Nautilus

Why Medieval Cats Approved of the Plague

The cat as the witch’s familiar in the 17th century, woodcut.Mary Evans Picture Library

From the 12th century onward there were two distinct attitudes to cats. For many people the cat population operated as important rodent-controllers, and every so often a cat would go beyond being a mere working animal and become a welcome pet inside the house. Working cats and house cats were always popular, but now a negative attitude began to run alongside the friendly one. For some people, the cat was now seen as an evil animal, in league with the Devil. For them, the cat needed to be persecuted if Satan and his followers were to be defeated.

As early as 1180 the warning bells were sounding. The gullible were told—and believed—that during satanic rituals, “the Devil descends as a black cat before his devotees. The worshippers put out the light and draw near to the place where they saw their master. They feel after him and when

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus15 min readPsychology
Humans Are Wired for Goodness: We’re not as bad as the headlines make us out to be.
Nicholas Christakis and I are on the same page: We would definitely sacrifice our lives to save a billion strangers, perhaps even several hundred million, plucked at random from Earth’s population. But, for sure, not a thousand strangers, or a millio
Nautilus6 min readPsychology
Why Did Witch Hunts Go Viral?
It’s hard to make sense of witch hunts. Many people of early modern Europe and colonial America seemed to have genuinely believed that witches posed a serious threat. But if witch trials—like the ones in Salem, Massachusetts, and in European communit
Nautilus5 min read
Physicists Peer Inside a Fireball of Quantum Matter
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. A gold wedding band will melt at around 1,000 degrees Celsius and vaporize at about 2,800 degrees, but these changes are just the beginning of what can happen to matter. Crank up the