3 lives; 3 festivals (IP)
I asked an old cat once, "They say that Cats have 9 lives. Is that so?".
"It is", said the cat.
"And how many of those lives have you lived?", I wondered.
"3 before now", said the cat.
"Well tell me something of them", I asked.
The cats bright green eyes became distant and its pupils narrowed in thought as it looked back through the mists of history.
"In Ancient Egypt was my first life", said the cat, "Then I was an Egyptian Mau; a type of tabby cat revered by the Egyptians as a semi-divine incarnation of their cat headed Goddess Bastet. I lived with a priestess of Bastet infact, who performed her sacred rituals at the temple of Bastet in Saqqara and spent most of my life roaming the temple with my feline friends.
Ahh. Those were the days. They really knew how to treat us cats back then. Because of our semi-divine status, you know, it was forbidden for a human to harm a cat; infact killing a cat was considered treason punishable by death and humans didn't even think of themselves as our owners. Only the pharoahs and their family were considered of high enough status to call themselves cat-owners.
Oh, and in the second month of Shemu which was their name for Summer, they had a magnificient festival called Bubastis in honour of their cat god. Barges and boats of every kind floated down the Nile carrying men and women in a long procession; men playing on pipes of lotus and women upon cymbals and tambourines and others clapping and dancing.
I remember lazing like a sphinx upon the banks of the river watching it all. Oh it was wonderful".
The cats eyes glowed as he recalled the splendor of the ancient scene.
"Well what happened to that incarnation?", I asked.
The cats face started to frown.
"Oh well. Being semi-divine can have its downside", said the cat, "You see, although it was considered treason to kill a cat; cats were still ritually slaughtered and mummified, their mummies placed in tombs to honour the gods. Infact the brutal practice was practically an industry and, sadly, thats what happened to me".
"Oh", I said, feeling some sympathy towards the cat, "Yes. Cats have certainly had a hard time of it".
"Oh yes", agreed the cat, "Although that was nothing compared to how I was treated in my second life".
The cats eyes looked misty again as it stared into the past.
"In my next life I was a black cat and I lived in Belgium in a place called Ypres. It was the middle ages and, in those days Cats were considered evil; linked with witches and the devil. People would round them up and kill them. Oh it was terrible.
And in Ypres they had a particularly brutal and barbaric tradition", said the cat, shivering as it remembered.
"In Ypres they used to kill cats by throwing them from a bell tower, believing that by killing the cats they were destroying evil spirits. Thats how my second, very short life, came to a sudden end", said the cat dismally.
"Oh thats terrible", I said.
"Yes", said the cat, "But men paid the price for their cruelty to catkind. You see, because they killed off all the cats there was noone to kill the rats and because of that they spread, bringing the bubonic plague with them".
But then the cat became a little more cheerful.
"Still things change and people learn", it said, "Now, instead of killing cats, in Ypres they hold a festival in honour of the cat. Its called 'Kattenstoet' which, in Dutch, means "The Festival of cats" and people dress up as cats and they have a procession with giant cat figures".
"Sounds nice", I said, "What about your third life. I hope that was happier".
"Oh yes", said the Cat, remembering with a smile, "That was a happy life. It was in Japan; the Niigata Prefecture during the Meiji period.
In Japan cats are considered very good luck; they were important in monasteries because they kept mice from nibbling upon sacred manuscripts and important to the silk industry because they kept rats from eating silkworms.
They have cat ornaments there called Maneki-Neko with a raised, beckoning paw that are supposed to bring good fortune and they even have magical changing cats called Bakeneko that take human form.
Actually, that last one is partly my fault. You see I belonged to a poor artist, a painter of cats and, back in those days, most poor Japanese people couldn't afford meat and so lived off a diet of vegetables and rice and they used to feed their cats on left over vegetables. Yuk!
Well, as you know, we cats are carnivorous. We need protein and so, in desperation, we took to eating the oil out of the oil lamps because it was made from fish oil and, one time when I was standing up on my hind legs to get the oil out of a lamp my elongated shadow was cast by the flickering lamp upon a nearby wall.
Seeing it, people thought that it was a cat monster standing on two legs like a human and from there the legend of Bakeneko spread.
Today of course, people are much more enlightened and, around the time of Halloween, in some parts of Japan they have a Bakeneko festival where people paint their faces and dress up as cats of all kinds. Its a lot of fun".
"It sounds like Cats have played a very important part in human history", I said, quite amazed by the cats anecdotes.
"Oh yes, Dick Whittington, Puss In Boots. Wherever humans have been, we cats have been right there beside them", replied the cat.
But then the cat closed its eyes and lay still. I wondered perhaps wether it had finished the 4th of its nine lives but, thankfully, then it started to snore; it was just having a cat nap, perhaps dreaming more about one of its amazing lives.