Whether you’re cheering on leprechauns or green-eyed cats this St. Patrick’s Day, there’s another Celtic creature that should be on your radar. We’re talking about the Cat Sìth, a “fairy cat” in Scottish and Irish mythology that resembles a huge black cat with a white spot on its chest.
What is the Cat Sìth?
The Cat Sìth, also known as the Cat Sidhe or Cait Sidhe in Ireland, is pronounced “caught shee” and translated as “fairy cat.”
As mentioned above, this Celtic creature is said to resemble a black cat the size of a dog with its back arched and one white spot on its chest. It walks on all fours around humans, but will stand up on hind legs when it’s not being watched.
According to The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, the Cat Sìth may have been inspired by the real-life Scottish wildcat.
Common tales involving the Cat Sìth
The fairy cat has made appearances in Irish and Scottish folklore for centuries.
The Cat Sìth may be the first folktale connecting black cats to Halloween. The ancient Celtic festival called Samhain served as one of the earliest influences on the contemporary holiday of Halloween. On Samhain, it was believed that the Cat Sìth would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out for it to drink. Those houses that did not leave out a saucer of milk were consequently cursed by the Cat Sìth. (This fairy cat apparently was not lactose intolerant, unlike most felines!)
The witch with nine lives
While most folklore speaks of the Cat Sìth as a fairy creature, one tale says it is actually a witch with the ability to change into cat form. According to this tale, the witch changed into a cat and back eight times, usually while in danger. On the ninth transformation, she was forced to remain a cat forever. Sounds similar to the nine lives myth, no?
The late wake
Many Celtic people believed that the Cat Sìth could steal the soul of a newly deceased person if left unattended during the Feille Fadalach, or the “late wake.” They devised ways to distract the Cat Sìth from passing over the body of the dead prior to burial. These included games of leaping and wrestling for the cat to watch, riddles to ponder, and music to dance to. Last but not least (and our personal favorite), the Celts would spread catnip throughout all the rooms in the house except the room that the body was in.
King o’ the Cats
One British folktale incorporating elements of the Cat Sìth is called “The King of the Cats.” The story goes that a man on his way home saw eight black cats with white marks on their chests carrying a coffin with a crown on top. One of the cats said to the man, “Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead.” When the man returned home to his wife and cat called Old Tom, he relayed the story to them. Suddenly his cat exclaimed, “What?! Old Tim is dead? Then I’m King o’ the Cats!” The cat then disappeared up the chimney and was never seen again.
This St “Catrick’s” Day, we invite you to raise your glass and cry “Feline Go Bragh!” to the Cat Sìth! Sure, it is a menacing creature in many respects. Yet this Irish fairy cat is bound to intrigue cat parents more than those tricky little leprechauns.