S3 E10: We Apologize to Cats

Cemetery Cats

  • Cats got a bit of a bad rap in our death omens episode, so I wanted to do a positive episode about cats (perfect timing with the release of the upcoming movie).
  • This started as some lighthearted research into “Cemetery Cats” but went so much deeper.
  • Let’s start with the long relationship between cats and the spirit world…
Statue of Bastet (Source)

Ancient Egypt: Famous for their worship of cats!

    1. A branch of the government was formed solely to deal with the exporting of cats. Agents traveled to far-away lands to find and return cats which had been smuggled out.
    2. It was established by law in 450 BCE that the penalty for killing a cat was death (though this law is thought to have been observed much earlier).
    3. The goddess Bastet: the keeper of hearth and home, protector of women’s secrets, guardian against evil spirits and disease, and the goddess of cats— she was commonly depicted as a cat or a woman with a cat’s head.
    4. Greek historian, Herodotus writes that when a cat died, “All the inhabitants of a house shave their eyebrows [as a sign of deep mourning]. Cats which have died are taken to Bubastis where they are embalmed and buried in sacred receptacles” (Nardo 117). The period of mourning was considered completed when the people’s eyebrows had grown back. Mummified cats have been found at throughout Egypt, including the ancient city of Bubastis (honored Bastet) that was recently uncovered.

Cats were revered in most ancient cultures:

  1. In India: Cats helped control the populations of mice, rats, and snakes and so were honored in the homes, farms, and palaces throughout the land.
    1. Original story of “Puss in Boots” is from Indian folklore
    2. Story of a cat and mouse that help each other escape death
    3. Goddess Sastht (similar to Bastet)

2. In Persia: the cat was created by magic as a gift to the great Persian hero, Rustum.

3. In China: creation myth indicates that when the gods created the world, they appointed cats to oversee things and thus gave them the ability to speak with the gods. The cats weren’t interested in this responsibility, so the job fell to humans. Humans, however, seemed incapable of understanding the gods so cats remained entrusted with maintaining order.

4. In Japan: the beckoning cat represents the goddess of mercy and were believed to save lives.

5. In Greece: In one of the many complicated love affairs on Mt. Olympus, Hera turned someone into a cat, and sent them to the underworld to serve Hecate.

6. Norse Mythology: cats were the favored animal of the fertility goddess, Freyja, goddess of love and luck whose chariot was pulled by cats. It was believed that “how you treat your cat, is how you will be treated by Freyja.

7. Celtic Mythology: cats guarded the gates of the underworld.

It wasn’t until the spread of Christianity that cats began to get a bad reputation. The Christian Church, following their regular course of demonizing important pagan symbols, drew on the pre-existing link between the cat and witchcraft to associate cats with evil as personified in the Devil. 

Then, cats were granted a reprieve in Britain by (none other than our girl) Queen Vicki!

Picture of the “Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Queen’s Medal of Kindness”. It was Queen Victoria who insisted a cat be included on the medal (Source)

Queen Victoria had always kept dogs as pets, but became interested in cats after hearing stories associated with the archaeological finds in Egypt at the time. She adopted two Blue Persians whom she treated as members of her court. The newspapers ran stories about her two cats, and her subjects began adopting cats of their own… Afterward the popularity of cats spread to America as well.

Needless to say, the connection between cats and death goes back as long as there have been cats… No matter if they’re ferrying souls to the underworld, comforting a person on their death bed, OR taking up residence in a cemetery.

That’s right, google “Cemetery Cats” and you’ll find 100s of photos of cats who have chosen to make their homes in cemeteries across the world.

Cat at the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires (Source)

The Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina spans 14 acres, holds almost 5000 vaults, and is home to dozens of cats. Though many notable Argentine figures have been laid to rest in Recoleta Cemetery, it is the cats that seem to attract the most people. All of these cats have a name, are regularly vaccinated and dewormed, fed twice a day by volunteers, and are sterilized! The generous benefactor who takes care of their financial needs, wishes to remain anonymous, but apparently fell in love with the cats while visiting her husband’s grave and has been taking care of them for over 20 years!

At Saint Sampson’s Cemetery in Guernsey (Island in English Channel) there was a popular cat named Barney who brought comfort to mourners at the cemetery for 20 years. Sexton, Alan Curzon said, “For those who entered the cemetery with a heavy heart, he lightened up the experience for them. When people walked through the gates, he often came up and brushed against them.” He was very well taken care of and was given many gifts on Christmas when loved ones came to visit the graves of their deceased. Barney passed away in 2016 and was buried at the cemetery where he made his home. When his passing was posted on facebook an outpouring of love ensued:

Beloved Barney, the cemetery cat of St Sampson’s Parish cemetery in Guernsey (Source)

“God bless you Barney, remember that lovely sunny afternoon, I laid down on the grass in the cemetery and we cuddled up together for two hours”

“He brought so much comfort to my children especially on our regular visits to the cemetery. Thanks to a special cat, sleep well and warm.”

“RIP Barney. Now you will be keeping our loved ones safe on the other side”

Hollywood Forever Cemetery manages five feral cat colonies.

Black cat at Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo (Source)

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo is part of an area called “cat town” where vendors sell cat-themed memorabilia to tourists. The cemetery has become the best place to meet cats.

So why do cats regularly make homes in cemeteries?

When you thing about it— they’re quiet, there’s little traffic, often fenced in, plenty of shelter and hiding places, plus tombs make a great vantage point for watching and sunbathing.

Besides all of the practical benefits, maybe there is something to be said about all the legends connecting cats to the underworld. Maybe a cemetery is the perfect place for a cat to live: offering protection from the elements and ample opportunity to convene with the spirit realm.







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