Cats were very sacred animals to the Ancient Egyptians. They held a honored position in many households and were sometimes considered more important than humans. Cats were treated as demigods and anyone caught harming or killing a cat, even by accident, was punished by death, because cats guarded the royal granaries keeping them relatively free from vermin which threatened the food supplies.
There was a Temple of Bast – Per Bast – and the sacred temple enclosure consisted of a grove of tall trees (the only one to be found in an Egyptian temple) holding the shrine of the Goddess within. The temple was dedicated to Bast and cats – it was full of cats who were carried around in baskets and ritually fed.
Cats are, for the most part, adored throughout history. A recently excavated Neolithic grave in Shillourokambos, Cyprus, contained the skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The grave is estimated to be around 10,000 years old.
Unfortunately during medieval times in Europe there were negative superstitions about cats. An example would be the belief that a black cat “crossing one’s path” leads to bad luck, or that cats are witches’ familiars and used to augment a witch’s powers and skills. There was even an event which included killing cats in Medieval Belgium and France.
However, many cultures believed that cats were magical special creatures and treated as such.
According to historians, the story and creation of the Beckoning Cat (Maneki Neko) goes back to the Edo period (1603 -1868) in Japan.
During this period of time, cats were very popular among the super-rich members of society. They loved to show off their wealth and would dress up their pet cat and take it for walks on a leash.
There are many folktales around the origin of the Beckoning Cat. One of the most well-known is about a poor priest, his cat, and the rich feudal lord.
A poor priest lived in a small temple called the Gōtoku-ji temple (in Tokyo) with his beloved pet cat. He was barely getting by having very little food and no worldly goods.
One night a terrible storm hit the area. A traveler was passing by and stopped for refuge under a tree. Standing there in the pouring rain, he noticed a cat sitting by the door of a small temple. The cat kept waving his paw as if he was beckoning the man to come into the temple.
The traveler was fascinated by the strange behavior of the cat and walked over to the temple. Just as he reached the temple entrance, lightning struck down the tree he had been standing under just moments earlier.
The beckoning cat had saved his life and it just so happened that this traveler was an extremely rich feudal lord. The lord showed his gratitude by showering the temple with enormous amounts of gifts and money. The beckoning cat had truly brought prosperity to its owner and their home.
From the Edo period to the present time, the Beckoning Cat, or Lucky Cat, has become a fixture in many Japanese and Chinese homes, restaurants, and stores.
Our Sanctuaries house many cats and they often wave their paws as they wash their faces. These are our Beckoning Good Fortune cats. Maybe they believe we are their good fortune humans?