You're heading home from a long day at school. The few blocks you have to walk to your house usually fly by as you anxiously look forward to an after-school snack. After a day full of tests, though, you're moving more slowly than normal.
Suddenly, up ahead, you notice something in the distance. In the dim light, you can't make out exactly what it is. As you approach, it takes shape. It's a black cat and, as it hears your footsteps, it streaks across the street directly in front of you.
Oh no! What should you do? Should you stop, turn around, and take the long way home by going around the block? Or should you press on, ignoring the uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach? After all, it's probably just a silly superstition, right? Could a black cat crossing your path really bring bad luck?
After all, things certainly didn't start that way for the humble feline. Over 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians revered and even worshipped cats. A person caught killing a cat could face the death penalty.
So what happened? Most historians trace superstitions about black cats back to Europe in the Middle Ages. At that time, some older women were accused of witchcraft and practicing black magic. Many of these women had cats as companions, so they became guilty by association.
This belief was solidified by a piece of widespread folklore that began circulating in the mid-16th century. According to legend, a father and son were traveling together on a moonless night, when a black cat crossed their path.
They threw stones at the cat until the poor, injured animal found its way into the nearby home of a woman suspected of being a witch. The next day, the father and son saw the woman bruised and limping, which led them to begin telling everyone that the woman — and thus all other witches — could turn into black cats at night to prowl the streets unnoticed.
This belief was eventually echoed in America during the time of the Salem witch trials. Of course, the association between black cats and evil or bad luck is nothing more than a superstition. Still, it remains a belief held by many people. In fact, the next time Halloween rolls around, take notice of how many black cats you see on Halloween decorations.
It's not all bad news for black cats, however. There are some places in the world where black cats are honored. For example, many people in Scotland, Great Britain, Japan, and Russia view black cats as signs of good luck and prosperity!