Nautilus

Why Medieval Cats Approved of the Plague

The cat as the witch’s familiar in the 17th century, woodcut.Mary Evans Picture Library

From the 12th century onward there were two distinct attitudes to cats. For many people the cat population operated as important rodent-controllers, and every so often a cat would go beyond being a mere working animal and become a welcome pet inside the house. Working cats and house cats were always popular, but now a negative attitude began to run alongside the friendly one. For some people, the cat was now seen as an evil animal, in league with the Devil. For them, the cat needed to be persecuted if Satan and his followers were to be defeated.

As early as 1180 the warning bells were sounding. The gullible were told—and believed—that during satanic rituals, “the Devil descends as a black cat before his devotees. The worshippers put out the light and draw near to the place where they saw their master. They feel after him and when

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