To know me, is to know my cats. My cats, Tiburon and Chibi are not exactly water fanatics or ocean admirers, but cats and the ocean have a deep relationship, and one that spans almost as long as humans’ relationship with boats.
To have a cat on a ship is to have a worker and a confidante. Cats eat rats and mice, who are fond of chewing ropes and eating precious food reserves, and spreading diseases. They also serve as mascots and friends. Almost as far back as humans have been sailing, humans have been bringing cats with them.
“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”-Jean Cocteau
Cats can bring soul to any home-even a ship.
Cats are odd creatures that simultaneously offer great affection and feelings of home, while at the same time staying true to their hunting instinct. In other words, they are not as domestic as dogs. They adapt well to new situations and in many cases are quite adventurous. In fact, the evolution of cats can be linked to trade routes throughout the world, often breeding with cats better suited for the climate they arrive at. Sailors found that poly dactyl cats were extra balanced, but maybe their rarity just inspired their desirability. Whatever the truth, in many places cats with extra toes became known as ship’s cats simply by being polydactyl and not by being a true sailor.
Ship’s cats were thought to protect ships from bad weather, or at least were very good at predicting it: sneezing means rain, and frisky means wind, and if a cat licks his fur against the growth, it means hail. Scientists know now that delicate inner ears can detect weather disturbances before humans, but perhaps there is more to it than just science.
Some folk lore includes the idea that a cat that approaches a sailor on deck brings good luck…but brings that same sailor bad luck if he begins to approach and then turns away. Ship’s cats can start storms with the magic stored in their tails, or if they fall overboard they can summon a storm to sink a ship (which is my favorite idea, as cats do seem to be truly vengeful animals). They can bring 9 years of bad luck if a ship fails to sink. They can also bring a feeling of delight and comfort when they sit on your lap (not folklore).
Many sailors believe that black cats are the best ship’s cats…which may be linked to the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. Egyptian families would garner favor from Bastet by keeping black cats in the house, so some sailors followed suit. Not only do sailors bring black cats on board for good luck, some sailors’ wives keep black cats at home to ensure their safe return.
Which brings me back to my own Ship’s Cats…Tibby and Chibi, the blackest, luckiest, most landlocked Ship’s Cats I know,
This post is in remembrance of a wonderful and adventurous cat, Pepper. Deeply missed.