Why are black cats unlucky?

It was a 'familiar' tale across medieval Europe: a black cat crossing your path was an omen of misfortune, ill-health and death

Portrait of black cat – unlucky for some? (Photo by Getty Images)

While many things from medieval times are now decried as ignorant or, well, medieval, the poor black moggy still suffers from a su-purr-stitious image problem that goes back centuries.

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You know, when we used to burn women as witches.

The association between the supernatural and black cats became so rooted in Europe that, in the 13th century, Pope Gregory IX declared them to be an incarnation of Satan.

They were burned as ‘familiars’, animals that do a witch’s bidding, and killed in huge numbers in times of plague. The irony is that by removing the rat-killing cats, the pestilence probably spread quicker.

Fear of black cats spread across the pond to the US, and the Salem Witch Trials made sure that they became a feature of Halloween festivities forevermore. Still, the campaign is on to restore the inky feline’s reputation, with both Britain and the US now holding annual Black Cat Appreciation Days.

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This content first appeared in the June 2018 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine