The Symbolism of the Cat

Scratching apart the sexy symbolism of the feline.

Readership: All

Here’s something appropriate for Helloween, a pagan holiday which I don’t endorse all that much actually.

leopard leotard

A Short History of the Symbolism of Cats

Cats were domesticated in Egypt around 2100 BC for the purpose of hunting.

The Egyptians had great reverence for cats.  They had multiple cat goddesses, including Bastet (the mother of fertility), Sekhmet (goddess with the head of a lioness), and Mafdet (goddess having come before Bast, who represented feral Egyptian cats).  Each of these gods is female, which supports the association between cats and women.

The Celts also had a fondness for felines, associating them with their pre-Christian folk goddess Brighid.  They saw certain qualities in cats admirable, like sensitivity and stealth.  In Britain and Ireland, they believe cats are representative of friends and companions, much like dogs are thought of, and that black cats are lucky.  Little black bog cat statues are sold for good luck.

All of the above mentioned goddesses are female, and were commonly associated with fertility, health, medicine, healing, and magic.  For instance, ancient Druidic priests would use “cat magic” to cross between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Anyone who has spent any time around cats knows that they can be very solitary animals.  The evoke the spirit of independence, cleverness, curiosity, and stealth.  Cats are also symbolic of rebirth and resurrection, and this is described in the saying, “Cats have nine lives”.  This belief is not without foundation.  I once saw a cat fall off a window ledge on the sixth floor.  I expected to see it splatter on the pavement below, but instead, the cat took off running just moments after.

eveready battery

Christianity turned these positive traditions with cats upside-down by connecting cats with Satan, witches, and evil.  Because cats are nocturnal, they were also associated with darkness, as well as fear, the unconscious, and things that are hidden.  Cats have always been symbols of mystery and magic, as aforementioned, but also unpredictability.  Cats were seen as unlucky, bad omens, or evil influences.  At times, they were regarded as accomplices and were hung or garroted with their masters when convicted of a crime, such as heresy.  The Pilgrims shared these opinions of cats when they came to the Americas, and thus, Western society has many superstitions about cats.

In Taiwan, people once believed that the corpse of a dead cat should not be allowed to get wet, otherwise, the spirit of the cat would continue to dwell in that place and harass people.  So dead cats were usually tied or nailed to trees until they dried out and mummified.  People held the opposite set of beliefs about dogs, and threw dead dogs into rivers to prevent their spirits from returning.

Another society that wasn’t so fond of cats included the Native American tribes, for instance the Oglala.  They would not have anything to do with any feline animal because they believed that cats had powerful magic and the ability to curse people.

anne hathaway catwoman

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.

The association between Cats and Sex

In addition to the fertility of feline goddesses, cat symbolism also has strong sexual overtones.  (Imagine all the noise that cats make during mating and copulation.)  This connotation continues to carry over into our modern culture.  There are many words, phrases, and idioms used to describe sexual anatomy, sexual experiences, or sexualized women, which make associations to cats.  For example, cat lady, cat scratch fever, catwoman, cougar, lovers fighting like cats, lynx, muff, pussy, sex kitten, to be/go on the prowl…

…which reminds me of a song that I really loved when I was a kid, What’s new pussycat? by Christopher Scott and Burt Bacharach.  Here is a cover of the same song by Tom Jones.

Listening to this song again as an adult, I am amused by the overt sexual connotations which I was unaware of as a child.  I can’t imagine how funny it must have been to see me as a four-year-old boy singing along to this song so proudly and confidently.  This explains why my mother hated to play this song for me, even though she owned the album.

I also remembered that my maternal grandmother’s favorite singer was Tom Jones.  That must have irked my mother even more.  I’m LMAO!

While we’re on the topic of cats, culture, connotations, copulation, and cacophony, I can’t omit this tunage from Al Stewart.  Year of the Cat was his seventh studio album, and it was produced and engineered by the great musical legend, Alan Parsons.  It was released in 1976 and went on to be a top five hit in the United States.  One of the top selling tracts was the hit single with the eponymous name, Year of the Cat, co-written by Peter Wood.

One of the most mellow grooves you’ll ever hear, AllMusic described this song as “one of those ‘mysterious woman’ songs”.  Well now, you don’t say…

Turn down the lights and make yourself comfortable with your favorite cat-object/person before listening to this one.  Let’s explore the mystery.

Official Video

Live in Concert


On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre*
Contemplating a crime
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat

She doesn’t give you time for questions
As she locks up your arm in hers
And you follow ’till your sense of which direction
Completely disappears
By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There’s a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, I feel my life
Just like a river running through
The year of the cat

While she looks at you so cooly
And her eyes shine like the moon in the sea
She comes in incense and patchouli
So you take her, to find what’s waiting inside
The year of the cat

Well morning comes and you’re still with her
And the bus and the tourists are gone
And you’ve thrown away your choice you’ve lost your ticket
So you have to stay on
But the drum-beat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new-born day
You know sometime you’re bound to leave her
But for now you’re going to stay
In the year of the cat

Now, fast forward 20 years…

cat lady

When you realize how cougars transform into cat ladies as they age, somehow, the “mysterious woman” image is not so mysterious any longer.

Happy Howloween.  I’m out for a cat nap.

* Peter Lorre was a popular actor in 20th century films, who is best known for playing a very iconic, obsequious, sneaky, seedy, greedy bad guy.


Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre star in Casablanca (1942).

Source: LyricFind

Year of the Cat lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Carlin America Inc.

About Jack

Jack is a world traveling artist, skilled in trading ideas and information, none of which are considered too holy, too nerdy, nor too profane to hijack and twist into useful fashion. Sigma Frame Mindsets and methods for building and maintaining a masculine Frame
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2 Responses to The Symbolism of the Cat

  1. ray says:

    Thoughtful, as usual.

    I get on well with critturs, including cats. Cat-ladies, not so much.

    Many cats are truly independent; no cat-ladies are, they just like to pretend. If they had any actual independence and security, they wouldn’t need to surround themselves with mewling furballs.

    An example of the cat-magic cross-over you cite can be found in the film ‘Constantine’.

    As for cougars, the human kind I like to tease and taunt and ridicule, Run cabin-boy, run! :O)

    The animal kind, however, gets my respect. One summer while homeless I was living out of a car in the deep Cascades of WA state. On a beautiful mid-morning I hiked up the mountain a bit, focused on gathering a mess of just-ripened berries from the stands of thick brush amongst the tall pine and Doug Fir.

    I’m working a heavy clump of brush, intent, and a few feet away, I hear this short, deep, burbling sound. Just one quiet and quick note. It wasn’t even a growl, it was just the first gurgle of what could have been a growl.

    All I had was my belt-knife, and the car/camp was 200 yards back down the mountainside. There was no doubt a cougar had ensconced himself into deep brush, probly after having his morning drink at the riverside below.

    Quietly as possible, I turned around and tipped on outta there, just waiting for the sound of breaking brush, which would mean I’d have to turn and fight. But, nothing, all that cat wanted to do was finish his nap on the mountainside, undisturbed.

    When I got down to camp, even though there had been no pursuit, I climbed in back of the rig and hunkered down awhile, ‘preciate that Papa! Whew. Proving that not all Cougars are evil, just the ones with credit cards.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Wimmin Luv Cats because ¡Science! | Σ Frame

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