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.
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.
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.