While doing research for my feline shapeshifter series WERECAT (forthcoming in March 2013 by Vagabondage Press), I came across some interesting stuff.
Cat mysticism is about as old as recorded history, or older if you consider pre-historic cave drawings.
We tend to associate cats with ancient Egypt. Bastet was a feline goddess, depicted with the head of a cat, and regarded as the protector of the pharaoh. In later dynasties, Sekhmet gained prominence as a lioness war goddess. Pet domesticated cats have been found mummified along with their wealthy owners in Egyptian tombs.
But cats were also important in many other ancient world religions. The Hindus worshipped a fertility goddess Shashti who was pictured riding a cat. In Central America, the jaguar was deified by the Olmecs and the Mayans, and associated with war and power. The tradition of their shamans dressing in cat pelts and skulls is perhaps the origin of the werecat legend.
Many centuries later, the Aztecs were known for their “jaguar warriors” who were an elite military unit that wore the costume of the cat to inspire fear in their enemies.
I’ve always been fascinated by cats, and I think there is something godlike and mysterious about them. They’re uniquely capable of dominating their environment. They overpower smaller creatures, sometimes just because they can it seems.
Alternately, they are remarkably tender and protective of their young; well, female cats are at least. House cats also make a compelling case for having preternatural abilities if you’ve ever been alone with a cat in a room when it’s staring in a corner, or at the ceiling, apparently at nothing, with its tail swinging back and forth. Do they see dead people?
Then, there’s the fact that they spend about two-third of their lives asleep, leaving one to wonder: what’s going on in their heads when they’re sleeping. Or maybe they’re off in another world, astral-projecting somewhere.
Note: Factoids mentioned above were drawn mainly from an article by Sarah Hartwell, “The Role of Cats in Myth and Religion” , and a little from Wikipedia.