THE BLOG

Cats: A Story of Witchcraft and Fame

05/12/2014 14:40 GMT | Updated 04/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Cats are proud pets that have lived on their own terms for centuries, and while some of them certainly have that Egyptian goddess look, others are falling far behind. So today we celebrate the day of cats by travelling through time, space and cultures to discover what's so fascinating about cats and their place in history. The answer will take you from ancient civilisations to modern day pet shops... Are you ready?

The good old days

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Image courtesy of Alice Popkorn

Our story begins in the Middle East many years ago in the early ancient civilisations, an era that could easily be described as the 'good old days' what our deer friends, the cats, are concerned. Often associated with various Gods, cats almost came to hold a bit of magical wisdom themselves and were widely respected throughout Egyptian society, but whether or not they were worshipped, and to what extent, remains a mystery to many historians. For a long time it was believed that Egyptians were the first people to domesticate cats, others claim that they domesticated themselves. However, Archaeologists now feel certain that the domestication of cats was a process started by farmers in Mesopotamia. It's even believed that all cats today can be traced back to these early days of human society.

This was a good time for cats. They were rocking the world, believed to hold positive magical powers by many different cultures, especially in Celtic lore where they somehow seemed to hold the key to great wisdom and magic, an ability that later caused trouble throughout Europe.

The dark middle ages: Witches and demons

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Image courtesy of Noel J Goodwin

The story continues. According to old Irish legend, cats' eyes were unlike anything else, a gate to another world: Stare into the deep of their eyes and another place reveals itself to you, almost like magic. In Norse mythology, the Goddess Freya was seen in a carriage drawn by cats and so they became magical creatures in a positive sense until paganism was no longer wanted.

Throughout the 'dark' middle ages, cats began to represent the nearness of the devil's hand and those adoring the church found less and less joy in their otherwise friendly household members. In fact, during the witch trials owning a cat could prove dangerous in certain parts of Europe, so no wonder if some of these cats felt superior to humans and their silly beliefs. The situation got so bad that Pope Innocent VIII issued a decree in 1484 which pronounced cats as unholy creatures. No wonder cats were frequently present in ghost stories and demon warnings. Especially black cats have been suffering from these beliefs and you will still meet people today who consider them to be bad luck.

The renaissance brings back the glory

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Image courtesy of Selden Vestritt

However, as we move away from the Middle Ages and enter the renaissance, things slowly starts to change. Knowledge becomes power, enlightenment is the goal. Although many 'commoners' still regarded them with suspicion, often fear, cats were raised by wealthy people as prestigious pets that would later become symbols of luxury, but this varied across continents and cultures.

Another reason for the change in attitude towards cats were the work of some renaissance artists and later writers who work began to portray cats in more varied ways, which would help change the negative attitude towards the lovely creatures that people grow to love.

A trip to the new world

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Image courtesy of Leonid Mamchenkov

In fact, Europeans came to love cats so much that they decided to bring them across the Atlantic as soon as the immigration to United States took off. Although some thought them to be nothing more than efficient mouse hunters, other came to regards them as their dearest friends, protected and loved by their fellow house members. It seemed that the time of demonization was over at last. The American Short Hair cat breed is believed to descend from these European cats brought over by settlers who wanted someone to keep mice away from their land. Today, United States is one of the places in the world where cats are most popular.

Cat becomes loved at last

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Image courtesy of Eli Duke

So what happens next? Societies started to change and as we move towards the 1800s and enter the 1900's, people got more money and cities started to form. A rising middle class changed the role of the cat that suddenly became more of a friend to humans, everyone wanted a pet - it was the new thing! And since then their success has been unstoppable. Never have cats been so famous, it's almost like being back in ancient Egypt with smiley cat pictures ruling the internet. Some even have their own Instagram account!

Not all cats are equally loved

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Image courtesy of Nickolas Titkov

Today cats have established themselves as some of the most loved pets in the world, but not all of them are equally popular. After all, looks still matters to children when they visit the pet shop, so let's spend some time honouring those fellows who are less prone to success.

The English Devon Rex cats are one of those breeds that tend to look a bit worn down, but what they don't have in beauty they make up for in intelligence. In fact, these fellows are quite clever. But while some cats just take the defeat, others rise to the challenge, just like 'grumpy cat' that became an internet sensation over night.

We just hope that grumpy cat enjoyed the spotlight.

Had you any idea that cats had such an interesting history? Dedicate some time to help those cats who are less fortune, those who live on the street without being famous on the internet. Animal sanctuaries are always looking for volunteers to take care of a number of different animals who are injured, living on the street or just in need of your care.

Check out Frontier's blog 'Into the Wild' where you can read more articles like this!

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By Caroline Edwards