Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/252

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A FEW of the many groundless beliefs concerning both the useful and the injurious powers of certain reptiles and batrachians have been already enumerated, but such fictions are by no means confined to these uncanny-looking tribes of animals. Indeed, it would seem as if such a knowledge of the real nature of the commonest animals and plants as might readily be acquired by even untrained observers had been altogether supplanted by chimerical delusions which are incredibly hard to eradicate, for, as Dasent remarks, "popular tradition is tough."

Among the ancient Egyptians, cats were highly revered, sacrifices even being offered them and temples built for them, and after death many were preserved as mummies. Travelers state that the modern Persians, too, greatly esteem the domestic cat. But from very early times, in most countries where the cat has been kept as a domestic animal, she seems to have been an object of suspicion. Cats have been the reputed familiars of witches; have at other times been supposed to incarnate witches, or even the father of witches, the devil himself. It is, .then, natural enough that cats should figure rather prominently in the list of animals credited with exceptional powers for good and evil. Remnants of many ancient beliefs concerning such powers are still found—some among us, and more, it may be, in older countries. A trustworthy old woman whose early life was spent near Cork, Ireland, tells me that it is well known that in old times cats could sometimes speak, and that she herself remembers one instance in her girlhood of a cat speaking with a human voice. "It was on an oiland aff the coast of Oireland," said she, in her queer mixture of the brogue and Yankee dialect, "a bit o' land all surrounded with water. There was a woman was cardin' wool, and after she carded it she put it into her sieve,[1] and then her cat came along and pulled it about, and she quished him away, and whin she did that he said, 'Ye'd better lave this oiland, or ye'll be sorry.' And nixt day there came up a very high tide, and swipt away ivery livin' thing on the oiland. I suppose the cat just wanted an excuse for spakin' whin he tangled up the woman's wool. Ah, cats are very knowin'! and there's great virtue in a cat's blood, 'specially that of a black cat, or its skin, aither." Al-

  1. A kind of wide hoop, with the bottom covered with tanned sheepskin, and used to hold the carded wool.