How The Widespread Killing Of Black Cats Led To The Black Death

The Black Death began in 1346 and went on to decimate Europe's population for the next seven years, according to Vintage News. As we know now, the disease was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which was spread via the flea-infested rats that boarded the merchant ships travelling from Central Asia to Europe. At the time, however, the causes of this devastating pandemic were still unknown, and superstitions abounded. Some people used the plague as an opportunity to scapegoat certain groups, blaming the plague on Jews, lepers, beggars, or other unpopular communities of people.

It was even more common to blame animals for the spread of the disease. While this turned out to be somewhat correct, 14th century Europeans became completely fixated on the wrong animal. Instead of trying to eradicate the disease-filled vermin that were ravaging the cities, some Medieval people decided black cats were to blame for all their problems.

It wasn't until Pope Gregory IX came to power in the 1200s that black cats became a symbol of bad luck. Before the 13th century, many societies, especially in Egypt and Asia, admired and even idolized cats, according to History Collection. And they might have had the right idea all along. Cats are natural predators, who help keep the pest population under control. They initially became popular in agricultural Europe precisely because they hunted down the troublesome vermin that pervaded the fields, without causing any damage to the crops.

Black cats were believed to be Satanic

In the early 1230s , however, Pope Gregory IX issued a decretal letter called Vox in Rama, which claimed that black cats were worshiped by heretics and maybe even used in Satanic cult rituals. The letter described a ritual where "a black cat descends backwards, with its tail erect. First the novice, then the master, then each one of the order who are worthy and perfect, kiss the cat on its buttocks ... they incline their heads toward the cat. 'Forgive us!' says the master, and the one next to him repeats this, a third responding, 'We know, master!' A fourth says 'And we must obey,'" per Museum Hack.

While the decree never outright said to kill cats — the letter had more to do with warning about an evil cult and its rumored practices — after Vox in Rama, some particularly superstitious believers seized on the idea that the black cats were servants of Satan. If cats were evil, it made sense that they were responsible for all the death and devastation happening around the continent. Black cats were rounded up and killed for about the next 300 years, which mostly likely only made the problem worse. Without cats around to hunt pests and vermin, the flea-infested rats that were the actual source of the plague thrived. With fewer natural predators, the rat population was free to explode and continue to spread disease.