Brighid's Day, the cats will bring home the brushwood"
~~ Traditional Scottish ~~
cat, whether wild or domestic, is sacred to the Goddess in Celtic
tradition, appearing in Irish, Welsh and Breton folklore. But
it is in Scotland that is found a particularly powerful connection.
A number of Scottish clans held the cat as their totem animal:
those of MacIntosh, MacNeishe and MacNicol the domestic cat,
and the MacBain the wild cat. The cat-people, a Pictish tribe
known as the Kati, lived in Caithness, the ness or promontory
of the cats, and in Sutherland in Gaelic is the Cataobh - cat
In Ireland and almost certainly
throughout the Celtic world, the skin of a wild cat was used
by warriors. An ancient Irish bard speaks of Talc son of Trone,
who is called the cat-headed chief since his battle-dress included
the skin of a wild cat, with its head attached to his helmet.
The Irish Yellow Book of Lecan describes warriors wearing cats'
heads, one of whom was noted as a Gaelic champion and one of
the Irish kings was called Cairbar cinn chait - Carbar of the
Although the cat was used by
warriors, as was the boar, raven and bear, to invoke the avenging
and protective power of the gods, it was still considered an
animal associated with the Goddess and the feminine. For this
reason both positive and negative attributes of the cat can
be seen in folklore and tradition. As an animal clearly of the
Goddess and in close contact with the spirit-world, the cat
has been the victim of extraordinary persecution and cruelty.
Her ability to see and work in the spirit-world makes the cat
an ideal ally for any shaman and it was due to the Church's
fear of such powers that many thousands of cats were tortured
and put to death by burning in baskets in both Britain and France.
The cat as a creature of the
Goddess was often perceived as somehow 'unholy.' It was considered
unlucky to see a cat as the first animal of the year unless
you were a MacIntosh or of the clan Cattan (whose chieftain
is called The Great Cat). The goddess Brighid, who is known
in Irish tradition as 'the daughter of the bear,' had a cat
as a companion. In Welsh tradition the goddess Ceridwen in her
manifestation as the great sow Henwen gives birth to a wolf
cub, an eagle, a bee and a kitten. Unfortunately this last grows
into the Palug Cat - one of the Three Plagues of Anglesey -
that is killed by King Arthur and Cai only after a lengthy struggle.
Another tale that shows the
fierceness of the cat and its role as a guradian can be found
in the Irish Voyage of Maelduin, one of four spiritual tales
called immrama, meaning mystical voyages. In this tale, the
Druid Nuca teaches Maelduin how to build a magical boat in which
he plans to avenge the murder of his father. He and his companions
almost reach the murderers' island but winds blow them out to
sea and they are lost for three days and nights.
They then come to a series of
islands, many of which are presided over by animals. The first
is the Island of Giant Ants, the second the Island of Many Birds
and so on until they reach the tenth - the Island of the Cat.
There they discover a 'noble hall, a king's fit dwelling.' Food
and drink is in copious supply and there are soft beds and golden
benches for them to rest upon. In this great hall lies treasure:
silver brooches, gold-hilted swords and wide torcs. But no one
is present except a 'quick, hungry cat poised on a pillar.'
Against Maelduin's wishes, his foster-brother tries to steal
a gold necklace but in a moment his body is turned to a pile
of ash by the 'fiery paw of the wondrous cat.' The cat is seen
here in her role as guardian of Otherworldly treasure.
The cat teaches respect and
caution. She is sensual and will accept affection only on her
terms. She is proud, independent and capable of observing both
this world and the next...
Courtesy of Sacred Animals ~~