Welcome to Magickal Musings, the blog series in which I ponder out loud about popular subjects in the world of witchcraft and wizardry!
Today, we focus on the question, “why are cats and witches intrinsically linked?”
Historical Context of the Witch’s Familiar
Well, to start off, the stereotypical image of a witch with a black cat comes from the time of the witch hunts in the middle ages.
As mentioned in my previous article, Familiars, Animal Totems, and Spirit Guides, most of the people accused of witchcraft during the inquisition were outcasts of society who lived closer to nature than to the social norm. It figures that cats would be the friends of such “witches,” because cats are wild animals who are happy to commune with humans.
While it’s also true that dogs were bred from wolves, it’s a much longer and more complicated evolutionary process to domesticate dogs from wolves. Cats, on the other hand, basically have the choice of whether or not to domesticate themselves! It is the cat’s uncanny way of being sovereign, mysterious, and walking with a paw in both worlds that causes some to love them and some to be deeply disturbed by their presence.
For today, lets focus on just three lessons a cat can teach a witch:
1. How to Balance Domestic Life with Nature Connection.
2. How to Balance Cooperation and Individual Freedom in a Relationship.
3. How to Balance Darkness and Light in Your Life and Spiritual Practice.
What’s weirdly wonderful about cats is that, although they have certainly evolved somewhat over the centuries, they are possibly the only animal that can be both domestic and feral within the same lifetime…
Most animals are either totally wild or fully domesticated, but a cat can be born in the wild and adapt to domestic life, or can even be born domestic and adapt to survive in the wild.
What’s even more fascinating is that the self-same cat can wake up in your bed, have a nice man-made breakfast, and then go off on her own to rule an entire outdoor ecosystem and then be back in time for supper.
Cats are also some of the only animals who can choose to be nocturnal or not.
They have no fear of darkness or mystery. They have the option of living the night life or the nine to five. It’s pretty much up to the individual cat and his or her lifestyle.
And perhaps most enchanting of all, cats do not give a crap about what we expect of them or want them to do.
They dance to the rhythm of their own drum. These are all the same characteristics that many “witchy” types would attribute to themselves, so it makes sense that cats are such a popular pagan pet.
1. A Paw in Both Worlds
The indoor vs. outdoor life for cats is kind of a controversial subject among cat people.
While some feel that it is safest for cats as well as for the ecosystem to keep kitties exclusively indoors, others (such as myself) could not bear to lock our animals up, feeling that it would deprive them of their birth right to freedom.
As with all things along my journey, I take a middle path on this subject.
I feel that it is important for cats to have some semblance of access to both the comfort and safety of the indoors as well as to the natural world outside. How much freedom is given to them is left to the discretion of each individual cat-human relationship, but it is a core value of mine to at least let cats experience some level of fresh air, sunshine and mingling with nature. That can be anywhere from full access to the outside 24/7 through a cat flap door, to simply going for a walk on the leash or chilling on a fenced in patio.
Cats have a balance of wild and domestic nature, and I feel it’s important to nurture both sides in a balanced life.
Cats Can Be Our Link to the Spirit of Nature
It is through observing my cats domestically and in the “wild” that I understand my place within nature.
Cats and witches are similar in that way: We function in the mundane human society, while also living within the world of nature, connecting with the elements and the deeper spirituality of the cycles of the universe.
It can be a delicate balance at times, and it requires a strong connection to intuition. My cats and I have lived in a variety of different environments over the past (nearly) two decades together, and I’ve experienced the gambit of important decision making to maintain our health, safety, and sanity. It requires just the sort of balance taught by the wisdom of the Temperance card of the Tarot.
With cats being such independent thinkers, there must be an open dialogue of communication in order to maintain a healthy relationship. There have been times when I felt it would be most convenient to keep them indoors, and they clearly communicated that they were simply not havin’ it. I was forced to step outside my comfort zone to give them their freedom, while also being the responsible “parent” in the situation and making decisions to keep them a safe as possible.
During an early adulthood coming of age, I lived with difficult family members who wanted to keep them exclusively outdoors, but it was not safe, healthy and balanced to do so. I had to take control of my finances and living situation in big ways in order to keep my cats happy and healthy.
Being responsible for their lives has uplifted me out of my perceived limitations, and created a better life for myself and my fur babies.
We have grown up together, and mutually benefit from having each other as life partners.
The personalities of cats can teach us how to bring balance back into our own lives as well.
Trinity, for example, fully embodies what it means to be shamelessly relaxed! She reminds me not to be a work-a-holic!
They can also teach us when to reconnect with nature or the spirit world.
Neko, for example, always gets frustrated with me when I’m spending too much time running errands or being too plugged into technology. She yells at me until I cave and take some self-care time in meditation, yoga, or observing nature. When I do those things, she is happy and content, and basks in the ritual with me, rather than complaining at my distance from the “finer things” in life.
2. The Balance Between Companionship and Independence
One of my most exciting experiences of cat-parenthood has been taking in Mowgli, my “nephew.”
My sister found him as a very young kitten in a bad situation in her New York City alley. Despite not being a cat person, and having to keep this rather wild cat exclusively indoors in a small apartment, she rescued him and did her best to care for him. Knowing him was a deeply spiritual experience for her, but after five years of having a hard time juggling her fast paced lifestyle with caring for him, she sent him to live with me. At the time, I had a large yard in a cat-safe suburban neighborhood, and this would be Mowgli’s first time being set free outdoors.
The experience of “re-wilding” a creature who has the heart of a wild animal, but who had been cooped up for all his life was extremely profound.
Where my old lady cats were accustomed to freedom, preferring to simply sun-bathe on the porch, this little boy kitty was excited to be experiencing this freedom for the very first time.
His curiosity and bravery were very inspiring, and it was really interesting to see how naturally his wild nature began to blossom from within him. He went from being scared and curious to being confident and instinctual, and these were messages that I really needed to receive at that time in my life.
Cats love to be pet, cuddled, and pampered, but they also want to be left to their own devices when they’re in an independent mood. It was this “Cat medicine” that helped me to find my independence from a limiting codependent relationship at that time.
3. The Balance of Darkness and Light
Having indoor-outdoor cats has taught me a lot about the balance of darkness and light in nature, as well as within ourselves.
When I was a very little girl, I allowed myself to imagine cats as herbivores, but it didn’t take long at all for me to learn through them that not everything in nature is vegetarian! What seemed so strange to me was that the same creature who was gentle and loving toward me could also be a vicious monster with a thirst for the blood of smaller animals.
I still ponder the weirdness that cats and humans are two of the only animals that hunt for sport…
As a vegetarian, I’m generally against hunting and violence of all kinds, but if I’m going to derive my spirituality from nature, that means I have to face the fact that humans, like nature, can be both kind and cruel.
Cats are not afraid of the dark, and their enhanced night vision is also a metaphor for our ability as witches to see into other realms.
Your personal definition of “other realms” can be anything from communicating with spirits to simply seeking to know thyself from the dark unknown of the subconscious mind.
By basking luxuriously in the sunlight, and then creeping out bravely into the darkness of the night, cats remind us to enjoy both the Sun and Moon. By exploring the deeper mysteries of life, we also have a deeper appreciation for indulging the simple pleasures of the “easier” things in life. To gift the world with Light Work, we must also introspect through Shadow Work. They are two sides of the same coin.
This article is merely scratching the surface of the vast array of lessons we learn from communing with cats!
I’d love to hear all about how Cat has inspired you to walk your spiritual path with a foot in both worlds!
Please share your experience and insight in the comments below!
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