Blogging about spooky animals while sitting in the creepy basement office alone at night – probably a bad idea. Here goes:
1) Black cats are supposed to be bad luck, right? Well, that depends where you live. In parts of the British Isles and in Japan, black cats are considered good luck. The Japanese also apparently believe that ladies who keep black cats get laid more often.
European suspicions about black cats can be traced to Norse legend. Freya, the goddess of love, fertility, death and war (cause those things go together) was said to travel in a chariot pulled by seven black devil-cats. These cats were also capable of turning into horses, for some reason.
After seven years of faithful service, the cats were rewarded by being turned into witches. As witches, they could take the form of cats at will. Later, medieval Europeans, being the level-headed, reasonable people they were, decided that all black cats were either witches, or working for witches, and went around killing every one they could find.
This led to a shortage of cats, which led to a surplus of rats, which led to whole lot more Black Death.
2) Anti-black cat prejudice traveled to the New World with the Pilgrims, who continued to excecute the animals and their owners. Today, Americans remain suspicious of black cats – so much so that they needed their own holiday. On National Black Cat Awareness Day (17 August), American animal shelters lower adoption fees and put colorful scarves on their black cats, in hopes of finally getting some of them adopted.
3) Black dogs don't get off the hook either. British folklore tells of a huge black demon dog with glowing red eyes. If that sounds like the Hound of the Baskervilles to you, that's because it is. Arthur Conan Doyle drew from local legend when he wrote that story.
The Black Dog is said to roam the moors at night, and has a particular fondness for lightning storms, apparently. They can be found lurking at stiles, gates, crossroads, execution sites, along ancient paths...
Some of these ghost dogs are said to be the souls of executed criminals, while others are just straight-up demons. Sometimes, they attack people. If you see one, you're probably gonna die – or at least get really sick.
4) Like the black cat thing, the black dog legend made it to America. The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills is said to roam the traprock ridges overlooking the Quinnipiac River Valley. It's said to be a rather small dog, that moves silently and leaves no tracks. It's even said to be friendly. If you see it once, you'll have good luck; twice, you'll have bad luck; three times, and you die.
Among those who've succumbed to the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills's curse was geologist Herbert Marshall. Marshall and colleague W.H.C. Pynchon were doing field work in the Hanging Hills when they spotted the famous Black Dog. Moments later, Marshall, who had already seen the dog twice, slipped and fell from a cliff. He did not survive.
5) In Europe, wolves get a bad rap too. While Native American cultures revered the wolf as a wise hunter and sometimes even as a creator god, medieval Europeans definitely did not.
Wolves in medieval Europe were assigned all sorts of magical powers. If a horse trod on a wolf's pawprint, it could become lame. If you managed to make eye contact with a wolf, you'd go blind. Wolves were said to sharpen their teeth before they hunted, and were believed capable of cooking meat by breathing on it.
Many pre-Christian tribes revered wolves and dressed themselves up in wolfskins for certain celebrations. As Christianity spread across the continent, reasonable, level-headed converts deduced that their neighbors must be capable of turning into wolves, because you totally can't see their legs sticking out of those costumes.
6) Which brings us to the werewolf. Apparently, they don't have tails, because, you know, people don't have tails either.
We all know what a werewolf is, but it turns out becoming one is more complicated than you'd think. The whole “bitten by a werewolf, turn into a werewolf” thing is a modern invention. In the Middle Ages, people became werewolves by sleeping outside under the full moon, rubbing themselves down with a special ointment, or drinking magical potions. The condition was often cured by exorcism, treatment with wolfsbane, or through surgical procedures. These procedures included driving nails through the hands, or smacking the person on the head with a knife. Other cures included calling the werewolf's full name three times, converting it to Christianity, or giving it a stern talking-to.