What Does A Cat Represent In Mexican Culture?

Animals have played an important role in Mexican culture and folklore for centuries. Creatures like the eagle, snake, jaguar and deer have deep symbolic meaning in mythology, stories, art and spiritual beliefs. The cat is no exception, and over time has come to represent key themes of independence, magic, witchcraft and mystery in Mexican society.

In this article, we will explore the varied symbolism and legends around cats in Mexican history and culture. Cats have been both revered and feared over generations. They frequently appear in folk tales as magical creatures, godly figures, witch’s familiars or omens of good or ill fortune. We’ll cover famous cat gods, the role of black cats, recurring cat imagery in Mexican art, and how cats are viewed both positively and negatively in language and oral traditions. By the end, you’ll understand the multifaceted legacy of felines in Mexican myth and culture.

History of Cats in Mexico

Cats first arrived in Mexico with Spanish colonists in the 16th century. The Spanish brought domestic cats, including ancestors of the Spanish Mestizo breed, to control rodents on their ships and in the new colonies. Over the next few centuries, cats spread throughout Mexico along with Spanish settlements and trade routes.

By the 19th century, cats were common in Mexican households, farms, shops, and ports. Unique Mexican cat breeds also began to emerge, like the hairless Mexican Hairless, that were likely crossed with cats from pre-Columbian indigenous cultures. Today, cats continue to be popular pets and local breeds in Mexico.

Cats in Mexican Folklore

Cats have a prominent place in ancient Mexican folklore and mythology. In Aztec mythology, the jaguar and ocelot were revered as sacred animals associated with sorcery and the supernatural. According to the legend, the Toltec god Tezcatlipoca was able to transform into a jaguar. Another Aztec legend tells of how the goddess Ītzpāpālōtl, ruler of the paradise Tamoanchan, presided over paradise in the form of a cat.

The Mayans also honored the jaguar, considering it to be the living incarnation of the gods on earth. Mayan kings and nobles would wear jaguar pelts during sacred ceremonies to establish their connection with the divine. Smaller wild cats like the ocelot were also deemed sacred.

Mexican folk tales feature cats prominently as well. One famous folktale is The Cat’s Elopement, which tells the story of how the cat eloped with the rat’s fiancée before their wedding. The vengeful rat responds by tormenting cats to this day. Another folktale explains why cats always land on their feet. According to legend, when Jesus was carrying a cat in his cloak up to heaven, the cat continued peeking its head out in curiosity. Jesus became so frustrated that he dropped the cat, shouting “Stay down!” But the cat managed to right itself and land on its feet, a skill they retain to this day.

Cat Deities

In Aztec mythology, cats were associated with important deities. One of the most significant was Tezcatlipoca, the god of the night sky, darkness, magic, and the Great Bear constellation [1]. Tezcatlipoca was depicted as a jaguar or sometimes as a coyote, but he also had associations with black cats. Black cats were seen as his earthly embodiment, especially those with yellow eyes. As a deity, Tezcatlipoca had dominion over the night, hurricanes, temptation, jaguars, sorcery and war [2].

Tezcatlipoca was considered one of the most powerful Aztec gods and the rival of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl. Myths relate that Tezcatlipoca lost his foot in his eternal struggle with Quetzalcoatl. As a god with the power to transform into different animals, Tezcatlipoca sometimes took the form of a black cat when administering divine justice. His cult was brought from the north into central Mexico during the Toltec era.

Overall, because of Tezcatlipoca’s associations with the night, mysticism and shape-shifting, black cats came to be seen by the Aztecs as possessing supernatural powers and being the vessels of a powerful deity. However, they were also regarded as being unpredictable and potentially dangerous because of their connection to sorcery and war.

Black Cats

Black cats have a complex history in Mexican folklore and superstition. They are often associated with witchcraft, the supernatural, and omens of bad luck. According to Mexican superstitions documented on Society19, black cats are seen as signs of the Devil and it’s considered bad luck if one crosses your path (1).

Pictures of Cats explains that there is a legend in Mexico about a black cat that died inside a house and the residents refused to bury it because black cats symbolize bad luck. This legend shows how black cats have been demonized in Mexican culture (2).

An article on The Playa Times discusses how black cats and witches have been linked to the underworld and evil. Spotting a black cat crossing your path is thought by some to be an omen of impending misfortune (3). These superstitions have roots in European influence.

While not all Mexicans still adhere to these old superstitions, they demonstrate the deep-seated folklore surrounding black cats in the country. They have been associated with witchcraft, death, and supernatural evil.

(1) https://www.society19.com/mexican-superstitions-you-still-believe-in/

(2) https://pictures-of-cats.org/the-cat-myths-of-mexico.html

(3) http://www.theplayatimes.com/2017/10/21/black-cat-luck/

Cats as Pets

Cats are a popular pet in Mexican households. According to a 2019 survey by Statista, nearly 8 out of 10 pet owners in Mexico owned a dog, while 39% owned a cat [1]. While dogs are more popular pets overall, cats remain a cherished companion for many Mexicans.

Some cat breeds that are favored in Mexico include the Sphinx, Scottish Fold, and British Shorthair. The hairless Sphynx cat is believed to have originated from Mexico and is therefore a breed strongly associated with Mexican cat ownership [2]. The loving and loyal nature of the Scottish Fold makes it popular across Mexico. And the adaptability of the British Shorthair allows it to thrive in the Mexican climate.

Mexicans take great pride in their pet cats. Cats are often allowed to roam freely outdoors and nap comfortably in shaded alleyways or sunny windowsills. Their independent and affectionate nature resonates with many Mexican owners. Cats continue to hold an esteemed place in Mexican households as loving pets and companions.

Cats in Language

Cats have influenced Mexican language and culture, appearing in common sayings and idioms. The Spanish phrase “estar como gato panza arriba” literally translates to “to be as happy as a cat tummy-up” and means to be extremely happy (barcelonablonde.com). Other cat-related idioms include “aquí hay gato encerrado” meaning “there is a cat locked up here” to imply something fishy is going on. Cats are also featured in terms of endearment, with words like “gatita” meaning kitten used affectionately for a woman.

Cats are called “el gato” for males and “la gata” for females in Mexican Spanish. People use cute nicknames for cats like “michifuz” meaning kitty cat. There are also many colorful Spanish slang terms referencing cats, showing their influence embedded into the language (speakinglatino.com).

Cat Imagery in Art

Cats have been a popular subject in Mexican art for centuries. Felines are frequently depicted in the art and handicrafts of pre-Hispanic cultures like the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations. Jaguars held particular significance, representing power and ferocity for these cultures.

In modern times, cats continue to be portrayed in a variety of Mexican art forms. Brightly colored cat figures called alebrijes are a popular folk art tradition that started in Mexico City in the 1930s. Alebrijes combine whimsical animal characteristics and are frequently depicted with patterns and colors inspired by folklore. Diego Rivera included a black cat in his famous mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park.” Frida Kahlo also incorporated cats into her self-portraits, using them as symbols of independence, fertility, and femininity.

Contemporary Mexican artists continue to use feline motifs and themes in their work. Cat shapes and faces can be found in paintings, sculptures, textiles, and more. Cats represent mystery, magic, and even danger in Mexican culture, making them endlessly intriguing artistic subjects. Their fluid forms inspire the creativity of many artists seeking to capture the enigmatic nature of cats.


Celebrating Cats

Mexico has various festivals and events that celebrate cats. One of the most popular is the Festival del Gato, held annually in Mexico City since 1998. Thousands of people gather in the historic center to admire hundreds of cats in costumes and participate in activities like cat talent contests. The festival aims to promote adoption and care for street cats. According to the event’s website, the 2022 festival had over 500 registered cats.

Another major cat-themed event is the Catrinas Felinas parade, part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City. People dress up their cats as the iconic skeleton Catrina figures. Pet owners take their elaborately costumed kitties to march down the street. The parade honors deceased pets while showing off Mexicans’ creativity and love for cats.

Additionally, the city of Cuernavaca has hosted the annual Festival of the Cat since 2019. The free public event features adoptable cats, educational exhibits, and activities for cat lovers of all ages. According to a 2022 Cat® Live Festival México promotional video, the festival aims to make Mexico the friendliest country for cats.


Throughout history, cats have played an important role in Mexican culture and folklore. They have been revered as goddesses, featured in legends and artwork, and kept as beloved pets. Certain cats like black cats have their own unique symbolism and superstitions associated with them.

Cats continue to hold cultural significance in Mexico today. Their images can be found in traditional Mexican pottery, fabrics, paintings, and jewelry. Folktales involving mystical jaguar spirits and cat deities are still passed down. Many Mexicans keep cats as pets and appreciate them for controlling pests and providing companionship.

In the language, phrases with “gatito” or “gato” are used endearingly between friends and loved ones. The traditional La Gatita dance celebrates cats. Shelters work to care for stray cats. Overall, cats maintain a lasting impact on Mexican culture through their roles in folklore, language, imagery, and daily life.

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