Myth Monday: How the Sacred Birman Cat Was Created (Burmese Legend)
By Kara Newcastle
In Khmer, animals were precious. Some outside the empire would look at an animal and just see an animal, but the Khmer people knew that human souls could be reincarnated into animals, where they would await their final departure into the afterlife. Each human had an animal scared to their station, and cats had the special honor of carrying the souls of priests and kings.
Sorrowfully, the Khmer empire was not always at peace. Strife from without and within could ravage the land at any time, and it was during one of these wars that the priests found themselves fleeing deep into the mountains of northern Burma. Once they were sure they were safe, the priests constructed an astonishing temple Lao-Tsun, dedicated to their gods Song Ho and his wife, the blue-eyed goddess Tsun Kyankse. There, the priests were able to worship and study in peace, caring for the one hundred temple cats and any creature or person they found in need.
The chief priest was Mun-Ha, and none could compare to him in his piety, and in his devotion to Tsun Kyankse, who oversaw the reincarnation of souls. He was such a generous and kind man that the goddess blessed him with a beard of gold, so all who saw him would see how good and pure he was. Always at his side was Sinh, the cat. Sinh had eyes as yellow as the chief priest’s golden beard, and his body was covered in long, soft fur the color of earth. Sinh devotedly followed Mu-Ha everywhere he went, purring and chirping to him and no one else.
The priests and their cats lived in peace for only a short while; the horrible night came when their enemies discovered the new temple hidden in the mountains and attacked it with the rage of a thousand demons. In the chaos of the massacre, Mun-Ha was found slumped on the floor, dead. Wide-eyed Sinh was huddled beside him, at times laying back his ears and hissing at the murderers when they came too close.
Upon seeing the body of their cherished abbot, the other priests despaired; how could this have happened? They worked so hard to stay hidden, they dedicated every moment of their lives to worshipping the gods and caring for weak, doing all that was required of them, and now they were all to die? Not even the virtuous Mun-Ha had been spared!
As if sensing the priests’ anguish, Sinh suddenly stood. Looking down at his fallen master, Sinh lifted one front paw, then the other, placing each of his four feet gently down on the dead Mun-Ha’s forehead.
As the confused priests watched, a golden light seemed to burn from deep within Sinh’s chest. It flared out like a roar of flame, swirling around the cat’s body. As the light passed over him, Sinh’s fur changed from earthen brown to glowing gold. His eyes, once a burning yellow, shown with the same blue shade of the goddess Tsun Kyankse. Each of Sinh’s paws turned snow white.
Blinking his incredible blue eyes once, Sinh turned and gazed at the temple entrance.
All the priests understood immediately; they had witnessed a miracle. Mun-Ha’s soul had passed into Sinh’s body, and the goddess Tsun Kyankse was now watching over them. Knowing that they had not been forsaken, the priests rallied and fought back, driving their stunned attackers back and barricading the doors. Unable to breach the temple a second time, their enemies gave up and returned home.
For six days Sinh did not eat nor drink. He only sat before the statue of the goddess, staring at her. On the morning of the seventh day, the beautifully transformed Sinh quietly passed away, and the priests knew that Mun-Ha had passed on into paradise.
With Mun-Ha gone, the priests knew they need to select a new leader. After seven days of discussion, they came together to make the final decision. Before anyone could suggest a candidate, a pattering of hundreds of paws filled the air. The priests looked down in amazement as the 99 remaining temple cats flooded the room—and each and every one had been transformed the way Sinh had, with golden fur, blue eyes, and white paws. Seeing this as a sign from Tsun Kyankse, the priests bowed to the cats and waited quietly as the felines all trotted up to one young priest named Legoa, forming a circle around him. Thus, the new chief priest was chosen.
It was from these cats that the Sacred Cat of Burma—known as the Birman to world—was created.
Myth Monday: The Cat and The Cradle (Dutch Folklore)
By Kara Newcastle
You know the Netherlands—you’ve seen the pictures of the bright tulips, the churning windmills, the sharply peaked and tightly nestled houses along the canals. This is a bright and cheery country.
It wasn’t always that way.
There was a time when the Netherlands was pagan and wild. This was long before people tamed the land with the canals and dykes, so nature struck whenever it pleased, frequently flooding the farms and forests, drowning cattle and annihilating crops and orchards. It was one such flood that carried off a baby girl named Honig-je (Little Honey), and the cat that saved her.
Whenever her parents were away, Honig-je was kept company by a beautiful cat with luxurious long, thick fur. This cat raised her kittens alongside Honig-je, and when those kittens grew and moved on, the mother cat would dote on Honig-je like she was one of her own babies. The cat was so affectionate to the little girl that people began to call the cat Dub-belt-je, or Little Double, because she was showered twice as much love on Honig-je as she did on anyone else.
One day while the men were out hunting and the women were gathering crops, Honig-je slept soundly in her cradle with Dub-belt-je snuggled on top of her like the warmest, fluffiest blanket. For days storms had raged, swelling the rivers with rainfall until the waters swamped the banks. A horrific flood roared through the village, tearing through the longhouses there—and sweeping away the cat and the baby in the cradle.
As waves crashed over the cradle, rocking it violently from side to side, Dub-belt-je scrambled out of the sobbing Honig-je’s hands and leapt onto the roof of the cradle. Every time the cradle teetered one way and tipped another, Dub-belt-je ran in the opposite direction, using her weight to balance the floating cradle, keeping it from being overwhelmed and sunk. She continued this, keeping Honig-je safe, until the floodwaters pushed the cradle into the river, and they were swept downstream.
Some time passed before the waters calmed enough for Dub-belt-je to settle. Peeking down into the cradle to check on her beloved human baby, Dub-belt-je would then scan the shoreline, knowing that she had to get Honig-je to safety, and knowing that she couldn’t do that alone. She needed people to help.
The river carried them for miles, passing by fields and forests. Night fell dark and heavy, the moon and stars smothered by the rainclouds, but Dub-belt-je was a cat, and she could see perfectly fine in the dark. With her incredible glowing eyes, Dub-belt-je began to notice that the land on either side of the river was becoming more developed. There were roads, and bridges and—ahead! She could see a tall, pointed thing … she knew what that was! A church steeple!
Digging her claws into the cradle, Dub-belt-je threw back her head and screamed for all she was worth. She howled and yowled and screeched as the cradle floated down the river, passing the church, houses, shops—all dark, all shuttered. All the humans were asleep!
Taking a deep breath, Dub-belt-je shrieked again, dredging up the most awful noise she could pull out of herself. As she screamed, Dub-belt-je started noticing little points of glittering lights appearing in pairs along the edge of the river, over the bridges, on the rooftops—cats! They were cats!
Dub-belt-je wailed to her feline cousins, and, realizing her plight, every cat in the town began to caterwaul at the top of their lungs. The cacophony of their raspy voices rattled through every building until, at long last, a light glowed behind a shuttered window. The shutter banged open, and a young boy leaned out, scowling, rubbing his eyes as he extended a candle out into the darkness.
“What’s gotten into all of you?” he fumed. “Don’t you know that we’re trying to …”
Looking up at him, Dub-belt-je gave her most piteous cry. She felt her voice breaking, going out. She couldn’t keep this up any longer. If he didn’t see them now …
Hearing the saddest meow out of all the noise around him, the boy blinked, then squinted down into the dark river. “What is that?”
All at once, the boy’s eyes focused and he gasped in horror. Jerking his head back into his house, the boy yelled for his mother as he ran out the door. Sliding down the bank, the boy splashed into the river, wading in up to his chest, reaching out and grabbing the edge of the cradle. As he towed the cradle back to shore, Dub-belt-je sank down into a relieved heap.
By then the boy’s mother had reached the edge of the river, and she cried out in shock at the sight of the waterlogged cradle and bedraggled cat. The woman and the boy looked inside, saw the beautiful tiny Honig-je, and swiftly brought both her and her feline savior into their home. It was here that Honig-je grew into a lovely young woman, with Dub-belt-je faithfully at her side. Honig-je married the boy who saved her, named Dirck, and their son became a great healer and banisher of evil fairies. The village where Honig-je was rescued is now called Kinderdijk (the children’s dyke), and a statue of Dub-belt-je stands guard over Honig-je’s tomb in the church. Every year on December sixth, Sinter Klaas Day, Dutch children would place a new collar on the statue of the heroic cat.
Myth Monday: The Colony of Cats (Italian Fairy Tale)
By Kara Newcastle
Once upon a time, animals could talk. Not just meow or bark or oink, they could actually speak real words. Back in those days the rodents absolutely ran amok, eating every piece of food they could get their nasty little teeth on, so the townsfolk were quite willing to pay someone—human or animal—to deal with the plague. In Sicily, a colony of cats hired themselves out as effective rat catchers, were paid handsomely, and used that money to buy their own villa.
Since they weren’t exactly capable of maintaining a house, the cats employed a human servant to cook and clean for them. When a lady in town found herself in need of a job, she would announce to the world, “I will go and live with the cats,” and then head to their villa to apply for work. The cats would hire her, but the maids who worked there usually became lonely for human company—or exasperated by the cats’ exacting demands—and would not stay long. Therefore, a position was usually available.
On the other side of the town lived a widow and her two daughters. The eldest, Peppina, was pretty, but she was also arrogant and snide. Her younger sister, Lizina, was even fairer and possessed a much more pleasant personality, but she was all too frequently at the receiving end of her mother’s bad temper and her sister’s cruel remarks. Their mother resented Lizina, seeing her as a burden when they had so little money to support themselves. Peppina, jealous of Lizina since the day she was born, did everything she could to humiliate and torture her little sister. If Lizina did anything to defend herself, she was beaten, and her food was taken away and given to Peppina.
Finally, Lizina couldn’t stand another moment of torment and she shouted at her family, “I don’t know why you hate me so much, but if you want me to go, fine! I’ll go live with the cats!”
“Then get going!” her mother howled, raising the broomstick she used to beat her child and chasing the poor girl out of the house. Lizina wasted no time in running away, leaving with only the ragged clothes on her back. Bitter but resolute, the girl traversed through town and over the countryside, hardly pausing for even a moment, until she reached the cats’ home.
Just as Lizina was walking up to the gate, the front door to the villa flew open and an older woman stormed out, angrily knotting her shawl over her head and muttering a thousand curses under her breath. As she stomped by, Lizina could see a dozen bright red scratch marks up and down the woman’s face.
“Mouse cacciatore! Rat stigghiola! Lizard ravioli!” the woman screeched. “Disgusting! I’ll never cook for those cats ever again!”
Watching the woman stomp away, Lizina hesitated for a moment. Mouse cacciatore …? That didn’t sound very appetizing. And those scratches—did the cats do that?
Wondering if she had made a mistake in leaving her mother, Lizina turned to look at the house again—and jumped in surprise. At her feet sat a very pretty little gray striped cat, gazing p at Lizina curiously. Behind the cat were five more, all of different sizes and colors, each spaced out along the walkway with the last one seated just inside the door.
The little gray cat at her feet cocked its head at her. “Hello,” it said. “How can I help you?”
Remember, this was a time when animals and humans could speak to one another, so Lizina was not at all surprised by a talking cat. The girl smiled politely down at the little cat. “Hello. My name is Lizina. I came looking for work?”
The little cat’s tongue flicked out and ran over its lips. “Well! As luck would have it, Papa Gatto just fired our last cook.”
Hearing that, Lizina nervously glanced down the road at the shrinking form of the angry, clawed-up woman. “Did he …?”
“Oh, the scratches?” Chuckling, the little cat quickly licked the tip of one forepaw. “That’s only because she tried to take a broom to him when he told her to leave. You seem like a much nicer human—I don’t think you have to worry at all. Please, follow us.”
Standing up, the gray cat trotted away from Lizina, its tail high in the air. The five other cats all meowed eagerly, falling in step behind the gray cat, trailing it back into the house. Feeling a little more assured, Lizina followed the cats into the villa.
Stepping inside the grand old house, Lizina stopped short and her jaw dropped open. Everywhere inside the house—all over the floor, on the tables and chairs, running up and down the stairs, strutting along the rafters … were cats! Hundreds of cats and kittens, cats that were big and small and skinny and fat, fluffy and slender, some with smushed-in faces, some with bobbed tails or crinkly little ears. They greeted Lizina with a cacophony of meows, many of them rushing to rub their bodies across her legs, some barely acknowledging her from where they lounged, a few bolting away in fear. Looking at them all, Lizina couldn’t help but smile in delight.
Sitting up on its haunches, the little gray cat waved both of its forepaws at Lizina to get her attention. “Follow me!” it shouted over the meowing. Nodding, Lizina shuffled onward, giggling as the cats wound in and out of her legs.
Lizina followed the gray cat into the kitchen, where the first thing she noticed was a large pile of brown wool laid lumped upon a table. Lizina was just started to think about how she could spin the wool into yarn when the pile suddenly yawned enormously, showing off huge white fangs.
The little gray cat sprang up onto the table. “Papa Gatto, look at this! As soon as you told off that rotten old lady, this new girl shows up!”
“Hm?” Lifting his head, the brown cat regarded Lizina through half-lidded eyes. He yawned again, then eased himself up onto all four paws, arching his back in the mightiest stretch he could manage. Lizina couldn’t stop herself from staring at the fluffy brown tabby in shock; all the other cats were relatively cat-sized, but this one, the one they called Father Cat, he was as big as a dog!
Sitting himself down on the corner of the table, Papa Gatto swiped at his incredibly long whiskers with one paw. “Fate works in mysterious ways, I suppose. What is your name, child?”
“Very polite. Moreso than our previous employee.” Papa Gatto scanned Lizina up and down with calculating yellow eyes. “You’re come seeking work with us, hm? You understand that while we do need a maid, we are cats, and we will be making requests that would seem unusual for a human.”
“I understand, sir.”
Papa Gatto swished his tail as he studied her. His eyes narrowed briefly as he took in her thin body, the dark bruises on her arms. “Hmmm … My dear, as part of your pay, you are welcome to live with us here. I sense that would be best for you.”
Incredible relief washed through Lizina, and she nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes please … I’d like to stay here. I’ll do anything you need me to, and I won’t complain. I’ll work hard. Just let me stay.”
“Very good.” Leaping down from the table and landing with an impressive thump!, Papa Gatto sauntered towards the open back door. “I’m going back to the barn. My family will instruct you on what we need.”
And instruct the cats did, and straightaway. Lizina found her work cut out for her at first, and she discovered that some of the cats were very particular about how things should be done around the house. Other cats insisted on following her everywhere she went, sitting close by and scrutinizing the way Lizina prepared the food, swept the floors, tended the garden, made the beds. Some of the cats were extremely playful and loved to get under Lizina’s feet, scrambling around under the sheets as she made the bed, zipping through doors as she tried to close them, attacking her ankles as she walked by with loads of laundry. Even when Lizina needed a moment to refresh herself, she would hear a chorus of pathetic meowings and see little paws groping under the door. When she went to bed, at least a dozen cats insisted on cuddling with her, though a few couldn’t resist pouncing on her feet every time she rolled over.
As difficult as it was, Lizina didn’t complain, and she didn’t scold. The dread of returning to her mother’s house kept Lizina from losing her temper, but soon she found that she actually enjoyed working with the colony. Lizina began to learn things about the cats, that their purring meant they were happy, that the way they held their tails or moved their ears showed Lizina what they were thinking. She broke up spats and rescued kittens who had gotten caught or climbed too high, and took care of the sick, and of an old tomcat with a bad paw. Once she overcame her squeamishness, Lizina made all the wonderful foods the cats loved—fish and chicken and sparrows and rabbit and lizards and mice and rats—and the cats adored her. Every now and again Papa Gatto would come down from his barn and ask the colony of cats, “Are you happy with this nice girl?” and the cats would happily yowl, “Yes, Papa Gatto, she’s the best servant we ever had!”
Lizina continued to work hard and loved every one of the cats there in the villa, but as time went on, she became lonely. She thought about her mother and sister, and, despite the way they had mistreated her, she still missed them, as they were the only human family she had. She was thinking these thoughts one day and growing tearful when Papa Gatto came down for a visit.
Seeing Lizina crying in the corner of the kitchen, Papa Gatto rushed to her side, alarmed. “What is the matter, my sweet child? Was someone here cruel to you?”
Quickly wiping her face with her apron, Lizina shook her head. “Oh, no, not at all, Papa Gatto. The cats here are so wonderful to me, but I do miss my mother and sister.”
Papa Gatto nodded sagely. “Ah, I understand. This is a problem that has afflicted many of our servants. Lizina, you shall go home to visit your family, and come back whenever you are ready to. But, before you go, I would like to give you a reward for all of your loving services to me and my family. Please, follow me down to the cellar.”
Lizina was surprised by the request; she had never gone down into the cellars before, because Papa Gatto always kept the door locked. She followed Papa Gatto to the door, waiting patiently as he produced a key from somewhere in his luxurious fur and unlocked it. Papa Gatto led her down a short flight of stairs, bringing her up to two enormous earthenware pots. At Papa Gatto’s instruction, Lizina looked into each. One was filled with oil. The other was filled with gold.
Papa Gatto smiled at Lizina. “Child, which pot shall I bathe you in?”
“Bathe? Me?” Lizina looked back at the pots, then shyly back at Papa Gatto. She was too timid to ask for the gold. “W-well … the oil jar.”
Papa Gatto chortled, expecting that answer. “No, no. You deserve better than that.” Picking the startled Lizina up in his massive paws, Papa Gatto quickly dunked the girl into the pot of gold. When Papa Gatto pulled her out and set her upon her feet, Lizina looked down at herself in astonishment; her skin glowed like the sun! She looked like a statue of pure gold.
Pleased, Papa Gatto nodded towards the cellar door. “You may go now,” he purred. “But Lizina, take care—if you hear a cock crow, you must turn towards it. If a donkey brays, you must turn away.”
Overcome with delight, Lizina kissed the happy Papa Gatto and rushed on her way home. As she approached her human family’s shack, Lizina heard a rooster crowing off to her side. Remembering Papa Gatto’s warning, Lizina turned towards it, and immediately a golden star alighted itself in her black hair. A moment later, a donkey brayed, but Lizina resolutely turned her back toward it, and continued home.
As it so happened, Lizina’s mother and sister Peppina were outside their hovel, and when they saw Lizina they both shrieked in disbelief at her appearance. They rushed to her, grabbing at her golden arms, her golden clothing, gasping in astonishment. Lizina, even though she remembered how they had treated her, was overcome with happiness and her eyes filled with tears. As she drew a handkerchief out of her apron pocket, a dozen gold coins spilled out with it. In fact, every time Lizina reached into her pocket for something, more gold coins would miraculously pour out.
With all this good fortune and new money, Lizina’s mother was more than happy to have her youngest daughter back. Peppina was happy too—really, more for the magic money Lizina spilled than for Lizina’s return. As their mother fussed over Lizina, Peppina tried to pull the gold clothes and the golden star off the girl, but they would not budge.
Lizina stayed with her mother and sister for several days, using her magic money to fix their house, and buy them food and clothes. When she had a little time to herself, Lizina would sit in the front window and do some little chore. It was one of these times that Prince Cristoforo was passing by, and his eye was caught by Lizina’s glittering gold skin. The prince was so amazed by the sight, that he went straight up to the house and insisted that he meet the golden girl. Lizina’s sweet nature delighted Prince Cristoforo even more than her golden skin and magic coins, and, after visiting her two more times, he asked her to marry him, and Lizina agreed.
Now, this was just too much for Peppina to take. Deciding that Lizina’s good luck had come from working for the colony of cats, Peppina rose early one morning and marched over to the villa. Without bothering to knock, Peppina burst straight through the front door, sending twenty terrified felines scattering in every direction.
“My name is Peppina,” the older sister announced as she let herself in, stepping on two fluff tails, causing their owners to yowl in pain. “My sister is Lizina. She worked for you before, and I want to work for you now.”
Hearing that she was Lizina’s sister sent elation through the colony of cats, as they all missed Lizina terribly. But as Peppina stood there boldly before the slit-eyed Papa Gatto, the kittens looked at one another and whispered, “She doesn’t seem anything like Lizina.”
The older cats hushed the kittens. “Let’s give her a chance and see.”
Well, the cats didn’t have to wait long; Peppina was the absolute worst servant they ever had, the utter opposite of Lizina. Peppina refused to clean anything, wouldn’t make the cats’ favorite meals, chased the inspecting cats out of the kitchen, and even whacked one young tomcat with a rolling pin as he tried to jump in through the window!
The moment Papa Gatto returned to check on his household, the colony of cats swarmed him, all crying out in fury and horror. They told him how Peppina had hurt them, shouted insults and abuse and threats, how their home was filthy and the kittens were starving.
“Please get rid of her, Papa Gatto!” the cats begged.
His fur standing on end, Papa Gatto stalked into the kitchen where he found Peppina lounging in a chair, filing her nails. She barely spared him a glance.
“Get up,” Papa Gatto snarled, “and follow me to the cellar.”
Ecstatic, Peppina leapt to her feet and hurried after the huge cat. The cellar! Lizina had told the about how the big cat had brought her down to the cellar and gave her those wonderful gifts. Now Peppina would get them too!
Leading Peppina up to the earthenware jars, Papa Gatto growled deep in his throat, swishing his tail and laying his ears back. “In which jar should I dip yo—?”
Peppina immediately pointed to the jar of gold. “That one.”
Outraged, Papa Gatto bared all his teeth. “You don’t deserve it!” he roared. Latching his claws into Peppina’s backside, he lifted her up and dunked her repeatedly into the jar of oil. When Peppina was well soaked and sputtering, Papa Gatto threw her into the ash heap, batting her around until she was thoroughly filthy from head to toe. He then chased her out of the villa, shouting, “Begone from my sight! And when you hear a donkey bray, be sure to look in its direction!”
Beside herself with fury, Peppina staggered home, screeching curses at the cats the entire way. Just as she came into sight of her mother’s house, Peppina heard their donkey braying out in the field. Remembering what the huge tomcat had told her, Peppina turned to face the donkey and—poof!—instead of a golden star upon her brow, a donkey’s tail sprouted from the middle of her forehead!
Peppina ran the rest of the way home in hysterics, and it took Lizina two hours with two cakes of soap and extremely hot water to scrub her sister clean. When they couldn’t pull the donkey tail off of Peppina’s head, their mother went insane with rage. Picking up the old broomstick, the old woman beat Lizina within an inch of her life, then picked up the poor girl and threw her down an old well.
The next morning, Prince Cristoforo arrived to take Lizina away to be wed. He barely approached the door when it flew open, and Lizina’s mother pushed a girl, well wrapped in white veils, out to the prince.
“Here is your beautiful bride, Lizina!” the old woman said breathlessly. “Yes, this is Lizina, the girl you want to marry, this is her, this is Lizina.”
Eager to see his bride’s face, Prince Cristoforo reached for the edge of the veil. The old mother squawked and rushed out, swatting the prince’s hands away. “No! What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know it’s bad luck to see the bride before you’re married?”
Not knowing how to answer that, Prince Cristoforo agreed to wait, then helped the bride and her mother into his carriage, and away they went to be married.
Regrettably for the “bride,” the carriage’s path to the cathedral brought them straight past the colony of cats. Having heard the news that Lizina would marry the prince, every single cat gathered outside on the walls, in the yard, in the trees and on the roof, to see her pass and cheer for her. One whiff of the air told the cats everything, and all together they all burst out,
“Mew, mew, mew!
Prince, look back behind you!
In the well is fair Lizina,
And you’ve got nothing but Peppina!”
Startled, the prince rounded on the cringing bride, and before the mother could do anything about it, Prince Cristoforo ripped the veil off the girl—and screeched at the sight of a donkey tail flapping around Peppina’s face.
Enraged at the deception and fearful for Lizina’s safety, Prince Cristoforo ordered the carriage to be turned around. Reaching the hovel, Prince Cristoforo shoved Peppina and her mother out of the carriage and drew his sword, threatening them with horrible fates if they didn’t bring Lizina out that instant. Lizina’s mother was so terrified of the prince’s anger that she ran to the well and pulled Lizina out.
With Lizina freed and safe, the prince took her home to his father’s palace. The next morning they were wed, and every member of the colony of cats was in attendance.
Myth Monday: Why the Cheetah is So Fast (African Bushman Mythology)
By Kara Newcastle
Happy International Cat Day!!
This happened a long time ago. Almost at the beginning of time, but not quite. At the beginning of time, the Creator had made the land and the sky and the water and all the animals that live in those places, so it was a little bit after all that when this happened. It’s when the Creator was figuring out what each animal is best at.
One morning, the Creator was looking at all the animals, and he began to wonder which animal was the fastest of them all; should it be Tsessebe the Antelope, or Cheetah the Big Cat? Both could run very, very fast … but which one was the fastest?
After pondering this for a while, the Creator decided that there was only one way to be absolutely sure: Cheetah and Tsessebe would run a race. They would start at the base of the great baobab tree and run across a huge plain, with the finish line being the big hill far on the other side. The Creator presented this to Tesessebe and Cheetah, and both animals quickly agreed, for they both enjoyed a challenge.
The race was set for the next morning, but as the day wore on, Cheetah began to doubt himself; he knew he was fast, but the plain the Creator had chosen was so big, and riddled with thorn bushes. As he walked through the savannah with his friend, Wild Dog, Cheetah looked down at his own paws.
“I don’t know, Wild Dog,” Cheetah sighed. “My paws aren’t tough enough to run that far. Tsessebe has those sharp hooves that can dig into the dirt. I don’t think I can compete.”
Wild Dog yipped. “No worries, bud. I have a pair of paws I can lend you, if you want. The pads are tough and the claws stick out all the time, so it’ll give you better traction on the dirt.”
Cheetah’s round ears perked up. “Really? You’d lend me your paws, Wild Dog?”
“Heck yeah! Come on over to my house and we’ll set you up.”
“But … would I be cheating if I did that?”
“Cheating? Pfft. It’s more like evening the playing field. Come on over.”
Cheetah went over to Wild Dog’s hut, and, just as promised, Wild Dog lent him a set of tough padded, bare-clawed paws. After trying them on and testing them out, Cheetah thanked Wild Dog and happily trotted off back home to rest before the big race.
At sunup the next morning, both Cheetah and Tsessebe arrived promptly at the baobab tree where the Creator waited. The Creator welcomed the two competitors with a grin, and reminded them of the rules: they were each to run their fastest across the field, starting from the baobab tree and ending at the big hill. Whoever reached the hill first would be deemed the fastest of all animals.
“Remember,” the Creator said as Tsessebe and Cheetah took their places, “no cheating. I want an honest race. I expect the best out of each of you.”
“The best?” Arching an eyebrow, Tsessebe swiveled his head round to glare at Cheetah’s new paws. “What about Cheetah? Those don’t look like his normal feet. Those look like Wild Dog’s feet. Isn’t that cheating?”
Cheetah winced at the Creator’s questioning gaze. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just wanted the best chance. Tsessebe has those sharp hooves and can run over anything. My old paws were too soft.”
“Hmmm …” The Creator tapped his chin as he considered Cheetah’s reasons. Glancing back at the raceway ahead of them, the Creator paused, then nodded. “Cheetah has a fair point, Tsessebe—if he were to catch a thorn in one of his real paws, he could be badly hurt and it would ruin the race. You have hard hooves that won’t feel a thing. Since I want to see your best efforts, I’ll allow it, but he’ll have to return the paws to Wild Dog afterward.”
Smiling, Tsessebe proudly shook his antlers. “No worries, sir.”
Working his new paws into the dirt, Cheetah nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“Great.” Rubbing his palms together excitedly, the Creator took his place before the two animals. He held out his arms above his head. “Ready …?”
Drawing in a breath, Cheetah set his stance. Tsessebe snorted and pawed the earth.
The Creator snapped both his arms down. “Go!”
Tsessebe shot ahead, flying like lightning over the tall grasses. Cheetah was a heartbeat behind the antelope, his new claws digging into the earth and propelling him forward. Tsessebe was already far ahead, but Cheetah paced himself, focused on his breathing, letting himself build up speed.
Within seconds they were halfway across the plain and Cheetah was catching up to Tsessebe’s heels. The other animals who had gathered to watch cheered as Cheetah and Tsessebe reached the first of the thorn bushes, shouting warnings and encouragement.
Snorting, Tsessebe narrowly dodged the thorns, his flanks slicing to ribbons on the sharp spines. Seeing the bushes, Cheetah ducked and wove around them, his tough paw pads barely noticing the smaller, fallen thorns, but his caution cost him speed. He began to fall back more and more as the bushes grew more densely together. His heart began to fall. He was going to lose!
Seeing the hill in the distance, Tsessebe put on the speed, his long legs thundering through the brush. Panting, he swung his head around, looking for the Cheetah, finding the lithe cat fading into the dust behind him. Thrilled, Tsessebe plunged forward—
Pain flew up his leg as Tsessebe’s dainty cloven hoof came down on top of a rock hidden in the thorns and grasses. Skidding out, Tsessebe’s leg twisted gruesomely beneath him and he slammed into the earth, rolling head over tail, crying out in agony.
“Oh!” Horrified, Cheetah jammed his new paws into the dirt, sliding a distance over the grass past the fallen, wailing Tsessebe. Whipping around, Cheetah ran as fast as he could back to his rival. “Tsessebe! What happened? Are you hurt?”
Urging the antelope to lay still, Cheetah sat beside him and comforted him until the Creator, having seen the crash, rushed to their sides. Cheetah explained what he had witnessed as the Creator examined Tsessebe’s broken leg.
As he used his powers to heal Tsessebe, the Creator looked at Cheetah curiously. “Cheetah, you could have kept running and won the race. Why did you stop?”
“Why? But, how could I keep going?” Cheetah glanced down at Tsessebe as the antelope flexed his repaired leg. “Tsessebe was hurt. I wanted to make sure he was all right.”
“You were concerned for him?”
“And you never thought about finishing the race?”
“That wouldn’t have been fair if I did.”
Delighted, the Creator laughed and reached over, ruffling the fluff of Cheetah’s neck. “Cheetah, you are very considerate and honorable. Because of that, I’m going to award you the title of Fastest of All Animals—and I’ll let you keep Wild Dog’s feet so you always stay the fastest.”
Myth Monday: Why is a Black Cat Crossing Your Path Bad Luck? (Superstitions)
By Kara Newcastle
“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”
Imagine you’re taking a nice leisurely stroll on a bright sunny day. You’re in a great mood. Everything is right in the world, you have no worries, no problems …
And then without warning, a black cat darts across the sidewalk in front of you. It doesn’t even spare you a glance as it trots by and vanishes under a shrub, but now you find yourself frozen in place. Your jaw drops and a chill riddles its way down your spine as you struggle to wrap your mind around what just happened.
A black cat crossed your path—now you’ve been cursed with bad luck!
Okay … but why? It’s just a black kitty cat that happened to walk past you. If it means bad luck, it should only be for whatever rodent it chances upon, not you.
So why are you so freaked out?
Cats in general and black cats in particular have a hand a long and complicated relationship with humans. In Ancient Egypt, cats were sacred, believed to be protectors of the home and the people within. The sun god Ra turned into a cat every night to fight the apocalypse snake Apophis, and the goddess of happiness was the extremely popular, cat-headed woman Bastet (see my blog on her here!) The Egyptians loved their cats so much that if someone killed a cat they would be condemned to death, and it was said that the Egyptians were conquered by the Persian king Cambyses II after he ordered his soldiers to paint cats on their shields and carry live cats into battle with them. The Egyptians were so afraid of harming the cats that they surrendered.
Lately, I’ve found many online blogs and articles that claim that black cats were especially holy in Ancient Egypt because Bastet herself was a black cat. I find that claim iffy mythologically speaking, since I’ve never found any myth mentioning that specifically. However, there are many statues of Bastet in cat-form that were carved out of black basalt, so that might be where that connection comes from.
The worship of Bastet had spread into Rome, and was a popular religion for hundreds of years, eventually going head-to-head with early Christian sects. At first the Christians were fairly unconcerned with Bastet, but as their own popularity grew and members became fanatical, many primitive church leaders began to claim that worshiping deities like Bastet was evil, that she was a servant of Satan and had to be destroyed. That attitude extended to the hundreds of cats that lived pampered lives in the temples, and when the cult of Bastet died (and it died hard), it became open season on cats. Black cats were probably especially targeted since so many of Bastet’s statues were of a black cat.
Gradually memory of Bastet died out and people became mostly disinterested in cats, regarding them as at best a farm animal and at worst little better than the rats they hunted. It was not uncommon to see dozens milling around a farmstead in the country, picking off the abundance of rodents that would chew their way through a family’s food stores. Since most men worked in the field and most women stayed to care for the home, cats became more accustomed to women.
Unfortunately, this spelled disaster for both women and cats; from the mid-1400s until the late 18th century, a combination of civil unrest, economic failure, epidemic, famine and religious fanaticism gave birth to the horrifying witch hunts. Fearful and uneducated people looked for scapegoats to pin their troubles on, and all too frequently blame fell on women. The women were targeted for any number of reasons—being too opinionated, outliving too many husbands, living long past the age when most people would have died, having knowledge of medicinal herbs, living alone, being disfigured—and the accusations of witchcraft spread to their cats.
According to the witch hunters, a witch was a person who sold their soul to the Devil. In return, the fiend granted his new servants magical powers, and a monstrous assistant known as a familiar. A familiar was a demon, but it had the power to transform itself to look like an ordinary animal and then go out to help the witch commit crimes against her neighbors. With all the cats on a woman’s farm, it was easy to assume that they could be demons in disguise. Witches were also thought to be able to transform themselves into animals, and more often than not that animal was a black cat.
It wasn’t long before the hunters’ half-assed, biased research found tales of black Bastet. Additionally, the Greek goddess Artemis her Roman counterpart Diana, both associated with witchcraft, could turn themselves into black cats (this is probably where the idea that human witches could turn themselves into cats came from.) The Greek goddess of magic Hecate was said to keep black cats, and the Viking goddess Freya was not only a goddess of love, but also of war and magic, and rode in a chariot pulled by cats (it’s interesting to note that the Vikings loved their fluffy skogskatt, but a few hundred years later their descendants were murdering them in droves.) Furthermore, both the Scots and the Irish had legends of the malicious fairy cat Cat Sith (read the blog here and its most famous story here!) that was almost entirely black. The Scots also believed that one could summon a demon in the form of a huge black cat.
This did not help cats at all.
Which brings us back to the topic at hand: why is it bad luck for a black cat to cross your path? Because the black cat might be a witch or a witch’s familiar, of course. Fear of black cats and witches became so bad that many people would have panic attacks at the mere sight of a black cat, thinking that it had come to do them harm. That cat crossed your path, cutting you off short … it might have just cut off the rest of your life right there.
It’s very symbolic and very full of crap.
By the time the plagues ended, cats were welcomed back into cities and town, albeit somewhat cautiously—though science was fast replacing superstition, many people had grown up with fears of witches and their feline sidekicks, and the superstitions remained. Not only did they remain, but they also traveled; the Puritans brought their distrust of black cats to the New World, and in the Salem witch trials, the afflicted claimed that they could see spectral cats, and the accused trying to escape death made up stories of devilish felines.
Now, some of you might be wondering that if a black cat crosses your path and it means bad luck, would a white cat crossing your path mean good luck? Yes—depending on where you live. For reasons I’ve yet to find out, in America it’s believed by some that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck and a white cat crossing your path is good. In England the opposite is true: the white cat is bad and the black cat is good. An Irish belief states that it’s bad luck for a black cat for a black cat to cross your path in the moonlight—this means you will die in an epidemic (Ireland? Any recent reports on this?) And the Germans like to complicate it further by stating if a black cat crosses your path from left to right it’s good luck, but right to left is bad luck.
And other cultures say that if the cat is walking to you, then it’s bringing you good luck. If it walks away from you, then it’s taking the good with it.
Naturally, this is all a load of dirty litter. Me myself, I’m happy to see a black cat cross my path. About four years ago, I was on vacation on Cape Cod, walking along a sidewalk in Hyannis when a black cat suddenly sauntered across my path. I stopped and screamed, “KITTY!!!!” in delight. The cat took one look at me and ran off in terror.
It made me wonder if cats have a similar superstition about us?
Myth Monday: The Cat Who Loved a Man (Aesop’s Fable)
By Kara Newcastle
Centuries ago on the island of Cyprus lived a young man named Stamitos. He was extremely handsome and every girl and woman he passed would pause and gaze at him longingly, but not one of them caught his interest. Stamitos, in addition to being so handsome, was also incredibly picky, and he found something wrong with every woman he met. He roamed the length and width of the island, but he could not find a woman that met his exacting standards.
Indeed, the only female Stamitos had any affection for was his pretty little cat, Euphrasia. She was perfect to him in every way, from the way she placed each of her little round paws on the ground, to the way she sat on the windowsill. Stamitos loved playing with Euphrasia, cradling her in his arms, bringing home pretty little things to entertain her with. Not once did she scratch him, treated him indifferently, or watched him judging eyes. More than once Stamitos would sigh wistfully, run his hand along her arching back and say, “You are so beautiful and so perfect. You understand me so well, and you never hide your feelings from me. If you were a human woman, I would marry you.”
Little did Stamitos know but Euphrasia understood what he said, and for a moment, her heart soared, because she loved him as well. When Stamitos would say aloud that he would marry her if he could, Euphrasia wanted nothing more than to be human.
Now, it so happens that the island of Cyprus was sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and having Stamitos living there particularly frustrated her; no matter what she did, what beautiful, graceful, talented girl she moved into his way, Aphrodite could not cause Stamitos to fall in love. Hearing Stamitos say that he would marry his cat if he could, Aphrodite was at first outraged … but at the same time, she couldn’t help but pity Euphrasia the cat, who was so in love with the man that she prayed to become human for him.
Considering it briefly, Aphrodite decided that she would like to see what would happen, and answered the youth and his cat’s prayers.
Waiting for the moment Stamitos sighed those words again, Aphrodite extended her delicate hand and granted the wish. Before Stamitos’s astonished eyes, the sleek form of Euphrasia the cat vanished before him, and in her place stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. It took a moment for each to come to their senses, but when they realized what had happened, Euphrasia joyously threw herself into Stamitos’s open arms. Within days they were married.
Aphrodite watched all of this with a mixture of amusement and satisfaction at having conquered the arrogant youth, but in time she began to wonder exactly how much had Euphrasia changed. Her body was different now, but what of her mind?
Desperate to know the truth, the goddess waited until the couple had climbed into bed together one night. As Euphrasia and Stamitos wrapped their arms around one another, Aphrodite chose that moment to release a mouse into their room.
Hearing the scurrying sounds across the wood flood, Euphrasia’s ears perked up. Rolling over in the bed, she saw the mouse rushing across the floor, and without a second thought, she lunged out of bed, pouncing upon the mouse with her hands and feet. Ducking her head down, Euphrasia bit the mouse through the neck, killing it.
Disgusted by what she had just witnessed, Aphrodite turned the woman back into a cat, knowing now that no matter how much a creature can change its outward appearance, its true nature would always shine through.
The sun had barely disappeared over the horizon by the time Keir MacRae got home. The gravedigger burst through the door so suddenly that his two children, his daughter Gunna and son Earvin nearly leaped out of their skins with fright. Hearing the children screech in alarm, Bradana, their mother and Keir MacRae’s long suffering wife, came racing out of the pantry to see what the fuss was about. Discovering it was only her husband, Bradana scowled. “Well, well … look what the cat dragged in.”
“For God’s sake, don’t say that,” Keir hissed as he bolted the door. Swallowing hard, he ran a hand through his oddly mussed hair and minced over to the front window, peering out into the settling dark. “Ye would not believe the night I’ve had.”
“Oh, do tell,” Bradana sniffed, arching an eyebrow as she watched her husband look this way and that. “It must be a good story if it’s kept us all waiting an hour for ye to get home so the little ones can eat supper.”
“Oh, a good story it is, all right.” Keir grabbed each of the window curtains in either hand and yanked them shut. “The house is all locked up, aye?”
“What’s this all about?” Bradana demanded.
“Just tell me the house is locked up!”
“Aye, ‘tis!” Bradana felt her ire draining away as Keir finally turned to face his family. His face was as white as the driven snow, and his eyes darted wildly about. “Mr. MacRae, what’s gotten into ye?”
“I …” His shoulders sagging, Keir ran a hand over his face, his wide, rough palm hovering briefly over his eyes for a moment. He drew in a deep breath, but it shuddered the whole way in and out. “Earvin, lad, fetch yer da an ale, aye?”
Bradana frowned as Keir shuffled towards his chair before their fireplace. “I don’t know if ale’s the right thing for ye at the present.”
“Well it can’t hurt me none.” Waving for his bewildered son to hurry on, Keir came around his chair—and stopped dead.
Mystified, Bradana hurried towards her petrified husband, following his huge eyes down to the seat cushion of his favorite chair. Seeing the black lump, Bradana slowly raised her eyes to Keir. Keir continued to stare down at the shape, his mouth slack, a gleam of sweat forming along his brow.
He looked terrified.
Hesitating, Bradana slowly reached out and gently pressed the tips of her fingers against Keir’s forearm. “Keir,” she whispered, “’tis only the cat.”
For a moment, Keir didn’t stir a muscle, didn’t respond to her touch or her voice. He stared down at the big, sleeping black cat, looking for all the world as though he were staring down the mouth of hell itself. The cat itself was unperturbed, half twisted onto its back, its neat paws tucked up in front of the white blaze on its chest.
Confused by her father’s rigid state, little Gunna edged around him, closer to the chair. “Would ye like me to move him, Da?”
Keir jerked violently at the question, his body whipping from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, as though he were fighting free of a nightmare. “No!” he shouted, the ferocity of his voice causing Gunna to gasp and Bradana to shoot a hand out, catching her daughter by the shoulder and wrenching her away from her father, pushing her behind her skirts.
“Keir, what has gotten into ye?” Bradana cried, feeling Gunna quaking even through her petticoats. “Ye’re frightening the children!”
“I—?” Blinking, Keir snapped his head up. He looked at Bradana, bewildered. His eyes fell to Gunna, who scurried further behind her mother, then up to the pantry door where Earvin stood, a stein of ale clasped in both hands. His father’s roar had startled the boy so bad that he had jumped and sloshed the ale onto his shirtsleeves.
Seeing the shock on the faces of his wife and children, Keir grimaced, looked down at the cat—who, as usual, hadn’t batted so much as a whisker in his direction—and slowly backed away. “No … no dear, leave him be. I’ll just sit myself here at the table. Earvin, the ale if ye would?”
Earvin looked as though he’d rather chew his own hand off than go near his suddenly lunatic father, but the boy summoned up a bit of courage and tiptoed forward, hastily shoving the tankard across the rough table as Keir slumped into his usual chair at the head. He sat there looking almost boneless, his neck too weak to support his head.
Bradana knotted her hands into her apron. “Well, Mr. MacRae …? Will ye tell us what happened to ye tonight?”
Keir shook his head. “Ye’ll nay believe me.”
“I’ll believe anything at this point,” Bradana snapped, motioning for bewildered Earvin to back away. “I’ll believe anything if it explains why ye’ve gone out of yer senses!”
Keir frowned. He lifted his head, gazed into the worried and furious face of his wife, then sighed. “Aye. All right, so I had just finished digging a grave—for Mr. Fordyce, ye recall—and I right difficult time I had of it too. Moving all that dirt, the stones, cutting through the roots, I wore myself out so much that when I sat down to rest inside, I dozed off.”
Bradana frowned, resisting the urge to say she wasn’t surprised.
Not noticing her sour look, Keir went on. “I fell asleep. I woke up just as the sun was almost gone. A cat’s meow woke me.”
From the chair by the fire, the MacRaes’ big black cat opened one sage green eye, stretched and said, “Meow.” It was a soft, little sound, but it was enough to make Keir MacRae jolt as though he had been struck by lightning.
Keir swallowed hard. “Aye … l-like that.”
“Ignore the wee thing,” Bradana said, waving her hand to draw Keir’s terrified face back to hers. “Ye said a cat’s meow woke ye?”
“Uh … a-aye.” Shaking his head, Keir noticed the stein of ale on the table and grabbed it, taking a deep gulp before continuing. “So, aye, I heard a meow. It struck me as odd, so I stood up and looked over the edge of the grave, and what d’ye think I saw?”
“I haven’t a clue.”
“I’ll tell ye what I saw—nine cats! Nine black cats, all with white marks on their chests, much like …” Keir faltered. His eyes flicked back to their cat, who now was fully awake, rolled over onto its paws, watching Keir through half-lidded eyes.
Keir licked his lips. “Like our cat there,” he whispered.
“All right, ye saw nine black cats like ours,” Bradana said, barely sparing their own feline a glance as she spoke. “What of it? Ye’ve seen cats in the graveyard before.”
“Not like these!” Pausing to take another fortifying swallow, Keir ran the back of his hand over his upper lip. “Nay, these cats—can ye believe it?—these cats were walking on their hind legs, like people! One big one was in the lead, and eight of them, they were carrying a coffin!”
Silence settled over the household as Keir stopped for breath. Their big black cat’s eyes widen as young Earvin asked haltingly, “A coffin?”
“Aye!” Keir exploded, making Bradana and their poor children leap with fright. “A coffin! And not just any coffin—it had a black velvet pall on it. And on top of the pall was a golden crown! A golden crown, did ye hear me? A golden crown, and every third step these cats took, they’d say ‘meow’—”
The MacRaes’ cat sprang up onto its feet. “Meow!” it cried.
His fear forgotten, Keir jabbed a finger at their cat. “Like that exactly! That’s what they did! They said meow, and their eyes were glowing green, I swear, like lanterns … Look at the cat, it’s like he knows what I’m talking about. Look at the way he listens to me!”
“Never mind that!” Bradana spat. “What happened next?”
“I’ll tell ye what happened next,” Keir exclaimed. He pointed to himself. “The big one, the one in front, he saw me, and he walked over to me and said—I swear on everything that’s holy, this is what he said—‘Tell Tom Tildrum—‘”
“I’m getting at it! The big cat said, ‘Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead.’ That’s what he said! He spoke to me like a man and told me to tell this Tom Tildrum blighter that Tim Toldrum is dead. I don’t know any Tom Tildrum, and I have no way of finding out, and I was right afraid to tell them all that, so I just nodded and lit out of there. Came straight here.” Keir flung his arms up in the air. “That’s the night I had! What d’ye all say to that?”
“I’ll tell you what I have to say!”
Her head whipping around at the voice from the chair, Bradana’s eyes flew open and she screamed in horror, grabbing her two shrieking children to her. “God in heaven—look at the cat!”
Keir was looking. They all were—they were all staring in disbelieving terror as their big black cat with the white blaze on his chest rose up on his back legs, his tail excitedly lashing through the air. Grinning in delight, the cat threw his front paws up in the air.
“Tim Toldrum is dead?” the cat cried. “By Jove, that means I’m King o’ Cats now!”
Meowing in glee, the MacRaes cat—Tom Tildrum, the new king of the fairy cats, the cat sith—sprang off Keir’s favorite chair and leapt headlong into the fireplace, scrambling up the flue and disappearing from sight forever. To be sure the creature was gone, Bradana MacRae swatted around the inside of the chimney with her broom, while her beleaguered children tried to slap Keir Macrae awake, as he had fainted away at the sight.
Myth Monday: Cat Sith, the Fairy Cat (Scottish Legend) By Kara Newcastle
I’m sure a great many of you are somewhat familiar with fairies. They’re small (not always), they’re beautiful (usually, but looks can be deceiving), they have gossamer wings (occasionally), and they have their fairy pets.
Aha! I see the surprise on your faces. “Pets?” you’re asking. “Fairies have pets?” Yes, they do. They have fairy horses, fairy cows, fairy dogs … and fairy cats, called the Cat Sith (pronounced cat shee, and no, not the character from Final Fantasy VII.) Fairy animals abound in various mythologies of Great Britain and Europe, but the Cat Sith is best known in Scotland, as you’ll soon see why.
The Cat Sith was said to be huge, the size of a large hunting dog—or even bigger. It was solid black, save for a white patch on its chest, and had intense yellow eyes that held intelligence that seemed to go beyond the range of any ordinary cat, big or small. It was frequently seen with its back arched and fur bristling along its spine, its ears laid back and huge fangs bared. It was not a friendly kitty.
Unlike some fairy folk, the Cat Sith was always ferocious, and while it didn’t actively seek out humans to harass, it was known to go after humans who had hurt other cats. A Cat Sith will never give an offender a warning—it will launch immediately into a vicious attack as soon as it is provoked because it is always ready for a fight. This made it the perfect heraldic animal for many Scottish Highland clans, such as the MacBains and the Mackintoshes. Please, no Simpsons or Brave jokes here.
At Samhain (the original name for the festival we now call Halloween), the Cat Siths were known to roam the land at night (this is why black cats are associated with Halloween!) If a family wanted to make sure that they were on the Cat Sith’s good side, they would leave a bowl of milk out in front of their door on Samhain. Like all cats, fairy and otherwise, Cat Sith loves milk and will bless the family that left them the treat. If a family neglected to leave milk out, the Cat Sith would curse them so that all their cows would stop giving milk.
However, in the Scottish Highlands, Cat Sith was known particularly for stealing the souls of the recently dead and carrying them away to the fairylands. All the Cat Sith had to do was spring over the corpse and snatch the soul straight out of the air as it hovered there, waiting to move on to the Otherworld. To prevent their loved ones’ spirits from being forced to eternally serve the fairies, Highlanders would hold a wake called the Feill Fadalach, or Late Wake, to make sure the Cat Sith didn’t jump over the dead body. Unlike other wakes where sad people gathered to mourn, the Feill Fadalach was held all day and night until the body was buried, and it was essentially a party. The Highlanders would try to divert the lurking Cat Sith with riddle contests, music, and dancing, wrestling, not lighting any fires because the Cat Sith (like all cats) loved warmth, and—get this—spreading catnip throughout the house.
Apparently, even fairy cats are not immune to the ‘nip.
As Christianity took hold in Britain and the isles, the Cat Sith’s identity began to change, especially when the savage witch hunts began. Instead of being a fairy cat, Cat Sith was now believed to be the form a witch could shapeshift into to either cause chaos in the community or escape pursuers. It was believed that a witch could transform into a black cat eight times, but if she turned into a cat for a ninth time, then she would be stuck in that form forever. This is partly where the myth that a cat has nine lives comes from (nine was considered the perfect number by many pagan/pre-Christian cultures, because, once broken down, it was three equal groups of three, and three was associated with Triad goddesses—I could go into it more, but that would make this blog way longer) and why cats—especially black ones—are linked with witches.
Sightings of actual Cat Siths were reported in Scotland for years, but most people dismissed the reports out of hand—no way could there be that big of a black cat with a white chest patch roaming around the highlands and moors. There had never been any proof of anything larger than the native wildcat (sometimes called the Highland Tiger, with good reason) living in Scotland, and even then those cats looked like hefty striped tabby cats. Anything that was found had to be a hoax. The Cat Sith existed only in legends …
And then one was captured.
In 1985, Ronnie Douglas, a gamekeeper in Kellas, Moray, was stunned to find a large, black cat with a white chest patch in one of his snares. About a year later, a live one was caught by the Tomorrows World team. Soon, a total of seven additional specimens were collected by alien big cat (in this case, “alien” as in “not supposed to be from around here,” not as in, “extraterrestrials made a pit stop here so their pets could go to the bathroom”) researcher Di Francis, who gave them all to the National Museum of Scotland. There, studies revealed that some of the “Cat Siths” were actually a cross between a domestic cat and a Scottish wildcat. They were then named the Kellas cat by cryptozoologist Karl Shuker after the village where the first one had been found.
While the Kellas cat might not be supernatural, they are BIG. The snared Kellas cat measured fifteen inches tall at the shoulder and was forty-three freaking inches long! That cat was roughly the height of, and longer than, a typical cocker spaniel. Can you imagine a cat that big getting the zoomies in the middle of the night? Yeah, and whatever it howled for, you would give it without a second thought … and if you’re thinking about getting one as a pet, lemme put a stopper in that idea right now: just like its mythical counterpart, the Kellas cat is fierce, more than ready to attack, and can never be tamed. And I don’t think you want a four-foot-long wild cat getting pissed at you for any reason. Or no reason at all.
Now that it was proven that these cats were real, many researchers have gone back and reexamined depictions of the Cat Sith in legend and pagan art. One scholar, Charles Thomas, theorizes that the cat depicted standing triumphantly on a salmon in the 1,000-year-old Golpsie stone in Dunrobin Castle Museum actually depicts one of these hybrid cats. Elsewhere in England, where sightings of unusually large black cats sometimes pop up, it has been suggested that the Kellas cat might account for a few of the sightings.
With less than 400 Scottish wildcats remaining in the wild, conservation efforts are being made to limit crossbreeding with domestic cats to preserve the species. You might see a few Kellas cats in zoos now, but if the conservation is successful, the Kellas cats, like the Cat Sith, made fade away into legend once more.
Okay, the internet’s cooperating enough again that I can star posting blogs for one of my favorite themed blog months–and August is cat month!!
Many years ago in a great city in the Ukraine, cats, dogs and mice were all great friends. However, the dogs all ran wild through the city, barking at all hours of the day and night, helping themselves to whatever they could reach on the dinner table, spooking the horses, tracking their muddy paws everywhere, chewing on shoes, and leaving unpleasant messes right where everyone would walk. It wasn’t long before the human citizens of the city became frustrated with the frolicking dogs and decided that the canines must be brought under control. Several men were elected to become dog catchers, and every day they would set out and capture whatever dog they found, locking them away in a large pen with no bones to chew on.
This of course was very upsetting to the dogs; they used to run free all the time, and the thought of being penned and leashed was not an attractive one. After discussing this amongst themselves, the dogs sent a delegate of their own to approach the king and plead their case. This ambassador requested an audience with the king and, because the king adored dogs, he was more than happy to let the creature approach and speak.
“Dearest, wisest king,” said the dog ambassador, who, like most dogs, was exceptionally good at showing devotion to people. “I come to you humbly, seeking to make peace with you and your human subjects. We dogs used to roam freely and cause no one harm, but now a dog catcher has been established to chase us down and lock us away like criminals. This causes us great grief, as we have tried to serve the humans by guarding them, barking when a stranger or wolf approaches, keeping our owners warm at night by sleeping in their beds, and showing delight when they return. I ask you, dear king, is this any way to repay our love?”
The king nodded solemnly. “I hear your plight, and I agree with you. Dogs have done much to serve humans, and to round them up like vermin is indeed cruel. I will issue a license to you and your kind, declaring you free from arrest. Show this order to the dog catcher, and he will not take you away. But remember to keep the document safe—I can issue only one, and you must be able to show it when needed.”
The king then immediately ordered his scribes to create the document, which was rolled up, sealed and given to the dog ambassador. His tail wagging wildly, the dog rushed back to show all of his canine compatriots as they waited in the city square. There was such gleeful barking that it soon drew the attention of the city’s cats, bringing them streaming down from the rooftops to join in with the celebration.
“Congratulations, dogs,” said one cat, a mighty tom with a fluffy gray and white coat. “This is a wonderful victory for you.”
“It is indeed,” said the ambassador dog. “As long as we have this decree, the dog catcher cannot take us.”
“Where will you keep it?”
The dog’s wagging tail faltered a beat. “Keep it …?”
“Yes.” The cat stared at the dog, arching an eyebrow as the dog stared blankly back.
The cat frowned. “You need a place to keep the license safe.”
The dog blinked. “I was just going to carry it around.”
Inwardly, the fluffy cat winced; while dogs were wonderful at adulation, they typically weren’t the smartest of creatures. “Well, all right, I suppose you could do that. But what if it gets torn up or wet? It won’t do any of you any good of it’s ruined.”
“Oh, I didn’t think about that.” The dog looked down at the rolled parchment by his paws. “I don’t know where I could put it.”
The cat’s green eyes lit up. “Oh, I think I have just the place. I’ll keep it in the rafters of my home, where people can’t get at it. It’s dry, so it won’t get moldy. Whenever you need it, us cats can go and get it for you.”
All the city cats nodded in agreement and all the dogs barked their gratitude. The dog ambassador thought this was a wonderful idea, and he passed the rolled document to the cat. The cat clamped his sharp teeth down on the seal and swiftly carried it back to his house, tucking it away high in the rafters where it would be safe, in a notch just under the thatched roof.
With the decree safe, the dogs resumed their daily romps through the city. The humans were irritated, but hesitated to act, since a rumor had spread that the king had issued a decree to the dogs that they could not be rounded up and locked away. After a year of putting up with the dogs’ chaos, the humans finally lost their patience and summoned the dogcatchers.
The men went to work quickly, netting and roping all the dogs they found lounging in the sunshine or prancing down the street. The dogs yelped and whined, crying, “Stop! You can’t take us—we have the king’s permission to run free!”
“Oh really?” sneered one dogcatcher as he dragged the poor mongrels back to the pens. “Permission from the king, eh? Can you prove it?”
“Of course we can!” the dogs snarled. “Our friends the cats have the parchment. They’ll get it, and then you’ll see.”
“Fine. Bring me this mythical parchment. If it’s true, we’ll never bother you again.”
As luck would have it, the same tom who had secreted the document away witnessed the dogcatchers at work, and he rushed back to his house to find the document. Easily springing up to the rafters, the cat made his way to the corner of the roof where he had hidden the license.
As the cat approached the small notch in the wall, he jumped back in surprise as a portly brown mouse came racing out of the hole, disappearing up into the roof. His heart sinking, the cat rushed to the notch and stuck his paw inside, hooking his claw onto the parchment’s ribbon. Pulling it out, the cat gasped in horror when he saw the tattered shreds of the royal document … the mice had torn it completely apart.
Devastated, the cat collected what he could salvage and rushed back to the dogcatchers’ pens. As the smirking dogcatchers waited, and the whining dogs pressed their noses to the fence, the cat tried to piece the decree back together, but it was no use—the mice had destroyed too much of it.
The dogs were outraged. “How could you let this happen?” they howled from their pens. “You said you would keep it safe for us! You didn’t keep your word!”
No matter how much the cats tried to plead their innocence, the dogs didn’t believe them, calling them liars and traitors. From that day, cats and dogs were no longer friends. The resentful dogs chased the cats whenever they could, and the bitter cats in turn chased the mice, seeking revenge for their ruined friendship.
Imagine this; you’re taking a twilight stroll through the countryside of North Carolina, wandering down an old road through the sparse woodlands. The sun is just sliding past the horizon, turning the shadows of trees dark and long. Crickets and peeper frogs are beginning to sing in the tall grasses. Occasionally, you can hear the lowing of cattle not far in the distance as they settle down in their pastures for the night.
Imagine that you decide that it’s getting too dark, so you decide to head back home. As you meander along the road, it gradually occurs to you that you can’t hear anything anymore. All the frogs and crickets have fallen silent. You glance around, thinking that’s weird, but shrug to yourself and assume that maybe you were the one who startled them all into silence. You keep walking.
As you come upon a bend in the road, you hear what sounds like rustling. Alarmed, you look up, and so can see the tall weeds along the side of the road shudder, as though something is passing through it. Your heart picks up speed, but you tell yourself that because the weeds aren’t moving very much, it must be something small. Like a rabbit. Or a fox. Those live around here in the country …
Your mouth goes dry and you freeze in your tracks as the huge, slender head pushes through the grasses, followed by one large paw, then another. A massive, pitch-black feline shape eases out onto the road, its glowing yellow eyes turned in the direction of the farm where you had heard the cows earlier.
A flicker of hope shoots through you. This thing—this giant cat, massive black panther, this creature that should not be here, not in North Carolina, not anywhere in America—hasn’t noticed you. It’s too interested in the cows.
Just as you think that, the unnatural creature turns its head. It stares straight at you, unflinching, for an eternity.
And just when you start to fear that this panther has decided that you would make a much simpler meal that a cow …
That’s when it stands up on its back two legs.
Like a human.
If you live through this encounter, congratulations—you have just met the demon panther of North Carolina and the Appalachia region: the Wampus Cat.
The Wampus Cat is probably the most famous cat-monster in the United States, and its legend—and sightings—stretch back to long before the Europeans ever considered coming to the New World. The Cherokee were most familiar with the hideous creature … because it used to be a member of their tribe.
As with most myths that are variations to the story, but the most common tale begins with a beautiful Cherokee woman who was married to a handsome, accomplished hunter. The woman was devoted to her husband, and while he seemed to love her as well, he frequently left her in their home so he could go on long hunts by himself. In those days, some of the women would accompany men on the hunts to help prepare and carry home the game they caught, but this woman’s husband absolutely insisted, demanded, ordered, that she not accompany him ever.
This didn’t sit right with the woman. In time, she began to wonder, then worry; what if her husband wasn’t really out hunting? What if he was sneaking off to be with another woman? The wife tried to get her husband to tell her, but he adamantly refused. Every time he refused to tell her what he was doing, the more convinced the wife became that he was cheating on her.
Finally, the woman couldn’t stand it anymore. One night after her husband set out, the woman wrapped the pelt of a mountain lion around herself and snuck after him. She followed her husband deep into the woods, moving carefully so he never suspected that she was there. It was growing late in the evening before the husband reached his true destination—a large bonfire in the center of the woodland, with many of the men from their tribe gathered around it.
Puzzled, the woman crept up as close as she could to the fire and listened. She heard the men tell secrets and stories, practicing magic—this knowledge was forbidden to women. Realizing what she had stumbled upon, the woman tried to crawl away, but her hand accidentally came down on a brittle twig on the ground. The snap was as loud as a thunderclap.
In a heartbeat the tribesmen descended on her, grabbing her and her mountain lion pelt up and dragging her into the light of the fire. Before the frightened woman could explain or her shocked husband could intercede, the shamans, outraged that their secret rites had been exposed, placed a curse upon the woman so that she could never speak of what she saw, and to keep other women from trying to spy as well.
Before the woman knew what was happening, the mountain lion pelt she wore adhered to her skin, and she was violently transformed into a half-woman, half-mountain lion beast. Horrified at what had been done to her, the cat-woman flew into a rage and disappeared into the forest, appearing periodically to stalk and kill humans in revenge for what was done to her.
In time white settlers came to the area, and while they were successful in driving out the Cherokee, they had no luck getting rid of the thing they called the Wampus Cat (I’m not 100% sure why they called it that, but I’ll look into it.) There have been dozens if not hundreds of sightings throughout the years of a large black cat killing livestock, attacking humans and generally just lurking in the vicinity. Some people don’t believe that it exists at all. Some believe that it’s just a misidentified animal, others say it’s just a black panther that escaped from a zoo or private collection or otherwise wandered up from Mexico (before you suggest it’s a black mountain lion, let me just point out that mountain lions apparently do not possess a gene for melanism, and there has never been a documented case of a black mountain lion). And still, others still swear that they’ve seen the creature that’s easily twice the size of a cougar and can walk around on two legs, moving just like a human. There have been scads of blurry cellphone videos depicting what appears to be a large black cat from these areas, but so far, they all seem to prefer walking on all fours.
The Wampus Cat is not the only werecat beast in the United States … either that, or it has an incredibly huge range of territory it travels. The best-recorded case of a Wampus Cat or other werecat-type interaction with a human occurred on the night of April 10, 1970, in Cairo, Illinois. Mike Busby, an auto mechanic, was on his way to pick up his wife from work in Olive Branch when his car suddenly began to sputter and die. Figuring he could fix whatever was wrong, Busby pulled off to the side of the road alongside a stretch of woods, got out of the car and popped the hood. Unable to clearly see what the issue was in the darkness, he tweaked what he thought was the problem, then started to close the hood.
That’s when he heard the noise—something big. Running fast.
Coming straight at him.
Busby managed to turn and look just in time to see a huge black cat lunging for him, its jaws wide and clawed paws outstretch. It knocked the terrified man to the ground and began to claw and bite him as he struggled. The monster opened its jaws to snap down on his throat, and Busby shot a hand up, grabbing the thing’s lower jaw and straining to pull it aside. In response, the cat creature struck him in the face, and Busby later said it felt like he was being punched. That, coupled with the fact that Busby reported that the claws were dull, would make one think that this was some lunatic in a cat costume that came out of the woods and attacked Busby, but Busby claims that the thing was making noises like a large cat would, that it was heavy and solid and very real, with wiry, jet black fur.
Hurt, bleeding, terrified, the desperate Busby tried to play dead, and as he went limp and the cat-thing relented its attack. As the creature towered over Busby, the headlights of a passing diesel truck swung over them. The driver, John Hartsworth, was shocked by what he saw and slammed on his brakes but didn’t stop. The light and the noise seemed to scare the beast because it sprang off of Busby, leapt up on two legs and ran back into the woods!
As I understand it, Busby managed to crawl back into his car, started it up with no problems, then continued into Olive Branch, where John Hartsworth was waiting for him. Both men went to the nearest hospital, where both men recounted the attack to skeptical police. The police insisted that Busby had been attacked by a wolf and even later reported that they shot and killed one wandering near where the Mike Busby had been attacked. Busby, who is still alive as of the writing of this blog, doesn’t believe it; he knows he was attacked by a giant black cat that ran on two legs, and it swears to it to this day.