading or crossing your path could certainly be offering a warning on that level – especially if an ongoing situation is happening.
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Judith, what a delightful essay! Really enjoyed it.
Recently I wrote a short story, “Catwalk,” which I submitted to our local library’s fiction contest. In the story a cat very like the gray cat depicted in your essay, transforms the life of a curmudgeon.
And once I owned a little teapot that in the shape of a cat with an upraised paw, which formed the spout. The china cat’s head lifted off so one could pour the hot water in. Now you’ve given me the story of that raised paw and it’s charming.
Thanks for a delightful interlude in this awful plague year.
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Your short story sounds delightful. I hope it spreads wide and far and transforms the lives of many curmudgeons.
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Hooray for cats! I’ve lived with cats for 50+ years. My first cat was an Abyssinian, and since the late 1980s, I’ve lived with a series of cats, mostly Maine coons, I’ve named Heisenberg (the two boys, the second of whom died at age 20 this past August) and Schroedinger (I’ve recently adopted #5, a calico). I believe we live with the animals we call our pets because one cannot own another being.
Thanks for all the information. Bright blessings to all of our cats.
Does anyone else use “Hello Kitty” Band-Aids?
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Indeed – hooray for cats! Though I do not currently have a cat companion myself, I am the proud grandmother of my son’s two cats, Bella and Oso – mother and son and of his cat, Crystal who passed a few years ago. Crystal died at age18 during a weekend when I was caring for her as my son was out of town. I prepared her body in a cloth lined box strewn with flowers for his return. We buried her under an apple tree he had ready for planting in his back yard. A few months later, on July 4 a skinny tortoiseshell stray cat showed up under that apple tree. My son, convinced that she was the reincarnation of Crystal fed her. She’s a very smart cat who chose just the right spot in the yard of a tender-hearted guy and found a home for her pregnant self.
“Hello Kitty” band-aids – guess I better get myself some.
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Thank you as always, Judith, for lore, information, and beauty. Yesterday, was a apparently, black cat appreciation day. The dean of Canterbury Cathedral concluded the daily office by reading poems in praise of black cats while his black kitty companion sat contently on his ecclesiastically robed lap.
Until recently I have always had indoor-outdoor kitties and taken great pleasure in watching them enjoy the outdoors. Only one of those late three sibling cats preyed on birds. Two died of old age, and one was killed, we believe, by coyotes. There are also fisher cats in the neighborhood. With our recent feral rescue kitties we chose for the first time to have indoor cats. We have enough different spaces in the house to keep life interesting and screen doors where they loved to sit and gaze and even converse and make friends with curious chipmunks who come and sit on the other side of the screen. There is mouse patrol and occasional hunting to keep their wild natures intact. (One of the two came to us with kidney failure and has since departed). Brigette the survivor is happy and affectionate and seems to enjoy her domain.
There is no perfect solution to the indoor, outdoor question. I am grateful to live with a joyful, playful cat. Thank you again for this celebration of these wondrous feline beings.
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You are so right Elizabeth… no solutions – one has to make a choice and then live with the consequences.
What wonderful news about the dean of Canterbury Cathedral singing praises of black cats while petting his own. Cats and black cats in particular were so maligned by the Church in medieval days that it is wonderful to see that change of heart.
You are so correct in that each person must choose for themselves what is the correct way to invite a cat into their life – indoor or outdoor. My son’s cats started off as complete outdoor cats, with little heated cathouses even, all as a result of his having lived with allergies to cats for the 18 years of Crystal’s life. But after moving to a different part of town where coyotes prey on chickens, cats and other small animals he has now carved out a place for them in his music studio (which can remain closed off from the rest of the house). He has installed a cat door which only they two can enter via their microchips and he can automatically lock at night and re-open in the morning.
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Love it! Thank you Judith and adding as a Resource on the Divine Feminine App to come back to!
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Glad you enjoyed. I think I must give credit to Karen Moon, developer of the Divine Feminine App, for adding it as I had not yet gotten around to that. So much to do…. so little time. A big thanks to Karen for all her hard work in keeping us connected.
And of course a big, huge thanks to all the folks working behind the scenes to keep FAR going. I really love all the various animal stories that others share with me as I continue along this path of learning about the lives, mythology and symbolism of many animals.
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It is such a delight to read your article, as a cat lover and owner all my life. My current cat I adapted from a rescue center has only three legs, therefore I deiced to keep your indoors, she would be a quick prey for coyotes and cars driving way too fast. She takes sun baths on my little fenced patio and is as happy as she can.
Sounds like your little kitty found a good home – so glad you enjoyed the read. I think from now on I will always think of Li Shou when i see cats bathing in the sun.
thank you so much for your kind response. I like the name Li Shou, as my cats name is Moshu.
I recently installed an 11-circuit labyrinth on my property. Within the week following, two juvenile bobcats appeared in my yard. The following morning I was going outside to walk the labyrinth, and to my great surprise, the two bobcats were sitting in the middle of the labyrinth! This felt numinous to me. Just wondering if you have any thoughts or insight about such a visitation? Many thanks, Yvonne Lucia
That is really an amazing experience you had with the labyrinth and bobcats – seems numinous to me also. Though bobcat is slightly different from the house cat I would think that the lessons of patience, autonomy, the power to speak your own truth and an embracing of the magic and mystery found in the darkness would apply. And then the labyrinth, which is a great symbol of the initiate’s journey from the outer world to one’s inner center where one finds one’s truth and then brings it back out to the world is in play with the bobcats sitting at that center. Wow – what a blessing you received – to see what others cannot, a call to claim your own power and a reminder that to achieve your goals patience is required. Cats also remind us of the importance of play. I guess their message is something like – “OK I might be a goddess/god with amazing powers but excuse me a moment while I go roll in the dirt” Anyway ….. those are just my thoughts.
Thank you! I really appreciate your taking the time to answer.