Myths and Superstitions About Black Cats

Wondering What to Do If a Black Cat Crosses Your Path at Night?

Jack-O-Lantern. Dorann Weber / Getty Images

Pet a black cat for just a second and you'll make a loyal friend for life. But over the centuries, these dark, handsome, and friendly felines have endured the stigma of cultural and historical myths, superstitions, and tales that make them either revered or feared. 

Luckily, recent data shows that it's a myth that black cats are adopted less frequently than cats of other colors, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). However, shelter workers may notice a bias against black felines thanks to lingering perceptions. You might be surprised to find that in between the negative lore about black cats, there are also positive beliefs about them. You could even decide it’s auspicious if you find one of these regal creatures crossing your path at any time during the day or night.

Why There Are Tons of Black Cats

There are more black cats than any other color because the black gene is most dominant for felines, according to the ASPCA.

Superstition #1: Black Cats Are Witches in Disguise

If you're spooked when you see a black cat, it’s probably from medieval folklore that continues to shroud the reputation of these dignified kitties. Black cats have long been associated with witches and witchcraft. It's said that the story began when a black cat was seen running into a house thought to be inhabited by a witch. During the Middle Ages, black cats became equated with black magic. Roaming nocturnal black cats were thought to be witches in disguise, witches' pets, or animal-shaped demons sent by witches to spy on humans. Throughout early 13th century Europe until the 17th century Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, black cats were killed along with those who were considered witches. Black cats have evolved into icons of anything related to witchcraft, especially during the Halloween season.

Superstition #2: Black Cats Are Bad Luck

A black cat is also associated with bad luck, and sadly, death. This fear of black cats appears to stem from medieval times when an animal with dark feathers or fur, including crows and ravens, signaled death. In 16th-century Italy, it was believed that death was imminent if a black cat would lay on someone's sickbed. In modern-day North America, negative connotations continue to haunt black cats. It’s considered bad luck if a black cat crosses your path, and good luck if a white cat crosses your path. Another family member is bound to die if you spot a black cat during a funeral procession. It's a bad omen if you see a black cat walking away from you. 

2:05

Why are Black Cats Associated with Bad Luck?

Superstition #3: Black Cats Are Good Luck

Black cats are also believed to bring good luck in many ways. In ancient Egypt, black cats were held in the highest esteem because they resembled Bastet, the cat-headed Egyptian goddess of home, fertility, and protection from disease. Black cats are considered good luck in other parts of the globe, as well.

  • In Asia and the U.K. you're going to be lucky in life if you own a black cat.
  • In Japan, you'll have luck in finding love if you spot a black cat.
  • In parts of England, a bride will have luck in her marriage if she receives a black cat as a gift.
  • In Europe, sailors will have a safe journey if they bring along a black cat on the ship.
  • In Scotland, you'll have coming prosperity if a black cat appears at your doorway or on your porch.
  • In France, something magical is about to happen if you see a black cat.

In other cultures around the world, it’s a sign of good luck if you dream about a black cat, see one walking towards you, or if you happen to find a stray white hair on its gleaming ebony fur.

illustration of folklore about black cats
Illustration: Hugo Lin. © The Spruce, 2018