Tuesday 8 September 2009

Joanna Lumley: Catwoman on TV

Cats appear in folklore and mythology all over the world. For thousands of years people have worshipped cats as deities and feared them as demons, as well as recognising their use in keeping down vermin and keeping humans company.

Last Sunday, actress and animal lover Joanna Lumley examined our relationship with cats in the first part of an ITV documentary, Joanna Lumley: Cat Woman. To do this, she embarked on a journey that took her across the globe.

In Belgium, she took part a Cat Parade which happens on the second Sunday in May every other year. Although at first glance this appears to be fun celebration of all things feline, the festival originated in something far more sinister.

In medieval times, people believed that the devil often took the form of a cat and that any woman who owned one might be a witch. In an attempt to eradicate these things, the folk of Ypres threw cats from the cathedral belfry on Cat Wednesday, at the climax of the town's annual fair. Unfortunate cat owners could also be put to death, accused of witchcraft. Today, mercifully, only toy cats suffer the fate of defenestration in this popular event.

After examining this gruesome tale from Europe's past, Joanna travelled to Egypt - a country that has long revered rather than feared cats - where she heard about the feline deity Bast. She then went to Japan, where she visited at temple to Maneki Neko - the Lucky Cat.

According to legend, a wealthy feudal lord was once taking shelter under a tree near Gotoku-ji temple, in Tokyo, during a thunderstorm. The lord saw the temple priest's cat beckoning to him and followed; a moment later the tree was struck by lightning. The first Maneki Neko was made in the cat's honor and is still considered a powerful symbol of good fortune.

By contrast, the bakeneko - or ghost cat - of Japanese folklore is far more dangerous. The shapeshifting bakeneko haunts any house it is kept in, menacing sleepers and even devouring its own mistress before altering its form to look like her and take her place.

Joanna continues to look at our mixed attitude to cats next Sunday, 13 September, at 7pm on ITV1 London. The first part of the TV programme is still available to view on ITV Player. The DVD of the two-part programme Joanna Lumley - Catwoman is available from Amazon.

The Maneki Neko Feng Shui Lucky yellow cat for "Luck at School" in the picture is also available from Amazon.

Joanna Lumley - Catwoman [DVD] [2009]
Maneki Neko Feng Shui Lucky yellow cat for "Luck at School"

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