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THE MAGNIFICENT CAT
By Ruth J. Davis
As I stand guard over those who enter this eatery, I’ll wager no one rea1izes what a magnificent animal I am. Nor do they give any thought to my historical background!
So let me tell you about myself.
The cat’s first association with humans began at the end of the Stone Age 5,000 years ago. We were considered a member of the household for most Egyptians. They used us to hunt birds and fish and to destroy the rats and mice that infected their stacks of grain along the Nile River. We were considered to be so important that the Egyptians passed laws to protect us. Deliberately killing a cat was punishable by death.
Eventually the Egyptians came to worship the Cat Goddess, Bastet, and all cats became sacred. When we died our bodies were mummified and we were buried in special cemeteries.
The fate of cats underwent a drastic change in Europe during the Middle Ages. In many people’s minds, we became objects of superstition and we were associated with witches and black magic. We were hunted, tortured and sacrificed. Often we would be sealed within the walls during the construction of houses. The humans thought this act would bring good luck to the occupants of the house and would keep away anything evil.
Many superstitions arose during this period of our persecution that is still evident today. Such as “Don’t let a black cat cross your path or you will have bad luck.”
Back in the days when houses had thatched roofs, small animals, dogs, mice, rats and cats would hide in the straw of the roofs for warmth. When there was a heavy rain, or as the Southern folk say, “a belly washer of a rain,” water would wash us from the roofs and we would fall to the ground. So another saying was born. “It’s raining cats and dogs!”
And what about the saying “a cat has nine lives.” Do you know how that came to be? It is said that a mother of nine hungry children put nine fish on a plate to feed her children. A hungry cat saw the fish and ate them all. Having overeaten, the cat died and when he approached the Pearly Gate, St. Peter told him “You were bad eating the food of nine hungry children!” St. Peter kicked him from the Pearly Gate. The cat fell to Earth and bounced back to Heaven. St. Peter told him again that he was bad and kicked him back to Earth again, and once more the cat ended back up in Heaven. This occurred nine times, for each hungry child. And the phrase “a cat has nine lives” came to be.
There are many superstitions associated with cats. A few of them are:
“Dreaming of a white cat means you will have good luck”
“It is unlucky to see a white cat at night”
“If a cat washes behind its ears it will rain”
“If a strange black cat appears on your porch it means prosperity”
“A cat sneezing is a good omen for anyone that hears it”
By the 17th Century we began to regain our place as companions to humans and controllers of rodents. Cats have been portrayed in many famous works of art by such famous painters as Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso. We bring happiness and laughter through movie cartoons, such as “Felix the Cat” and “Tom and Jerry.” There was even a Broadway musical show written about us, Cats by Andrew Lloyd Weber. Who can possibly forget Jellicle, the Cat, singing “Memories” from that show?
So the next time you see a cat, just remember what magnificent creatures we are.