Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
"Apart from his luciferan qualities, the cat was awarded all sorts of other qualities, not the least important of which was its prophetic capability. If a cat washed its face, rainy weather was regarded as inevitable; if a cat frolicked on the deck of a ship, it was a sure sign of a storm; whilst if a live ember fell on a cat, an earthquake shock would speedily be felt. Cats, too, were reputed the harbingers of good and bad fortune. Not a person in Normandy but believed, at one time, that the spectacle of a tortoiseshell cat, climbing a tree, foretold death from accident, and that a black cat crossing one's path, in the moonlight, presaged death from an epidemic. Two black cats viewed in the open between 4 and 7 a.m. were generally believed to predict a death; whereas a strange white cat, heard mewing on a doorstep, was loudly welcomed as the indication of an approaching marriage. According to tradition, one learns that cats were occasionally made use of in medicine; to cure peasants of skin diseases, French sorcerers sprinkling the afflicted parts with three drops of blood drawn from the vein under a cat's tail; whilst blindness was treated by blowing into the patient's eyes, three times a day, the dust made from ashes of the head of a black cat that had been burned alive.
"Talking of burning cats reminds me of a horrible practice that was prevalent in the Hebrides as late as 1750. It was firmly believed there that cats were extraordinarily psychic, and that a sure means of getting in close touch with occult powers, and of obtaining from them the faculty of second sight--such as the cat possessed--was to offer up as sacrifices innumerable black cats. The process was very simple. A black cat was fastened to a spit before a slow fire, and as soon as the wretched animal was well roasted, another took its place; victims being supplied without intermission, until their vociferous screams brought to the scene a number of ghostly cats who joined in the chorus. The desired climax was reached, when an enormous phantom cat suddenly appeared, and informed the operator that it was willing to grant him any one request if he would only refrain from his cruel persecution. The operator at once demanded the faculty of second sight--a power more highly prized in the Hebrides than any other--and the moment it was bestowed on him, set free the remaining cats. Had all races been as barbarously disposed as these occult-hungering Westerners, cats would soon have become extinct; but it is comforting to think that in some parts of the world a very different value was set on their psychic properties.
"In various parts of Europe (some districts of England included) white cats were thought to attract benevolently disposed fairies, and a peasant would as soon have thought of cutting off his fingers, or otherwise maltreating himself, as being unkind to an animal of this species. In the fairy lore of half Europe we have instances of luck-bringing cats--each country producing its own version of Puss in Boots, Dame Mitchell and her cat, the White Cat, Dick Whittington and his cat, etc. It is the same in Asia, too; for nowhere are such stories more prolific than in China and Persia.
"To sum up--in all climes and in all periods of past history, the cat was credited with many propensities that brought it into affinity and sympathy with the supernatural--or to quote the up-to-date term--superphysical world. Let us review the cat to-day, and see to what extent this past regard of it is justified.
"Firstly, with respect to it as the harbinger of fortune. Has a cat insight into the future? Can it presage wealth or death? I am inclined to believe that certain cats can at all events foresee the advent of the latter; and that they do this in the same manner as the shark, crow, owl, jackal, hyena, etc., viz. by their abnormally developed sense of smell. My own and other people's experience has led me to believe that when a person is about to die, some kind of phantom, maybe, a spirit whose special function it is to be present on such occasions, is in close proximity to the sick or injured one, waiting to escort his or her soul into the world of shadows--and that certain cats scent its approach.
"Therein then--in this wonderful property of smell--lies one of the secrets to the cat's mysterious powers, it has the psychic faculty of scent--of scenting ghosts. Some people, too, have this faculty. In a recent murder case, in the North of England, a rustic witness gave it in her evidence that she was sure a tragedy was about to happen because she "smelt death in the house," and it made her very uneasy. Cats possessing this peculiarity are affected in a similar manner--they are uneasy.