If we asked you to name something spooky about cats, you’d probably mention a black cat crossing your path leading to misfortune. But a bit of bad luck pales in comparison to some of the terrifying myths of times past.
Cats are undeniably enigmatic. There’s just something about those haunting eyes, their silent, furtive movements and a wail that reminds some of babies crying. Whatever the cause, that air of mystery has lead humans over the course of human history to entertain a whole host of seriously scary - or even downright strange - beliefs involving felines. Honestly, it would be easy to fill a book’s worth of information of this topic, but we’ve culled that down to a manageable list of five. After reading these decidedly spooky superstitions, you’ll feel like the scaredy cat. But don’t worry, your sweet kitty will be there to comfort you.
A fairy creature from both Celtic and Scottish mythology, Sith Cats were large black cats with splash of white fur on its chest. While Sith Cats were believed to be spectral in nature, they were inspired by actual creatures known as Kellas cats, a hybrid between wildcats and domestic cats only found in Scotland. They were believed to have nefarious purposes, including a desire to consume souls immediately after death. Every year on Samhain (which we now celebrate as Halloween), houses where an offering of a saucer of milk was left outside would be blessed by the being, while those that did not would suffer a curse. Fun Fact: The Scots believed the Cat Sith was actually a witch that had the ability to transform into a cat, but that the witch was limited to only nine transformations in a lifetime. Scholars believe this is the origin of the belief that cats enjoy nine lives!
First conceived in the oral traditions of southern France, the Matagot (also referred to as Mandagot) is a mischievous spirit. While it was capable of shapeshifting into a number of animals (such as a rat, a fox, a dog and even a cow), its preferred form was that of a black cat. Matagots were considered evil in nature, but they could be trapped whereupon it would take a largely beneficial role for its captor. The legend states that if you lured one from its hiding spot with a serving of fresh, meaty chicken and then scooped it up and walked straight home without looking behind you, it would become a source of dependable good fortune. There were a couple of catches, as there always are with magical beings. First, before every meal, you would have to feed the first mouthful of your food and the first sip of your drink to the Matagot. If you managed to stick to that routine, each morning you would find a gold coin. Second, you would have to release the creature from this servitude well prior to your death. Otherwise, your last days on earth would assuredly be agonizingly painful.
The Bakeneko of Nabeshima (aka, Vampire Cat)
The origin of this terrifying legend is from 16th century Japan. One of the more frightening creatures, this cat not only sought to devour humans, but immediately afterwards would assume their victim’s exact likeness, whereupon they would attempt to deceive other humans, thus continuing a vicious cycle. Aside from their shapeshifting abilities, they were believed to wear strange hats for dancing, perfectly imitate human speech, have the ability to place hexes on people (especially those who were known for their cruelty to cats), possession, and even a penchant for hiding in mountainous locales where they would tame and train wolves to assist them in attacking weary travelers far from home.
The Wampus Cat
Believed to originate among the Cherokee people, the mythical Wampus Cat is a common staple of Appalachian folklore. A shapeshifter, its most common manifestation was as a large, wild cat, but it could also take the shape of a beautiful woman. It was considered a ferocious creature, capable of driving even the bravest of warriors to the brink of insanity. J.K. Rowling’s fans may recognize this magical being as a source for the hair that Garrick Ollivander used in the creation of certain magic wands. Fun Fact: the word “catawampus,” which means “out of alignment” but also “fierce and destructive,” arises from this myth.
The Black Cat of KillaKee
Like all of our the supernatural kitties, this Irish creature's origins began centuries ago. However, sightings have continued into modern times, which makes this arguably the most frightening. Like the tall tales that are common in the area, this one is attached to a particular great house. But we can assure you, nothing like this ever happened on Downton Abbey. Located in Dublin, the Killakee House was rumored to be haunted by a spectacularly creepy cat. Though technically it stalked the grounds, unlike other big cat sightings in the UK, the main difference is that this cat is supernatural.
In 1968, a young couple bought the Killakee House and began much needed renovations. Within days, workers started hearing strange noises and sensing things that quite frankly were decidedly spooky. Things came to a head when the workers were shocked by the sudden appearance of a towering black cat with eyes that "glowed like a demon." Just as the renovators started freaking out, the specter vanished. Afterwards, the new owners listened politely to the story, but didn't put much stock in the tale. And then ... the creature appeared to each of the new owners in turn. The giant apparition appeared in every corner of the house, despite locked doors and windows, stalking the couple with its penetrating stare and toothy snarls. The newlyweds sought help from the Catholic Church, whereupon an exorcism was performed on the estate. For a few months, everything was quiet, and the two believed their nightmare was finally over. Sometime later, however, a group of actors visiting the estate held a séance, whereupon the devilish creature returned, bringing with it two frightening ghosts dressed in nuns' garb. And thus, the nightmare continues.