Every culture has them, and so many of us believe in them, they're at the intersection of chaos and fate, warning us against bad omens and directing us toward fortune. But what are superstitions really about exerting control in an unpredictable world or truly swaying supernatural forces to work in our favor? The newest Spotify original FM podcast is examining the writing on the wall and uncovering answers every week on superstitions. Take a closer look at the origins and impacts of our most unusual beliefs and hear the stories of those who dared to defy them.
And now a special treat, an exclusive clip from the first episode on Black Cats, The Joy. Black cats have been symbols of the occult since the dawn of English literature, the first Full-length English novel was about cats. This was William Baldwin's 15 70 horror story. Beware the Cat. It contains the line.
A cat has nine lives. That is to say, a witch may take on her a cat's body nine times. Nowadays, black cats are believed to carry bad luck with them when one crosses your path, there is nothing you can do. You have been marked for misfortune. But what if I told you that this superstition surrounding black cats is not just a side effect of ancient folklore, but a belief created by religious propaganda nearly 800 years ago? Hi, everyone, I'm Alastair Murden, and this is Superstitions, the newest Spotify original from podcast.
Why do we balk when stepping underneath the ladder? Why does a broken mirror send shivers down our spines? Why do hotel floors skip the number 13? Belief in the supernatural does not belong to religion alone. Our world is a strange place full of unsettling patterns and idiosyncrasies we struggle to understand. It is here at the intersection of chaos and fate that we find superstitions. We'll tell stories illustrating the horror, the weirdness and the truth behind these beliefs. We'll explore how they began and what their continued existence says about the fragile human mind.
Today, we'll begin our show with the most iconic of all superstitions the black cat. Where does our cultural fear of black cats come from? And are they truly a harbinger of bad luck? A warning. This episode features dramatizations of bullying, violence and ableism. Please exercise caution for children. Under 13, you can find episodes of superstitions and all other podcast originals for free on Spotify.
There's something undeniably spooky about a black cat, the way they blend into the night is sure to send a chill up anyone's spine, even if they aren't allergic, no matter what Halloween merchandise or witchy teen dramas would have you believe cats haven't always been a symbol for dark magic. Actually, they used to be good luck. Take this classic Welsh poem from the 19th century. A black cat I've heard it said can charm all the way and keep the house where in Sidwell's from fevers deadly sway.
Before then they were more than lucky. They were divine in ancient Egypt. They represented the goddess Bastet, whose head is that of a dark feline. And in Norse mythology, two enormous black cats pulled the Chariots of Fire, goddess of love and war. These aren't symbols of dark magic. These are figures that command respect. Over the following centuries, we've seen strange rules develop about what makes a lucky black cat encounter and what makes an unlucky one.
In Germany, it's considered bad luck if the black cat crosses your path from right to left. But good luck if going from left to right in England, the luck is determined by whether the cat is walking toward or away from you.
All this begs the question where did the bad luck surrounding black cats come from? And why did any and all good luck associated with the creature vanish by the time Europeans reached America? Perhaps the answer lies in the puritanical roots of the United States. Even today, young people might be told to cross themselves or say a prayer when they see a black cat. This is especially true for anyone attending, say, a Catholic high school. Today's story takes place in the recent past in a world where maybe there's some merit to a fear of cats, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The story actually begins with a chase deep inside the halls of Bishop Fenwick High School.
Mary Katherine Hale didn't hear the school bell ring, she didn't hear much of anything besides the dull and distant pounding of her feet against the floor, a wave of perfectly combed golden hair vanished around the corner in front of her. The owner of that hair, Haley trainer, had taken Mary's hearing aid. She rounded a corner, then another in pursuit of the thief. She was no athlete, and by the time she caught up with her pursuer, she was sweaty, red faced and shaking with rage.
Haley was sitting in her seats towards the front of class, wearing an angelic smile beside her. Her boyfriend, Dylan Smith, stifled a snigger. Everyone else had their heads bowed for the morning prayer. Mary sat at a desk across from them and waited. Finally, when their heads raised, Mary stood and walked over to Haley. She held out her hand expectantly. Haley adopted an innocent and vaguely incensed expression. What do you want, weirdo? Her silent mouth seemed to say.
Mary caught a hint of movement at Dylan's side, as if he was pocketing something. His shoulders were shaking from repressed laughter. Was it at her helplessness or is something else? Mary looked up to see if the teacher had noticed the interaction. The entire class was staring at her. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment, Dylan and Hayley had done this on purpose. They knew Mary hated being the center of attention. She slunk back to her seat and sat down, admitting defeat.
The two students laughed silently, a silver crucifix bouncing up and down on Dylan's chest. Mary buried her face in her textbook, tears swimming in her eyes. She knew the hearing aid would eventually find its way back to her. The bullies wouldn't keep it because it was too fun to keep stealing it over and over. They toyed with her like a cat plays with a mouse.
As expected, Mary got her hearing aid back by the end of the day after suffering through six classes taught by adults who never learned ASL. She took the long way home that night from the bus stop.
She didn't want her father to see how miserable she looked. With each step, a vision of her tormentors returned to her mind. Haylee, with her impeccable makeup and pearly whites, smile. Dylan, with his chiseled jaw and tussled hair, flawless children of flawless parents going to church every Sunday and serving as readers during school mass.
Mary thought it was funny how exterior perfection often hid rotten hearts. The sun had completely set by then, the shadows growing longer and deeper all around them. Mary only really noticed when one of them seemed to detach itself and slunk toward the sidewalk.
It was a cat, very clearly a stray. Its fur was wild and it had no collar. Mary wiped her eyes and knelt down to the cat's eye level, holding out her hand.
The cat approached yellow eyes glinting in the gloom. She could almost see something behind it, slit pupils. A strange kind of recognition like it knew her.
But then its claws were out and it struck down.
It could only reach her hand, but that was enough. Its talons scored across her fingers, causing small flecks of blood to splatter the pavement. Mary pulled her hand back in shock.
The cat just stood there, staring as if it had done nothing wrong. Mary grit her teeth and closed her eyes, trying to wait until the stinging subsided.
Then she felt a rough tongue slide across her forehead.
When she looked up, the cat was gone. When Mary arrived home, she went right for the attic. She couldn't count on her father for comfort after his busy day of work. Instead, she found comfort in a ghost.
Mary's mother had left without explanation six months earlier, just after a huge fight with her father about sending her to a Catholic school.
Mary felt most safe among the possessions she left behind packed away in cardboard boxes.
Much of her mother's stuff didn't make sense to her old books, weird herbs and indecipherable recipes.
But there was comfort in their familiar strangeness. As she dozed off, she thought she heard a familiar purring sound deep in the recesses of the attic.
The next day, a school promises to be another day of torment, Mary's first period was social studies, which she shared with all of her least favorite classmates. But there was a surprise waiting for her when she arrived in class for the first time all year, Hayley seat was empty when class began. Dylan shot Mary a dirty look as she entered, but he didn't do anything. There was no fun in tormenting her alone. For once, it seemed like Mary was going to be spared.
But then the door cracked open, a figure entered walking with a strange, pained gait, a gasp spread through the glass as one by one they realized it was Hayley Trayner, her converse's squeaks strangely as they shuffled across the floor, her perfect hair was knotted and wet, red rivulets running down her face and across her school approved polo shirt from head to toe.
She looked like the victim of a minor car accident.
Their teacher screamed. Dylan rushed forward to his bloody mess of a girlfriend. Mary gaped, Haley ignored Dylan and shuffled straight for Mary's desk. She stared through her bloody hair at Mary, eyes burning with rage. Soon, she was close enough that Mary could see the scars that criss crossed her face.
In groups of three, her left ear lobe had been sliced off, taking her earring with it. Haley snarled at Mary, but her words were directed at the entire classroom. The deaf, which did this to me. To finish the episode, search superstitions on Spotify or your favourite podcast app, make sure to follow the series for more stories of ancient beliefs and modern day practices that just might have the power to change our fates.
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