Many of the most enduring and macabre superstitions center around the animals in our world and particularly domesticated pets. There are more ‘old wives’ tales’ about dogs and cats than for elephants or even toads.
This is because the most common of household pets were adopted by mankind as far back as prehistoric times, for hunting, guarding and companionship.
Images of humans with dogs and cats appear on Egyptian tombs, Greek temples and even the cave paintings at Lascaux, France.
So it’s no wonder a great deal of lore, most of it negative and often contradictory center on the tabbies and pooches we feed, water and play with every day.
For instance, the bugaboo of Medieval Europe, black cats and witches. How did that come about? Try this on for size:
A Norse legend tells of the chariot of the witch Freya pulled by black cats. They were possessed by the Devil and very fast. After serving Freya for seven years, the cats turned into witches, disguised as black cats.
This is where the belief that black cats were familiars of witches began. After seven years they themselves became witches. Black cats were supposed to be bad luck.
Oh-kay. Anyone who has Sheba purring on their lap on a cool winter evening knows this is pure rot.
If a black cat crossed your path, it meant Satan was taking notice of you. Not a guy you want on your case.
But how many of us still jump a little in our step when we see a black cat walking past us?
Some old sailors refused to step on board a ship if a black cat walked the decks. Yet cats have been the most efficient means of keeping a ship free of rats.
However, in some parts of the world black cats are supposed to be good luck. In ancient England black cats were mummified and placed in tombs to deter evil from taking the spirit of the dead. Never mind what the cat thought about it.
If a black cat jumped over the coffin of a dead person, the deceased would return as a ghost. A good thing to keep in mind at a lawyer’s funeral. Keep the cats away.
Okay, on to dogs. Egyptians revered the jackal and Romans the hunting dog. Every culture in the world has domesticated or trained dogs for specific duties.
Dogs howl at the Moon, right? Not exactly. The Moon has nothing to do with it. They’re howling to communicate with other dogs. But for ages that portended either good or bad fortune, depending on where you lived.
Here is one I’m sure dogs are very glad has been laid to rest. In the middle Ages, if a dog bit a person, the dog was killed, even if the animal had no rabies. This was because if it later got rabies, the person who was bitten, even years later, would be infected.
In England and Scotland black dogs were believed to be the portents of evil events and death. Remember Harry Potter and the Grim? We know it was just his godfather Sirius looking out for him. But they were also thought to be the spirits of wicked persons who led you astray and into danger. OR, friendly guides to lost travelers. Talk about ambiguity. Bring a coin to flip if you encounter a big black dog some dark night on the Moors.
Dogs have always been credited with being able to see supernatural things or sense geologic events like earthquakes. Personally my Labrador Musket sleeps through them. Be that as it may, here’s a useful tip. When a dog sits and stares at nothing, totally oblivious to everything around it, look right between the dog’s ears. You (provided you possess the ability) should see a ghost. Explains a lot, actually. I always thought they just ‘zoned out.’ Turns out Fido was really communicating with the ghost of Dr. Doolittle.
And if you have a seven-toed dog, they can see ghosts. That should come in handy this Halloween. Get on your knees and start counting.