Ever heard the saying ‘dogs think they are humans and cats think they are gods’? Well, anyone who owns a cat (or a dog) will tell you it’s true.
Cats do think of themselves as gods, but they have pretty good reason to, and that has probably got everything to do with how humans have treated them throughout history.
Humans have made cats celebrities; cat memes and cute vids are inescapable and innumerous online. They have always been in the spotlight. Famous historians have loved them, Phaeroes used to imitate them. Vikings goddesses were drawn by them – and I haven’t even mentioned witches yet.
The ancient Egyptians adopted the cat as a symbol of power and virility. Cats were held in the highest esteem, and they worshipped a cat goddess, often represented as half feline, half woman, whom they called Bastet.
Ancient Mesopotamian cultures elevated the feline to god status. A city by the Nile delta, Bubastis, once worshipped a cat-headed goddess named Bast or Pasht, who was associated with happiness, pleasure, dancing and the warmth of the sun.
Freya, the Viking goddess of love and beauty, rode in a chariot drawn by two cats. Freya was given power over the “ninth world,” which some historians speculate may allude to the supposed nine lives that cats are granted.
In ancient Japan, cats were revered and kept in temples, where they guarded over priceless manuscripts. They were considered so precious in the 10th century, that only members of the nobility could actually own them.
A sect of Buddhism once believed that when you die, if you’re holy enough, your soul is transferred to a cat for safekeeping. In this way, special souls lived in a sort of feline purgatory, and when the kitty died, the chaste soul would ascend to paradise.
In the Middle Ages of Europe, if a black cat crossed your path it was generally considered lucky, White cats symbolised the arrival of new love and if a bride heard a cat sneeze on her wedding day she was going to have a happy marriage.
But cats were also commonly thought of as evil beings, having the same mystical powers as witches and warlocks. Feline teeth were believed to be poisonous, and if you breathed its breath, you’d be infected with the consumption (tuberculosis).
It was around this time, in the 14th century, that cats were accused of being responsible for the black plague, and working for the devil. The church also accused witches of doing the devil’s work, and an everlasting companionship was born.
Witches and cats have been synonymous since. The Celts believed that cats were actually humans who had been forced to return to this world after committing bad deeds. Such theories led to people making up stories of witches turning into cats.
In the 21st century, cats are librarians, internet stars, and cliché companions to crazy old ladies. But they’re not just these things; cats are sentient beings, capable of changing human lives. They have been bred for centuries as domestic pets and yet they still maintain their natural instincts to hunt and often gift their humans with the spoils. Plus they are super cute. Cats are badass.
All hail our feline overlords!