I am glad that you had a safe and Happy Halloween. Please know that your parents’ idea of a “Daddy” or “Mommy” tax on candy collected on Halloween or Easter did not originate with myself or your grandpa. We would never have expected or accepted anything from our children more than what they were graciously willing to share. At any rate, don’t eat all of the candy in one day….you, your stomach and teeth will regret it.
So, when you got home did you dump out all of your candy out for an inspection? I bet your cats thoroughly checked out each and every piece. They always remind me of the poor souls who had to taste all of a king’s food, to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. I bet those folks wished they had nine lives like a cat and I bet you don’t know about the time cats saved all of humankind by winning the “Battle of the Black Death.”
Seriously, we all know that cats do not have more than one life on this earth, so how did this myth about the nine lives get started? An Old English proverb says that, “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.” However, the nine lives myth is much older than this proverb and even merry old England itself.
The myth that cats have nine lives has been around for centuries. Even the famous English playwright William Shakespeare referred to it in his play, “Romeo And Juliet.” He wrote, “Tybalt: What wouldst thou have with me? Mercutio: Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.”
Actually, no one knows for sure when this myth got started, but historians believe it may have begun in ancient Egypt where cats were sacred. In fact, their goddess Bastet was pictured as being half cat and half woman. Ha! The first cat woman!
Cats in Egypt were revered in life and greatly mourned after they died. They were mummified, just like people, and had their own tombs. Interestingly, a cat tomb with over 80,000 mummified cats was discovered at Beni Hassan in Egypt in 1888. That’s a lot of cat mummies.
The ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks thought that number nine was special…even magical. Ancient Egyptians believed that their god Atum or Atum-Ra took on the form of a cat whenever he visited the underworld or as we call it today….hell. During one of his visits to the land of the dead, Atum gave birth to eight other gods. Therefore one life, became nine.
The Egyptians were not alone in thinking there was something special about the number nine. Tradition and religion made the Greeks think that the number nine had power for it was the trinity of all trinities. Not every culture credits a cat with nine lives. Spain has a tradition that cats only have seven lives, and in Arabia and Turkey the feline only gets six
It was the Romans who brought cats to Europe. During their occupation of Egypt, the Romans learned to appreciate the pet felines for their mouse catching skills. It didn’t take long before cats became popular European pets…that is….until the middle ages. Poor cats! Within a few centuries they went from being worshiped in ancient Egypt to medieval Europeans thinking they were a death delivering soldier of the devil.
Being born a cat, especially a black cat, in medieval Europe was just plain bad luck. It is the only unlucky thing about a black cat. Cats at that time were so terribly misunderstood. Their nose-in-the-air attitudes and ability to survive falls that would have killed any other animal got them labeled as being other worldly and evil.
One guy, named Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, was so fascinated by a cats amazing ability to land on its feet that he decided to test the extent of this cat talent. So, in the year 962 A. D. he threw several cats off of a very high tower. Well, the cats survived and ran away. The experiment, with the poor unfortunate cats, was so entertaining, that the Belgian town made it an annual event and festival. Each year after a procession celebrating cat history, felines were thrown from an almost 230 foot tower. Live cats were used until 1817, when the folks in Belgian decided that maybe, just maybe, this tradition was unkind and began using toy cats instead.
At that time, being thrown off a tower was the least of a cat’s problem. During the middles ages, from about 1300 until the 1700, every few generations, a terrible disease called the Bubonic Plague would savage the cities and countrysides of Europe. This disease killed up to 50 percent of the total population in some parts of England. France lost up to 90 percent of its people in some areas.
The Bubonic Plague otherwise known as the “Black Death” came to Europe in October of 1347 when twelve Asian trading ships docked in Messina, Sicily. Crowds had gathered on the piers to welcome the ships when to their horror most of the sailors on the ships were found dead and the remainder were terribly ill.
Before the ships of death had even reached Sicily’s shores, many Europeans were already frightened by the rumors that a “Great Pestilence” had ravaged the Near and Far East. As early as the 1340’s China, India, Syria, Egypt and Persia had experienced the plague’s effects. To protect the public from being infected by this horrible contagion, the death ships were immediately ordered to return to sea.
However, it was already too late. This disease, spread by flea-infested rats, had already jumped ship. The plague had begun. Before it was over more than 25 million people in Europe, almost a third of its population would be dead. Not only did this disease kill people, it also killed animals, including farm animals such as cows, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. So many animals perished that food and wool shortages occurred.
The plague is an ugly disease. It causes its victims to run a high fever, vomit uncontrollably and experience an incredible amount of pain. Worst yet were the horrible black bleeding and oozing sores that covered the victim’s entire body. These black sores are what gave the disease the name, “The Black Death.” Its victims looked like rotting puss covered zombies.
Death from this disease came so quickly that a person could be healthy when they went to bed at night and dead before morning. The nursery rhyme “Ring around the Rosy” is believed to have been written about the symptoms of the Black Death.
Unlike today, in those days there were no doctors or medicines that could help the victims. Panic ensued. People turned on each other, families abandoned their own sick family members, doctors refused help the sick, and priests refused administering last rites to the dying.
As in most cases of historical public panic, a scapegoat was needed. In this case it was….Jewish people and cats.
At the time the plague struck very little was known about how disease spread. So, people who under normal circumstances seemed to have perfectly well-functioning brains, threw open all the doors and windows of their mental facilities to let reason and common sense escape and welcome in ridiculously stupid ideas to explain the illness. Such as, that the plague of the Black Death was a punishment from a loving God.
While I would never speak for God or suggest he never has used a catastrophe or two to get our attention. I don’t believe that disease is ever a punishment from God for sin, because Jesus paid the full price for all of our sins on the cross. Nor, do I believe that God tests the sick. I think it is highly more likely that if a loving God is testing anyone, it is the people close to the stricken to see if they practice what they preach and meet the needs of the suffering with compassion, kindness and love.
No, I do not believe that the plague was a divine punishment. However, people during the middle ages were told differently.
In those days the most powerful authority in the land was the Catholic church. Church leaders believed that the Black Death was God’s punishment. To end the plague, the church taught that communities needed to be cleansed of non-believers and perpetual troublemakers. During the years of 1348 and 1349, violent panic-stricken mobs massacred thousands of Jewish people. Many Jews were forced to flee to Eastern Europe to be safe.
In addition to the genocide of the Jews, cats were also targeted by the church. A century before the plague, the church had taught that cats were evil. It was believed that devil worshipers and witches used cats to cast their spells…especially black cats. This is where and when the superstition about black cats began.
Well, it didn’t take long before cats were feared and killed off by the thousands. In some areas cat ownership was actually outlawed. At one point during the middle ages cats had been almost entirely eradicated in England.
Humans often make poor choices and the attempt to rid Europe of cats was just that…a bad idea. Cats kill rats. Rats had the fleas that caused the Black Death. Therefore, when there weren’t a lot of cats, there were a lot of rats and a disease outbreak occurred.
Some humans ignored the law and kept their pet cats. Other folks soon noticed that cat owners seemed to not get the plague as often. It does amaze me that these cat owners weren’t immediately labeled as witches and burned at the stake. Boy, did folks back then like burning witches at the stake, but that is another story.
For once, however, calmer heads prevailed. It was decided that cats somehow protected their owners from the plague. Primitive scientific research and thinking took place and it was determined that rats not cats spread the plague.
Of course with this discovery everyone wanted cats. Unfortunately, there were not very many left. It took awhile to re-populate the cat population. However, Tom Cats were up to the challenge and made every effort to impregnate every female cat they could find. (If you don’t know what impregnate means, ask your dad.)
Due to the commitment to duty and impregnating excellence of the Tom Cats, it wasn’t long before cats were back at the job killing rats and controlling the spread of this horrible disease. Some say that without the rat killing skills of those medieval cats, humankind could have been wiped-out by the plague. After all of the abuse from humans, isn’t it odd that cats helped save them. Funny how life works out sometimes.
While cats helped humans land back on their feet after the plague, people still did not know why cats almost always landed on their feet. It took until 1894 before science could explain a cat’s amazing talent for surviving a fall by landing on its feet.
French physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey conducted experiments with cats. Unlike the Belgians, he dropped them from short-safe distances. With the help of a camera that took multiple images very quickly, Mr. Marey demonstrated the secret to a cat’s amazing gymnastic agility.
As a cat falls, it instinctively begins a twisting action beginning with its head and ending with the tail called an aerial righting reflex. It takes only one second for a cat to complete this reflex action. Kittens as young as three weeks show signs of this ability, which the kitten masters when they are about seven weeks old. However, a cat cannot land on its feet if the distance is too low for the cat to make its twist or if the fall is so high that it becomes a cat pancake.
Here is how a cat can almost always land on its feet:
1. First the cat’s head begins to rotate.
2 Next, the cat will arch and twist its spine so that its front and back legs are rotating in opposite directions.
3. As the cat begins the roll, it pulls in its front legs and extends its back ones, making the front half of its body to spin more quickly than the back half. Then, the process is reversed. As the cat’s back legs swing around, they are tucked up into the body and the front legs extended to prevent over-spinning.
4. The result of all this motion allows the cat to land on all four paws cushioning the impact of the landing.
I better never hear of anybody throwing a cat around and claim its a science experiment. Cats can and do get hurt easily. And, like all of God’s creatures, cats were put on this earth to be treated kindly and cared for with gentleness and love.
I guess cats have earned the right to ignore the concept of humility and strut their stuff like a Lion King. After all, if it wasn’t for their ancestors killing a lot of rats none of us humans might be here.
Have a great week and I love you all very, very much.