Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekly Muse: Black Cats

Black Cat by Doug Wheller
I was at a shopping mall the other day and came across an adoption center for cats and dogs. Sadly, I am allergic to cats, but the cutest little black cat named Salem caught my attention. I just HAD to hold him.
As I felt a tickle in my nose and eyes, I knew I couldn’t hold him for long before I’d be a sneezey, watery-eyed mess. So, I handed my new feline friend back to a volunteer.
“Do you know that finding homes for black cats is the hardest?” said the volunteer.

“Why?” I asked.
“Well,” said the volunteer. “People still think they are bad luck.”
“How could anyone think such an adorable little fur ball like Salem is bad luck?”
At that point I wanted Salem even more, although I knew my allergies wouldn’t stand for it. (Sad Face)

That’s when I got the great idea to use BLACK CATS as our WEEKLY MUSE!


Here is what I have discovered about black cats.

For centuries the black cat has been the subject of myths and superstitions. In America this dates back to the pilgrims who settled at Plymouth Rock. These people were suspicious of anything unholy, and they believed that black cats were the familiars of witches.
Vintage postcard of a witch and her familiar
A “familiar” is an animal, such as a cat, that people believe to have a supernatural spirit that aids a witch in performing her magic. This is why black cats are often seen riding on the broomsticks of witches in Halloween decorations.

Also in America, many people believe that if a black cat crosses your path, you must turn around and go home to avoid bad luck. This is an example of a superstition.

A superstition is a belief that is blindly accepted without real knowledge or reasoning.

While some believe that black cats are bad luck or familiars to witches, other people throughout history have seen them as good luck.

Historically, sailors have chosen the black cat to be their onboard “ship cat”. Some sailors think that the black cat will help bring them to shore safely and soundly. At home, many sailors’ wives would keep black cats for the same reason.

Black cats as good luck can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian Goddess Bast (the cat goddess). Those who gave shelter to black cats were given special favor by this goddess. Some people still believe this today.
Bast, the Egyptian Cat Goddess

While these myths and superstitions cannot be proven, here is a black cat fact:

Black cats are just like any other cat except for their high levels of melanin. Melanin is a dark color pigment found in ALL animal life. Melanin is what causes the dark colors in skin, hair, fur, scales and feathers.  

This high level of melanin isn’t found only in house cats. Have you ever heard of a black panther?

Black Leopard by Barrasa8
Black panthers aren’t a species of their own. In fact, a black panther is any large cat with high levels of melanin. This includes black jaguars, black leopards, and the very rare black tigers.

But the rarest of them ALL is the PINK PANTHER! Take a look (wink).

Black cats have inspired many, many characters in children’s literature. In the book Coraline by Neil Gaiman, the main character, Colaline, is encountered by a talking black cat that warns her of dangers in the alternate world.

"Coraline" movie poster

And we can’t forget about Catwoman in the Batman stories. Take a look at this video to see the many faces of Catwoman.
So, if you and your family are searching for a new pet, please consider adopting a black cat. Not only will you gain a wonderful feline friend, you will also help change the history of this misunderstood creature.
One more quick fact: August 17th is Black Cat Appreciation Day. Who knew?

With this new knowledge, what kind of story could you write? Maybe these WHAT IF questions will help you get started.

WHAT IF your main character adopted a black cat who could talk?
WHAT IF your main character was a black panther who dreamed of being a pop star?

WHAT IF you told a story through the perspective of a “ship cat”?
The possibilities are endless, and please leave your own what if questions in the comment section below. I’d love to see what you come up with.

So, grab a cup of hot cocoa, a pencil and a piece of paper, and let’s begin. With your imagination, we can go anywhere. I look forward to seeing where you take us.
With Imagination,

Professor Watermelon

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