Is Halloween dangerous for black cats?

There is an urban myth that’s been circulating for years that black cats are in danger of ritual sacrifice around Halloween and, for this reason, the adoption of black cats is banned at this time of year. But how true is this myth?

In 2014, the Toronto Humane Society released an official statement addressing the issue. In the statement, it explains “black cats are at no greater risk of abuse at Halloween than at any other time of year.” However, some shelters still have adoption bans in the days surrounding Halloween. There are many reasons for this, none is related to ritual sacrifice.

Cone the cat, available for adoption at the Toronto Humane Society

Teresa Knights, an employee of the Mississauga Humane Society who is in charge of adoption information, explained they do in fact have an adoption ban the days surrounding Halloween. The reason for this has nothing to do with the myth:

“It’s more of a safety thing because people have their doors open a lot during Halloween.” Another thing that differs from the myth is that they do not only ban the adoption of black cats, but cats of all colours. Knights also confirmed that this is common procedure pretty much everywhere in the GTA.

Urban myths often stem from some truth. Black cats have been associated with witchcraft for centuries. Professor Phillips Stevens of the State University of New York has also heard of the myth and has much to say on the subject. Stevens is an expert in cults, curses, satanism, witchcraft and much more, and does research as a cultural anthropologist.

Image from Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

“Black cats have been part of Western folklore for a few hundred years; they were among the various animals that witches in Early Modern Europe and 17th century New England used as their familiars,” explained Stevens. Stevens continued to say that the origin of the ritualistic sacrificing of black cats is associated with 19th and 20th century New Orleans voodoo. In the book Mules and Men, anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston describes “getting the Black Cat Bone” as a form of initiation. Despite this, black cats were not part of the regular ritual sacrifices. Stevens said, “Dogs, chickens, goats were sacrificed in Haiti, following West African practices.”

Toby the cat

Finally, the most recent rumours of black cats being sacrificed stem from the satanism scare of the 1980s, but again, it cannot be confirmed for certain. “Really the only satanic activity during that time was by teenagers trying to perform rituals prescribed by Anton LaVey (author of the Satanic Bible),” confirmed Stevens.

When addressing the rumours of black cats being at danger of ritual sacrifice around Halloween, Stevens explained that he has heard these rumours for years, but they are largely unfounded:

“If it happened at all, it was extremely rare.”

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