Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck? (2024)

Feline friends and fans know there’s nothing to fear, but the persistence of the belief that black cats are somehow bad luck has endured forcenturies. Sure, during the heyday of ancient Egypt, all cats were honored and worshipped—killing one was even capital crime—but the rise of witchcraft in Europe put the kibosh on any trace of goodwill toward the inkiest of felines.

While black pigmentation isn’t limited to specific breeds (in fact, the Cat Fanciers’ Association lists “solid black” as a color option for 22 breeds), the Bombay breed is likely the kind of cat you picture most often when you imagine a classic black cat. Most black cats also come with golden yellow eyes, thanks to the high melanin pigment content in their bodies. And though all-black cats can be either male or female, there’s a slightly higher prevalence of the coloration in male cats.

Black cats pop up frequently in all sorts of culturally based bits of folklore, and though many black cat myths are actually of the positive variety, Western tradition has so maligned the critters that black cats as bad luck have become something of a given in various circles (at least, that’s what it looks like once Halloween decorations start popping up, “scaredy cats” and all). So are black cats bad luck? We’ll uncover more down below.

It seems that the association between bad luck and black cats dates all the way back to the 13th century. It’s not known exactly how and why cats became associated with the devil in the Middle Ages, but the belief was so persistent that they were rounded up and killed during the Black Death pandemic around 1348 CE. Ironically, culling the cats only worsened the plague, which was often spread by infected fleas attached to rodents.

As chatter about nefarious witchcraft began to spread around Europe in the 16th century, cats (particularly black ones) found themselves tangled up in the hunt, simply because many presumed witches had taken in alley cats as companions. Somehow, the concept of “companion” turned into “familiar,” and the belief that witches could turn themselves into their (typically black) cat companions became a persistent one, even carrying over to America, where it was an indelible part of the Salem Witch Trials.

It didn’t help matters that the Puritans who helped populate Salem, Massachusetts, were devout Bible believers, and the combination of a major fear of anything devil-related (dating back to the Middle Ages) and the lingering belief that black cats were a classic part of witch lifestyles was a lethal one.

Black Cats in Folklore

There are plenty of black cat myths throughout history. Scottish folklore includes a fairy known as the Cat Sìth, a giant black cat (with a small white spot on his chest) who was believed to have the ability to steal a dead person’s soul before the gods could claim it. That belief led to the creation of night-and-day watches called the “Late Wake” to guard bodies just before burial. Scottish people also employed such tried-and-true methods as “using catnip” and “jumping around a lot” to scare off potential Cat Sìth soul-stealers.

There’s also plenty of folklore and legend associated with the actual movements of black cats. In many of the European countries where the felines are still seen as bad luck, it’s an extra-bad omen when a black cat actually crosses your path.

However, German folks seem to have lightened up this piece of legend, believing that a cat that crosses from right to left is bad news, while one that moves left to right is fine. Good luck trying to get a cat to move the way you want them to; as any cat owner knows, you’ll already need good fortune, skill, and a whole lot of patience to get any kind of cat (black or not) to follow direction as related to paw placement.

Superstitious gamblers also adhere to the cross-path bad news brigade—if a black cat crosses a gambler’s path while they are heading out to gamble, they are meant to turn back.

Even some pirates subscribed to movement-based beliefs, holding fast to the idea that if a black cat moves toward you, that’s bad luck, but a cat moving away from you means good news. If a black cat walked onto a ship and then walked off, the ship would sink on its next outing.

It does seem that the influence of ancient Egyptians and their love for cats held over in some European cultures. Sailors and their wives believed in the good luck power of the black cat, with some fishermen keeping such cats on board while women kept black cats at home for a double dose of fortune.

Japanese culture also honors black cats as symbols of good luck, and they are viewed as particularly important to single women, as having a black cat is believed to lure in many fine suitors. In Russia, all cats are viewed as lucky.

Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck? (3)

Plenty of black cat imagery shows its whiskers during Halloween. You can also honor the animals each summer by celebrating “Black Cat Appreciation Day” every August 17.

Have you got a Big Question you’d like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2024.

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Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck? (2024)


Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck? ›

A black cat is also associated with bad luck, and sadly, death. This fear of black cats appears to stem from medieval times, when an animal with dark feathers or fur, including crows and ravens, signaled death. In 16th-century Italy, it was believed that death was imminent if a black cat would lay on someone's sickbed.

Is a black cat really bad luck? ›

Black cats shouldn't get a bad rap just because they look sneaky. In fact, they're considered good luck in many cultures. In Scotland, it's lucky for a strange black cat to arrive at your doorstep. In Japan, black cats are thought to help single women find suitors.

What do black cats symbolize spiritually? ›

Protection and good luck: Most stories and superstitions about black cats portray them as spiritual guardians. Some people believe that a black cat in your home keeps you safe and protects you from curses.

Are black cats bad luck in Japan? ›

In Japan, black cats are a sign of wealth and prosperity. For stage directors, seeing a black cat in your theater on opening night meant your play would have a long, successful run. In ancient Egypt, black cats were revered and believed to represent Bastet, Goddess of fertility, and childbirth.

Why are black cats associated with witches? ›

During the Middle Ages, the black cat became affiliated with evil. This stemmed from them being nocturnal animals. Witchcraft also played a big part of the cat's evil image. Since being one with nature was an important part of witchcraft, it was common for them to have a cat as a companion.

When did black cats become bad luck? ›

Superstitions about black cats have many roots from medieval times, possibly beginning in the 13th century when the Catholic church declared black cats as incarnates of Satan. Since then, we have come a long way and no longer believe black cats are evil, but we do have superstitions that are still believed.

What does it mean when a black cat visits you? ›

We've all heard that a black cat crossing in front of you can bring bad luck. But the superstition is more nuanced than that. In Germany, it's believed that a black cat crossing in front of you from right to left is a bad omen, but if it crosses from left to right, you're in for good luck.

What God does a black cat represent? ›

What deity is associated with black cats? - Quora. Bastet or Bast. She was a Goddess of the Egyptian religion. Bastet is the Egyptian goddess of the home, domesticity, women's secrets, cats, fertility, and childbirth.

What is black cat energy? ›

Black cat energy is unbothered, borderline selfish, and prioritises themselves above all else — if you're still confused, just picture literally any cat ever.

What is the myth about black cats? ›

In some European folklore, black cats are considered common companions of witches and bringers of misfortune if they happened to cross your path. In contrast, Welsh folklore depicts black cats would bring luck to a home and could even be a reliable weather predictor (3).

What did the Egyptians think of black cats? ›

In Ancient Egypt, things were still looking up for black cats. They were worshipped, just like their more colorful buddies. The Ancient Egyptian god of cats, called Bastet, was often portrayed as a woman with the head of a black cat, so our black felines had nothing to fear.

What is the superstition about black cats around the world? ›

In Japan and the UK, a black cat crossing your path brings good luck. While in America and some other parts of the world they believe the opposite – that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck – we much prefer Japan's and the UK's version of the superstition.

What does the Bible say about cats? ›

Cat — Domestic cats are not mentioned in the Protestant Bible, but they are mentioned in Letter of Jeremiah verse 21.

What are two superstitions about black cats? ›

Superstition #2: Black Cats Are Bad Luck

In modern-day North America, negative connotations continue to haunt black cats: It's considered bad luck if a black cat crosses your path, and good luck if a white cat crosses your path. Another family member is bound to die if you spot a black cat during a funeral procession.

What does it mean when a black cat comes to your house at night? ›

People started to believe that a black cat crossing your path meant a witch was cursing you, leading to the modern superstition. A black cat at your house could bring good fortune. Their appearance may promise bountiful food or a family coming together.

Do cats bring bad luck? ›

Not really. The superstitions surrounding them are little more than myths and are not based on any real evidence.

What happens when a black cat comes to your house? ›

It is believed that the cat brings positive energy into the house and may be a harbinger of good fortune. A black cat is associated with the Goddess Mahakali. Some believe that her presence is auspicious and can bring protection and blessings.

What happens if a black cat crosses your path while driving? ›

The superstition that black cats crossing the street in front of you can cause bad luck was imported from Japan. But some drivers in other countries will make an 'x' on the left side of the windscreen with their right hand if a black cat crosses their car's path.

What color of cat is lucky? ›

Originally, maneki-neko were white, but over the years with the combination of Feng Shui, different color variations were born. The original white color is to get good luck and overall good fortune, while black is to ward off evil, red is for good health, yellow or gold is for wealth, and pink is for romance.

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