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THE CAT IN LEGEND AND WITCHCRAFT
During the Christian era many legends concerning cats have been passed down in folklore, but since medieval times most have represented the cat as a witch's 'familiar' or as a disciple of the devil. The earliest English legend, which appears to put the cat in a good light, is that of Dick Whittington and his cat. Dick was a poor boy who came to London with nothing but his cat; he made his fortune, and in the end was thrice Lord Mayor of London. This legend may date back as early as the late 1300s, but it has been suggested that the 'cat' was not the feline animal but the kind of heave ship known as a 'cat' which was used for carrying coal from Newcastle to London. After this time the cat was always seen as a villain, and in fairy stories every witch has a black cat, although oddly enough black cats are supposed to bring their owners good luck.
In the prologue to William Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman written in 1362-3 there is a description of 'belling the cat' which became a favourite topic for the illuminators of books and the carvers of choir stalls (according to Klingender, 1971). In the allegory a certain rat suggests fixing bells and a collar round the neck of a cat which has been plaguing the rats and mice. The bells are brought but no one dares to fix them on the cat. Then a mouse speaks up to say that even if they get rid of this cat another one, or its kitten, will come to persecute them in its place. By means of these symbols Langland made this passage understandable to everyone. The cat was King Edward 111, the kitten who might replace him was his grandson Richard, then heir to the throne, the rats and mice were the commoners. The fable became well known and was narrated in a speech by Lord Gray to the conspirators against the favourites of King James 111, at which Archibald, Earl of Angus, exclaimed, 'I am he who will bell the cat'; from which occasion he was to become known as 'Archibald Bell-the-cat'.
From this time the cat gradually took on the character of evilness, of Satanism and of witchcraft. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the terrible period of trials for witchcraft. Topsell, in 1607, wrote: 'The familiars of witches do most ordinarily appear in the shape of cats, which is an argument that the beast is dangerous to soul and body'. The first trial for witchcraft in England was in 1566, in the reign of Elizabeth 1. Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan were executed for being linked in witchcraft with a cat that was 'a whytte spotted catte…(and they) feed the sayde catte with breade and milkye… and call it by the name of Sathan'. The last official execution for witchcraft took place in 1684, and during this 188-year period the cat became progressively more feared as the witch's 'familiar', although other animals were also considered to carry evil spirits.
According to Tabor (1983), the belief that a cat has nine lives first arose from a statement in about 1560 in Beware the Cat by Baldwin who wrote, 'it was permitted for a witch to take her cattes body nine times'.
Children's literature provides an abundant source of folk tales and rhymes on cats, as on many other animals, and the works of Iona and Peter Opie may be consulted for reference to these (1951, 1959, 1969). Many of the rhymes are examples of folk memory that go back to the time when cats were persecuted.
Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries cats were subjected to appalling torments in the cause of searching out the devil, especially during Lent when it was customary to throw them into bonfires and so on. Later, during the eighteenth century, cats were very cruelly treated in all sorts of baiting 'sports'.
One superstition of which there is material evidence was that if the body of a cat, or better still the bodies of a cat and a rat, were built into a house wall they would keep away rats. This belief survived as late as the eighteenth century, and the dried mummified corpses of cats have been found in a fairly large number of buildings in Britain and Europe. Some of these corpses may be the result of cats creeping into holes while a new house was being built and then being trapped. Most, however, have been dried in a life-like posture and then carefully built into the wall. A number these dried cats are held in the research collections of the Natural History Museum, the finest being a cat with a rat placed just underneath it from a house that was recently demolished in Bloomsbury, London.
(From The British Museum Book of CATS by Juliet Clutton-Brock)
STREGA CATS (ITALY)
The cloisters of San Lorenzo house hundreds of cats, but why so many? Local legend claims these cats were once evil wizards intent on defying local law and causing other mischief. Finally the local clergy became irate and the wizards ran off, seeking protection in the cloisters. The priests at the cloisters required a promise from the wizards that they would never again live as withes, but become cats and live at the cloisters in peace. They agreed and have remained there ever since.
Students of sympathetic magic believe that the children's game of cat's cradle may have been played as s way of capturing the divine sun cat. In areas where it was hot, the cradle gave the sun god a place to rest, symbolically bringing a cool respite. In Arctic areas, the string tangled the cat's feet to keep it in place and retain the warmth.
HOW TO CHANGE INTO A CAT
Isobel Gowdie, a confessed Scottish witch who was burned in 1665, revealed the spell used to change into a cat and to change back again. Each incarnation should be repeated three times.
To change into a cat:
I shall goe intill ane catt,
With sorrow, and sych, and a blak shott;
And I sall goe in the Divellis nam,
Ay will I com hom againe.
To change back into a human:
Catt, catt, God send thee a blak shott.
I am in a cattis liknes just now,
Bot I sal be in a womanis liknes ewin now.
Catt, catt, God send thee a blak shott.
I often see this dream…
are looking out of weird unearthly brushwood.
Their almost human faces
unusually expressive eyes speak about something,
that I can't understand.
Feeling of a near solution is delightful and poignant,
but mental efforts does not pass without a trace. I wake up
with a feeling of sudden loss and disillusionment.
Who are they and what are they for?
Are they Messengers and Agents of an extraterrestrial
civilization, who were taken to the Earth
for some reasons left here for ever?
I often see this dream.
KALLISTOVA Elena "EGYPT. CHESS" Oil on canvas
Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1849-1923) L'Apotheose des chats a Montmartre' ou L'orchestre des chats au clair de lune 1905 Oil jn canvas 164,5 x 300cm
KLEVAKIN Sergey "INTERIOR" Oil on canvas
GUZHOV Dmitry "ISHTAR" Oil on canvas
ERMAKOV Sergey "BALANCE" Oil on canvas
RUD Maria "A WITCH" Mixed media
ARTYUHOVA Irina "PLAYING WITH CLEWS"
Kashirin Stepan "Reflection"
oil on canvas
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