Cats – Egyptians, a Pope, & the Middle Ages

The Egyptians worshiped them. Noah prayed for them, but Pope Innocent VIII declared them to be evil. During the Middle Ages, they became associated with witches, and some were even burned. A group of them can be called a destruction, or you could call a group of them a cuddle.

Bastet, the Cat Goddess of Egypt, from Goddess Knowledge Cards, artwork by Susan Boulet

Bastet, the Cat Goddess of Egypt, from Goddess Knowledge Cards, artwork by Susan Boulet

Egyptians and Their Cats
Ancient Egyptians really loved their cats, but they had reason to. Their cats protected them from the dangerous creatures—snakes, scorpions, rats—that often lurked in and around their homes. This could be one of the reasons that Egyptians held the cat in such high esteem, even going so far as to worship this animal.

Several of their goddesses who were represented by a feline, but I think the most well-known of them is Bastet, who had the body of a woman and the head of a cat. This household goddess would not only protect women, children, and cats against venomous creatures, but she just did a bit more. She was also called the “Eye of Ra” and was believed to watch the world and keep Egypt from being invaded.

As cats became more domesticated, Bastet morphed into the goddess of family, fertility, and love. Felines became more a part of the family and participated in many things with the family members, even hunting trips. It is thought they were even trained to retrieve fowl and fish on such expeditions. A common scene found in tomb paintings shows a cat seated beneath a woman’s chair. This shows just how important this furry little animal had become.

Sekhmet, wikimedia commons

Sekhmet, wikimedia commons

Bastet was a good goddess, but she did have an evil counterpart, Sekhmet, who was known as the goddess of war and pestilence. Once she was tamed by Ra, she began to protect humans too.

There is a myth that talks about how the Egyptians once won a battle because of their feline friends. Thousands of them were said to have been released on the front lines of the battle. The enemy panicked and fled when all of these cats rushed at them.

These protective felines were seriously mourned when they lost all nine of their lives. When the beloved family cat passed on, the entire family would go into mourning. They would show their sorrow by shaving off their eyebrows. The cat would be mummified and laid to rest in a coffin full of mummified mice. At the funeral, copious amounts of wine would be consumed as the mourners beat on their breasts. My husband used to call me a crazy cat lady. Since I shared these facts with him, he has changed his mind.

The punishment for harming a cat or attempting to smuggle one out of Egypt was pretty severe. Actually, it couldn’t have been any more severe. If one was caught, the punishment was death.

By the way, those of you who would like for your cats to have the protection of the goddess Bastet can email the Cat Museum of San Francisco to have them placed under her protective paw.

Pope Innocent VIII Condemns Cats
Others in the world were not so fond of cats. Pope Innocent VIII did not believe that cats were such innocent, helpful, and loving creatures. During the Spanish Inquisition, he declared cats to be evil. This declaration led to the mass murder of cats which led to a drastic rise in the rat population. The rise in the number of rats running rampant only led to the Black Death hitting harder. I wonder if he ever made the connection. I wonder if he ever regretted proclaiming the cat to be evil.

Witch's Cat by Carbonella

Witch’s Cat by Carbonella

Cats in the Middle Ages
But the pope wasn’t the only one guilty of condemning these beautiful animals. During the Middle Ages, cats were associated with witches and witchcraft. Because of this, people would stuff cats into bags, and then burn the bags. They would also climb up on church towers and drop cats off them. I wonder if they put the cats in bags first. Anyway, if the fall killed the cat, they would have successfully taken away at least one of the cat’s nine lives. If not, well, cats have been known to survive drops of 65 or more feet. If the cat survived such a drop, the one who dropped the cat had best watch out.

I find what Pope Innocent VIII believed about cats to be funny. Why? Because of a Hebrew legend. This legend claims that after Noah had all of the food stored on the ark, he needed to find a way to protect this food from the rats and other critters, so he prayed to God. When God answered, he caused a lion to sneeze out a cat. I would not have wanted to have been that cat, nor would I have wanted to be that lion. The pope must not have ever heard this legend.

Collective Nouns – Below are many collective nouns that can be used to describe a group of cats. Can you come up with any more?

a clowder of cats – Clowder is a variant of the word “clutter”.  This would be an appropriate way to describe your cats if you think of them as clutter.  Of course, you could also just call them “a clutter of cats.”

a cluster of cats – A cluster is simply a group of similar items together.  So if you have many cats, you would say you have “a cluster of cats.”

a clutter of cats – This one would be interchangeable with “a clowder of cats.”

a cuddle of cats, Lisa Binion

a cuddle of cats, Lisa Binion

a cuddle of cats – This one came from my imagination when I saw Sasha, my Siamese cat, lying on the floor with all four of her kittens, two black and two white, piled around and on top of her.

a destruction of cats – Have you ever seen what a bunch of cats can do to a piece of furniture with their claws? Or have you seen the damage they can inflict in a room when trying to catch a moth or some other bug?

a dout of cats – Dout is a transitive verb that means to extinguish or put out.  I’m not sure how this one applies to cats.

a dowt of cats – Dowt is a Scottish word that means “cigarette butt.” I have no clue why this word is a collective noun for cats.  Maybe this word has another definition that I haven’t found yet?

a glaring of cats – If one of my cats happens to glare at me, it does make me uneasy. When two, three, or more of them glare at me over their empty food tray, it makes me think that they are going to attack if I don’t feed them.

a kindle of cats – As a noun, “kindle” means litter, which is the offspring of an animal.

a litter of cats – Since a litter is the offspring of an animal, I think this collective noun should be used to describe a group of kittens.

a pounce of cats – Since cats love to pounce on humans, prey, or toys, this is an obvious way to describe a group of cats.

girl writing,

girl writing,

Writing Prompts
Earlier, I shared how an Egyptian family would mourn the death of one of their cats, mummify it, and then bury it. In 1888, a cemetery with over 30,000 mummified cats was found. Were these cats’ remains placed in a museum? No. Were they taken somewhere to be studied? No. What happened to them may cause you to think twice before you eat anything that was grown in a garden. These poor mummified cats were stripped of the wrappings that made them mummies, and then they were shipped off to farmers in the United States and England. I’m really not sure of the effect that ground up cat remains would have on the growth of flowers or vegetables, but their remains were used as fertilizer by these farmers. Am I the only one who can see at least one great horror story coming out of that situation? Actually, I see a lot more than one. So from this situation, come up with one or more storylines for tales of horror.

You could also have a character determined to kill a cat that keeps coming around his house searching for food. The cat is bagged and then taken to the top of a church tower to be dropped to his death. But on the way down, the bag flies open and the cat is released. It lands on its feet and survives the fall. How does this feline get his revenge on the one who dropped him?

Take another look at the collective nouns for cats. Write a story about how one or more of them came into being.

Any number of writing prompts could be taken from the information I have shared about cats. You could write about the life of a cat with an ancient Egyptian family. You could write about Pope Innocent VIII. Give him a niece who adores cats and begs him not to declare them to be evil. You could write about a family of cats who lived during the time of Pope Innocent VIII or during the Middle Ages. And the list goes on and on and on. See how many writing prompts about cats you can come up with yourself.

Why did Pope Innocent VIII dislike cats so much? Perhaps he had a bad experience with them at an earlier time in his life. Write a story about him and his dislike of cats. What caused him to feel this way?

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