Why These Animals Get a Bad Reputation?

You must have heard the saying that a specific person is a 'bad apple'. Sometimes it is true and other times it is not. How can that be determined? Simple, that person must have done despicable things; does not know how to behave properly towards people and other condemnable actions. That is what people call, getting a bad reputation. Animals can get a bad reputation too. Another question arises now, how can animals get a bad reputation? Well, it is time to explore this matter.

Our first guests on this list are black cats. These poor black felines have been outcasted and have often been linked with bad luck. Many people believe that black cats have an arrangement with the devil. Or not the devil per se, but with rotten and evil creatures in general. In some European countries, people believe that if a black cat crosses the road in front of them under the moonlight, they will die. Maybe that is true, but it is not the poor feline's fault. Perhaps people should cross the road with their eyes open and respect the red lights. Hypothetically, if a plane would fall on top of them while crossing the street, what could they do? Blame the black cat happening to be nearby just yawning under the sun? Meanwhile, in America, or to be more precise Las Vegas, there is another idea surrounding these cats. It is that of the gambler's distrust. Gamblers are a known breed of the superstitious sort that complain about everything, including why the light flickers every time they throw the dice. They advise other people, not to go inside a casino if a black cat crosses their path. The best advice would be for people, not to go in there, black cat present or not. That is only a good way to lose their hard-earned money.

However, the question arises, were these animals seen as bad luck or omens of death?

The ancient Egyptians had a plethora of gods. Many of them shared the head with an animal, to portray the characteristics similar to that animal. They loved the goddess Bastet. She was the goddess of protection, pleasure, and good health. Her depictions also consisted of a black cat. Therefore, ancient Egyptians kept black cats (Figure 1) around to favor Bastet. The black felines were considered as good luck and protection. A fairy-like creature that takes the shape of a black cat is mentioned in Celtic mythology, also known as Cat Sith. Cat Sith would bless any household that would put out a bowl of milk outside. This would take place during the time of Halloween, or Samhain as it was known in Celtic mythology. Sailors and fisherman's wives also preferred black cats. Sailors considered the black color of the felines as good luck, plus they got rid of the mice in the ship. Meanwhile, the wives kept black cats, in the hope of good luck for their husband's return. The sea in those days was a treacherous mistress and many fishermen died embracing that harsh lover.

So in the past, black cats were perceived as a symbol of prosperity and good luck. But, the perception of black cats changed after the 12th century. By the time Puritans settled in America, Christianity viewed black cats as instruments of evil. Puritan faith associated the felines with witches. The cats were thought to be familiars or supernatural helpers. Familiars were usually pets that serve as a witch's companion. At the time, it was also thought that witches could transform into a cat only nine times. Ever wondered why people say that cats have nine lives, well this is where this expression came from. All these views presumably came from a black cat limping inside a woman's home. Afterward, it came back fully healed. The woman cured and took care of the cat, but the crowd thought otherwise. That she should have been a witch, as who else could heal black creatures of the night.

Figure 1,Black Egyptian cats with papyrus. (n.d.). [Painting].

Sharks (Figure 2), just the mention of their names and most people get the chills. People immediately think about their void black eyes staring into their souls. Their pointy teeth also pop into people's minds.

What are sharks? They belong to a subcategory of fish called elasmobranch, where rays and sawfish are also included. Elasmobranch literally translates to fish made out of cartilage instead of bone. An interesting fact is that sharks can be fossilized despite not being made out of bone. Calcium salts being deposited into their scales to strengthen them and the enamel in their teeth helps to classify them as fossils.

According to National Geographic, “You have a one in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a one in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.” (Catherine Palmer, 2018) So where does the bad reputation stem from? The movie, Jaws, certainly had a hand in riling people and scare them. The plot is pretty simple, a great white shark eats people. In 1975, it was a hit and despite the fear, people flocked to the cinemas to enjoy it. Actually, the material for the movie came from a novel by Peter Benchley in 1974. What Benchley and Spielberg, the director of the movie did not predict, was the crusade against sharks. They aimed to deliver good horror to their audiences and they succeeded, but at what cost? Benchley himself admitted that he would have never written a book about a shark being a machine of revenge killings and specifically targeting humans.

A shark's diet consists of prey, like seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals. They need to consume food rich in fat to survive, and humans just do not contain what they require. Still, the fear persists. It creeps alongside their neck until it finds the sweet spot. Right before people go into the water or when they are swimming and suddenly see below them just the dark blue waters.

Figure 2, Podoinitcyn, A. P. (n.d.). Great White Shark [Illustration].

Snakes (Figure 3) were also known in ancient times as the old wise worm. They were perceived as a symbol of wisdom. In most ancient cultures, snakes were closely related to rituals and other traditions. Although, their skin shedding helped them to showcase themselves as symbols of life, death, and resurrection.

Quetzalcoatl, or “Feathered Serpent,” one of the most powerful Aztec gods was a mix of bird and rattlesnake. The coatl is the Nahuatl (in Aztec's language) word for serpent. He was the god of wind and rain, also agriculture, learning, and science. The Aztecs believed that Quetzalcoatl had an important hand in creating the world. And in one version when the world was created, he and another god, Tezcatlipoca turned themselves into snakes to rip apart a sea monster Cipactli. One of Cipactli's parts became the sky and the other turned into the earth. But, with the introduction of Christianity, snakes became known as a universal symbol of destruction, evil, temptation, the devil, and deceit. The Devil wearing the snake's skin tricked Eve into biting into the forbidden apple. Although, when intertwined with a tree, then it means life and is taken in a positive context. Compared to the negative reputation snakes get in the Bible the positive context is rare.

Besides the religious influence, popular media has had their part in painting a bad image for snakes. Some movies, where giant snakes existed and hunted humans pop into mind. Mostly, they would be anacondas methodically tracking the humans down, until they would get gulped one by one. Some truths these movies held were the enlargement of their mouth because they separate their lower jaw from the upper jaw. This is how snakes can eat prey bigger than themselves. Despite that being true, still, the portrayal in the movie was far from accurate. The mouth just opened like it was a neverending cave system and fully consumed the people inside a second. In reality, the process is very slow. Another truth is that when snakes feel threatened, they can get rid of the prey inside their stomach to flee or fight. They vomit it out because their survival instincts kick in.

On top of these movies, a big number of articles just expressing pure hate against these legless lizards have influenced people. The articles would state that snake attacks were increasing and people were fighting for their lives. The truth is unless snakes feel threatened they do not attack. But their appearance, combined with them being cold-blooded animals and being hard to perceive as pets has led to a campaign against them.

Figure 3, Escudeiro, D. E. (n.d.). Invoke the Kundalini Serpent [Illustration].

Even nowadays, in Britain and Japan black cats are considered good luck. In these countries, if you have a black cat, it means that a woman will have many people ask for her hand in marriage. There is also the tradition of giving the bride a black cat, as a sign of prosperity and good luck. This tradition stems from the English Midlands. Sharks are being actively hunted by humans and this process is called shark finning. Their fins are ripped apart from their body and they are thrown back in the water to perish. Also, there is the other alternative, where they are kept inside aquariums. But the issue is that they will die there too. Large sharks cannot be kept inside an aquarium as they will die. Because they need to cover large areas to breathe, as their gills require constant flowing water to take in the oxygen. Snakes are also being prodded constantly. They are hunted as delicacies for different restaurants, where people flock to try some of the famous reptilian meat. In addition, their skin is also very valuable, but what they have to undergo for it to get taken away from them is painful. Snakes are usually nailed to a tree by humans and then skinned alive. Even so, the worst part is they take up to two or three days to die. Therefore, all the stigma surrounding them to this day only hurts these poor creatures even more. They just ask to be loved and to be cared for. In the shark's case, they ask to be left alone and not to go through the horrendous finning process and left to die in the sea.

Animals suffer enough as it is these days. They face difficult conditions while they have to fight for their survival, for their food and to care for their younglings. Moreover adding the human primal instincts into the mix and you have in your hands a recipe for disaster. Just read more about them, before being utterly afraid. No need to go and buy a snake or a black cat, just get informed so other people will know more. Seeing that, information is the key to making all those nonsense words and the bad reputation disappear.

Source of the featured image:

  • Mandijn, J. (n.d.). The Witches Cove [Painting]. The Witches Cove. https://arthur.io/art/follower-of-jan-mandijn/the-witches-cove


  • Bastet (Bast) - Explore Deities of Ancient Egypt. (n.d.). Egyptianmuseum.Org. Retrieved May 31, 2021, from https://egyptianmuseum.org/deities-Bastet#:%7E:text=Bastet%20was%20the%20goddess%20of,most%20commonly%20in%20Lower%20Egypt.

  • Helms, A. H. (2018, October 31). The Roanoke Times. Roanoke.Com. https://roanoke.com/lifestyles/black-cats-have-a-colorful-history/article_4db143ee-80b4-5309-a304-cf85bc7e90af.html

  • Black Cat Myths and Facts Debunked. (n.d.). Four Paws Pet Products For Dog and Cats. Retrieved May 31, 2021, from https://www.fourpaws.com/pets-101/home-yard-beyond/black-cat-myths-and-facts

  • Syufy, F. S. (2020, February 1). Myths and Superstitions About Black Cats. The Spruce Pets. https://www.thesprucepets.com/black-cat-folklore-554444

  • Blue Cross. (2020, September 9). Black cat superstition. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/black-cat-superstition#:%7E:text=Black%20cats%20and%20witches&text=Often%2C%20cats%20were%20cared%20for,witches%20with%20their%20evil%20deeds.

  • Sharks should not get such a bad reputation. (2018, May 3). The Johns Hopkins News-Letter. https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2018/05/sharks-should-not-get-such-a-bad-reputation

  • Bradshaw, L. B. (2016, September 5). What’s the Deal with Sharks? The Living Coast Discovery Center. https://www.thelivingcoast.org/sharks-feared-and-friendly/

  • Gannon, M. (2012, November 7). Sharks’ Bad Rap Makes Them Hard to Save. Livescience.Com. https://www.livescience.com/24618-sharks-bad-rap-may-hurt-conservation-efforts.html

  • NOAA. (2021, August 18). Fun facts about shocking sharks. Fisheries.Noaa.Gov. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/outreach-and-education/fun-facts-about-shocking-sharks

  • National Geographic. (n.d.). Sharks 101. Animals. Retrieved August 29, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/facts/sharks-1

  • Kermode, M. (2020, April 23). Jaws, 40 years on: ‘One of the truly great and lasting classics of American cinema.’ The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/31/jaws-40-years-on-truly-great-lasting-classics-of-america-cinema

  • Pruitt, S. (2021, January 13). 9 Powerful Snakes from History and Mythology. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/snake-symbol-history-mythology

  • Lan, L. L. (2019, July 15). Are Snakes as Evil as We Think? Tiredearth. https://www.tiredearth.com/articles/are-snakes-as-evil-as-we-think

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Albi Haxhiu

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