Stories of cat meanings and symbolism have been told for thousands of years. Even before wild cats became domesticated, ancient cultures believed in cat spirit animals. But when wild cats began to live more closely with human beings around 8000 B.C., cats became even more important in the lives of humans.
Table of Contents
- Cat Symbolism and Meanings
- Cat Spirit Animal
- Detailed Cat Symbolism and Meanings
- Cats Meanings in Ancient Cultures
- Cats in Ancient Egypt
- Cats in Greek Myths
- Cats in Islam
- Cats in Celtic Mythology
- Cats in the Bible and Christian Church
- Cats in Norse Mythology
- Cats in India and Hinduism
- Cat Meanings in Japan
- Organizations that Protect Cats
Anthropologists believe that the domestication of cats began when wild cats started hanging around early agricultural communities. They soon formed a symbiotic bond with their new human acquaintances. The crops attracted small animals, which in turn attracted the cats. As the bond between cats and humans grew, so did the telling of stories about cats.
Cat Symbolism and Meanings
Curiosity and Mischief
Cat Spirit Animal
Cats have been the beloved companions of people around the globe for centuries, to the point that people and cats can share a spiritual connection. Native Americans believe that you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals; instead they choose you. Those who believe in reincarnation will often say their cat was with them in a past life and that he or she is very much one of their soul mates.
Yet for all of us cat lovers, it does beg the question: If you have a cat companion, does it mean the cat is one of your spirit animals? Only you can answer this question for yourself. But I’ll insert my own opinion here and say – yes!
Did your kitty choose you?
There are many cases of cats going out of their way to select their human companions – making it as clear as they can in their kitty way that you belong together.
I’ll tell the story of one of my cats, Isa. I had adopted a puppy (my dog Roo, who recently passed away at age 12.) As a puppy, Roo exhibited strong prey drive. I knew that if I didn’t raise her with a cat, she would probably never be able to live with cats. So, I decided I would adopt an oversized adult tabby. I had in my mind a big tom cat who had dealt with dogs before and would know how to keep a puppy in line. So, off I went to the shelter.
At the shelter, when I was passing by the little rooms that held the cats, a skinny black kitten came to the glass and stared right at me and yowled. Then she put her front paws up on the glass and yowled louder. The shelter volunteer I was with said, “These are the kittens, but we have some older cats in the back.” But I was starstruck by this little black kitten. I said, ‘No, this is the cat. This is the right cat.’ Twelve years later, Isa is here sitting on my lap as I write this.
Here are a couple of other examples of cats choosing their people. Is it a soul connection? You be the judge!
Detailed Cat Symbolism and Meanings
Here are some common meanings that are associated with cats:
You won’t see a cat rolling in the mud. No, these elegant creatures are rather fastidious about keeping themselves clean and well-groomed. In fact, a friend of mine who’s the director of an animal shelter said that a cat who doesn’t groom themselves has most likely been through trauma because it’s simply not in their nature to be unkempt.
Cats are not heavy breathers like your average dog. They are far more self-contained. While we’ve all seen clumsy kitties, by and large, cats are a graceful species. They tiptoe so silently on their dainty paws that you may not hear them coming. Cats are generally quiet beings, unless they’re chatting with you, yowling about something important, or purring away in your lap.
Welcome luxuriousness into your life.
The kitty spirit reminds you to treasure your capacity for elegance and the finer things in life. The truth is, the world can be a rough and ugly place. Where would we be with artistry, beauty, and elegance? It would be like a world without cats. If a cat spirit animal has come into your purview, it could very well be a reminder to invite more elegance into your life. Take some time to pamper yourself, get your hair done, put on a beautiful gown or tux and hit the town.
Curiosity and Mischief
Though they can be quite elegant and contained, cats see the world as an interesting place. And life can get boring if you don’t cause a little bit of chaos now and then. Cats take great pleasure in their capacity to knock things off the counter. Why? Because the thing was there!
Perhaps it’s time for you to knock some things over in your own life? Sometimes it’s necessary to shake things up a little – if only to get someone’s attention.
While you may be content curled up on your window sill, the cat spirit animal reminds you to get out in the world and explore your curiosities. Just don’t get yourself killed while doing it.
The cat power animal asks, “Is your life becoming dull and routine? Perhaps it’s time to swat your loved ones when they pass or knock over a few Christmas trees?”
People who don’t know cats might say they’re unfriendly or standoffish. But those of us who know and love them understand they are actually very friendly and social. They just relish their independence too. Like their larger feline relatives, lions and tigers, cats love to cuddle up with someone they love, but they also put a premium on their freedom.
Maintain your autonomy.
When the cat is your spirit animal, your domestic situation may be quite content. But the kitty spirit reminds you to always maintain your individual identify, and above all, never become co-dependent. Autonomy is important because it lets us understand the true essence of ourselves. When we’re happy in ourselves, we can show up and be a better participant in our relationships.
Likewise, if you have a tom cat (or a tomelina cat) in your life and you are trying to tame them so they’ll sit on your lap by the fireplace every evening, you may be a on fool’s errand. It’s far better to be patient and give them their space. Instead of demands, tempt them by leaving out treats, and slowly gain their trust over time.
While they can be quite independent, cats are very clear about loving their people and having a desire for companionship. And while they can be demanding, I think we can all agree – the demands of a cat are easily met.
When the cat is your spirit animal, you are a person who is easy to be with. You let your loved ones be as they are, in hopes they will let you be as you are in return. All the while you know will always be there for each other.
Cats let you know when you are the one – they make it very clear you are the cat’s meow. In their truest nature, they are a steady, devoted presence. This is a noble quality that we can all aspire to.
The ancient Egyptians, whom I write more about later in this post, adored cats. In fact, they believed that cats helped to protect the home from bad energy and illness. Cats are viewed as protectors by many cultures. Despite being small in stature, they can display lioness-like courage when it comes to protecting those they love.
You may have seen this video circulate on social media. I thought I would share it here because it’s such a clear testament to the bravery and devotion that cats have for their loved ones.
Comfort and Serenity
Journalist Jane Pauley said, “You cannot look at a sleeping cat and feel tense.” Indeed, doctors say that the purr of a cat helps to bring your heart rate down. When cats’ needs are met and they are well-loved, the comfort and serenity they give back is nothing short of divine.
Pulling Me up from the Trenches of Heartache
After my dog, Roo, died, I went through periods that can only be described as tidal waves of grief. I would pull myself together, only to be knocked over again by what felt like a rogue wave that caught me off guard. What got me through this period was my two cats, Uti and Isa. Sometimes I would lie down in the space between my coffee table and my couch, because that’s where Roo slept, and I would cry and cry. Always, Uti and Isa would come and sit by me. And inevitably Isa would pose her kitty question to me, “Meow?” It always translated in my brain as, “Mom, are you ok?”
Cats bring a tranquility to the spaces they occupy. Some psychics say they absorb negative energy and turn it into positive energy the way tress absorb CO2 and convert it to oxygen.
The cat spirit animal reminds you to find this serenity in yourself and to create it in your home, work space, and other places where you need sanctuary. In this way, cats are very much like little Zen masters who remind you to go back to your breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. All is well.
Cats are most likely associated with magic for a few reasons. One, they are nocturnal and can see in the dark. In addition, in ancient times, they most likely spent time with healers and sages as they did their quiet work.
Healers of old most likely had a lot of animals around them with whom they shared a spiritual connection. The animals recognized them as old souls who understand that everything is connected.
Some cultures referred to the animal friends of healers as familiars, and they could be any type of animal. However, as dogs and ravens can be prone to restlessness, it’s very likely that a cat was present when these advanced souls were working on their healing potions, studying the world, or connecting with their angels for guidance.
As protectors and companions, cats are also considered to be sources of good luck. The saying that cats have nine lives stems from the fact that cats have the skills to get themselves out of danger. As they say, a cat always lands on their feet.
For those of us who love black cats, we know that having one cross our path is a lucky sign, and only something to be feared by the unenlightened.
Cats can also be more sensitive to sounds, and their ability to see at night means they pick up on things that we don’t. When the cat is your spirit animal, be open to opportunities even if you think you have none. Limited thinking is not the reality. The cat spirit says luck is there, just open your awareness and be receptive to it.
Cats Meanings in Ancient Cultures
Archeologists and anthropologists estimate that wild cats started to become domesticated in the Fertile Crescent (the area that is now southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran) around 8000 B.C. As mentioned earlier, these wild cats most likely helped to keep small animals from eating the crops, thus the local humans appreciated their presence.
The ancestors of today’s domesticated cats eventually spread throughout Asia, then made their way to Europe around 4400 B.C. However, another lineage of domestic cats can be traced back to Africa, notably Egypt, a place where they thrived. These felines eventually traveled across and around the Mediterranean Sea. Undoubtedly, they were brought on ships and land journeys for rodent control.
Purrfect as They Are
Unlike domesticated dogs, who were specifically bred by humans to perform a variety of jobs, cats were apparently viewed as fine just the way they were. Today’s domesticated cats still closely resemble their wild cat ancestors from thousands of years ago.
What is clear is that cats have made an impression on every society they have joined, and thus they are the subjects of legends and folklore in a wide variety of cultures around the world.
Cats in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians revered animals, yet no animal was quite so revered as the cat. Not only did the Egyptians think cats were beautiful, they also saw them as magical beings who brought good luck to a household.
The Egyptians dressed their cats in jewels, and they were important members of the family. When a pet cat died, the family had them mummified, so they could join their human companions in the afterlife. In addition, when a family cat passed away, all members of the household would shave off their eyebrows to express their grief.
Cats were considered protectors by the ancient Egyptians because they killed snakes, insects, and other dangerous creatures. In fact, the skeletal remains of cats have been found in the tombs of pharaohs and other nobles.
Similar to Native Americans, the ancient Egyptians believed that deities could shapeshift into animals. The Egyptian goddess Bastet was believed to take on the form of a cat.
Bastet was the goddess of the home, fertility, and childbirth. She was also a protector deity who prevented evil spirits and illnesses from entering the home.
Cats in Greek Myths
For the ancient Greeks who made their way to Egypt before 500 B.C., seeing the number domesticated cats was most likely startling, as felines had not yet made themselves fully at home in Greek households. Thus, cats don’t appear in early Greek myths. However, historians surmise that the Greek goddess Artemis was inspired by the Egyptian goddess Bastet, and thus cats are sometimes associated with Artemis.
Cats in Islam
According to Muslim stories, the prophet Muhammad loved cats. Some say that cats, such as tabbies, who have an “M” shape on their foreheads are blessed by Muhammad, who blessed his own cat by touching his head.
In one popular tale, Muhammad’s cat was asleep on his arm when the prophet was called to prayer. Reluctant to disturb his sleeping kitty, Muhammad slipped his arm out of the sleeve of his rope, then cut the sleeve off, so he didn’t disturb the cat by pulling his sleeve out from under him.
Cats in Celtic Mythology
The Celtic goddesses Brigid and Ceridwen were both associated with cats. And both the Irish and Scottish tell tales of a fairy cat called the Cat Sith who was a big black cat with a white spot on his chest. Some versions of the Cat Sith say that he was a witch shapeshifter.
It was important in Celtic tradition to leave a saucer or milk out on the evening of Samhain – the holiday that we all know as Halloween. Failure to do so could bring bad luck to the home.
Cats in the Bible and Christian Church
Cats are not mentioned in the Bible, most likely because they were not present during the writing of the Good Book. However, as Christianity spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, cats were associated with paganism by misguided Christians. As the Christian evangelists tried to stomp out paganism, cats suffered.
In medieval times, both Pope Gregory IX and the writer Walter Map spread the view that cats were demonic. Thus, cats were ritually killed in England in the 12th and 13th centuries. However, this unfounded cruelty was not without its consequences. Historians theorize that the death of so many cats enabled rat populations to thrive, which made the impact of the Bubonic Plague of the mid-1300s far worse than it needed to be. (I can’t help but to make the modern-day comparison with how climate change, destruction of wilderness areas, and biodiversity loss are increasing our risk for more pandemics.)
Cats in Norse Mythology
The Norse goddess Freya rode a chariot pulled by two cats. (She was also associated with hawks.) Similar to the Egyptian goddess Bastet, Freya was a fertility goddess, as well as the goddess of love and good luck.
The association of cats with Freya is most likely because cats were viewed as having special powers, including seeing and hearing things that others could not. In addition, they symbolized the divine feminine, or female power. Furthermore, the independence of cats symbolized Freya’s power to be her own woman, or goddess.
Cats in India and Hinduism
As in other cultures, cats have been welcome in Indian homes for centuries because they do such an excellent job of keeping rodent populations under control.
The Mahabharata tells the tale of a cat named Lomasa and a mouse named Palita who became friends and helped each other to face adversity.
The Goddess Shashthi
In other Hindu stories, the goddess Shashthi is associated with cats, and she even rides a cat. She closely resembles the Egyptian goddess Bastet because she’s also a goddess of fertility, as well as a benefactor of children.
In one Hindu story, a gluttonous young woman steals extra food in her household. When other members of the family ask who ate the food, the young woman blames the family’s black cat, so the family beats the cat.
Unbeknownst to them, the black cat is special to the goddess Shashthi. So, the cat goes to Shashthi and tells her what happened, Naturally, the goddess takes revenge. She steals every child that the young woman gives birth to and keeps them as her own.
Cat Meanings in Japan
In Japan and other Asian countries, cats symbolize good luck and blessings. They are also seen as protectors of the home. Many Japanese restaurants and other Asian businesses will display a figurine of the Beckoning Cat, who is depicted with one paw raised. The Beckoning Cat is believed to bring good fortune.
The Story of the Beckoning Cat
According to Japanese legend, an emperor was passing by the Temple of Gotoku-ji when it began to rain, so he took shelter under a tree. Gazing at the temple, he saw a cat sitting outside. The cat raised her paw in greeting to the emperor, who was intrigued. So, he decided to walk into the temple. Just as he did so, lightning struck the tree where he had stood. Thus, the cat is believed to have saved his life.
Organizations that Protect Cats
Every year, approximately 3.2 million cats enter animal shelters in the U.S. alone. And roughly 860,000 of these cats are euthanized. Although they are predators with sharp teeth and claws, cats are actually extremely vulnerable in the human-dominated world. If you care about cats, please do what you can to protect them. Adopt pet cats from shelters instead of buying them. And support organizations that focus on the safety and well-being of our feline friends. Here are some organizations that protect cats: