4,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, something very strange happened.
Seemingly out of nowhere, increasing numbers of wild cats began to appear on Egyptian soil.
Archaeological records now indicate that these cats probably originated from Mesopotamia and came to Egypt on ships from the Mediterranean.
These feral felines soon proved themselves to be useful domestic companions. They killed the venomous snakes and scorpions that infested homes and dealt with the rodents that threatened the health of crops.
In this way, cats earned a great deal of respect and admiration in Egyptian society.
This was the beginning of widespread cat domestication as we know it today, but it was also the catalyst for a variety of interesting spiritual associations surrounding our feline friends, from deistic connections to spooky symbolism.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most central spiritual beliefs surrounding America’s second most popular household pet in an attempt to answer the age-old question: ‘Do cats have spirits?’
One of the most beloved Ancient Egyptian Goddesses was the Goddess Bastet, also known as B’sst, Ubaste, or Bast.
Bastet began her legacy as Goddess of the sun and daughter of the great sun god, Ra. However, Bastet eventually also became known as the protector goddess of the home, women, and cats. She is usually represented in cat form, or as a woman with the head of a cat.
Cats were regarded as protectors within Egyptian society because they hunted dangerous and crop-destroying animals such as snakes and mice. Thus, a strong association was formed between felines and the goddess Bastet.
The figure of the cat soon became widely viewed as representative of, and spiritually connected to, Bastet. As such, cats were treated with the utmost respect, with some even considering them to be demi-Gods. A law was even passed that forbade the killing or ill-treatment of cats on penalty of death.
Wealthy cat owners would adorn their feline companions with jewelry and have them mummified and entombed in temples and pyramids when they died. Some owners chose to be buried with their cats so that they could journey together into the afterlife.
In the Ancient Egyptians’ connection of cats to dieties and their involvement of cats in sacred burial practices, we can see the mainstream beginnings of the association of felines with spirituality.
Cats feature also frequently and significantly in a spiritual sense in the mythology of Ancient Greece.
Not only does Greek mythology have its own version of the goddess Bastet, known in Greek as Ailuros, but cats are strongly associated with an important figure in the realm of Greek myth.
Hecate, the Greek Goddess of magic and witchcraft (more on this subject later) has connections to many animals, one of which is the cat.
It is written by the Greek poets Nicander and Ovid that a woman named Galinthias (referred to by Ovid as Galanthis) assisted in the birth of Zeus’ illegitimate child, Hercules.
In doing so, she disobeyed and foiled the plan of Zeus’ jealous wife, Hera, to impede the birth in an effort to kill both mother and child.
As punishment for her disobedience, Hera transformed Galinthias into a black cat. Hecate took pity on Galinthias, however, and made the woman her priestess in the underworld.
This tale promotes the perception of cats as vessels for human spirits, albeit through the use of a curse. Henceforward, black cats became associated with magic, death, and the spirit world.
Beyond the association of cats with magic through Hecate, the black cat has become a symbol of wirchcraft and both good and bad fortune in many areas of the world, depending on who you ask.
Witches are often depicted in artwork as being accompanied by a black cat. The connection of cats with witchcraft in popular culture dates back to the Medieval period, when Pope Gregory IX, in Rome, 1233, decreed that cats (particularly black cats) were posessed by the spirit of the Devil.
It has since been theorized by modern scholars that Pope Gregory may, in fact, have simply been allergic to cats. Prior to the existence of medical knowledge on the subject, it is thought that he may have mistaken his symptoms for the malevolent influence of Satan.
Nonetheless, Pope Gregory’s decree resulted in the widespread persecution of cats, and those who associated with them. These attitudes are reflected in the Early Modern witch trials took place throughout Europe and America – most notably, in Salem, Massachusetts, and Pendle, Lancarshire. During these trials, suspected witches were often tragically executed alongside their cats.
But witchcraft, contrary to popular belief, isn’t just the stuff of fairytales and ancient superstition. In fact, witchraft (also known as magick and by other names) is practiced around the world today within various, usually polytheistic spiritual movements, including Wicca and Druidry.
Within some such spiritual paths, there is a strong belief in the existence of animal familiars. A familiar, also known as an animal guide or spirit guide, is a spiritual companion thought to aid practicioners of magic(k) with their craft.
This notion was popularized during Early Modern witch trials, when familiars were superstitiously thought to be agents of evil. In modern day witchcraft practice, however, familiars are considered in a much more positive light.
The cat is a very popular familiar, possibly due to its folkloric and mythological associations with witchcraft and protection. It is believed that a healing, powerful, and mutually beneficial spiritual connection is shared between the witch and their familiar.
Cats have been associated with deity and spirituality for many thousands of years.
From their connection to the Egyptian Goddess Bastet and Greek Goddess Hecate to their association with witchcraft and the afterlife, there is a solid basis in mythology and theology for the belief that cats have spirits.
As to a concrete answer regarding whether or not cats really do have spirits, we can only speculate. What we can say with certainty, though, is that cats are fascinating creatures with a fascinating mythological and sociological history.