Why Are Black Cats Considered Unlucky?

By: Bambi Turner  | 
Cute feline domestic kitten.
Black cats have a bad rap, but truthfully they're just as cute (and innocent) as other kitties. MorganLeFaye/Getty Images

Everyone knows that when a black cat crosses your path bad luck is sure to follow. But how did black cats get such a dark reputation? Is it simply due to the color of their coat, or something more sinister?

Thousands of years ago, cats of all colors enjoyed the good life in ancient Egypt, where killing a cat came with a swift death sentence. A few millennia later, pagan customs and traditions were being overthrown by Christianity, which was spreading throughout Europe. This included vilifying any related to the pagan religion, such as the Roman goddess Diana, as well as the cat, which was a symbolism of paganism, witchcraft and goddesses.


In 1233 C.E., Pope Gregory IX put the final nail in the black cat coffin when he declared black cats to be an incarnation of the devil himself. Eager to prove their devotion, Christians began to round up black cats and burn them alive at village festivals to punish them for their devilish ways. It got so bad that by the 14th century, cats were nearly extinct in some parts of Europe.

Over the next few centuries, the idea that black cats were in league with the devil naturally led to a link between black cats and witches. Black cats, according to superstition, were believed to be witches in disguise. Others claimed that a black cat could even become a witch after serving as a witch's familiar for seven years. By the time of the famous Salem witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries, simply owning a black cat was enough to get a "witch" condemned to death [source: Associated Press].

Ironically, the black cat superstition lingers to this day, and the only one that it brings bad luck to is the black cats themselves. According to the ASPCA, black cats are admitted to shelters and rescues more than any other color. But they're actually also adopted more. While these spooky kitties make up the majority of cats in the facilities, they also account for a large number being adopted.

But it's not all great news. Because so many black cats wind up in shelters, more do end up euthanized in the long run. While we can't say for sure, the myths surrounding black cats and bad luck could potentially play a role why so many of them land in shelters. And come on, we know these sweet kitties are not really witches, right?


Originally Published: Apr 22, 2015

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  • Associated Press. "Salem may Pardon Accused Witches of 1692." Nov. 1, 2004. (Oct. 15, 2014). http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2004/11/01/salem_may_pardon_accused_witches_of_1692/
  • Blake, Yolanda. "The Truth About Black Cats." Aug. 21, 2020 (Oct. 27, 2021.) https://www.bcarl.net/post/the-truth-about-black-cats
  • Colorado State University. "For Black Cats, Superstition ain't the Way, Colorado State University Study Finds." Oct. 24, 2014. (Oct. 15, 2014). http://www.news.colostate.edu/Release/7048
  • Waddell, Terrie. "Cultural Expressions of Evil and Wickedness: Wrath, Sex, Crime." Rodopi. 2003.
  • Webster, Richard. "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." Llewellyn Worldwide. 2012.