Cats in Celtic and Arthurian Legend
How much do we adore our feline friends? I couldn’t be without our two beloved rescue cats who have been with us now for almost two and a half years. They both turn three this year and are the loveliest, sweetest-natured, most affectionate cats you could ever hope to know. Inspired by them, I’ve decided to take a look at cats in Celtic and Arthurian legend. As so much of my work deals with myths, it set me to wondering if cats fit into these stories in any way and whether they have any history or folklore of their own. We know cats were worshipped as gods and goddesses in ancient Egypt, but how did the Celts feel about them?
Cat Caves and Megaliths
The ancient Celtic lands of Ireland and Scotland were once roamed by wild cats as large as mountain lions or cougars. It was inevitable that these amazing creatures would be incorporated into Celtic folklore and myth, and it is possible that they were revered as much as they were feared. The remains of a cat found buried at the megalithic Four Knocks Passage tomb in Ireland suggests that the pre-Celtic people may have honoured them in death.
Also in Ireland there is a cave featured prominently in Irish myth called Oweynagat (“the Cave of the Cats”), thought to have been named for the three magical wild cats which emerge from it to attack Ulster warriors in the 8th century story Briccriu’s Feast, before being tamed by the hero Cúchulainn. In the Black Woods of Glen Lyon in Scotland, where the shrine of the seasonal deity the Cailleach is found, stands a megalith named Clach Tairghairm nan Cat (“the stone of the devil cat”), which is where it was believed cats would gather to celebrate Samhain (Halloween). The smaller Scottish wild cat can still be found today in the forests and moors of the Highlands.