Aug 1, 2007

Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives?

Posted by PicasaThis is the oldest of our three cats. She was a 9th birthday gift, for my youngest daughter, 13 years ago. This cat has managed to survive narrow escapes with all nine of her allocated cat lives. Several weeks ago, she fell 2 stories from a loft railing to the wooden flooring below.... after trying to walk on an impossibly narrow ledge of a closed, upper story window.

It was a heart stopping moment (especially for a cat in her middle years) and we watched her,for days on end,to make sure that she was all right. It took her a while to recuperate, from what I am sure must have been a very bruised and tender body, but she appears to be fine now.

Ever since she was a tiny kitten and I first found her inside of a spinning dryer....luckily within seconds of turning it on, I have known that her endless curiosity would continually place her lives in peril...and it has. She has been poisoned by neighboring farm's barns of rat poison twice, been attacked by territorial feral cats, been driven off in the back of visitors' cars and once popped up into view from my own car's back seat.... after I had driven for more than 10 miles. We are always on the lookout for where she is and what she might be doing. Luckily, if there is a quilt out...we know where we can find her.

Her most recent misadventure led me on a search for the origin of the belief that cats have nine lives. My research informed me that this belief most likely stems from an early confusion with cat's nine lives and the cat o' 9 tails, which was a whip used to punish sailors, made of nine strands. Early on, this whip was called a cat and also associated with the saying no room to swing a cat....meaning that whip and not a feline.

Flogging, with this braided leather whip made with the typical 9 strips of oiled and knotted leather, was a common punishment on board sea faring naval vessels. The unlucky sailor would receive 50 to 100 lashes instead of the even more unlucky punishment of gaol or jail, usually for his lifetime. Although infections abounded, if you could survive the cat, as the whip was called, you went on to have 'other lifetimes' at sea.

It is not surprising that the unusual resiliency and craftiness of a cat, who can seemingly survive falls from great distances with their ability to absorb shock, should end up being equated with the misbehaving sailor or even the pirate's ability, to survive near death with the cat o' nine tails.

But why the number 9? The number nine was a lucky, mystical, or magical number because it was considered the Trinity of Trinities (3 x 3). As cats seem able to escape injury time and time again, this lucky number seemed suited to the cat, just as it suited the original surviving pirate or sailor.

But do cats really have nine lives? And where does this idea come from? All animals have a reflex that helps them to stay balanced. It's called the righting reflex. This reflex is so simple and so basic, that most of us never even notice it. When we are walking, and our feet slip, a number of different muscles in our legs, our back, and maybe even your shoulders suddenly work to try to keep our bodies upright.

Cats have extremely well-developed righting reflexs. If a cat starts to fall out of a tree, it twists its whole body in midair and lands on its feet. So, cats often survive falls that would kill most animals. So most likely, that’s where the idea came from that cats can survive high falls and still not only land on their feet but even survive.

Whatever the meaning, our family is simply grateful that another one of our cats has managed to survive another one of her 'nine lives.' And as each of our three cats, with each of her nine lives, gets into mischief or even harm's way, I am only reminded how much we love each of them, nuisances as they might be, and how grateful we are to have all three of them to enrich our lives and grace our quilts!

happy cat on my OphanTrain quilt,
meandering in progress with both

1 comment:

Finn said...

Willow looks absolutely adorable and like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth...perfect snoozing cat on your newest quilt..*VBS*
What a wonderful tresure she is as she comes back time after time from her perils.
I love the name Willow, well, actually, the word willow. It's one of my favorite words..*VBS* She's a lucky girl to have a home with you..*VBS* Hugs, Finn