The following is the text of a lecture presented to the Theosophical Society (Pasadena) in Melbourne, Australia. The views expressed in all our public meetings are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Theosophical Society (Pasadena)

Today’s lecture considers one of my most favorite topics, that of cats. I will be considering the following:

  • physical information
  • cat proverbs from around the world
  • feline folklore and mythology from around the world
  • cats in Ancient Egypt

The human-cat relationship has been a long and at times during the evolution of man and cat, difficult and shameful one. Of course, my relationship with cats pretty much began as early as I can remember being around them and being conscious of them in my home environment. I have always, as most cat lovers, been in awe of them. For me they are poetry in motion, skillful predators, funny little creatures with their wonderful purring sounds, interesting facial expressions and endearing personalities. If I sound biased, then be in no doubt that I love this species, both domestic versions and the wild big cat varieties. I’ve managed to source a great deal of literature from the web concerning both cats in folklore and their role in
Ancient Egypt so what I wish to do now is read out a range of statements which I have found interesting and hope that you find them equally amusing.

Physical Facts:

  • Ailurophobia, aelurophobia, felinophobia and gatophobia are various names for the fear of cats.
  • Even though humans are 15 times larger than the average cat, the human skeleton has 206 bones but domestic cats have 230 bones.
  • The domestic cat is the only species able to hold its tail vertically while walking. Wild cats hold their tail horizontally, or tucked between their legs while walking.
  • Cats have more than 100 vocal sounds, while dogs have about 10.
  • Cats purr at 26 cycles per second, the same as an idling diesel engine.
  • The reason cats respond to catnip is because catnip actually smells like the urine of a dominant female cat. When cats smell this scent, they believe the dominant female is around so they roll around and become docile to impress her!
  • After cats eat, they immediately bathe themselves. Their instinct tells them to get the food scent off of them so that predators will not smell the food and come after them.
  • A group of cats is called a clowder.
  • A cat has no ability to taste sweet things.
  • A cat’s jaws cannot move sideways.
  • The cat uses it’s tail like a tight-rope walker uses a long pole – as a counterweight to aid balance. Even though the tail is useful for this, it is also used for communication purposes. Cats born without tails do manage, though. There are other methods for balancing.
  • Kittens are born both blind and deaf, but the vibration of their mother’s purring is a physical signal that the kittens can feel – it acts like a homing device- signaling them to nurse
  • Kittens can clock an amazing 31 mile per hour at full speed and can cover about 3 times their body length per leap
  • A curved tail on a cat is usually an indication that the cat is feeling curious.
  • A wagging cat tail does not mean the same thing as a wagging dog tail. If a cat is wagging it’s tail, if often means that the cat is in the middle of making a decision about something.

Cat Proverbs from around the world:

  • Nobody can truly own a cat English.
  • A cat’s a cat and that’s that.
  • A cat sleeping with all four paws tucked under means cold weather ahead.
  • If a cat washes behind its ears, it will rain.
  • Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back.
  • Dogs remember faces, cats remember places.
  • Dreaming of a white cat means good luck – American.
  • A cat is a lion in a jungle of small bushes.
  • A cat sneezing is a good omen for everyone who hears it – Italian.
  • A cat pent up becomes a lion.
  • Old cats mean young mice.
  • To kill a cat brings 17 years of bad luck – Irish.
  • Beware of people who dislike cats.
  • A strange black cat on your porch brings prosperity – Scottish.
  • When the pupil of a cat’s eye broadens, there will be rain – Welsh.
  • Happy owner, happy cat. Indifferent owner, reclusive cat – Chinese.
  • When the cat and mouse agree, the grocer is ruined – Iranian.
  • If stretching were wealth, the cat would be rich – African.
  • The cat was created when the lion sneezed – Arabian.
  • He that denies the cat skimmed milk must give the mouse cream – Russian.
  • The cat laps moon-beams in the bowl of water, thinking them to be milk – Hindu.
  • Books and cats and fair-haired little girls make the best furnishing for a room – French.
  • It is better to feed one cat than many mice – Norwegian.

Feline Folklore and mythology from around the world:

Early Christians: believed that if a cat was seen on a grave, the buried person’s soul must be in the devil’s power.Two cats seen fighting near a dying person, or on the grave shortly after a funeral, are really the Devil and an Angel fighting for the possession of the soul.

Noah’s Ark: According to one story, at the time of the flood, Noah took pairs of rats and mice which multiplied very quickly. After a while the Ark became infested by rodents. Noah consulted the lion who, as king of the beasts, created the solution. The lion sneezed and from his nostrils, a pair of ready made domestic cats came out, and they instantly set down to work, having a natural instinct for being ‘verminators’.Another legend is that of how the Manx cat lost its tail. Evidently it was unpunctual in its arrival to the Ark and the careless Noah closed it’s tail in the door of the

Ark. During the Middle Ages: cats were affiliated with witches, particularly black cats. They were viewed as supernatural agents as cats are nocturnal and roam at night. They were also considered to be agents of the devil. Mostly single, adult women were viewed with suspicion by the authorities if they owned or lived with these creatures, which were considered to be the ‘witch’s’ familiar.Pope Gregory 1X denounced black cats as Satanic in his 1233 Bull ‘Vox in Rama’ and this launched the extermination of many cats. Subsequently thousands of cats were burned alive. This lead to the culmination of the Great Plagues which befelled England and Europe. The oppression of cats also occurred during the downfall of the Knights Templar. Under torture, the Knights Templar were compelled to confess to heresy, renouncing Christ, and in some instances, the worship of cats. This probably speaks volumes about the view the Church and its view of cats at that time.

In Japan: there is a myth that cats turn into super spirits when they die. According to some Japanese Buddhists, the body of the cat is the temporary resting place of the soul of very spiritual people. Also in Japan we find the origins of the Beckoning Cat or manekineko. This cat, long ago, stood in the door of the GotokujiTemple and raised her paw in the traditional Japanese beckoning gesture to a feudal lord who was passing by.The feudal lord followed the cat into the temple and instantly, a lightening bolt struck the place where the lord had been standing. Thus, the cat had saved his life. From then on, the manekineko was considered as an incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy.The

Gotoku-ji Temple now houses dozens of statues of this cat and owners of lost or sick cats stick up prayer boards with the image of the Beckoning Cat in this temple.In business the manekineko is said to bring success. This is because her raised paw beckons in customers. It also welcomes in personal happiness and harmony. Beckoning cats are often sold as money boxes and in a house they are supposed to beckon in good friends.

Islamic countries: cats are considered to be very clean animals. The Prophet Mohammed is said to have kept cats himself, and popular legend tells that one time, the Prophet had to respect the call to prayer but his cat was sleeping on the sleeve of his robe. Rather than awake the cat, the Prophet simply tore his sleeve and went off to prayer.

Burma and the Sacred Cat: the Siamese cat has its own legend. It was said that when Siamese kings died, their souls pass on to a Siamese cat, so that he could be present at the coronation of the succeeding king before attaining heaven. This cat would have been treated as part of the Royal family and would have resided in the palace.Another myth worth telling is that there are some Siamese cats who have a kinked tail. These types of Siamese are considered auspicious in theFar East. It is said that an ancestor of this breed voluntarily kinked its tail so as to provide a safe place for the princess’ rings while she was bathing. She used to slide her rings along the cat’s tail and there was no danger of them becoming lost, as the kinked tail preventing them from falling. Cats in Ancient Egypt: Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; thou art indeed the Great Cat. Inscription on the Royal Tombs at

Thebes. The cat was probably domesticated around 2000 BC in Egypt and most modern cats are the descendants of the cats of ancient Egypt. Not only were cats the most popular pet in the ancient Egyptian house but the cat’s status rose from sacred animal to one of the most esteemed of deities.Tomb paintings with cats as part of family life began to emerge during the New Kingdom – about 500 years after the first attempts at domestication. During theNew Kingdom (1540 – 1069 B.C.), there were many tomb scenes depicting cats as part of everyday life. Many of these scenes depict the cats on hunting excursions in the marshes, to retrieve fowl and fish.Cats were valued as good mice and vermin hunters too as the Egyptian grain stores attracted dreaded rodents and snakes.Cats were valued also for their mysterious and supernatural qualities and because of these they became sacred animals. It must be remembered that most feline gods and goddesses in ancient Egypt were in fact big cats, mainly lions and lionesses. The Sphinx for example is a representation of a lion, and is one of the earliest works of Egyptian art. The Sphinx has the head of the pharaoh, and the body of a lion, showing the pharaoh’s power and importance. Amongst the list of Egyptian feline goddesses we find the following:

  • Mau, a personification of Ra as a cat (Mau being the Egyptian word for cat).

  • Tefnut, a lion headed goddess whose name means Moisture and represents one of the most primeval forces of creation.

  • Mafdet, a goddess of protection. This is the earliest feline cat goddess recorded. She is described in the Pyramid Texts as killing a serpent with her claws. In an Ancient Egyptian spell which repels snakes the protection of Mafdet is invoked: ”O cobra, I am the flame which shines on the brows of the Chaos-gods of the Standard of Years. Begone from me, for I am Mafdet!”

  • Bastet, was often depicted as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. She was associated with the Eye of Ra, acting within the sun god’s power. The Egyptians loved Bastet so much that she became a household goddess and protector of women, children and domestic cats. She was the goddess of sunrise, music, dance, pleasure, as well as family, fertility and birth.

  • Sekmet, is the evil counterpart of Bastet. Sekmet represented the cat goddess’ destructive force. She is known as the goddess of war and pestilence. She was tamed by Ra and she eventually became the powerful protector of humans. Together, Bastet and Sekmet represented the balance of the forces of nature.

  • The penalty for killing a cat 4,000 years ago in Egypt was death.

  • When a cat died, people shaved off their eyebrows as a sign of respect.

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