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The Cat Sith – A Spectral Cat in Scottish Folklore & Irish Mythology

With Halloween around the corner, it’s time to go over some black cat mythology. Let’s dive in to the Scottish folklore surrounding the cat sith, to understand why these shadowy felines are symbols of Halloween.

The cat sìth (also spelled cait sìdhe) is described as a large black cat with a white patch on its chest. It is often depicted standing on all fours with its back arched and fur standing up. It’s also pictured standing on two feet, in a humanlike way.

The cat sith is a spectral cat that haunts the Scottish Highlands. There are also stories in Irish mythology that mention this creature, though they spell it cat sí.

A black cat with a white patch on its chest sitting in a graveyard with a harvest moon on the right side of the image, and a text overlay that reads "Learn about cat sith & black cat mythology for Halloween".

Many creatures and stories in Irish mythology and Scottish folklore overlap due to the proximity of these two countries, including that of the cat sith. 

Cat sith is derived from the Gaelic words cait meaning cat and sithiche meaning fairy. Don’t be fooled, these fairy cats are anything but sweet. They were widely feared due to their penchant for soul snatching and other nefarious activities.

Cat sith & soul snatching

One of the most terrifying beliefs about the cat sith was its ability to claim souls. If a cat sith passed over a dead body before it was buried, the creature would steal its soul before the soul could go to the afterlife.

Cat sidhe frequently preyed on funeral parlors and other places where the dead were kept before burial, in the hopes of finding the most souls.

A purple background with a light purple circle in the middle, which contains a spooky scene of ghosts, coffins, tombstones, bats and a cat sith (which is a giant black cat with a white patch on its chest) sitting in the center.

Legend said that Scottish people would guard their dead to keep them safe during a feill fadalach. This was essentially a wake where the living used various methods to deter the cat sith.

They would spread catnip to all of the rooms except for the one where the body was being kept. They kept this room cold, because the cat sith (like all cats) loved warmth.

The people guarding the bodies played games where they would wrestle and leap over each other to distract the cait sidhe. They also played music and told riddles, all in hopes to sidetrack the cat sith from its soul thievery.

Cat sidhe and Samhain

One of the reasons black cats are associated with Halloween is because of the black cat mythology tying Samhain to the cat sidhe. Samhain is the Celtic fire festival signaling the end of the fall harvest, from which Halloween is derived.

A giant cat sith from Scottish and Irish mythology standing in a path down the center of a spooky wooded area during the fall.

On Samhain, it was believed that cait sidhe would visit farms to steal the milk from cows, and curse the home. This curse would render the cows unable to produce milk in the future.

However, if people put out a dish of milk for the cat sith, it would bless the house, and sometimes even leave gifts.

If you’re interested in learning more about Samhain, make sure to check out our guide to the traditions of Samhain. It gives the history of the holiday and goes in depth about the mythology surrounding it.

Witches and black cats

Throughout history there has been a long standing connection between witches and black cats. There is even black cat folklore tying witches to the cat si.

A black cat sitting on a pumpkin in a window arch wearing an orange witches hat, looking out at the night sky which has bats flying through it.

Most Scottish mythology accepted the cat sith as a fairy creature. However, Irish folklore believed that the cat si was actually a witch.

They believed that witches had the power to transfigure themselves into a black cat and back to their human form. They were able to do this form switching nine times.

However, after the ninth transformation, the witches would remain permanently in their feline form. This could be one of the possible origins of the common phrase “cats have nine lives”.

Stories of the cat sith

While many stories mention the general description of cat sidhe, there are some stories in which a specific cat sith is mentioned.

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Summoning Big Ears

There’s a version of the cat sith called “Big Ears” that could be summoned during a divination ritual called taghairm. Once he was called, he would fulfill the summoner’s wishes. 

The taghairm involved burning multiple cats on a bonfire over a period of four days and nights. This would summon Big Ears, a demonic cat that enjoyed the torture of other cats.

The King of the Cats

There’s a story called The King o’ the Cats, which comes from the British Isles. The tale begins with a gravedigger, recounting a story to his wife, while she was holding their black cat named Old Tom on her lap.

The man said that he was working at night, digging a grave when he noticed synchronized meowing. 

A black cat wearing a pleated ruff around its neck, a crown on its head, and necklace with a heart shaped locket around its neck, the cat has a kingly appearance which emulates The King of the Cats named Tim Tildrum.

Surprised to hear the sound, he turned to see nine black cats with white spots on their chest, standing on their hind legs. They were carrying a small wooden coffin with a black cloth draped over it.

The cats marched forward, meowing in unison. They suddenly stopped in front of the man and said “tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Tildrum is dead” and marched off.

During the course of the story, the gravedigger’s cat Old Tom was meowing along. However, when he got to the message from the cats informing the gravedigger of Tim Tildrum’s death, Old Tom began to grow in size.

He turned from a regular house cat into a large cat sith, and exclaimed to the gravedigger “What? – Old Tim is dead? Then I am the king of cats now!”. At this declaration, Old Tom ran up the chimney, never to return.

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More black cats

If you enjoyed learning this black cat mythology about the cat sith, then you might be excited to know there are actually several national days of the year dedicated to black cats.

A grumpy looking black kitten, sitting against an orange background with a witches hat on his head, with an orange buckle, and the tip bent over.

There’s National Black Cat Day that falls on October 27th and Black Cat Appreciation Day that falls annually on August 17th. There’s also a Cuddly Kitten Day which is devoted to cats of all kinds!

In addition to the national days dedicated to black cats, Halloween is also a time of the year when black cats are celebrated!

Check out these black cat pumpkin carving ideas to incorporate them into your Halloween activities this year. Plus, check out this compilation of black cat quotes.

Looking for more mythology posts?

If you enjoyed learning about the cat sith in Scottish and Irish folklore, be sure to also check out these posts to learn more mythology of some of your favorite things! 

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The words Cat Sith written in white lettering, above a giant black cat with a white patch on its chest and a sneer on its face, sitting in a black sky with stars in the background and a crescent moon behind it, with small white lettering above the moon that reads "learn about the Scottish folklore and Irish mythology behind this spectral cat".

Jess author photoAbout the author

Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.

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