Sunday, October 31, 2010

Black Cats

Halloween is a time of ghosts, goblins and black cats. If you own a black cat, I would recommend keeping it indoors until the holiday is over. Even today, black felines have a persistantly fearsome reputation for bad luck and witchcraft, giving some disturbed individuals an excuse to harm them. Black cats were not always so maligned however.

Oagans-Bast was the sacred black cat god popular in the monotheistic religion of ancient Egypt. All cats, but especially black cats, were held sacred and kept in Egyptian homes for protection, fertility and luck. It was believed the god's spirit would enter the cat, and bless its family with prosperity. Killing any cat in ancient Egypt, even accidentally, would result in your death as well. 

This all changed during the Middle Ages. The black cat became associated with witches, and as a consequence were destroyed in hideous ways. Witches were believed to transmutate into a cat nine times during their life. In Hungry, cats in general were assumed to become witches between the ages of seven and twelve. To avoid this fate, crosses were cut into the cat's skin. The thirteenth century pope Gregory IX declared the Cathars (a heretical religious sect) bred black cats because the animals were the devil in disguise. A holy war against the Cathars was declared shortly after the Pope's announcement.  

Elizabeth the First 

At the coronation of Elizabeth the I of England in 1558, Protestants carried a cat filled wicker dummy of the pope through the streets, ultimately tossing the terrified creatures into a massive bonfire. If I were Elizabeth, I'd be worried about death looking over my shoulder too. 

 Author: Edward Topsell

In the seventeenth century it was thought various bits and pieces of black cats could cure illnesses. People wishing to avoid sickness often buried the tail of a black cat under the doorstep of  their homes. English naturalist Edward Topsell proscribed blowing the ashes of a black cat's burned head into painful or blind eyes three times a day.  

There is good news though. Buddhists consider all cats lucky, including the black ones. The Buddhists say if a black cat enters your home, and you treat it nicely, good luck will come your way. Also, if a black cat should cross your path, and doesn't harm you, luck is yours.

King Charles the First

Charles the I of England had a black cat he took everywhere. Believing the cat good luck, he was devastated when the cat died suddenly, and expected the worst. The very next day, Charles was arrested and ultimately beheaded.

More recently, black cats have appeared in literature, including "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe. To read the story, click HERE. Other stories including black cats are "A Cat's Tail" by Mark Twain; "The Cat and the Moon" by William Butler Yeats; and "Mulliner Nights" by P.G. Wodehouse. 

Some businesses use black cats in their logos.  They include Eveready Batteries, and Ritz-Lanvin's "My Sin" perfume.

"My Sin" perfume.

I have no idea what this smells like, but the bottle is nice. Since cats are often associated with sensually, and the woman is portrayed with offspring, I'm not sure what they're trying to say. If you use "My Sin," you'll have numerous illegitimate children perhaps. 

A black cat game!

A board game by Parker Brothers called The Black Cat Fortune Telling Game was released in 1897. This looks like a more recent edition.

So I hope you and your cat, black or otherwise, celebrate this Halloween safely. Maybe a black cat will enter your home. That's good luck in Yorkshire, England you know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010



It's Twins!

Though the world has seen many difficult births, there were none so difficult as Pegasus' arrival to the world. For the rare person totally unfamiliar with Pegasus, he's the fabulous winged horse of Greek mythology beloved by adolescent girls everywhere. He began his immortal existence when Medusa, his snake-haired mother, was efficiently beheaded by the hero Perseus. It's perhaps not so well known the great white horse had a twin. Pegasus sprang from Medusa's headless neck accompanied by his brother, the giant Chrysaor. Sadly, the gigantic twin didn't resemble a horse.

The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor

Sea Foam

By emerging from Medusa's neck, Pegasus and Chrysaor's birth, like Athena's from the head of Zeus, was considered higher than a common birth. Like many myths, there are other versions of Pegasus' birth. One variant confirms Chrysaor's delivery from Medusa's neck, but states Pegasus manifested from Medusa's blood murging with sea foam. The sea foam accounted for the white coat of Pegasus. Regardless of details, immediately after birth Pegasus flew to Mount Helicon, thrilling the muses by striking the ground and creating a well called Hippocrene (horse spring). Pegasus' name actually means "spring" in the Greek language. It seems everywhere he struck a hoof a spring would form.

Pappa Poseidon

If Medusa was Pegasus' mother, who was his father? That gentleman was Poseidon, in his persona as a horse god. Before Medusa developed her permanent hair trouble, she was considered an extremely beautiful, but vain, woman. So beautiful, that Poseidon had a torrid affair with her concluding in a soap opera worthy love scene on the floor of Athena's temple. Poor Athena was understandably upset, and punished Medusa by transforming her hair into snakes. The former beauty queen was now so ugly, a mere glance would turn men to stone. Though you may think Medusa's punishment enough for Athena, never underestimate the anger of an offended god. Athena's anger would lead directly to Pegasus' birth.

Artist: Caravaggio

Athena's Revenge 

Once, an evil intentioned King named Polydectes, sent Our Hero Perseus away on the impossible task of retrieving Medusa's head. Polydectes wished to aquire Perseus' lovely mother unhindered by the suspicious son. The wily Athena saw her chance. She helped Perseus gather the magical equipment needed to defeat the stony-gazed Medusa. Perseus collected a knapsack from Hesperides to contain the severed head, an extremely durable sword and helmet of invisibility from Zeus, winged sandals from Hermes and a mirrored shield from Athena herself. By looking at Medusa's reflection in the shield, Perseus avoided a granite future and freed Pegasus from Medusa's body. With the exception of Polydectes, and the now headless Medusa, everyone was happy with the outcome. 

Bellerophon, Pegasus and Chimaera
Date: ca 570-565 BC
Location: J. Paul Getty Museum

The Woes of Bellerophon

Perseus wasn't the only exile sent away for being inconvenient. Our next hero, named Bellerophon, approached King Proetus of Tiryns to absolve his crime of accidentally killing either his brother, or a mysterious man called Belleros. While there, the king's wife took a liking to the youthful Bellerophon, but to her disappointment, the liking wasn't mutual. Angry and vindictive, she accused  Bellerophon of molestation. Since the king didn't want to kill a guest, he sent Bellerophon to his father-in-law (Iobates). This behavior is usually referred to as "passing the buck." The father-in-law, on learning his appointed task, didn't want to kill a guest either, so he sent Bellerophon on the impossible quest of dispatching the terrifying Chimera. The Chimera was a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, body of a goat and a tail like a serpent. As the appalling creature was wreaking havoc in local villages, Iobates didn't hold much faith in Bellerophon's surviving its onslaught. Satisfied the troublesome Bellerophon was taken care of, father-in-law went to bed for a much needed rest. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to father-in-law Iobates, a seer told Our Hero that defeating the Chimera required the aid of Pegasus. 

Enter Pegasus

Pegasus with Athena

The helpful seer also informed Bellerophon that acquiring the untamed Pegasus demanded sleeping in the temple of Athena. While Bellerophon slept, Athena appeared in a dream. Placing a golden bridle next to the snoozing hero, she instructed him to sacrifice a white bull to Poseidon and approach Pegasus with the bridle. Upon waking, Bellerophon did as told and captured the wild Pegasus. A second version of this story relates that Athena tamed Pegasus herself, and gave the bridled Pegasus to Bellerophon in preparation for his Chimera showdown. In any case, Bellerophon had Pegasus in hand and was off to dispatch a monster. After a pitched battle the Chimera was defeated, but Bellerophon's victory was not enough for Iobates. The unsatisfied father-in-law sent the pair to fight fearsome Amazons. Eventually, a weary Bellerophon complained about the woefully ungrateful Iobates to Poseidon. After withstanding the resulting flood, Iobates concluded Bellerophon was innocent of molestation and gave him a daughter to marry.  

Bellerophon and Pegasus

Bellerophon's Fall

Our Hero's victories made him so disgustingly proud he tried riding Pegasus to Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. The annoyed Zeus sent a fly to sting Pegasus, who bucked causing Bellerophon's sudden fall to earth. Though Athena cushioned his fall with soft ground, he was crippled and spent the rest of his life a begger. Pegasus, without Bellerophon, continued flying to Olympus and became the thunder bearer for Zeus. It's interesting the origin of Pegasus may have been Pihassassa, the ancient Hittite god of thunderstorms. Later, as a reward for faithful service, Zeus sent Pegasus to the sky as a constellation. On that day, a single white feather fell from Pegasus and landed near the city of Tarsus

The constellation of Pegasus

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unicorn Sighting

Here's a strange piece of news. A Toronto resident named Peter Hickey-Jones claims he captured an actual unicorn on film while bird watching in the Don Valley wetlands. Though obviously a hoax, it would be nice if true and unicorns really did exist. Oh well.

The film is being studied by the Ontario Science Centre who urge caution if sighting a unicorn.