Salem the Cat: Feline Familiars & Their Mythical Past

Cats are uncanny creatures.

They’re as likely to curl up in your lap as they are to leave a dead mouse on your doorstep.

Despite our attempts to domesticate them over the millennia, our feline friends have a history steeped in mystery and magick.

No other cat represents this conflicted nature of domesticity and danger better than Salem Saberhagen, pet and familiar to our favorite teenage witch, Sabrina Spellman.

Salem the Simple

First appearing alongside Sabrina in 1962’s Archie’s Mad House No. 22, Salem was initially no more than an ordinary cat.

Though his appearance took on different iterations throughout the comics, his role remained the same: a mischievous familiar to a teenage witch.

But even ordinary cats find their way into occult circles, beginning long ago.

Salem the Sacred

The magickal cat has its roots in Ancient Egypt, which held felines as sacred and worshipped a cat-headed goddess known as Bastet.

Bastet alongside Neil Gaiman’s Morpheus

Egyptian law forbade the killing of any feline and even went so far as to mummify many, placing them in ornate sarcophagi much like those of the royal class.

Mythologies worldwide are rife with cat connections, from the Norse Goddess Freya and her cat-drawn chariot, to Hecate of the Greeks, who took the form of a cat to escape the monster, Typhon.

Salem the Sassy

In the 90’s sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Salem found himself with the power of speech and a wicked sense of humor.

This more pronounced role brought with it an expanded backstory; that of a witch transformed into a cat as punishment for his attempts at world domination.

Such shapeshifting cats are not without their own historical record.

Salem the Scary

In pre-Christian Europe, the Gaels believed cats to be evil humans transformed and sacrificed many in the huge bonfires of their Samhain festival.

As Christianity spread across medieval Europe, such pagan practices were cast in a demonic light, further vilifying the cat as a tool of the devil.

Churchill from 1989’s Pet Sematary would certainly have made the devil proud.

Many European superstitions held that black cats were witches’ familiars or even witches themselves, transformed by black magic.

Salem the Satanic

With the 2018 release of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, Salem was again redefined, this time in a more Satanic light.

After a summoning ritual in the nearby woods, Sabrina finds her bedroom infiltrated by a Lovecraftian shadow that whispers into her mind.

Nevertheless, this demonic being takes on the form of a black cat and proceeds to protect its master from innumerable, supernatural attacks.

Similarly, today’s occult landscape seems to have amalgamated the sacred and the sinister histories of the feline familiar.

For better or worse, witchcraft has had a resurgence.

Binx from 1993’s Hocus Pocus knew many a modern witch…

What was formerly seen as blasphemy is now an aesthetic.

And though trends come and go, at the very least the spooky cat has been elevated, yet again, to a sacred realm.

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