• Christopher Sebastian

Reclaiming Black Cats: Possession, Pandemonium, and...Gay Sex?

The origins of black cats as satanic figures are murky at best. In ancient Egypt, cats in general were venerated as the embodiment of the goddess Bastet. In fact, when the Persians invaded Egypt in 525 BC, they decorated their shields with cats hoping to discourage the Egyptians from throwing spears at them. And given that the Persians won the Battle of Pelusium and Egypt, it seems to be a gamble that paid off.

According to historian Donald Engels in his book Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat, ancient Egyptian religious traditions involving house cats evolved into pagan rituals during the Roman era, which early Christians didn’t really love and may have contributed to some of the cat hate.


Obviously, this doesn’t explain the negative connotations Europeans held about black cats, in particular. So to make an educated guess on where that came from, you have to fast forward a couple of centuries to the Vatican circa 1233, when Pope Gregory IX issued a papal bull—a public decree laying out doctrine for the church—called Vox in Rama (“A Voice in Ramah”).


In this decree, Gregory described a ritual executed by an alleged satanic sect, as described by one Conrad of Marburg, a papal inquisitor who had his own beliefs about cats that he backed up with confessions.

Not those confessions

Of course, what we know now about confessions obtained during the heyday of the catholic church is that they didn’t come about nicely. In other words, medieval torture.


Per Conrad’s confessions, the papal bull stated:

The following rites of this [sect] are carried out: When any novice is to be received among them and enters the sect of the damned for the first time, the shape of a certain frog [or toad] appears to him.
Some kiss this creature on the hind quarters and some on the mouth, they receive the tongue and saliva of the beast inside their mouths. Sometimes it appears unduly large, and sometimes equivalent to a goose or a duck, and sometimes it even assumes the size of an oven. At length, when the novice has come forward, [he] is met by a man of wondrous pallor who has black eyes and is so emaciated [and] thin that since his flesh has been wasted, seems to have remaining only skin drawn over bone. The novice kisses him and feels cold, [like] ice, and after the kiss the memory of the [C]atholic faith totally disappears from his heart.
Afterwards, they sit down to a meal and when they have arisen from it, the certain statue, which is usual in a set of this kind, a black cat descends backwards, with its tail erect. First the novice, then the master, then each one of the order who are worthy and perfect, kiss the cat on its buttocks. [...] When this ceremony is over the lights are put out and those present indulge in the most loathsome sensuality, having no regard to sex. If there are more men than women, men satisfy one another’s depraved appetites. Women do the same for one another. ”

In other words, participants in this ritual were approached by a giant toad, and they have to make out with him. Then a pale man shows up and the initiates would have to make out with him too, after which they would forget and forsake all allegiance to the church.


And in a final act of balls-to-the-wall wackiness, a statue of a black cat would come to life, walk backward through the meeting and each person in attendance would literally kiss his ass. Then the satanic mass would culminate in orgies under the cover of darkness which we knew was coming because of all this frog-on-pale-man-on-cat-butt foreplay.

"Fuck them cats" -- Pope

Of course, knowing what we do about cats, few would find it unreasonable that a cat, any cat, would walk backwards through a group of people and try to make them kiss his bootyhole. After all, as anyone who ever lived with a cat can attest, sticking their butts in your face is their MO. But doing it as an instrument of Satan (and as the impetus for “the most loathsome sensuality”) was a bridge too far for the good Catholics of the time.


And so, thus were they shooketh, it is reasonable to assert such was the genesis of widespread black cat fears.


Now to be fair, the papal bull didn’t explicitly dictate that Catholics across Europe should kill black cats to stop Satan. The Vox in Rama mainly condemned a cult that had allegedly popped up in the Rhineland—and the bull was sent specifically to the city of Mainz. So, rather than a death warrant for cats Europe-wide, it was a letter sent to one city warning them about a cult.


But let’s be real. A not-insignificant number of people believe right now that climate change isn’t real (it is), the Earth is flat (it’s not), and Beyonce killed Joan Rivers (actually that one is indisputable).


So if people today are highly impressionable and often behave irrationally, it wouldn’t be off-brand for medieval Europeans to spread the word that black cats were in league with Satan and that we need to kill them to prevent their puckers from being gateways to sweet, sweet gay sex. Ergo, it’s quite reasonable to presume that this letter set the stage for making cat-killing a delightful new craze that some people suspect contributed to the Black Death a few generations later. As I said, the origins are murky, and no one can say for sure.


And while there appears to be no evidence that Pope Gregory IX ever told people to kill black cats, smaller historical examples of medieval cat genocide for very unusual reasons have been documented.


For example, 79 cats in medieval Cambridge, England, were slaughtered by the townsfolk in the 13th century. And people in medieval Ypres, Belgium, had a festival called Kattenstoet where they would throw cats from the belfry of local churches and set them on fire to symbolize the killing of evil spirits (note: Belgians carried on with this until as recently as 1817).


The bottom line is that other animals, domesticated and free-living, have always served as cultural symbols in human societies. Cats are no exception. Likewise, the scapegoating of other animals for human problems has existed for centuries.


Fortunately, black cats’ fortunes are on the rebound. According to the Smithsonian, rumors that black cats suffer higher rates of violence around Halloween are unfounded. Likewise, data does suggest that black cats have slightly lower rates of adoption. But because the gene for black fur is dominant, there’s a higher percentage of black cats in the general population. So black cat discrimination seems to be on the decline.


With a little work on correcting their historical PR, we might be able to return our spoopy friends to their historical pre-medieval European popularity before their reputations were tarnished by religious persecution.


All my witches in the back in the back, if you feel me, pat your weave.




144 views

©2018 by Christopher Sebastian. Proudly created with Wix.com