Cat designs are a popular tattoo choice, even more popular than dog tattoos (the cats will be pleased to hear that!) Cats are generally solitary creatures, and this characteristic is often expressed in a tattoo design by displaying the animal on its own.
A History of Cats and Humans
Cats have been living alongside man for centuries, as a companion and hunter. Legend has it that cats were first kept as pets in order to hunt for mice and rats that destroyed stored grains, though they may also have been trained to catch birds for their human companions. The earliest record of a pet cat dates back to around 7500BC. A grave was discovered in Cyprus that contained the remains of a human and a cat, signifying a domestic relationship between the two species.
Cats are famed for being worshiped in ancient Egypt, appearing in art works such as the enormous sphinx statue and ancient Egyptian paintings. Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, is symbolized by a cat and is the goddess of protection. A statue of bast, or a pet cat, was kept in ancient Egyptian homes to ward off thieves. Modern cat tattoos are a symbol of protection from dark forces and evil influences.
During the Age of Discovery (15th to 17th century AD), cats were transported around the world on ships as good luck charms, companions and a cheap way to keep rat populations to a minimum. Cats moved off the boats into the coastal towns, travelling inland with merchants as protectors of grain stores or as pets. Cats are now one of the favored household pets in America, Europe, Australia and parts of Asia and Africa. As a pet, cats have no need to hunt birds or mice for food, though many cats still hunt out of instinct or habit.
The Meaning of Cat Tattoos
Cats are one of those symbols that seems to have an enormous amount of meaning and symbolism. In general, the symbolism of a cat tattoo depends on the culture of the tattoo owner. In some cultures, cats are a bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead, able to travel spiritually between these realms in a way that humans can’t. This kind of symbolism also attributes cats with a messenger status, as they are able to ferry messages between the living and their deceased loved ones.
Cats are often considered to be spiritual guardians. There are many stories of people waking up one morning to discover that a cat had moved into their house. This tendency to choose who they live with sets cats apart from other domestic pets, and gives the impression that cats have a spiritual purpose or role to fulfill in people’s lives.
Cat tattoos generally shows a cat in a typical cat pose such as sitting with her tail wrapped around her paws, looking out soulfully at the world or poised on the verge of mischief. Cartoonists and caricaturists have added to these signature poses by creating images of cats leaping through the air, tap dancing or interacting with another symbolic object such as a flower, walking stick, hat or stars.
Cats have a way of landing on their feet, which means that a cat tattoo can symbolize resilience and quick thinking. In Asia, cats were revered as being lucky, and the Japanese waving cat statue (maeneko) is used to give cheerful greetings and bestow luck on visitors.
In Western culture, a black cat is considered to be unlucky. A black cat crossing your path is an omen of bad times to come. Black cats are associated with witches and witchcraft, and according to myth, a black cat was traditionally a witch’s “familiar” (magical assistant) and has become associated with mysticism and black magic.
In ancient Egypt, cats were a symbol of femininity and were linked with the moon (also referenced in Disney’s film Alice in Wonderland. The moon turns into the Cheshire cat’s smile.) In the film, the cheshire cat took on a number of forms, dissipating into a ribbon, shrinking into a ball and twisting and turning its way in and out of reality. Disney’s cartoon Cheshire cat is a popular tattoo design, symbolizing mystery, humor and mischief.