This mummified moggy, which is still recognizable from its twisted tail to its carnivorous claws, was found encased within the walls of Buxton’s former Post Office in the Quadrant during building work, and may possibly date back to the 1870’s. Now, why might you have a cat entombed within your walls I hear you ask?
Theories surrounding their presence vary, but it was actually remarkably common to find strange and peculiar objects concealed within buildings during the Early Modern period until well into the Twentieth Century. These items included witch-bottles, horse skulls, shoes, written charms and, of course, dried cats.
Many skeptics would scoff at the idea that these felines were purposely placed within buildings to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck and to protect against pestilence and dark magic. Instead claiming that they simply crawled into a tight space and became stuck.
Was this simply a case of ‘curiosity killed the cat’ or is there more to it?
Many of these dried cats are found positioned to look like they are hunting, with their front legs raised as if about to pounce on their unfortunate prey. It is suggested that they were set up like this in order to scare away vermin, such as rats.
However, it may have been done to ward off witch’s familiars, which were essentially their servants and spies. Familiars were often considered to be low-ranking demons, and generally appeared in the form of cats, dogs, owls, mice, newts or toads. These familiars were usually up to no good and, as legend has it, possessed magical powers.
Folklore suggests that cats were highly regarded for being gifted with a ‘sixth sense’. Perhaps it was hoped that the family pet, or a stray, would be able to fully exercise its renowned hunting prowess and ‘psychic abilities’ in the afterlife.
Other Examples of Mummified Cats
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle (Cornwall) have a collection of mummified cats, two of which which were found together in a house in Bristol in 2008 by a builder. These well preserved cats have been dated back to the late 1800’s. The museum state that mummified cats were generally thought to offer protection from vermin, as well as misfortune and evil spirits!
Hoggard, Brian., ‘The Archaeology of Counter-Witchcraft and Popular Magic’ in Owen Davis and Willem de Blécourt (eds.) Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe (Manchester University Press, 2004) pp. 167 – 187. (Mentioned within Hoggard’s piece is Margaret M. Howard, ‘Dried Cats’, Man 51 (1951) pp. 149–51.)
Illustrations were taken from http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/witch-familiars-spirit-guardians-and-demons-006261
Boscastle’s mummified cats – http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/object/mummified-cats-cat-x-2/#