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February 17: International Cat’s day

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Originally written on February 17, 2021 – updated 2023

In Norse mythology, Freyja is a goddess associated with love, beauty, fertility, sex, war, gold, and seiðr, a type of magic practiced in Norse society during the Late Scandinavian Iron Age relating to telling and shaping of the future. She was also associated with war and death, and It was said that after a battle, she would lead a band of Valkyries to gather the fallen warriors—or half of them, at least. She would take her share of the dead to Folkvang, her hall in the home of the gods, while the other half went to Odin, god of wisdom and war.

For her joy, February 17th is Cat Day, at least it is in most of Europe (whereas in The U.S. World Cat Day is celebrated on Oct. 29Th, and in Russia on March 1st).
In Norse tradition, Freyja particularly loved these animals and traveled on a chariot guided by two big and soft cats. Their names were Bygul (bee gold, meaning honey) and Trjegul (tree gold, meaning amber). Both cats were described as being blue or gray and had been a gift from Thor.
Why two cats?
It seemed like Norse gods had quite unusual choice when it came to their travelling companion. For example, the favorite steed of Odin was Sleipnir an eight-legged horse, Freyr brother of Freya god of summer and fertility rode on a golden boar, or Thor rode a chariot pulled by two goats.
Cats have always been a symbol of mystery and unpredictability in deed and thought.
In Norse mythology, Freya was a character “who could see things that others couldn’t”, and she practised seidr that helped her to see the future of all beings. Mystery always surrounded her words because people only realized her prophecy when mystery became reality.
Cats symbolised also femininity in every step they took. They walked in silence and they would make no sound. Somehow a cat also reminded us of the gentleness, empathy, and humility.

Cat Day is assigned to this very day because February is the month of Aquarius the sign of the Zodiac that characterises free and independent spirits, and because of the aura of misfortune that both cat and number 17 shared in the past. In ancient Rome, the number 17 was written XVII, an anagram of VIXI (I lived). It is said that cats have seven or nine lives and, through centuries, they have been worshipped, feared, and even persecuted.

The friendship between cats and humans has existed for about 9,000 years and, when the first humans came out of the caves, the felines were already with them, immortalized in rock art, carved in wood or stone, and later also mummified as the most influential members of society, or represented in gold or silver figurines.
The Native American Iroquois tribe says that the Old Lady of the Moon had an inseparable companion: the bobcat. As she wove her circular web in the shape of a full moon, her lynx sat patiently beside her. But when the Old Lady got up to rekindle the fire, the lynx grabbed the canvas and unraveled it, playing with the threads. In this way, according to the American Indians, the feline undoes the moon which, when full, becomes thinner and thinner every month. When the Old Lady of the Moon begin to weave again, then the moon begin to grow again.
Also the American Indians celebrated the wild cat in textile art and in legends and songs, considering him a guide and a model to follow for hunters, who, like the cat, had to be silent, agile and stealthy.
In South America, felines were no less important: according to Inca cosmology, there is an underground place called the House of the Moon where a large puma lives, a solar animal that slowly munches the moon, making it increasingly thin.

Cats started to be domesticated in China more than 5,000 years ago.
In the past cats, mysterious animals par excellence, were considered a sort of bridge between the human world and the extrasensory universe, as well as they were believed to have magical powers.
This vision isn’t completely wrong: cats in fact can feel ultrasounds and are able to anticipate events that only will be perceived by our senses later. They examine the surrounding environment through their feelers (whiskers), which alert them of air movements, of the presence of obstacles and even of the variations of magnetic fields and atmospheric pressure.
The greatest civilisations in history, from Ancient Greece to Romans, venerated cats and used to cremate dead cats to disperse their remains on fields as propitiation for good harvest.
In Ancient Egypt, cat was a real goddess, Bastet, daughter of the Sun-God Re, and all those who hurt a feline could be sentenced to death.

Since the time of the Phoenicians, the first great sea traders in the world, the custom of having a cat on board, useful for getting rid of mice, spread, but it also had superstitious qualities, as well as improving the mood of the crew. One ship cat that has become famous is Simon, who even received a medal.

Either way, cats had always been revered by pagan cultures, so they were seen as enemies of the Christian faith. It was also believed that newborn kittens must have engraved the symbol of the cross on their skin, otherwise when they were grown up they would be transformed into witches and sorcerers, emissaries of the Underworld.
Thanks to this atmosphere of suspicion, the most terrible things were done to the poor cats: they were burned at the stake, buried alive, killed in the most barbaric ways and even thrown from towers or bell towers. It was believed that doing so removed evil or disease from the village, and they were used as scapegoats to vent the fears of the people.
But, when cats were killed in masses in the Middle-Age when they were believed to increase witches’ powers, mouse population has significantly increased in Europe and became an important factor in spread of plague.

When the fires of the Inquisition finally went out, the cat was once again welcome in the collective imagination.
In Scandinavia, for example, cats performed an important function, checking that supplies were not attacked by mice, and therefore they could sleep near the stove, in a privileged place.
In this way, the idea of the good domestic cat that stays warm, in the kitchen, and helps maintain the well-being of the family spread.
There is estimated 500 million house cats now all over the world, and supposedly the number of cats living in streets is much greater.
And perhaps, while you are reading this article, you have a cat purring on your lap: give it a caress, it will surely bring you luck!

Images from web – Google Research

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