Friday, March 7, 2014

Fairy Cats and Cat Fairy Tales

Article by Ty Hulse

The Celts believed that cats had their own fairy court, and their own magical powers. In other words in their fairy tales cats were often a type of fairy, rather than simply another animal. Like all fairy courts, these courts were led by a king (or potentially a queen though I've found no mention of  a queen as I have with fairies) These cats hoarded treasure and wealth, often going to war with each other to steal the treasure of other cat courts.

The Chesire Cat from "Alice in Wonderland" was originally based on
old sculptures around churches in Cheshire, which may have
represented an old spirit of the region. This design was done for Disney's more
recent version of the story. You can see the artist here.

Cat's were also commonly the familiar spirits of witches, which is to say they were sent by one of the fairy courts to act as a mediator between that court and the witch. As such the cat both served and controlled the witch, for it was on the one hand their job to help the witch, but on the other hand it was their job to make certain that the witch was following the orders of the Queen of the Fairies, The Forest Lord, or presumably at times the King Of The Cats himself.

In Breton Lore a person would at times make a deal with a cat, or their master in which the cat would make them wealthy for a number of years, after which the person would serve the fairies. (Fairies were always looking for servants to clean for them, cook for them, play music, act as nursemaids for their children, watch their cattle, etc.) Of course, there were many tales of peasants making the deal with a cat, than waiting until their time of wealth was almost over at which point they would have the priest or some witch banish the cat for them, so that they could keep the wealth and not have to work for it.

In Germany, and Celtic lands it seems likely that many house fairies and spirits lived in the form of a cat. Indeed, Jacob Grimm believed that Puss in Boots was such a household family fairy.

Sometimes such household spirits were clearly related to the people whose home they shared, after all many people's spirits became fairies when they died. Yet other times the cat would live with a person because they had been banished from the fairy court. In one common Celtic tale a man discovers that his cat is the successor to the King of the Cats, when the current king dies.

As familiars cats could be servants, partners and handlers of the witch.
Art by Joy Suke

Other fairies could be banished because they lost a war and so were refugees, others still were banished for behavior, not becoming of the fairies (in one case this meant falling in love with a human), or sent to to learn hard work (though a cat form clearly violates this, but if they were lazy as a fairy one can't be surprised they would choose to live as a cat). In Denmark there is a tale where a troll takes the form of a cat because he's accused of having an affair with the wife of the King of the Trolls.

Typically people only see the fairy nature of the cats for brief moments. For example, a person might see a troop of cats holding a funeral, or they might say something that would make their cat exclaim in a human voice before running off, typically never to be seen again. Thus, cats are the fairies that lived among humanity.

In more modern times fairies came to be thought of as more demonic, more wicked than other fairies, but that doesn't seem to have been the case in ancient times. Certainly like all fairies there were good and evil ones, or the same one had good and evil traits.

They could become vindictive and cruel at the drop of a hat. In one case when a woman failed to feed a cat at the table because her friends were over it ripped up her throat, and eventually she died from the infection.

Yet others, like Puss in Boots, could also be forgiving and helpful.

It's also interesting to note that some of the oldest enemies of the fairy/deities of Celtic lands were called dog heads and or cat heads. Other than the obvious it's difficult to say what the exact nature of these beings was. Being enemies to the deities, however, doesn't make these beings evil per say. In Greek lore the enemies of the Gods were often allies of humanity, and in Japanese lore many of the enemies of the Heavenly Kami became fertility spirits of the land, so it's hard to say what people thought of these beings.

Komi Cats

Olisha ew (Komi)
The spirit of the home or cattle sheds, though some were the spirit masters of the whole farmyard. There were a number of different names for this creature which described it as having everything from yellow legs to red or white pants. Typically the Olisha ew remained invisible, but sometimes he was seen as an old man, woman, a cat, or dog, or a shaggy ball.
These spirits brought luck to the people and animals of the house in which they lived. In one tale a widow and her children were starving so, the Olisha ew brought her a magical cow, which only she could see, to provide milk.
As with most house fairies if Olisha ew was offended they would become angry. When angry it would lick people’s heads causing nightmares, or sit on people’s chest, or knot up people’s hair, etc.
The Olisha liked milk and sauerkraut. This was put by a hole used for cats to come and go out of the cellar.
The Olisha ew was asked to prevent food from spoiling, and to protect the food from mice.
Palm Sunday was traditional a feast day to celebrate this spirit when people would leave a fish pie in the farmyard for him. On this day people would decorate the animals with red and blue rags
When the Komi would move to a new home, they would put a box full of soft feathers on the floor of the old home and ask the Olisha ew to get into it. When he did this, they would take him to the new home where they would put bast shoes on the floor. (Bast shoes are shoes which are woven much like a basket from the bark of a linden or birch tree.)
The people then opened the cellar door so that the Olisha ew could move from the shoes into the cellar.
There is a game in which children would hang fabric over all the windows to make it dark and call the Olisha ew out of the cellar to play. They would put a knife or scissors against the door by the cellar so that when these fell they would know the spirit had come up. This is sort of a spooky game as the intent was that the Olisha ew would come up and scare the children.

Kane ew – Cat – (Komi)
Cats are strongly associated with house fairies in Komi lore, and they had many supernatural powers. For cats are able to see the spirits of the dead and creatures of the other world. This is why when people moved to a new house they would let the cat in first.
However, cats were considered to be animals within the women’s domain. Therefore they were considered unclean. It was believed that cats could take away a hunters luck, and cause any food they smelt to become spoiled.
The cat was the favorite pet of the spirit master of the house. This spirit especially liked cats with three colored fur (aka. Grey, black, white). Sometimes the spirit of the house would even take the form of a cat himself.
Cats could even drive away certain diseases.
In one fairytale a golden tailed cat lures some sisters into the forest where it turns into a bear.
Other cats would carry heroes to kingdoms in the other world (under water, over the sea, etc.). Thus these cats were often a heroic shamans helping spirit as well.

Bits of Lore

The blood of cats have magical powers.

They have divination powers and seemingly know everything that is said.

Like fairies troops of cats would have massive wars over their hidden treasures.

The king of the cats tended to be a sleek black cat.

Japanese Cats

In Japan, cats seem to have taken the place of vampires on the one hand, by using their powers to hypnotize people and drain their blood, in much the same way European vampires did. Yet on the other hand, they could also be sent by the kami (gods) to protect people. Other stray cats would turn into beautiful women to work as geishas in order to earn money for their poor owner. So here too cats are clearly mixed in nature.

Cat Fairy Tales

Cat Gaurd (Japan)
A cat is sent by the Kami to protect a young girl.

Vampiric Cat (Japan)
A cat begins to drain the life out of a prince like a vampire.

King of the Cats (England)
A man discovers that his cat is the King of Cats

Yokai Cats
Cats Haunt an Old Building where they Devour People (Japan)

Witch Cats (Wales)
A witch hunter defeats two witches.

Cat and Mouse in Partnership (German)

The Cat (Finland_
A cat shows a fox his skills at besting a bear. 


Anonymous said...

I was looking for fairy tales about cats and found your site. I love fairy tales! Thanks for being here.