by Sarah Dobbs
Everyone knows black cats are considered unlucky ... or lucky, depending on the day, where you are, and whether they’re crossing your path from left to right or right to left. Cats have attracted a lot of different superstitions over the years, some easier to believe than others. After reading these bits of feline lore from around the world, though, you might never look at your favorite pet the same way again.
1. Cats are gossips.
In the Netherlands, cats are apparently believed to be gossipy creatures who will happily blab all of your deepest, darkest secrets. For that reason, people try not to have important or private conversations while a cat’s in the room, just in case it’s listening.
2. A grooming cat means unexpected visitors are coming.
According to Japanese superstition, if a cat washes its face with its paws, it’s not just grooming—it means that visitors are on their way. There are similar superstitions in other countries, too, with some people in the U.S. expecting a visit from a member of the clergy if a cat starts cleaning its whiskers.
3. A sneezing cat is lucky (except when it isn’t).
In Italy, hearing a cat sneeze is supposed to be good luck. Specifically, if your pet gets the sneezes, it means there’s money coming your way. If a bride hears a cat sneeze on her wedding day, it means the marriage will be a good one. Beware, though—while one sneeze might be good luck, if a cat sneezes three times it supposedly indicates that you’re going to come down with a cold.
4. Black cats sink ships.
Of all the kinds of cats there are, black cats are the ones with the most superstitions attached. Maybe that’s due to the ancient Egyptian belief that black cats were associated with the goddess Bastet, and keeping one would bring her favor; maybe it’s to do with the European conviction that witches had black cats as familiars and so they were evil omens. One black cat superstition you might not have heard is that if a black cat walks onto a ship and then back off again, the ship will sink on its next voyage (though according to an old Irish and British superstition, black cats were actually good luck for a ship).
5. Cats can raise the dead.
In parts of Southern Europe, folklore has it that if a cat jumps across a person’s grave, they’ll rise again as a vampire. This idea spread beyond Southern Europe: Writing in the late 19th century, William Henderson recounted that in England, a cat once jumped over the coffin during a funeral and no one was willing to move until the cat was killed.
6. Being a cat lady can help you get married.
Although pop culture has turned cats into a symbol of eternal singledom, according to one book on Pennsylvania German tradition, cats can help a woman who is anxious to get married. All she has to do is “feed the cat from her shoe,” although the superstition doesn’t say what’s supposed to happen next—or how to get the uneaten cat food out of the shoe.
7. Wet cats can make it rain.
You might suspect there’s some cause and effect confusion going on here, but in parts of Indonesia, cats are associated with the weather. If people wanted it to rain, they’d pour water over a cat. Presumably the cat in question then made it rain as revenge.
A version of this story originally ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2023.