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  • Jo-Anne Blanco

The Fairy Cat - Cats in Celtic Mythology

The most infamous black cat of Celtic legend was the Cait-Sidhe (‘The Fairy Cat’ – ‘sidhe’, pronounced ‘Shee’, meaning ‘fairy’), otherwise known as Cat-Sìth, a huge creature believed to be a fairy or a witch in disguise. The witch, it was said, could turn into a black cat and then back again nine times; however, on the ninth time of transforming into a cat, the witch would remain a cat forever – hence the belief that cats have nine lives. The Cat-Sìth was black all over save for a white spot on its chest.

In Scotland, it was thought there were a number of Cat-Sìths who would attempt to steal the souls of the dead. Corpses were guarded day and night to prevent a Cat-Sìth or any black cat passing over them before the funeral. During these watches, known as the ‘Feil Fadalach’ or ‘Late Wake’, diversions would be organised to keep the Cat-Sìth at bay,. Highlanders would stage games and fighting matches to keep the Cat-Sìth distracted, or place catnip all over the house except for the room in which the corpse lay. The Cat-Sìth, like all other cats, could be lured by the warmth of a fire, so no fires were allowed in the dead person’s room. Riddles would be asked but not answered, as it was believed the Cat-Sìth would stop to ponder the questions, and music would be played as the Cat-Sìth would be lured by the melodies and abandon its quest for the dead person’s soul in order to dance. On Samhain (Halloween), people would leave a saucer of milk out for the Cat-Sìth, which would then bestow blessings upon the house. If no saucer was left out for them, the Cat-Sìth would curse the cows belonging to the household and prevent them from producing milk.

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