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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Oct 07, 2019

Bizarre Relationship Between Superstitions, Myths and Animals

By Diane L. Grigg

A superstition is defined as an irrational belief characterized by the lack of knowledge and logic. Many people dismiss them as nonsensical, yet they have persisted for centuries, gaining acceptance and becoming intrinsically connected to our daily lives. The practice may have started in 16th century Europe, where it was presumed that a person’s soul was thrown out of the body upon sneezing. It was believed that without a soul a person was vulnerable to evil spirits. The practice of saying “God bless” or “bless you” became commonplace to keep these evil spirits away. Superstitions, however irrational, explained otherwise incomprehensible life situations.

We share our world with a variety of animals. The idea of superstitions being intimately connected to them is an easy way to describe an unexplainable occurrence. Since there lacks any true evidence of whether a superstition is real or not, gullible people spread them. Superstitious beliefs are firmly rooted in our society. From ghosts, goblins and witchcraft, the connection between the animal world and the mystical is inherently linked.

Numerous species have a strong connection to the supernatural in an attempt to understand or portend life occurrences. In addition to the classic black cat, many animal species from bats, birds, owls, wolves, even our beloved dogs, are associated through superstition to sickness and impending death. Animals can be good or bad omens. Black dogs and cats are unfortunately overlooked for adoption due to their affiliation with inhospitable events. In addition to them crossing one’s path and ushering bad luck, they are associated with the underworld and satanic activity.

Cats are considered mysterious, due to their nocturnal tendencies. They are believed to be the diabolic servants of witches, sent out into the world to do their evil biddings. If a black cat crosses your path, it is considered unlucky. Yet, in some countries, that is thought to be good luck. In 16th century Italy, to dream of a black cat was considered lucky, but it spells death if a feline lies on a bed. Finding a white hair on a black cat brings good luck. A black cat on the porch is said to bring about prosperity. If it walks toward you, that indicates good fortune. If it walks away, it takes that good fortune with it. The superstition of a cat taking away a baby’s breath if it jumps into the crib is accepted in many countries. But in Russia, a cat in a cradle drives off evil spirits that might harm the baby.

Greeks and Romans believe the saliva of a dog has healing powers, able to cure disease. In the Zoroastrian religion, a dog was used to indicate true death, scaring away lurking demons. In mythical literature, dogs have lead us to the next world. The three-headed dog Cerberus guards the entrance to Hades, making certain those who belong stay and those intended for Heaven leave. The Greco-Egyptians believed a dog named Hermanubis guided souls to Heaven, using secret passwords to ward off menacing spirits and open locked gates. The Aztecs, a civilization fraught with superstition, had a dog named Xolotl, whose responsibility was to guide souls to the underworld.

When a dog howls outside at night, gets chased away, and comes back and howls again, something bad is going to happen. Howling three times means the death of a friend. If a dog follows you home, it could be good or bad luck. A dog or cat staring at nothing signals the presence of a ghost. If one meets a Dalmatian during the day, good luck is coming their way. Encountering three white dogs is another sign of good luck. A dog licking the forehead of a newborn baby means the child will be a healer. Encountering a white cat at night means the animal is a harbinger of death or some other calamitous event. A Greyhound with a white patch on the forehead brings good fortune. If one is sick, take a piece of bread, touch it to the lips, and then offer it to your dog. If the dog takes it that means you won’t be sick for long. If the bread is refused, the sickness will last.

Superstitions have existed for centuries in an attempt to explain the peculiar. In Britain, if a bride and groom encounter a black cat on their wedding day, that indicates the marriage will be a happy one. Sailors are notoriously superstitious. They will avoid saying the word “cat,” yet having a cat onboard is thought to bring safety and good fortune. Animal myths and legends abound, and if one chooses to believe, that is a choice. To those who share their lives with animals, whatever the superstition, we are better people for it. Do not be discouraged. Do not allow superstition to prevent adoption. In the world of trick or treat, treat yourself to the sweetest sweet: a new best friend.