Are Cats Divine? The Surprising Sacred Status of Our Feline Friends

Introduction

Cats have long held a special place in human culture and civilization. In many societies across history, felines have been granted mystical or sacred status and meaning. Some ancient religions like those in Egypt and Norse cultures revered cats and ascribed divine attributes to them. This has led some people to ask whether cats themselves are actually holy animals.

While cats have certainly been an important part of mythological and religious symbolism, and treated with great care and respect in some traditions, they do not inherently possess any sacred or divine qualities. Cats are living creatures like any other animal. However, the unique traits and behaviors of felines have inspired humans to incorporate them into stories, myths, and religious practices in very meaningful ways. This article will explore how and why cats have been revered through the lens of different religions and cultures, while providing a balanced perspective on their status.

Cats in Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, cats were considered sacred animals and were associated with various deities. The most well-known cat goddess was Bastet, depicted as a cat or a woman with a cat’s head (Wikipedia, 2022). Bastet was the goddess of protection, fertility, and childbirth. Ancient Egyptians believed cats were sacred to Bastet and thought she could inhabit the cats’ bodies.

Cats were afforded great reverence in ancient Egypt. Killing a cat was considered a capital offense and resulted in the death penalty. When a cat died, their owners would go into mourning and shave their eyebrows to represent their grief. The dead cat would be mummified and buried in an elaborate cat cemetery. Egyptians believed well-treated cats would put in a good word with Bastet after death (History.com, 2021).

The favor given to cats in Egyptian society was codified in law. Cats were legally protected and harming or killing a cat resulted in severe punishment. Cat owners who negligently allowed their cats to die were prosecuted. The status and legal protection afforded to cats highlights their sacred standing in ancient Egypt.

Cats in Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology, cats were associated with the fertility goddess Freyja. Freyja was the goddess of love, beauty, and magic, and her chariot was said to be pulled by two cats (https://www.lifeinnorway.net/viking-cats/). She was often depicted wearing a cloak made of cat fur.

Cats were seen as sacred animals to Freyja and thought to represent love and fertility. It was believed that Freyja’s love for cats helped the Norse people regard cats highly, unlike other European cultures at the time who saw cats as evil (https://scandification.com/cats-in-norse-mythology-viking-cats/). Owning and caring for cats was considered a sign of goodness in the Viking Age, and mistreating cats was seen as offensive to Freyja.

Overall, cats had an exalted status in Norse mythology and culture due to their association with Freyja and the positive values she embodied.

Cats in Hinduism

In Hinduism, cats are revered but not worshipped. There are some Hindu gods and goddesses that are associated with cats or depicted as cat-like beings.

For example, Shashthi or Shashthi Devi is a Hindu goddess of fertility and childbirth who is often depicted riding on a cat (Wikipedia, 2022). According to Hindu mythology, she protects newborn babies and children. Shashthi is shown as a benefactor deity flanked by cats (Quora, 2018).

Bastet, an Egyptian cat goddess, was also introduced into Hinduism in some parts of India. She became known as Pasupati in Hindu iconography and was depicted as a cat-headed deity. However, Bastet/Pasupati is considered a minor deity and not widely worshipped (Wikipedia, 2022).

So while cats have an important place in Hindu iconography and mythology, they are not worshipped as holy animals in the same sense as cows. Cats are admired for qualities like fertility and protection, but Hinduism does not have any major cat deities that are the objects of widespread worship. Reverence for cats does not equate to considering them as divine or holy animals.

Cats in Buddhism

In Buddhism, cats are revered for their serenity, calmness, and peacefulness.[1] According to some Buddhist teachings, cats can reach an enlightened state and have attained a higher level of consciousness through meditation.[2]

One of the most iconic symbols associated with cats in Buddhism is the Maneki Neko or “beckoning cat.” These cat figurines are commonly seen with one paw raised in a welcoming gesture. Maneki Neko statues are often placed in Buddhist temples, restaurants, and shops to bring good luck and fortune.[3] The raised paw symbolizes an invitation for wealth and happiness.

Cats are thought to be spiritually in tune in Buddhism. Their tranquil nature is seen as a representation of Buddhist ideals. Cats are able to sit still for long periods of time and focus their attention, which reflects Buddhist meditation practices. For this reason, cats are sometimes referred to as little Buddhas.[1]

Sources:

[1] https://omtimes.com/2020/05/cats-buddhist-perspective/

[2] https://alanpeto.com/buddhism/buddhism-secrets-of-cats/

[3] https://www.tofugu.com/japan/maneki-neko-lucky-cat/

Cats in Islam

Cats were beloved pets of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad awoke one day to the sounds of the adhan (call to prayer). As he prepared to attend prayer, he realized his cat Muezza was sleeping on the sleeve of his robe. Rather than disturb the cat, Muhammad cut the sleeve off and left her to sleep. This demonstrated his compassion for animals.

The story is conveyed in various hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammad), such as this one from Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘Affection for cats is part of faith.'” 1

Cats thus have many positive associations in Islamic folklore and are considered clean animals in Islam. The common name Abu Hurairah, meaning “Father of Kittens,” was given to companion of Muhammad known for his love of cats. To this day, cats are treated well in many Muslim households and communities.

Cats in Wicca

In Wicca, cats are strongly associated with magic and witchcraft. This connection originates from the association between cats, particularly black cats, and witches. Witches were believed to be able to transform into cats or have cats as their familiars. Cats are seen as magical creatures in Wicca due to their mysterious nature and mystical abilities, such as being able to see spirits that are invisible to humans.

Cats are also linked to femininity and goddess worship in Wicca. The Egyptian cat goddess Bastet was associated with protection, fertility and motherhood. Bastet was depicted as a cat or a woman with a cat’s head. Cats were sacred animals to her and revered in ancient Egypt. In Wicca, the goddess is often represented by a cat. Cats are considered spiritual animals representing the divine feminine.

Many Wiccans keep cats as pets as they are drawn to their magical energy. Black cats in particular are prized in Wicca for their mystical aura. Witches believe black cats amplify magical power and aid psychic abilities and divination. Overall, cats have a special place in Wicca because of their close connection to magic, spirits, and the goddess.

http://wiccacats.com/
https://www.reddit.com/r/Wicca/comments/a1jcrt/what_significance_do_cats_hold_in_wicca/

Cats as Familiars

In European folklore, cats are often depicted as familiars – companion animals that assist witches with their magic and rituals. Familiars were commonly believed to be supernatural entities or minor demons that took animal form (1). Cats, along with other animals like rats, toads, and ravens, were frequently considered the witches’ familiars.

However, familiars were not revered or worshipped in their own right. Rather, they were believed to be granted by the devil to serve the witch. The familiar provided the witch with magical assistance, but did not have inherent spiritual status itself (2). So while cats were important in folklore as witches’ helpers, they were not seen as holy creatures.

The association between cats, witches, and magic persists today. But modern witchcraft considers familiars to be animals with whom the practitioner has a close spiritual bond, not a demonic spirit (3). So while cats may be familiars, they do not have inherent mystical powers or sacred status.

Reverence vs. Worship

It is important to distinguish between reverence and worship when considering if cats are truly “holy” animals.[1] Reverence refers to great respect and honor, while worship refers to bowing down before something greater than oneself. Many cultures revere cats, but do not worship them as deities. For example, cows are revered in Hinduism but are not worshipped as gods.[2] Similarly, while cats hold an esteemed status in many belief systems, they are not equal to divine beings. Worship is reserved for gods and supreme forces in these faiths. Reverence recognizes cats as spiritually significant, but does not deify them. Ultimately, the distinction highlights that honoring cats as holy creatures differs from worshipping them as all-powerful gods.

Conclusion

In summary, cats have been revered and respected in various faiths and cultures throughout history, but not universally considered sacred or holy animals. Ancient Egyptians famously worshipped cats as embodiments of the gods. In Norse mythology, the cat-drawn chariot of Freyja suggests an exalted feline status. Hindus associated cats with femininity and fertility goddesses. Black cats held mystical significance in medieval Europe as witches’ familiars. Islamic tradition valued cats for their cleanliness and companionship.

However, views on cats diverge greatly across regions and eras. While cats have been treasured companions and even divine creatures in some societies, other cultures vilified felines as evil omens or agents of witchcraft. Reverence for cats appears limited to specific historical contexts, rather than a universal sacred status. The evidence suggests cats are not holy animals in an absolute sense, but have been respected and admired in various faiths. Their influence remains more cultural than spiritual.

Scroll to Top