But that's digressing. The typical image most people have of a witch is a woman - probably dressed in black - with a cat - probably also black. A new book called Pagan Portals - Grimalkyn, The Witch's Cat: Power Animals in Traditional Magicby Martha Gray looks at the historical and magical connections between witches and their feline friends and familiars.
Martha Grey points out that not all witches' cats are black. She says: "The name ‘Grimalkyn’ is derived from grim or greom, a word for the colour grey, and ‘Malkin’ being a version of the name Maud or Matilda meaning ‘cat’. The name was associated with an old female cat that was ill tempered and aggressive in temperament and during the ‘Burning Times’ women sentenced to death for (heresy) witchcraft were accused of owning a grimalkyn – a name given to a witch’s familiar or demon in the form of a cat that had been gifted to her by the devil."
She goes on to explain that the first written account of the grimalkyn was in 1570, in William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat, 1570.However, Scottish folk tales about a faery cat called Grimalkin are thought to be even older.
Grimalkyn: The Witch's Cat is a mine of information about cats. It goes into detail about superstitions and folklore, the nature of different breeds, the background of the domesticated animal's long relationship with humans and the magical association between witches and cats.
One of the things I discovered in its pages was a bit uncanny. If you've been reading my blog for a few years, you might remember me writing about a stray cat that I fed in my garden through a particularly harsh winter, and eventually rehomed. This cat was given the name Sin, after a Sumerian moon god, by one of the readers of my blog.
In Grimalkyn I learnt that a very similar name - Sinh - belonged to a famous sacred Siamese temple cat, who looked not unlike my garden moggie (who you can see in the picture to the right). Martha Gray says:
"A myth relating how the Siamese cat breed was born was said to come from a temple on Mount Lugj where there lived the Kittah monks who worshipped a golden goddess with sapphire eyes. Her name was Taun- Kyan-Kse. The head monk Mun Ha used to meditate day and night by the statue with his white cat, which had a brown face, paws and tail. At night the monk would go into a deep trance state for reflection but one day invaders killed him when they tried to seize the temple. The cat, which was called Sinh, placed his paw on the monk’s robe and his fur turned golden, his eyes a bright sapphire blue; his brown areas turned a lush velvety texture and his paws pure white. The other monks panicked but Sinh spoke up with authority and told them to lock the heavy doors of the temple to prevent any more invaders, and in doing so had saved them all. The next day all the other ninety-nine cats had changed to Sinh’s likeness. The cat did not leave his master’s side for seven days, when he too died and as a reward attained Nirvana.Obviously my cat Sin is not a Siamese, but it is just possible he might have had a little Siamese in his ancestry, I guess.
"The Siamese kings kept the cats of that name sacred and part of the royal family, as it was believed that they would reincarnate as the cat."
On it's website, Publisher Moon Books says about Grimalkyn: The Witch's Cat: "There is no middle ground with cats – we either love them or loathe them – but the cat adopted as a power animal represents independence, cunning, dexterity, agility, sensuality, inscrutability and ferocity. And whether the great wild hunter of forests, deserts or grasslands, or an ordinary domestic tabby, they are beautiful creatures. Some would dismiss them as merely killing machines, but we only have to look at the history of their evolution alongside mankind to realise there is nothing on this planet quite like them."
The book also includes a selection of cat-related spells, including herbal recipes that use plants associated with them such as tiger lily, catnip and cat's tail
Martha Gray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, children and felines. Is a practitioner of traditional witchcraft and a senior tutor of the Coven of the Scales, and trained in the Egyptian magical tradition of the Temple of Khem.
Links and previous related posts
Pagan Portals - Grimalkyn, The Witch's Cat: Power Animals in Traditional Magic