Life isn’t easy for strays and shelter cats, and black cats have it rougher than most. They’re less likely to find forever homes and more likely to be euthanized than cats with other fur colors and coat patterns.
As if that wasn’t enough of a disadvantage, black cats are particularly vulnerable at this time of year due to their association with Halloween and lore surrounding Satanic rituals.
On the somewhat less tragic end of the spectrum, some people “adopt” black cats as temporary Halloween decorations, using them as accessories for parties or decorative dioramas. When Halloween is over, the “owners” bring the cats back to the shelter.
But rescue groups and advocates say the most unfortunate black kitties end up in the hands of cultists or people reenacting cult rituals. Those rituals never end well for the poor felines.
As a result, some shelters and rescues put black cat adoptions on hold during October.
The origin of the “evil black cat” trope is usually traced back to the 13th century papal decree called Vox in Rama. (“A voice in Ramah.”) Despite sounding like an Arthur C. Clarke short story, the decree was not entertaining — it called for a renewed push to find and punish heretics, and condemned a Satanic ritual that was allegedly performed among hidden cultists:
Afterwards, they sit down to a meal and when they have arisen from it, the certain statue, which is usual in a set of this kind, a black cat descends backwards, with its tail erect. First the novice, then the master, then each one of the order who are worthy and perfect, kiss the cat on its buttocks. Then each [returns] to his place and, speaking certain responses, they incline their heads toward to cat. “Forgive us!” says the master, and the one next to him repeats this, a third responding, “We know, master!” A fourth says “And we must obey.”
Stripped of context, it’s almost comical: A cat walks around and people line up to kiss its ass? Well, they’re just expressing their fealty as servants and vowing not to be tardy with kitty’s meals!
Alas we’re talking about the dark ages, a time when skepticism wasn’t really a thing and zealots were eager to prove their loyalty and value to powerful leaders. One of them, a German nobleman named Konrad von Marburg, had the pope’s ear, and Marburg was the one responsible for whispering to the pontiff about the supposed back cat ass-kissing rituals.
While the papal decree was real and Marburg really was an overzealous jerk who turned public opinion against the church for his brutal inquisition against heretics real and imagined, there’s debate about how much impact the decree ultimately had, and whether a resulting purge of felines from Europe during the Black Plague resulted from superstition or panic as more people got sick. (Serious academic opinion tends strongly toward the latter, particularly because people mistakenly believed cats were carriers of the disease.)
Clickbait sites have run wild with the Vox in Rama story, which has grown more outrageous with each retelling, resulting in headlines that make it sound like the Vatican dispatched shock troops to purge cats from the European continent and urged Catholics to slaughter them on sight. In reality, the papal bull dealt with a small area in Germany and was little-known even at the time it was issued.
The dozens of clickbait articles that surface at the top of search results for “Vox in Rama” omit the actual text of the papal bull, and many make the unfounded claim that the pope called for cats to be killed.
Was the decree real? Yes. Did it result in the slaughter of cats? Highly unlikely, and there’s no evidence to support that claim.
Likewise, the “evidence” that black cats are abused on Halloween is purely anecdotal as this Snopes story from 20 years ago notes. The fact-checking site called the claims about black cats used in Satanic rituals “inconclusive.”
But individual shelter managers trust their gut — and the many stories about black cats disappearing this time of year — in deciding it’s better to be safe than sorry, which is why many shelters won’t adopt out in October and others are more rigorous with their adoption screening.
There’s nothing wrong with that. As anyone who’s searched for cat news knows, there are disturbing stories about cat abuse every day, and people are sadly capable of incredible cruelty toward animals.
Better for black cats to be taken off the adoptable list for a few weeks than end up in the hands of people who want to do them harm. As cat lovers, there is something we can do: Consider black cats the next time we’re looking to adopt. Plenty of PITB readers have black cats, and they’ll be the first to tell you the little house panthers are just as sweet and amusing as cats of any other fur color.