Title: The Cat in the Mysteries of Religion and Magic.
Author: M. Oldfield Howey.
Genre: Non-fiction, occult, animals, mythology, religion, history.
Publication Date: 1955.
Summary: A book on the role of the cat in occult and religious ritual throughout history. The acknowledged classic in its field, the book presents a wealth of unusual material on esoteric aspects of the cat and her role in the history of mankind. Presents a rich reference of information for students of the occult, religion and mythology, as well as historians and anthropologists. (Refer to PART 1 for the rest of the quotes.)
My rating: 7/10.
♥ The usual conception of sacrifice as a banquet which gods and men share in common is completely placed out of court when we come to consider the Cat as a sacrificial victim. It is clear that here we are dealing with that higher idea which visioned the sacred animal as sharing the nature of the god it symbolised, so that the deity in a mystical sense died for his people when it was immolated. This was especially the case in ancient Egypt where, as Sextus Empericus has recorded, the Cat (the symbol of the Sun-god) was sacrificed to Horus, the rising sun.
Not being a "food animal," no thought that it had been slain to appease the hunger of an anthropomorphic deity could stain the thoughts of the worshippers. It was either identified with the bright god it represented, who daily died for the world's inhabitants, and rose again in the morning sky, or it was connected with the Great Mother Isis in one of her many aspects and personifications. Sacrifice, when thus viewed, is but the circulation of the one Divine Essence through the being of God, Nature and Man. The Rig Veda speaks of the sacrificial plant in this sense, stating that it contains all the worlds and is father of the gods (ix. 86, 10; 109; 4), and of the sacrificial horse which assumes the names and nature of the gods (i. 163, 3).
So long as this purity and sublimity of conception was the basis of sacrifice, whatever form it took, only good to all concerned could be the result. But like the symbol of the Encircled Serpent, the Cat represented God as All, and as life became more complicated, Evil took stronger and more definite form, and could no longer be left out of man's reckoning. Dualism quickly brought about the downfall of spiritual religion. The Unity of the Trinity was no longer recognised. Luna, Diana, and Hecate were torn asunder, and no more seen as the triple aspects of the one Great Mother. There was war in Heaven.
Religion has sometimes been regarded as the sublimation of magic, but, generally speaking, it would be more correct to see in magic a retrogressive form of religion. Sorcery originated as a sacred art, and the possession of magical knowledge was an attribute of the very gods. The sorcerer ranked with prophet and priest, and the highest honour was attached to his calling. The character and position of magic in the earlier per-Christian period, was entirely different from what it assumed in late Egyptian thought, and in the Judaic-Christian creed of Mediæval Europe. Long before the introduction of Christianity, however, the originally high ideals of the ancient religion had begun to disintegrate, and had been misinterpreted and cruelly degraded. The votaries of corrupt practices in the cult of Dianism saw in the Great Mother only Hecate, or Proserpine, the dread ruler of Hell, who presided over demons and unhappy ghosts, and evil enchantments. Her head was said to be covered with frightful snakes instead of hair, and her feet to be formed like serpents. She would come to the sacrifices when called upon seven times, and then they were concluded, apparitions, called after her Hecatea, were wont to appear. The object of evoking such definitely evil and hostile powers at first sight is obscure, but the sorcerer opted by magical devices to render the demons subservient to his will. As Malinowski commented, we must see in magic "the embodiment of the supreme folly of hope."
♥ The effect of the new creed was to strengthen and even justify the idea we have outlined. The devil had usurped the powers and position of the ancient gods, and he retained their symbol, the Cat, as his chosen representative. Who could object to see the archfiend forced to obey a human being, or the animal sacred to him, tortured? Yet in justice to the Church, we must note that this black magic which she recognised as real and potent, was strictly forbidden by her. She did not distinguish the would-be masters of Satan from his servants, but sought by means no less desperate and terrible than their own to exterminate them. Bitter as was her hostility on other occasions to any rival interpretation of Divine mystery, it was long before the Christian Church entirely lost touch with the older Egyptian tradition. Efforts at amalgamation and reconciliation were continually being made by those who realised the basic unity of the two creeds. As late as 1757 a symbolic appeal was directed to the imagination of the Christian populace, by introducing the figure of the Cat, as the symbol of Horus, into the Christian mysteries. Until this date a weird ritual was annually celebrated at Aix, in Provence, in which a cat was the central figure. On these occasions the finest Tom-cat in the country was swathed in swaddling clothes like an infant, and exhibited to the adoration of the devout in a magnificent shrine. Flowers were strewn along the route ere he passed, and every knee was bent as his litter approached. The Cat was now identified with Horus who daily died for his people, and a terrible culmination followed. When the sun crossed the meridian on June 24th, the cat was placed in a wicker basket, and thrown alive into an enormous bonfire which was kindled in the city square. Apparently this ritual had the full support of the Christian Church. Bishops and priests sang anthems in honour of the sacrifice during its performance, and after its conclusion held a solemn procession.
♥ The efforts of that worthy man were not crowned by the complete success that doubtless they deserved, for the atrocious Cat sacrifice under the name of the Taigheirm persisted, and as recently as 1750 was extant in the Hebrides. Its actual origins lost in the lists of antiquity, though we have indicated the way in which it probably arose. But whence its infernal rites were introduced to the Western Isles is not known. The most probable conjecture is that the first settlers in these islands, who came from Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and the Faroe Islands, brought it with them. We know that until the Middle Ages, Scotland was thought to be peopled by fairy folk and nature deities from northern lands, who mingled with her native sprites, and remarkably affected the everyday life of her people. The subterranean deities or demons were known in the Highlands and Islands as the Black Cat Spirits, and were the powers invoked in the celebration of the Taigheirm.
♥ In many of these ancient myths and legends, the original divinity of the devil is still traceable, so that Harsnet's remark, "The prince of darkness is a gentleman," is not justified. He is acknowledged as true—to his friends or foes and to himself.
♥ There is nothing inconsistent in the doctrine of the materialist who claims that the "soul" is simply a function of the brain, and that in man and animal alike it is dissolved by the death of the body. But when the teacher of theology, who lays it down that the soul of man is immortal, simultaneously tells us in the very words of the materialist that the animal soul dissolves into nothing when the body dies, being too imperfectly organised to survive its loss, we recognise that he is in an untenable position. The later half of his doctrine is dangerously antagonistic to the belief in human continuance, for we see him compelled to admit that a mere difference of degree in evolution is sufficient to decide eternal destiny. The one is immortal without any merit, the other doomed without any fault. Another difficulty arises when we consider prehistoric man and his relationship with the anthropoid apes. The low mentality and total lack of morality which even to-day are displayed by certain primitive races make one ask, "At what degree of elevation does the soul become strong enough to resist the crisis of separation from its body? Where may we draw a certain dividing line? Ought we to assert that our barbarous primitive ancestors, scarcely distinguishable from the anthropoid species, merited the gift of immortality, whilst a noble, generous, loving cat, or horse, or dog, that would willingly give its life to save its master or its young, is only worthy of extinction?"
♥ "For twenty-five years an oral addition to the written standing orders of the native guard at Government House near Poona had been communicated regularly from one guard to another on relief, to the effect that any cat passing out of the front door after dark was to be regarded as His Excellency the Governor, and to be saluted accordingly. The meaning of this was that Sir Robert Grant, Governor of Bombay, had died there in 1838, and on the evening of the day of his death a cat was seen to leave the house by the front door and walk up and down a particular path, as had been the Governor's habit to do after sunset. A Hindu sentry had observed this, and he mentioned to others of his faith, who made it a subject of superstitious conjecture, the result being that one of the priestly caste explained the mystery of the dogma of the transmigration of the soul from one body to another, and interpreted the circumstance to mean that the spirit of the deceased Governor had entered into one of the house pets. It was difficult to fix on a particular one and it was theretofore decided that every cat passing out of the main entrance after dark was to be regarded as the tabernacle if Governor Grant's soul, and to be treated with due respect and the proper honours. This decision was accepted without question by all the native attendants and others belonging to Government House. The whole guard, from sepoy to sibadar, fully acquiesced in it, and an oral addition was made to the standing orders that the sentry at the front door would "present arms" to any cat passing out there after dark."
The faithful and chivalrous nature of the Hindu people is touchingly exemplified by this story. Their general was their general still, though now without authority, and inhabiting the humble form of a cat.
♥ Mrs. Cran, an authority on Siamese cats, writing in "Cat Gossip," has described what is known as The Temple Mark, though she says her information is but scanty. Two distinct markings may be found on the backs of some highly bred Siamese which are said to be the distinguishing feature of the True Temple cats. The priests consider such cats to be especially sacred, but Mrs. Cran does not know the full story, or the name of the god who "once picked one up and left the shadow of his hands for ever on its descendants." The shadowy marks do not form a saddle, but suggest that someone "with sooty hands had lifted a pale-coated cat, gripping his neck rather low down. They are not often seen." But, she adds: "They are certainly a distinctive mark, and not an accidental marking."
..Another characteristic of the Siamese cat is the kink in its tail which is said to have been there for two hundred years. It also is the subject of a Siamese fable which no one seems able to relate in full, but the gist of it is that the Siamese cat had a knot tied in its tail to remind it of something which it hasn't remembered yet, though who the tier was we are not old; presumably some divinity.
For two hundred years Siamese cats were only to be found in that portion of the Royal City of Bangkok where the monarch and his court resided. But though we can trace the variety for so long a period, its origin remains obscure. The Hon. Russell Gorjon (Gordon?) who made a study of the subject, considers it is derived from a cross between the Sacred Cat of Burmah, and the Annamite Cats that were introduced into the religiously sealed and guarded Burmese and Cambodian Empire of Khmer, when this succumbed to the attacks of the Siamese and Annamites in the seventeenth century.
About 1885, the wife of a British Consul brought two of the species to Europe, and an immediate demand for them arose in England.
♥ The pious Egyptians mummified cats in uncountable numbers. Recent research at Bubastis revealed that thousands of feline corpses were interred there. And at Beni Hassan an Egyptian fellah who accidentally discovered a cat cemetery in the grottoes found himself in the midst of hundreds of thousands of mummies ranged in order on shelves.
Once the discovery of the corpses became public property, the inhabitants of neighbouring villages turned up in force, and seized, burnt, or buried large numbers of the mummies, whilst Levantine antique dealers took possession of many more to sell to tourists. But the supply still far exceeded the demand, and seemed well-nigh inexhaustible.
At last a utilitarian Alexandrian speculator saw a way to turn the corpses into money by offering them as manure. He accordingly shipped the tons of corpses yet remaining to England. A cargo, consisting of 180,000 mummied cats was landed in Liverpool in March, 1890, and disposed of by auction. The unimaginative salesman actually used one of the corpses as a hammer, and knocked down the strange lot at the price of £3 13s. 9d. a ton, less than a single specimen of a mummied cat would fetch to-day.
Surely Fate has seldom played a stranger trick than bringing to such an inglorious end the once sacred objects of so much reverent care and skill!
♥ The wonderful religion of the ancient Egyptians, like other creeds, was evolved from crude commencements. Originally this people had no conception of a soul. Life was in breath, a fluidic motive power which vanished suddenly when its possessor fell into that state which we call death, characterised by the absence of breath and movement, the cessation of consciousness, the corruption of the flesh, and final destruction of the body. The three first-mentioned phenomena constantly occurred without bringing about the state of death, as in sleep, hypnotism, catalepsy, swooning, etc., in which, after a varying lapse of time the individual returned to life.
The only apparent difference between deep unconsciousness and death is that when the latter takes place decomposition follows. It was therefore an obvious inference from observed facts that if it was possible to prevent decomposition, life would return to the body, as it did when the sleeper awoke from his dreams.
Thus the Egyptians reasoned that death ought to be considered as a merely temporary suspension of life which might be remedied by the resources of magic, if these were applied before decomposition commenced. Hence their practice of mummifying and embalming the corpse, and employing magic ritual of Mysteries. The devotion and faithfulness which inspired these services to the departed extended them to the sacred cats. By such rites and practices the little body of the cat (or, perhaps, its astral counterpart) retained the possibility of motion and the use of its organs. Not only might it reawaken, but, if accident was avoided, it might attain to an eternal and exhaustless life. To guard against disaster, loving care provided a second vehicle for the soul in the form of a statuette made in the likeness of the departed, which automatically took the place of the mummy if that perished.
♥ The Osirian Mysteries celebrated during the funeral rites assimilated the being of the dead to Osiris, god of the dead, who in his own person had died and lived again. The soul of the dead cat was "osirified," and ascended to the heavens to live with the gods. But it was by paths bristling with perils that the little feline soul arrived in the country of the West on the margin of those fields where the followers of Osiris were assembled.
The beautiful Amenti, goddess of the West, showed them the route, and thither they marched like the Chat Botté of the legend. A god grasped the delicate paws to guide them along the wonderful Pathway of the soul, or ka, and the offerings that had been deposited in the tombs magically attended them to sustain them on the journey. At the confines of the sky they found a ladder erected, but the gods he,d it firm, and they scaled it without mishap. If on the last rung, the feline pilgrims, still timid as when on earth, hesitated, the gods Horus and Set held them each by one of their paws, and hoisted them all fluttered into Paradise. Once there they were quickly reassured by the bliss which awaited them. Before them was an idealised Egypt, with her Nile, her fishponds, her luxuriant vegetation, and her houses. There they might pass an easy life of hunting and play more happily than on earth. Yet there also they must work, though but lightly, and still they must wrestle for life. But if the struggle again proved too hard for them, a more distant and lovelier Paradise was disclosed. This was known as the Field of Offerings. There, thanks to the terrestrial offerings that had been so piously deposited in pussy's Tombs, the kas of which had been released by breaking or burning, the table was spread, and no effort needed. But a third, and infinitely more brilliant destiny was beyond. This was life with the Sun-god Amon-Ra, who navigated the heavens in the sun-ship. The divinised soul who attained this glorious consummation became a sparkling spirit of light, lost in the radiant disc of the king of gods. So supreme a joy was not given to all the world. It was the Paradise of the great and glorious Pharaohs, sons of Amon; yet, without doubt the cats of those princes followed them to this glory. Thus the soul of the Egyptian cat journeyed through the centuries from the humble grave dug in the darkness of the desert to the starry fields of the sky, where for ever it might hunt and roam in the glorious life of Eternity.
♥ Among the more primitive peoples still with us to-day, who venerate the Cat, and believe that its soul attains Paradise, we must number the Jakuns, who are one of the semi-wild Malayan Tribes. They differ from the Egyptians in thinking of the Cat as giving, not as requiring, assistance, on the toilsome road between earth and heaven. For it is their firm conviction that when they die a cat leads the way on the weary journey they must make through Hell to Paradise, and eases their labour by spraying water on the infernal atmosphere, so that they may find it more bearable. No wonder that natives of Malay hold the Cat in high regard and believe that should any among them fall so low as to kill one, he will be severely punished in the future life. For every hair that Puss possessed, he must carry and stack a tree-trunk of the thickness of a cocoa-nut palm. There are few slayers of cats in Malay!
♥ Mohammed was a lover of cats, and on one occasion cut off a portion of his robe to avoid disturbing a cat who sat upon it.
♥ Whilst Justice may bind criminals to the scenes of their crime, it cannot also bind their victims to perpetual reenactment of a tragedy. Still, I include the story of "Smoky" among ghostly cats, since the astral photo theory has not attained the general recognition it certainly deserves.
A very remarkable instance of a ghost cat is related by Henry Spicer, who says: "Dr. A. has, among his numerous patients, one who is almost constantly attended by a spectral tabby! The fond and playful animal not only sits behind him in his studious hours, but frolics after him about the house, more especially on the stairs, where its amusement is to slip in an out of the rails of the balustrade, working an imaginary crochet from the top to the bottom, arriving thither at the same moment as its master. It has been ascertained that no mortal cat of its apparent size could possibly perform this feat. By far the most remarkable part of the story is, that the animal has been, on more than one occasion, visible to other eyes than those of the original seer."
Mr. Spicer makes no comment on the above story, but adds that "A gentleman, now resident in London, enjoys the occasional society of a cat with a human face."
♥ The Cat occupies an important position in the mythology of Vampirism, and, according to the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews, its appearance on our planet in this unlovely character was an early one, actually preceding the creation of Eve. Hebrew folk-lore informs us that the Semitic witch-queen Lilith was Adam's first wife, but that she refused to give him her obedience and flew away, later becoming a vampire. She still lives, and assumes the form of a huge black cat named El Broosha, when she seizes the new-born human babe that is her favourite prey, and sucks its blood.
♥ According to Ennemoser, Zoroasterism, through its doctrine that spirits are sexed, is responsible for the gruesome belief current in the Middle Ages, and accepted by Church and State, that male and female demons, known as incubi and succubi, consort with human beings.
♥ Happy are the sceptics, he says "that they do not, will not, realise the monstrous things that lie only just beneath the surface of our cracking civilisation."
♥ But [Ginns] differ, in that the normal span of their lives is about three hundred years; and in being usually invisible, but possessing the power to assume all sorts of weird and ghostly shapes which may resemble men, animals, or monsters. They seem to be closely connected in a sympathetic union with our race, for every human child is said to have its own special companion Ginn, who is born at the same hour. Throughout the Moslem world the art of invoking these beings is cultivated by a large number of people. Certain Moslem sorcerers are even said to have married female Ginn, and it is claimed that those whose occult lore enables them to command these spirits, can perform miracles through their instrumentality.
In confirmation of the above, we may quote Lane, who in his preface to his translation of "The Arabian Nights," says: "I have resided in a land where genii are still firmly believed to obey the summons of a magician or the owner of a talisman, and to act in occurrences of every day; and I have listened to stories of their deeds related as facts by persons of the highest respectability."
♥ In Provence, as in Egypt, belief in genii is even yet extant. Branch Johnson writes that it is unwise for belated travellers on the Crau "to answer any greeting after sundown, lest it come from a Matagot or Matagon, one of those mysterious occupants of the fields and earth who, neither good enough to be angels nor bad enough to be devils, have become mischievous to human beings.... Usually they appear as cats," though sometimes in other forms, and "their chief characteristic is that they move with incredible rapidity from place to place, so that it is useless to attempt flight from them. Only by their blazing eyes may they be seen, or by a pale luminosity which emanates from their bodies; and the traveller must cover his eyes and recite a Paternoster and, calling upon his Saints, hurry through the darkness to the safety of a lighted cottage."
In prehistoric Japan, as elsewhere, human sacrifice was a recognised institution, and spirits of the wilds were worshipped in fear, and claimed many victims. Thus a bow might miraculously appear on the roof of a man's house, to signify that his eldest maiden daughter must be sacrificed to the Deity of Wild Animals. And in compliance with the cruel demands, she would be buried alive to enable the monster to devour her flesh.
♥ The blood-sucking cat familiars must not be confused with cat vampires. The witches taught and encouraged them to partake of the vital fluid in order to create a psychic copula. As we may see from the Hebrew scriptures, the blood was regarded as the very life and soul of its possessor; even after it was separated from the body, the personality enshrined within it persisted. Thus we read how Jehovah said to Cain after the murder of Abel, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground" (Gen. iv. 10). And it is again and again reiterated that the blood of animals slain for food must on no account be eaten. Such ideas were not confined to the Jewish race, but can be traced in almost every age and country. To drink the blood of another is to establish a mystical and close communion of the soul.
♥ Where all is an unfathomable mystery, dogmatic materialism has no foundation on which to rest, and cannot for a moment be upheld by the truly philosophic.
♥ Perhaps just because it was so far-flung, the cult of the God of Fertility did not perish with the passing of Ptah and Osiris. Among the Romans it took the form of the worship of Janus, the two-faced god of fruitfulness, reverently regarded by his worshippers as the oldest, most exalted, and holiest of deities, who was the first to be remembered in every prayer and honoured at every sacrifice; who even took precedence of Jupiter. His name, which may be spelt Ianus, is the masculine equivalent of Jana, or Diana, and we early find this strangely assorted pair in close partnership as the solar and lunar deities who inspired the religion that survived almost to the present day in Witchcraft.
Janus appears to have been recognised by the Witch cult chiefly in virtue of his title and office as Club-bearer, or Janitor, which was his because of the Rod and Keys he carried as Guardian of the Ways and Opener of the Doors, functions that unmistakably point to his direct descent from Ptah. As god of Conception, and Measurer of Times, the beginnings of all things were sacred to him. And here the reason of his connection with Diana becomes apparent. For she, as Moon-goddess, was also a Keeper of Time, and her loving sympathy with the sufferings of her sex had made her the Goddess of Childbirth. She assisted women in their pregnancy, and preserved them from death when Janus opened the door of life to their babes. A strange occupation for the Virgin Huntress, but even the Gods are not immune from the vagaries of Fate! As the Lunar-phallic cult developed the feminine aspect of the Moon deity came into greater prominence, the more masculine solar symbol was almost lost sight of, and the primitive rites for ensuring fertility were presided over by priestesses rather than by priests. The symbolism of Nature as the Great Mother seems to have been responsible for this. It made a direct appeal to the simple minds of early peoples, and its sentiment ensured a welcome in their hearts. Consequently it survived through endless vicissitudes, and even in its decadence gave birth to an almost countless number of variations of its essential doctrines. In all these, the supremacy of the priestess, wise woman, or witch was no so firmly established as to remain unshaken. She was prophet, priest, healer, or slayer by virtue of the sacred occult knowledge her training and position bestowed on her. She stood at the doorway of communication between the spiritual and material worlds, and claimed the gifts of clairvoyance and clairaudience and raising the souls of the dead. She could supply the antidotes to the terror of night, the arrow that flieth by day, the pestilence that walketh in darkness and the destruction that wasteth at noonday. Demons obeyed her incantations, and disease or death followed her curse.
Diana had not disdained to take refuge in the moon as a Cat. The feline huntress of the night was her sacred symbol. Consequently we find it closely associated with her priestesses, and even regarded as embodying the goddess, or providing the medium by which her gifts were conveyed to her servants, though later it was degraded to the rank of a familiar spirit by Christian obscurantists.
♥ It will be recalled by readers of northern mythology that the rope which proved strong enough to bind the terrible wolf Fenris after he had snapped as nothing the most powerful chains that the Asas were able to manufacture was made of such things as the footfalls of cats: things which because they have no existence cannot be destroyed.
♥ The practice of buttering a cat's paws to induce her to settle in a new house is a charm widely practised among all classes to-day. Anm old Scotch writer throws new light on the subtle sympathy said to exist between cats and kings by the following interesting comparison:
"But do ye ken the freet of yon doing wi' the oil on the palms of the hand? It's my opinion that it's an ancient charm to keep the new king in the kingdom: for there's no surer way to make a cat stay at hame than to creesh her paws in like manner."
From which it appears our forefathers believed that cat and king were equally enthralled by the power of one potent charm!
♥ The symbolism employed by ancient sages is not a thing of arbitrary invention, but the language which is our only means of apprehending and approaching the Indescribable and Incomprehensible. As Carlyle has beautifully phrased it:
"In a symbol there is concealment and yet revelation, silence and speech acting together, some embodiment and revelation of the Infinite, made to blend itself with the finite, to stand visible, and, as it were, attainable there."
"As above, so below." Man is "the microcosm of the macrocosm," unknown and unknowable, even as his Creator. Heraldry is the human and personal application of the language of symbolism. The chosen emblem is as the very shadow that pursues the hero, the mirror which reflects his form, the mask or shield covering his inner self from the slings and arrows of a hostile world. It is so identified with him as to be actually confused with himself, and his descendants proudly adopt and so perpetuate its form.
Of the Egyptians write in mystic symbols?
Speak not the Scriptures oft in parables?
Are not the choicest fables of the poets,
That were the fountains and first springs of wisdom,
Wrapp'd in perplexed allegories?"
So ancient is the device of heraldry, that many conflicting opinions have arisen as to the actual antiquity and origin of heraldic designs. Some authorities declare they are older than civilisation itself; others would trace the source of these family distinctions to the phonetic alphabets of ancient India and China; some have found their beginnings in the national banners and titular and patronymic shields of the ancient Egyptians, or in the crests and cognominal ovals in ancient Mexico. But these, and other theories are not so conflicting as a first glance suggests, if we but think of heraldry as a part of that great system of symbolical teaching which prevailed among the nations of antiquity before the invention of letters.
All ancient historians and authors ascribe to their heroes certain symbols. Diodorus Siculus gives to Jupiter a sceptre, to Hercules a lion, to Macedon a wolf, to the Persians an archer; and we all know how the Roman eagle became a term synonymous with Rome itself from 752 B.C. until the fall of the empire. There is no recorded instance of any nation, tribe, or state that has not used some species of symbolical representation. The Cat, though comparatively rarely, takes its place with distinction among the remarkable collection of creatures portrayed in heraldry.
♥ We have seen in other chapters how the Cat was employed by the exponents of ancient religions to typify each of the Three Persons of the Deific Trinity, so need not enlarge further here on its sacred association with the number three but will pass on to its connection with the number nine, which, as the Trinity of Trinities, was considered to be the most sacred digit of all.
In the Egyptian pantheon three companies of nine god each, were fully developed by the period of the Vth Dynasty, and because of their protecting love for the cat, may have originated the thought that she had nine lives. The gods who compose the first group are Tem, Shu, Tefnut, Qeb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nepthys. The gods of the Little Company are quite minor deities, whilst the Third Company is seldom named, and the titles of its gods are unknown. Certain texts when referring to the gods repeat the sign for god eighteen times to indicate a double group of nine, or the entire company of the greater and lesser cycles of the gods. Probably this idea that all divinities could be enumerated in nines was the reason why nine was dedicated to both Sun and Moon, and the Cat that symbolised them, by nations that had contacted Egyptian thought. Apollo, as the god of light was said to be the producer of the nine months of which the original or lunar year consisted, and we find him surrounded by the nine Muses, whom Virgil describes as his sisters (Ecl, vi. 66), and who presided over literature, science, and art.
Ye all-beholding, all-recording nine."
(Pope's Iliad, XIV, 599-600.)
Diana, both as sister of Apollo, and in her own character as moon-goddess was intimately connected with the Cat, and the number nine. The importance of both these symbols in the Dianic cult is emphasised by a line in Quarles' "Litany," describing the witches as
The poet would seem to be thinking of one of those ritual dances we have elsewhere pictured, in which the Daughters of Diana, masked and robed as casts, in honour of the lunar deity, may have sought to represent the Three Companies of Egyptian gods, and become identified in mystic communion with the "thrice nine lives" of those divinities through the exaltation induced by their ordered movements.
♥ Nona hora, or noon, the ninth hour, corresponding with our three in the afternoon, through the ecclesiastical custom of saying Nones, which is the office for the ninth hour, at twelve o'clock, has acquired the meaning of midday, the hour specially sacred to the Sun-god, who is then at the zenith of his power and glory. Obviously it is sacred to all who see in the sun the symbol of the Supreme. Also it is critical, for it marks the turning-point. The sun must now commence his descent into the grave. The ninth hour was the hour of Christ's death. Christ, the sun of Righteousness, who, in early Christian symbolism, like his Egyptian prototypes, Osiris and Horus, was represented by the sacred Cat, to emphasise that he was the new-born, rising Sun, the light of the world.
♥ The word "Puss" is also of obscure derivation, and much ingenuity has been expended in attempting to discover its source. The most attractive suggestion is that it comes from the Egyptian Posht, or Pasht, i.e. the goddess Bast, and there seems nothing strained or improbable in this explanation. The Turkish and Afghan Pis-chik (little Pis), the Aryan Pusag, and Persian Push-nak, with the Arabic Bussah, may be also connected with Bes, the spouse of Bast, since to him, as to his bride, the cat is sacred.
Another tempting derivation of Puss is from the Latin Pusus, a little boy, or Pusa, a little girl; the word appears in the children's game of "Puss-in-the-Corner," and is often employed as a pet name for a child or young woman. It is easy to see how it may have come into use to call that most human of pets, the household cat.
With this possibility we may compare the Hindustani "Phis, Phis" (fish, fish) used in calling a cat. Puss is a term suggesting cajolery and flattery; "Phis" speaks of an offering. Both terms are redolent of the deference due to the sacred animal. But a third idea is less respectful, and supposes that Puss was originally an imitative word representing the sound made by the cat when spitting. This seems to be negatived by the fact that in Shakespeare's time Puss was the common name for the hare or rabbit, and it would be interesting to discover if the rodents were named after the feline, or derived the title from a common or an independent source.
The Old English name for a Tom-cat with a Gib, or Gibbe-cat (hard g), and the term persisted in common use in Northern England and Scotland until recent times, and even now has not completely died out. The name seems to have been specially applied to an old male cat whose gravity approached to melancholy. Thus Shakespeare makes Falstaff declare: "I am as melancholy as a gib-cat" ("Henry IV," Act I, Sc. II). A light is cast on the significance of the phrase by Fennell, who, in his "Natural History of Quadrupeds," written in 1843, says: "Most of the former [he-cats] that are kept are emasculated, in which state, always accompanied with a subdued and melancholy appearance, they are called Gilberts, or Gib-cats."
The uncanny gloom of these cats caused them to be connected with witchcraft, and Marston describes "A hag whose eies shoot poison—that has become an ould witch, and is now turning into a gib-cat." ("The Fawne," IV.)
The name seems to have been a familiar abbreviation of Gilbert, and of an old High German origin. It was at first used as a proper name for an individual cat, like the modern English "Tom," but finally became regarded as a generic term.
♥ On the other hand, a Tabby cat was so called from the black and white watered silks which came originally from El Tabbiana, near Bagdad, but the word acquired the meaning of female cat, as distinguished from Tom-cat.
♥ The origin of the race of tailless cats which inhabit the Isle of Man is a mystery that has never found a satisfactory explanation. But legend persistently associates shipwreck with the coming of the Manx cat to its island home. According to one account the breed came over in the Spanish Armada, and was propagated by cats that escaped from two ships wrecked off Spanish Point, near Port Erin. An old Manx newspaper asserts that in 1808 an "East Company ship was wrecked on Jurby Point, and a rumpy cat swan ashore." Another tradition, saved from oblivion by the Rev. W. B. Clarke, states that a Baltic ship wrecked between Castle Rushen and the Calf was responsible for the introduction of the Manx cat to the island. As the vessel drew close to the shore two or three tailless cats leaped from the bowsprit, and were taken by the wreckers, and these were the first of the kind ever seen in Man. All these legends are confessedly of recent date, and are but another way of saying that the origin of the breed is unknown, and is derived from a foreign source.
♥ The cats of the Malayan Archipelago are noted for their peculiarly kinked, knotted, clubbed or otherwise malformed tails. The reason for this condition us unknown, but is is a state which has endured for a long period of time, reference being made to it as far back as 1783 by William Marsden, F.R.S., late Secretary to the President and Council of Sumatra," "All their tails imperfect and knobbed at the end.
A native legend relates that a certain Princess bathing in a lake in the Palace grounds strung her rings on the tail, at that time straight, of her pet cat. Alas, the cat dropped her tail, and the rings slipped into the water. On the next occasion the Princess knotted the cat's tail, so that the rings remain in place, and since then all the native cats have kinked tails.
♥ Mr. Frazer informs us that all cats in Bismark Archipelago, off the north coast of New Guinea, walk about with stumpy tails. But Nature is not responsible for the shortcomings of their caudal appendages. The natives of that land regard a cat as a dainty dish, and the less scrupulous among them are sometimes tempted to seize the cat of their neighbour when they are short of a meal. This temptation is removed by docking Puss of a portion of her trail and hiding it. If after this operation the cat is stolen and eaten, the owner can avenge the crime by burying the severed piece with certain spells in the earth. This will cause the thief to fall ill. So no one dares to steal a cat with a stumpy tail.