The Cat Sìth in Celtic Mythology

The Celtic people used to believe in this cat called The Cat Sìth which translates into The Fairy Cat. The cat took the shape of a black cat that was the size of a dog with a white spot on their chest. In most of the stories, they were almost feared by the people but there were some stories where they brought good fortune to the people. Here are just some of the stories about these Fairy Cats.

The Farmer’s Cat

A farmer was returning home from working the field one night when he was met by a very unusual funeral procession. There were eight cats carrying a coffin draped in the royal shield, and they were followed by a parade of cats chanting about how the King Of Cats was dead. The farmer saw this and rather than being scared he was simply intrigued and he carried on his way home and told his wife what he saw on the road. He told her about the cats holding the coffin and how they were chanting that the king was dead, and at that their house cat sat up and spoke, ”Old Tom in dead, Then I must be king” and with that, he walked out of the house and the farmer and his wife never saw their cat again.

 Witches and Cait Sidhe

The fairy cats could take the shape of a witch with the ability to transform back into a cat and witches with this ability were only able to transform from a human to cat eight times and on the ninth time of changing into a cat, they would be unable to change back to a human ever again. It was this legend that gave us the saying that cats have nine lives.

There were many cultural events that were tied to the cats and the main one was funerals. It is believed that the cats would steal the souls of the people who died before the Gods could take it so the people who were there would do everything to make sure that the cat was kept busy so they didn’t pass over the body of the dead before the burial. Both day and night the body was guarded during a Feille Fadalach or “late wake” and many of these distractions played to its cat-like nature.

They would play games to distract the cat because they believed that the cat would want to watch the games or join in. They would light the fireplace in every room other than the one where the body was in so that the cat would want to lay next to the fires for warmth. Catnip was another method used and they would spread it in the rooms away from the body and music called coronach (“laments”) was played to the cat would dance and enjoy the music and not go to the body. Finally, riddles would be asked but never answered so that the cat would ponder over the answer and not think about the soul it came for.

Halloween or as they called it Samhain, everyone would leave a saucer of milk out for the Cait Sidhe so that when the Cait Sidhe.came past they would leave a treat on you for leaving milk, or a trick in the form as a curse on your cows for not giving him milk.

There was also a practice called Taghaim where they believed that the demonic Cait Sidhe called Big Ears would appear and grant any wish to those who took part in the ceremony. The ceremony required you to over the course of four days and nights that you burn the bodies of cats.

The possible origin for this cat might be from a species of Scottish Wildcat known as the Kellas Cat. The Scottish Wildcat is thought to be the result of a wild cat and a domestic cat mating. When most wild cats have an almost tabby cat like fur the Scottish wild cat is all black. So it is quite easy to tell why the people began to tell stories around this cat.

Kellas Cat


12 thoughts on “The Cat Sìth in Celtic Mythology

  1. Chas

    Very good Rowan. Have you heard about Ailean nan Creach and the King of the Cats, and the Cat’s Pool on the River Lochy?

  2. Murdoch Gillian

    I loved this! But in a lot of “cat” litterature black cats were marterysed (burnt, put in bags, thrown off churches- even by Scots,) thats why they developed the white patch on their chest to pretend they were not black cats… and hopefully get away…. Love to all, Gillian
    ps I live in south south France and have a 17 y old BLACK cat named Celestine

  3. Andrew Fitzherbert

    I wish websites like yours could quote “The Oldest authority” or “Authorities” for each story. If the stories are only oral, then who first recorded them” Was Lady Wilde the only one? I haven’t read all her books..What’s the good of relating “Facts” without any evidence the so-called “Facts” are anything more than rumours invented centuries later.

  4. Gerry

    When it comes to Taghaim, does it mean that you burn the corpses of dead cats, kill cats by burning them or burn living cats with something like a lighter?

  5. Ruby Ruse

    I loved this article. I’m doing research on a phenomena in the United States that has been dubbed Phantom Panthers which has some resemblence to the Cat Sith.

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