By Monica Lasky on October 5, 2018
Cats and bats and rats – oh my! Every year, when we’re out trick-or-treating with children or having that spooktacular Halloween Party with our closest friends, these animals seem to always appear in scary decorations. But why do we affiliate these little critters with all things evil?
It may come to no surprise that cats, bats, and rats have things in common: they’re dark in color, have cryptic behaviors, and are night-dwelling critters. These are all traits that we, as humans, find to be a bit unnerving. There’s a reason why people don’t like the dark, or find their neighbor distrustful when sneaking around the yard. Humans love to know everything about everything, which makes the unknown frightening. Thus, animals that we find to be mysterious tend to make us suspicious, which, can, in turn, lead to fear.
This idea comes to life in the ancient folklore surrounding common Halloween mascots. Historically, black cats have been considered bad omens. Ever heard that when a black cat crosses your path, you’ll have bad luck for seven years? Black cats were first affiliated with evil back in the Middle Ages. Their nocturnal nature led many Europeans to believe that cute kitties were servants of witches, or witches in disguise.
Bats were also thought to be connected to witches in other cultures. Being an odd little creature with wings like a bird and fur like a dog, it’s not hard to believe that their inability to fit into a single category of animal made people suspicious of them, especially since furry little fliers are active only at night and sleep in dark, dank caves. According to Celtic legend, a bat rising quickly from the ground and descending again is a sign that the ‘witches hour’ has come. The Celtics also believed that a powerful enchantress, Tehi Tegi, would morph into a bat after capturing, and then devouring, the hearts of men. This legend may remind you of a tale frequently told today: vampires and their ability to transform into bats.
And, of course, who could forget the creepy-crawly rat. The dark folklore surrounding this animal has a much more, well, morbid background. During the Middle Ages, the Bubonic or ‘black’ plague led to the painful demise of almost one third of Europe’s population. Can you guess how this horrid illness was spread from house to house? That’s right, rats! Ever since the plague, rats have been considered filthy and, slightly more gruesomely, bringers of death.
Today, science allows us to look past superstitious legends of animals and see the importance of each species to its natural ecosystem. Bats, for example, eat common pests like mosquitoes, and are actually pollinators for various plants. Even though these animals may seem a bit eerie, it’s important to know that their presence in our world is invaluable.
Nonetheless, it is always fun to recite the fables of cats that turn into witches and bats that steal the hearts of men during this spooky time of year. Happy Halloween, Candid Critters Team!
Click here to learn more about bats and their importance to the environment!