An Illustration from More English Fairy Tales from the story The King of the Cats.
|Sub grouping||Fairy, witch|
|Similar creatures||Phantom cat|
|Other name(s)||Cat Sidhe, Cath Sith, Cait Sidhe, Fairy Cat|
The Cat Sìth (Scottish Gaelic: [kʰaht̪ ˈʃiː]) or Cat Sidhe (Irish: [kat̪ˠ ˈʃiː], Cat Sí in new orthography) is a fairy creature from Celtic mythology, said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. Legend has it that the spectral cat haunts the Scottish Highlands. The legends surrounding this creature are more common in Scottish folklore, but a few occur in Irish. Some common folklore suggested that the Cat Sìth was not a fairy, but a witch that could transform into a cat nine times.
The Cat Sìth may have been inspired by the Scottish wildcat itself. It is possible that the legends of the Cat Sìth were inspired by Kellas cats, which are probably a distinctive hybrid between Scottish wildcats and domestic cats only found in Scotland (the Scottish wildcat is a subspecies of the European wildcat, which is absent from elsewhere in the British Isles). Typical Kellas cats resemble large black wildcats, but with some peculiar features closer to domestic cats, and have probably been present in Scotland for centuries, maybe even some two millennia or more.
The King of the Cats
In the British folk tale The King of the Cats, a man comes home to tell his wife and cat, Old Tom, that he saw nine black cats with white spots on their chests carrying a coffin with a crown on it, and one of the cats tells the man to "Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead." The cat then exclaims, "What?! Old Tim dead! Then I'm the King o' the Cats!" Old Tom then climbs up the chimney and is never seen again.
The people of the Scottish Highlands did not trust the Cat Sìth. They believed that it could steal a person's soul, before it was claimed by the gods, by passing over a corpse before burial; therefore watches called the Feill Fadalach (Late Wake) were performed night and day to keep the Cat Sìth away from a corpse before burial. Methods of "distraction" such as games of leaping and wrestling, catnip, riddles, and music would be employed to keep the Cat Sìth away from the room in which the corpse lay. In addition, there were no fires where the body lay, as it was legend that the Cat Sìth was attracted to the warmth.
On Samhain, it was believed that a Cat Sìth would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out for it to drink, and those houses that did not let out a saucer of milk would be cursed into having all of their cows' milk dry.
Some people believed that the Cat Sìth was a witch that could transform voluntarily into its cat form and back nine times. If one of these witches chose to go back into their cat form for the ninth time, they would remain a cat for the rest of their lives. It is believed by some that this is how the idea of a cat having nine lives originated.
- Aos Sí
- Celtic mythology in popular culture
- Cù Sìth
- Cath Palug
- Beast of Bodmin
- List of fictional cats
- Phantom cat
- The Black Cat (short story)
- MacGillivray, Deborah. "The Cait Sidhe". Retrieved 14 September 2012.
- Matthews, John; Caitlín Matthews (2005). The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. HarperElement. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-4351-1086-1.
- Shuker, Karl P.N. (1989). Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 0-7090-3706-6.
- Grimassi, Raven (2000). Encyclopedia of Wicca and Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn. p. 76. ISBN 1-56718-257-7.
- Jacobs, Joseph (1894). "The King o' the Cats". More English Fairy Tales.