Cat Symbolism (13 Surprising Meanings)

Throughout history, cats have been an omen. They can be both a good and bad omen – but regularly, they are a premonition of things to come. Seeing a black cat is often a sign of bad luck, for example!

At other times, cats have been seen as magical creatures. They can travel through time, and witches can turn into cats.

Throughout all of these narratives, a common theme emerges: cats are incredibly mystical beings.

And then there are spiritual and dream interpretations of cats. In dreams, cats often symbolize courage, vigilance, femininity, luck and risk-taking. These symbols take their meaning from the cat’s personality. A cat itself is often a sneaky, seclusive and evasive animal. It is agile and intelligent, but also very lucky. We often say a cat has nine lives to refer to its great luck.

> This article is from our A-Z series on animal symbolism.

Cat Symbolism in History and Literature

1. Premonition

In literature and film, cats can be used as symbols of something important is about to occur. They are a premonition. In the film The Matrix, seeing a cat walk past twice in a row is a moment of ‘Deja Vous’ that represents a premonition of something bad to come. Similarly, in Harry Potter, a cat on a fence post wearing glasses is the first sign of magic on Privet Drive.

Cats are regular and unassuming aspects of our landscape. So, they’re a great subtle symbol to use in writing and film to show how an astute, critical thinking protagonist (a detective, perhaps) has identified something isn’t quite right … and trouble is on its way.

2. Good or Bad Luck (associated with the Black Cat)

In a great deal of European folk lore, the black cat is considered an omen of bad luck. If you see a black cat and walk under a ladder, it is said you will have a bad day. If a black cat walks across a path in front of you, similarly you are likely to have a bad day. But in Germany, it depends on the direction the cat is walking. If it walks left to right, it will bring good luck; if it walks right to left, it will bring bad luck.

In Scotland, a black cat at your doorstep symbolizes prosperity to come. Similarly, in Wales, it symbolizes good health. While some of us might just believe it to be a hungry cat seeking food, the more superstitious among us see it as an omen.

3. Dark Magic

For a very long time in European history – since the dark ages – cats were associated with witches. Many people believed that cats were associates of witches, and some even believed that witches could transform into cats so they could spy on people without being noticed. In Harry Potter, this trope was employed for the character Minerva McGonagall, with the spin that the witch was ‘good’. 

The ‘darkness’ of cats can be attributed to the idea that they’re seclusive, elusive and nocturnal creatures. They stalk the night and live in their own secret worlds, which makes us suspicious of them and their shroud of mystery.

Positive Cat Symbolism

Here are some positive ways cats can be interpreted:

1. Good or Bad Luck (Nine Lives)

We believe cats to be very lucky, to the extent that they have ‘nine lives’. As above, we’ve noted that they can bring both good and bad luck. But you can see cats either way: they may be a trope symbolizing upcoming luck, or similarly, an omen that bad luck is on its way.

2. To Have Patience

Everyone has seen a cat stalking in the grass. They appear to have all day to bide their time for the right moment to pounce. Similarly, a cat-like person in a story might be a person who is still and quiet, but waiting for the right moment to act. They might not be the central character, because like cats, this character might prefer to occupy the boundaries and look on from a higher-up position as the action unfolds.

3. To be more Independent

While humans (and dogs) are very social creatures, cats seem very happy to hang out by themselves. We can send them outside and they will be perfectly happy entertaining themselves all day out in the woods. They’ll run amok, torment mice, and perhaps bring you a gift at the end of the day! While some cats are happy to play with others, many cats will not even associated with other cats. Instead, they’ll spend their time alone – they’re fiercely independent creatures.

4. To have Courage and Risk Taking

Many people consider cats in dreams to be a sign that they should have more courage or take more risks. This, perhaps, is because cats are willing to climb high and leap from one tall structure to another in very courageous fashion.

Another animal that symbolizes courage is the kangaroo.

5. To be Curious and Explore

A cat might symbolize the need to be curious and do more exploring. A cat is a curious creature (as in the saying – “curiosity killed the cat”). They’re natural explorers. So, cats might be a symbol that you need to do more exploring and use your curiosity. In other words, you need to awaken your own curiosity!

6. To use your Intelligence

Besides owls, cats are perhaps one of the most well-known ‘intelligent’ animals. There’s the old saying that humans own dogs, but cats own humans. Cats are smart creatures that make very calculating decisions. Their intelligence is not to be underestimated. Perhaps the introverted, solitary nature of cats may also contribute to this. We look at a cat gazing down upon us and wonder what they’re thinking and what knowledge they have stored up in that quiet mind of theirs.

7. Femininity

Many people interpret cat dreams as a sign of a woman’s femininity. Cats can be very feminine creatures – walking gently, purring, and having a calming energy. So, when we see cats, we often think about intelligent feminine energy rather than masculine energy that might be more associated with rougher animals.

Negative Meanings of Cat

1. Evasiveness

Cats are evasive creatures, so we might see a cat as a symbol of evasiveness. A cat-like person may be an evasive person, unwilling to be in the limelight.

2. Manipulative

A cat-like character may also be a manipulative character. Cats have a way of seeking your attention then, once they have it, they dart away – they want you to chase them, and not the other way around. We often see this behavior as manipulation. Some people see cats in dreams as a sign that there is a manipulative person to look out for in their lives. 

3. To be Vigilant

Cats might also be a reminder to people to be vigilant, like a cat. Cats will often find a high-up perch and occupy it while they watch what is going on. They’re always ready to pounce into action, but also sit calmly while waiting. This vigilance is often invoked when we seek symbolism to interpret visions of cats.

Conclusion

cat symbolismCats are clearly highly symbolic animals. Throughout history, we have tended to see them as mystical, even magical, spirits. They live on the periphery of human life, but an astute observer may see cats as symbols and omens of things to come. Interpreting the symbolism of cats is very subjective, but understanding them in the context of the situation in which they arise can help give us some understanding of the message behind their emergence.

Leave a Comment