Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: The Nine Lives of Cats #felinefolkore #catlegends

Art concept. Vintage still life with old books stacked near lighted old-fashioned candle, carnivale mask in background

Hello and Happy Tuesday! Today I’m discussing one of my favorite subjects—cats!

I love all animals, but cats are my favorite. As a kid I grew up with cats, dogs, goldfish, hamsters, gerbils, a parakeet, tropical fish, even a chinchilla. As an adult, I bonded with cats and never looked back. These animals have alternately been revered and feared throughout time. From the ancient Egyptians who worshiped them as demi-gods, to the people of Medieval England who believed they were the accomplices of witches, felines have known extreme highs and lows. Maybe the reason they’re said to have nine lives.

Arafel, my first cat came from a litter of farm kittens. I always told her she looked like a little woodland creature from myth.

Hmm.

McDoogal was a rescue who entered our lives a year after Arafel. If his name sounds familiar, you may be thinking of my novella, In Search of McDoogal. I always joke with my husband that McDoogal worshiped me because he was so attached.

More likely, the cat’s agility and its uncanny self-righting mechanism, allowing it to survive falls from great heights, is where the myth originated. Felines are extremely graceful, swift, and able to squeeze into small spaces—traits that add to its undeniable mystique.

Of all domesticated animals, the cat is the least tame. Like its wild kin, it is most active during early morning hours and at night, the best times for hunting prey. The nocturnal aspect of the cat and its ability to see in the dark also support the nine lives belief. Blessed with enhanced senses and fluid agility, this clever and crafty animal could easily live nine lifetimes.

When superstition was rampant, many believed a witch could take the form of her cat familiar nine times, thus giving the cat nine lives.  Another tale involves a cat entering a home where nine hungry children resided. Nine fish had been set out for the children to eat, but the cat devoured them all. The poor children died of starvation while the cat met an untimely end from gluttony. When the feline arrived in Heaven, God was so angered by its selfishness he made it fall to the earth for nine days. The nine lives of the children reside in the cat’s belly, which is why it must die nine times before finally being able to rest.

Sometimes those nine lives came in handy. Seafarers knew cats were able to predict storms, which is why they considered a cat onboard ship good luck. It wasn’t simply a matter of running roughshod over vermin.

Onyx, my last lovely boy. Everyone said he was so handsome with his silky black coat he could have been a show cat.

That was something Noah knew about. When the ark set sail, there were no cats onboard. Rats and mice multiplied and soon overran the boat.

 In desperation, Noah asked the lion for help. The great beast sneezed and two cats were born, the only animal not originally created by God.

Raven, my current lovely girl. I fell in love with black felines after owning Onyx, and even wrote a novella called Food for Poe that addresses the issues they sometimes have getting adopted. As the “child of my later years” she is spoiled beyond belief!

Whatever you believe, there’s no denying these frisky and entertaining animals have found a place in our hearts, whether for a single lifetime or nine. Disney gave us The Three Lives of Thomasina while Stephen King terrified us with Pet Sematary.

I prefer my cats cuddly and affectionate over Mr. King’s variety which is why I’m dedicating this post to the lovely felines who graced my life with companionship–Arafel, McDoogal, Onyx, and Raven. I wish the first three would have been able to hang around for eight more lifetimes!

To close, I leave you with my favorite cat quote. Nothing against dogs, (I love them too), but I think this quote speaks volumes about the mind of a cat:

A dog looks at you and says, “You take care of me. You must be a god.” 
A cat looks at you and says, “You give me food and shelter. I must be a god.”

Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Robert Johnson and the Crossroads

Vintage still life with old books stacked near brass candle, with carnival mask hanging on wall, blurred in background.

Hello, and welcome to my first Cabinet of Curiosities post. Legends and folklore have held a fascination for me since I was a child. As an adult, I’ve been privileged to give presentations on the subject, and have woven bits of legend into most of my published novels and short stories.

Today, I’d like to step back into the dusty days of the Mississippi Delta when folklore and music intertwined in the life of legendary blues guitarist, Robert Johnson. When a hardscrabble existence and a hunger for fame, led a young man to bargain his soul for the trappings of success.

According to legend, Robert Johnson was already a moderately successful blues guitarist when he walked down to the crossroads on a moonless night. At the stroke of midnight he recited an incantation to summon the devil (or Legba, depending on the version of the tale). In exchange for his soul, the devil tuned Johnson’s guitar.  From then on Johnson played with amazing skill no other musician could match. When Son House, a friend and mentor to Johnson, was overheard saying “He sold his soul to play like that,” it only served to stoke the fire of superstition.

vintage acoustic blues guitar with old battered suitcase, vintage tint on image

There was no question Johnson had peculiarities. He lived the life of a nomad, roaming from town to town peddling his music. He had an uncanny ability to pick up tunes at first hearing, and was once taught by a man rumored to have learned music in a church graveyard. He often turned his back to the crowd while playing, but could easily engage a group of listeners. Outgoing in public, he was reserved in private, well-mannered and soft spoken.

Having lost his sixteen-year-old bride and unborn child years before, he became a bit of a womanizer which may have led to his downfall. Legend has it Robert met his end when he drank from an open bottle of whiskey in a juke joint where he’d been playing. Some say a jealous husband poisoned the whiskey with strychnine, others that it was an ex-girlfriend. He suffered convulsions and died three days later. Still others whisper he was shot or stabbed. Whatever the cause, the man who sang “Hellhounds on My Trail” had nowhere left to flee.

Robert Johnson died at the age of twenty-seven on August 16, 1938 not far from a country crossroads in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Among his songs, six mention the devil or something supernatural. “Crossroad Blues” which has been recorded by a number of other musicians is also rumored to carry a curse. Several of those who have recorded, or played it frequently, experienced tragic circumstances–Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynryd Skynrd, Led Zepplin and Kurt Corbain. I think it speaks volumes that all of these musicians and many others, kept Johnson’s song alive long after his demise.

In 1980 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Perhaps most telling of all, on September 17, 1994, the U.S. Post Office issued a Robert Johnson 29-cent commemorative postage stamp.

For Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues, his legend along with all of its inherent mystery, lives on.