Cats in Black

An old game that I was interested in finding out about is the Black Cat Fortune Telling Game, which appears to have been first released in 1897. Part of the Victorian obsession with fortune-telling, this game consists of twenty-four cards, falling into six categories. These categories are past, present, future, love matters, general advice, and danger, all pretty typical fortune-telling tropes. It doesn’t look to have been a game in the traditional sense, in that there really isn’t any goal or scoring system. The players just shuffle the cards and use them to read fortunes. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, but it’s likely that Ouija boards weren’t either.

The black cat theme got me thinking about why black cats are considered bad luck, a superstition that’s managed to survive into the present day. Beth and I have two black cats, and while one of them constantly asks for cat treats and the other is so eager to scent-mark legs that he’ll almost knock people over, I haven’t noticed their being particularly unlucky.

In the light, their hair is really more of a dark gray or brown, but I think they still count as black cats. The superstitions date back to the Middle Ages, and while there doesn’t seem to be any one particular source, the explanation I’ve come across the most often is their association with witches.

The stereotype of lonely old women taking in stray cats was just as common back then as it is now, and when the women were accused of witchcraft, the cats were considered guilty by association. That doesn’t explain the hatred for black cats in particular, but I guess it’s just because black in general was considered a devilish, witchy color. Black cats were thought to be the familiars of witches, and some legends said that witches could turn into black cats. In 1232, Pope Gregory IX actually associated all cats with evil, and it’s thought that the feline killings that resulted might have been in factor in the destruction caused by the Black Plague, as cats would typically have killed the plague-bearing rats. In some parts of the world, however, black cats are actually considered GOOD luck. Great Britain has several legends about black cats bringing good fortune, and one popular rumor has it that King Charles I’s pet black cat died the day before he was put on trial for treason. Regardless, black cats remain unpopular, and are apparently less commonly adopted from shelters than cats of other colors.

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