Folk Magic: A Scarce & Early Dried Cat Head


Origin: British
Period: Seventeenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1600-1700
Height: 3.25 inches (with neck)
Length: 4.5 inches

The well preserved mummified head and three quarter neck with in tact teeth, having some remaining coloured hair.

Condition is good, given age and fragility, though there are two holes on symmetrical sides of the skull; the whole however remains in good stable order. This example is larger than our previous listed head and probably marginally older due to the overall colour.

According to mediaeval superstition, old shoes, bottles, and less commonly cats, were placed into walls, roofs, floorboards or fireplaces to ward off evil spirits. It was quite a widespread practice across the European continent and in some cases the cats had been positioned, indicating that they were already dead at the time of concealment. We believe this specimen falls into this category as the rest of the body is missing.

As per a sacrifice, perhaps it was hoped that some of the qualities attributed to the cat in life would continue in the afterlife. Cats are alleged to be able to see ghosts and spirits easier than humans (hailing from Egyptian beliefs) and it is possible that it was their job to catch vermin of a more spiritual kind; perhaps the witch's familiar. George Gifford, writing in 1593, complained of witch's familiars running about outside. If he'd only had a cat concealed in his walls, a witch-bottle beneath his doorstep and some shoes up his chimney he'd have had much less to worry about.

Now, perhaps it is time for you to do the same. If not for these reasons, this remains a rather extraordinary, macabre and fascinating piece of rare folk magic archaeology.