Cats are Cuddly But Are Also the Devil
Most people think cats are cute. Unless you’re allergic or have some sort of superstition, cats are adorable. But that wasn’t always the case. There is a reason why black cats are considered part of witchcraft, and it really all starts out several years before the outbreak of the Black Death in the mid-1300s.
Ugolino di Conti was born sometime around 1145. In the grand scheme of things, he would have been a nobody in history if not for the fact that in March of 1227 he was elected as Pope. Even then, as Gregory IX, he would likely have gone down as just another pope who led the Catholic Church through crusades and inquisitions (of which there were many such popes).
What makes him interesting, is that he is almost solely responsible for the persecution, shall we say, of black cats. Every Halloween it isn’t unusual to see black cat decorations out on lawns or displayed in windows, as everyone has come to know the black cat as a symbol of witchcraft and superstition.
It all started sometime in 1232, 1233 or 1234 (the exact date is lost to us), when Pope Gregory IX issued a church document that proclaimed the black cat as an incarnation of Satan and issued a death warrant for every black cat in Christendom. For some unknown reason, this death sentence was spread to almost all cats at the time, and the cat population significantly declined.
The Papal Bull, which portrayed the black cat as a demon, was called Vox in Rama and was mainly a condemnation of German heresy. The bull also claimed that the devil would appear as half man, half feline.
Oddly, “cat massacres” are not at all uncommon in history, especially after the publication of Vox in Rama. Many reasons have been given for pogroms against cats, such as religion, superstition, concerns over public health, politics, and (grossly) cat-based delicacies (as in food).
The question is why. Why are cats constantly demonized by humans (especially with the consequences of doing so as we’ll see in the next part of this article)? Psychologists have actually studied this, and along with historians have come up with some fairly interesting (and often entertaining) answers. The one we enjoyed the most comes from an author named Paul Gray who writes “Cats were put into the world to disprove the dogma that all things were created to serve man.” Apparently somehow this basic truth, according to Gray, offends humans who use it as an excuse to blame cats for when things go wrong.
Now there is quite a bit of debate over whether or not Pope Gregory IX had anything to do with the initial demonization of cats. Some historians claim that there is no mention whatsoever of cats in Vox in Rama and that the superstition of cats came from some other source. But there is enough evidence that this did happen that the controversy is likely to exist for a long time to come. The important thing to remember is that with fewer cats roaming Europe and Asia, the more rats there were.