Cats and Death
October 26, 2018 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Throughout history people linked cats with death or bad luck, and some of these beliefs still hold true today. But what is it about our beloved cats that makes them so notorious through history? Is it their powerful, stealthy ways that makes them so mysterious? Cats can also be creepy, but creepiness isn’t enough to feed the strong connection people feel between cats and death. Cats may have characteristics that link them to death, but perhaps our perception of these strange creatures derive from our experiences with them rather than their traits alone.

posted by Johnny Wallflower (12 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
To be effective solitary hunters, cats need to be stealthy and sensitive to their environment. Their quiet, graceful nature either attracts or repels. Being pack animals, dogs can be noisy and demonstrative (more like humans?) but cats are mostly loners and social people can find that off-putting. Add in the whole nocturnal thing and it’s no surprise that they’re associated with stuff like death or black arts.

All sorts of animals grieve over losses; cats included, though they may do so in different ways. Humans do not have a monopoly on pain.
posted by kinnakeet at 3:45 AM on October 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

Probably has a lot to do with cats tripping people on the stairs since the dawn of time. Most cat owners have had a cat related near death experience and take action to avoid it happening but imagine not knowing there was a cat around and having it rush you on dimly lit stone stairs - I'd probably think it was an angel of death too.
posted by kitten magic at 4:30 AM on October 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

This seems really unfair:

cat on top of a tombstone meant certainly that the soul of the departed buried was possessed by the devil.

If dogs do it everyone is all, oh, how loyal! let's build a memorial statue!

A cat does it and apparently their poor dead hoomin is possessed by the devil. It's Big Dog propaganda, it is.
posted by kitten magic at 4:36 AM on October 27, 2018 [30 favorites]

From Ireland's Schools' Folklore Collection (a project in the 1930s where schoolchildren were asked to gather folklore from grandparents etc):
If a cow is after calving or any other time a person would say "God bless the cow or the calf, or the horse or the dog but it would never be said "God bless the cat" because it is thought that a cat has some witchery or the like. No cat is ever thought good of except a black cat for luck. When entering a house a person would say "God save all here except the cat".

Some people would tell you that cats were people long ago, and that they could talk, and that in the course of time they changed and that yet they can use their tongue and if they did something very bad would happen.
posted by kersplunk at 5:37 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

MetaFilterJohnny Wallflower: Big Dog propaganda
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:39 AM on October 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

Some people would tell you that cats were people long ago, and that they could talk, and that in the course of time they changed and that yet they can use their tongue and if they did something very bad would happen don’t their fur gets all matted.

FTFY, weird cat-hatin’ Irish dude, who’s probably Johnny Wallflower with a bad accent.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:27 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have just finished cleaning up the latest dead mouse in the bathroom. Cats had eaten all the tasty outside bits, leaving the inner parts of the mouse all in one neat whole... apart from the heart, which was on its own about six inches away from the mouse. I initially thought that it must just be a random bit of mouse, so had a good look - nope, that was a neatly removed mouse heart. Not a big jump to an intimate connection to death...
posted by Vortisaur at 1:49 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Have you ever seen a dog get ahold of a woodchuck?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:31 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just this morning I was thinking of my ex’s grandfolks’ cat, an unremarkable looking tabby who was basically feral (she was taken in as a stray) and liked terrorizing dogs. Would growl and hiss if you so much as looked at her and always annoyed me because I love animals and even feral cats like me back. But she did love my then-girlfriend’s grandparents and they were the only ones she would let pet her.

They were very old — late 90’s — and eventually her grandfather was bedridden. The cat was always laying with him even though previously she preferred to hide out all day. When he died at home, the cat was there, purring until he stopped breathing, and as it was told to me she stopped purring when he did. It sounds creepy but to me it was very beautiful. She knew it was his time and she comforted him. She did the same for his wife until she passed, spending all her time laying close by.

I don’t want anything to do with my ex but I really wonder what become of that cat. I might lean more to being a dog person but my ex’s dog, who knew her grandfolks for his whole life, would basically knock them down or jump on them and cause injury because he was a buffoon. Most cats seem to be more suited for deathbeds.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:49 PM on October 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

@OfficerEdith: It's #BlackCatDay so I get to brag about my magnificent house puma. I saved him from certain death a number of years back and he has been my (and now my progeny's) soul mate ever since.

(has photos)

(many more photos in the replies)
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:53 PM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cats appeal to freethinking people, who are typically unimpressed with rationalizations of death as anything but inevitable and gory and permanent. Cats do not believe in an afterlife. They don’t even believe in five minutes from now. Those who appreciate that are often seen as outside the cocoon of socially approved fantasies of continuity.

/cat person
posted by spitbull at 2:29 PM on October 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've always been fond of the assertion that cats have a non-linear sense of time, so that when they e.g. jump three feet in the air and skitter across the hardwood floor to crash into the couch for seemingly no reason, it's just because they saw or heard something alarming on a different timeline.

Effectively indistinguishable from seeing a ghost, really.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:26 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

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