Colourful Celtic cats artwork by Lotti Brown...
Our favourite household pet, that cute kitty has a more mysterious side too!
And I think that’s actually why we love cats so much – a link between our everyday, hum-drum world and a world of grace, mystery and independence… can cats communicate something of their mysterious world to us?
Do cats really need us? Where do they go when they’re not at home? Why are they really with us in the world? What’s their story?
Cats have always held themselves a little apart from their loving human families – however much they’re happy to warm themselves in front of the fire or snuggle with us on the sofa, we get the feeling that it’s always on their terms!
Cats have an otherworldly air about them – and that’s exactly what the Celts believed too. Celts were very respectful of the power of cats and saw Celtic cats as the guardians of the mysterious Otherworld who kept its secrets well.
Oweynagat in Ireland is known as 'the cave of the cats' and was said to be the portal to the Otherworld - the Celtic hero Cuchulainn battled cats who burst forth from this mysterious cave.
The Mysterious Cat
Cats were often seen as the messengers of the Otherworld and were strongly associated with witches and fairies.
Even today, we associate black cats with being a witch’s familiar and cats are symbols of the spooky goings-on of Halloween night, celebrated as Samhain in Celtic times.
In fact, in earlier times, it was believed that a witch could turn into a cat. On the ninth time she performed this feat, the witch would remain in cat form – perhaps the origin of our saying that cats have nine lives?
In Celtic tales, the link between witches and cats related to the fearsome Cait Sidhe or Caith Sith – a fairy cat, black with a white chest, who it was feared would steal the souls of the recently departed.
When there was a death in the house, the householders would ensure that the cat didn’t settle in the same room as the deceased. They would play with the cat, entice it into other parts of the home, and tell it riddles to keep it entertained and distract it.
At Samhain (Halloween), people would leave out a treat of a saucer of milk for the cait sidhe for fear it would trick or curse the household – trick or treat, anyone?
Cats were widely seen as being able to predict death and disaster including floods, wild weather, sickness and other misfortunes – perhaps no surprise today when we consider the sensitivity of animals. Because of this, in medieval times, cats were thought to bring luck to a ship or building.
The Scratching Cat
Cath Palug (the ‘scratching cat’ of Welsh legend), also known as the chapalu or Capalu (the ‘bog cat’) in French versions of the tale, is an Welsh Celtic cat, born of a white sow, and associated with watery places.
Cath Palug was a fearsome cat who wrought a reign of terror and is even said to have killed 180 warriors before Cai/Kay (of the Arthurian legends) was able to slay it.
In different medieval versions of the story, King Arthur or Cai kill the Cath Palug, lifting a polished shield in front of the cat which makes the cat attack its own reflection.
In some French versions of the tale, the cat wins the battle with King Arthur, kills Arthur and takes his place as King of England!
The Crooning Cats
The crooning cats in the Celtic tale of Conall Crog Buidhe are a family of 10 terrifying cats, the leader is huge, red-grey in colour and with a single eye. Conall tells the story of meeting this family of cats who start to caterwaul...
They tell him that they have come to sing him a croon, a cronan, and when they've sung to him they demand payment for their singing services. They continue to croon and demand payment until the only thing he has to pay them with is his own life...
He runs away from the terrifying cats who chase him, all tooth and claw, up into a rowan tree. As the cats start to dig away at the roots of the tree, a druid and his pupils hear the commotion and advance on the cats with their hazel wands, which the crooning cats cannot confront and Conall is saved!
The Sea Cat
Celtic stories of St Brendan the Navigator tell of how, sailing in his tiny boat across the sea, Brendan meets a hellish sea-cat intent on attacking them – was this perhaps the Cath Palug?
The prayers of Brendan and his crew bring an even bigger cat from the sea to defend them and save their lives.
The Moon Cat
The cat was not always considered so terrifying, though!
In Norse mythology, ‘The Lady’, Freya (or Freyja), who was the goddess of the moon and goddess of love, passion and fertility, has two cats to pull her heavenly golden chariot. These were two blue-grey cats given to Freya by Thor.
The Blackberry Cat
A ‘Blackberry Cat’ – born when the blackberries were fruiting – was said to be a fairy-cat, often black and a very alert, clever and mischievous cat who is likely to trick you!
No wonder that in many parts of the world black cats are still thought to be unlucky – although here in Britain, it’s considered very lucky if a black cat crosses your path.
The Wisdom of the Celtic Cat
The Celtic cat is associated with hidden wisdom, patience, determination and grace.
The Celtic cat symbolises the confidence to be yourself, just like the cat, and step back from the rest of the world to walk your own path and take your own route through life trusting to your intuition for guidance.
Celtic cats are graceful, dignified and sensual – but with a mischievous and playful side that can catch you unawares – always respect the Celtic cat!
Call on the qualities of the cat when you feel the need for the curiosity to know the hidden wisdoms of the world, the patience to truly understand, and the self-confidence to trust your intuition and tread with dignity along your independent path.
Creating my Celtic Cats Artwork
I’ve chosen to pair up my Celtic cats with Celtic knotwork designs inspired by the Collieburn Stone in Sutherland and the Glamis Stone in Angus, both Scotland.
I thought that the patterns looked like little curly cats’ tails and the circular knots resemble little balls of knitting wool – which made me think of the typical playfulness of cats, batting balls of wool with their paws.
My cats are ginger cats – because I like ginger cats and used to have my own cat 'familiar', a ginger tom cat called Brian. He was a real softy at home but fearsome with other cats in the streets outside – showing both sides of the cat – the soft paws and claws out – cats are made perfectly for both natures!
I think my two lithe ginger cats will be the playful and mischievous Celtic cats – mysterious, lucky and wise – and not fearsome at all!
I scan all of my drawings into the computer and then digitise them in Adobe Illustrator where I can resize them and rearrange them to create the artwork and tweak the colours...
Buy Celtic Cats Art
If you'd like to invite the wisdom, luck, and playfulness of the cats into your own life, you can buy my Celtic cats artwork from my online art store as an archival-quality print, canvas or framed artwork - click here to see - worldwide delivery available...
You can also buy my Celtic cats as cushions, mugs, duvet sets, throws, tapestries, shower curtains, journals and more in my Redbubble store. Delivery is worldwide from production centres in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia, and Canada with customs charges paid for...
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Author: Lotti Brown
Artist, designer, and online drawing teacher.
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