Cats hold a very interesting place in folklore around the world. They are often connected to magic and mystery. Many western tales hold onto the medieval image of cats as witches in disguise. However, despite the prevalence of those images, there are still a number of tales that describe lucky cats.
Title Image Credit: Donald Hines via Flickr
Lucky Cats #1: Maneki Neko
If you search the internet for “lucky cats,” chances are that you will encounter dozens of images of Maneki Neko. Extremely popular in China and Japan, these lucky cats can be found in storefronts around the world. Maneki Neko is a statue of a Japanese Bobtail cat, often calico, sitting with one (or two) raised paws. Sometimes the raised paw(s) even wave to beckon you to come near.
Maneki Neko originated in Japan sometime in during the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868). The dolls began to show up in the 1800’s. A variety of stories are told about mysterious cats beckoning to people and miraculously saving their lives or bringing them great wealth. Today it is said that having a Maneki Neko in your store can bring customers (if the left paw is raised) and money (if the right paw is raised).
Lucky Cats #2: The Sailor’s Cat
Believe it or not, cats have sailed the open seas with sailors for most of history. The US Navy had cats aboard their ships until they were banned in the 1970’s. Cats actually solve a huge (non-fiction) purpose aboard ships. When a group of sailors goes out for a voyage, they need to pack all of the food, fresh water, and other supplies for the journey onto the boat. Rodents, which are attracted to such supplies, can easily eat or destroy those supplies, potentially leaving the sailors to starve to death. Cats were brought aboard ships to control the rodent population so that the supplies would not be destroyed.
It is easy to see why sailors would need lucky cats. There are many great tales of lucky cats on ships! Black cats and polydactyl cats are considered to be especially good luck. Sailors used to believe that cats could even predict the weather and cause storms. If a cat fell overboard (or was thrown overboard) the cat could conjure up a storm that would destroy the vessel. If the vessel survived, it would be cursed with 9 years of bad luck.
Cats on shore could bring good luck to sailors too. Fishermen’s wives would keep black cats in hopes that it would bring their husbands home safely from their time out at sea. This led to black cats being stolen due to their value at one point in Britain.
Lucky Cats #3: All Black Cats or All White Cats
One Halloween, not so long ago, I was walking around town enjoying the festivities and looking at all of the costumes. An unfamiliar black cat (a real one) appeared from a driveway and crossed my path. Well, actually he stopped right in front of me and then approached me and started rubbing all over my legs! He was such a sweet kitty!
From a folklore standpoint, would this incident be considered bad luck? Well, that depends on who you ask and when. In some places, like Japan, having a black cat cross in front of you is actually good luck. That is true of other places in the world too. In some places it is believed that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck while a white cat crossing your path is good luck. In other places the black and white cats trade places.
Almost anything that a black or white cat does can be considered to have an effect on your luck by folklore. Depending on what time of day it is, a black or white cat walking toward you is good luck. If those lucky cats walk away, they take their luck with them! It is even said that if a black cat sneezes in the presence of a bride, that she will have good luck.
Don’t believe people who tell you that black cats are bad luck. For the most part, the superstitions that say black cats are lucky cats, predate the ones that say they aren’t lucky. If you ask me, everyone needs to have a black kitty and a white kitty just to make sure they are covered for good luck. Maybe even a few other colors of kitty too really make sure. 🙂
Lucky Cats #4: The Korat
The Korat is a beautiful gray colored cat breed from Thailand. They are documented in the country’s history as far back as the 14th century. Unlike the Siamese cat, which historically was only owned by Thai royalty, the common Thai people had access to the Korat. These cats were never sold, but only given as gifts. To give a pair of Korat cats to a newly wed couple was to wish them good luck in their marriage. Today, these cats are still rare in the US because the Thai people hold to their tradition of gifting them rather than selling them.