Things You Thought You Knew #10: Are Black Cats Bad Luck?

What You Thought You Knew: A black cat crossing your path could cause bad luck.


What You Didn’t Know: Whether you’re superstitious or not, the fact remains that many people believe that black cats cause bad luck. It’s why they’re popular Halloween symbols and why they’re the least adopted animals at rescue shelters. But it seems like the whole superstition may be a little overplayed.

In ancient Egypt, black cats were seen not only as acceptable but even as praiseworthy, so harming one was considered an extremely serious offense (of the same degree as, say, murder). The Japanese consider black cats to be good luck, and even in Europe and early America where the bulk of black cat myths existed, sailors still believed that a black cat on the docks boded well for their voyage. In fact, a black cat on the ship was extremely good luck, especially if it approached you on deck. If you threw it overboard…well, you might as well have been tying your own noose, they say.

But I’m not really interested in the superstitions about how witches can turn into black cats at night (the prevalent opinion especially during the times surrounding the Salem Witch Trials). So instead, I wanted something more factual. In what percent of people does the presence of a black cat immediately precede “bad luck” (negative consequences)?

As it turns out, bad “luck” happens to the best of us, and the kitties don’t have anything to do with it. In a statistical analysis of black cat encounters immediately prior to a coin toss, each person tested did report a slight drop in favorable outcomes (choosing the correct side), but the average success/failure rate was still within that person’s normal range, as proven by prior testing.

To ensure that the study wasn’t too biased, the participants were then also exposed to WHITE cats (thought to bring good luck) crossing their paths. Again, the average success/failure rate changed, but it still remained within the person’s average. It is interesting to note, however, that the black cat made the rate go down slightly and the white cat granted success for the first few throws after its appearance. In both cases, averages returned to normal quickly.

It seems, then, that the cats had nothing to do with the averages, which would have been fluctuating anyway, regardless of whether or not cats walked in front of the participants.

Now You Know: That there is no statistical proof that black cats cause negative outcomes.


The Flagship Niagara Diaries Part 10: Goddesses

“Take Barbara with you.”

I gaze up into the web of rigging toward that white bundle of sail still wrapped tightly all the way at the top of the mast.

“Unfurl the main topgallant sail,” I repeat to Billy in the traditional sailing order. “Take Barbara.”

Billy nods and heads back toward the bridge deck as I snag a harness and wrangle my way into it. Beside me, Barbara is already fastened and ready. The main topgallant, I muse. I’ve never been that high.

The ship rolls a little more than normal, the waves peaking at about 3.5 feet instead of their normal 1.3. I clamber up onto the deck box and swing myself onto the ratlines to climb the mast, Barbara following a respectful distance behind. The starboard side dips, and I let gravity pull me away from the ratlines a little so that I can sync my body’s movements with the churning of the waves. If I fight the motions the whole time, I’ll get tired too fast.

Pulling myself onto the fighting top at the mainsail, I look down to the starboard deck. It strikes me suddenly that this is no spectacle, people climbing to the top of the mast. No one is watching. I am not the uninitiated.

I am crew. And that’s cool.

I hover on the starboard side of the fighting top as Barbara finishes the climb, then I grab the next set of ratlines and head even higher to the topsail. Starboard.

Why do I always climb on the starboard side? I don’t think I’ve ever climbed on port. Well, I’m right-handed, so maybe….

The climb to the topsail is shorter, so Barbara and I don’t pause and we head straight up to the highest sail on the ship, the topgallant. Although the royal sails would be higher even than the topgallants, we don’t have royals on right now. The ratlines tremble slightly as the uneven shakes from both Barbara and I make the lines pulse in our hands and under our feet. I take deep swoops with my shoulders to compensate for the lines dipping away from me.

Hoisting myself up onto the topgallant fighting top, I realize that there’s not enough room for both of us.

“Laying on!” No one is there to hear it, but I say it anyway.

The blustery wind is so much colder up here, and I can fit the ship into the palm of my hand. I make my way on the tightrope outboard on the sail, bracing myself when Barbara joins me.


So where exactly is the main topgallant sail compared to the rest of the ship? Well, it’s right here!



Barbara and I make quick work with the gasket coils on the sail and, soon enough, the thick, rough canvas is slipping away from us and breathing in the wind.

“ON DECK!” Barbara shouts. The crew, now only a colorful colony of ants to me, masses toward the aft pinrails on each side, clewing the sail [bringing the bottom corners down and out] and making it fast to catch the breeze. I smile, but Barbara lays off the yard and motions for me to follow, so I don’t have too much time to savor the satisfaction of actually doing something profoundly helpful.

“ALOFT CARRIE! BARBARA!” I hear boatswain Rob shout.

“ALOFT!” we reply.

“Brace the topgallant yard to port!” he shouts.

Barbara and I back up as far as we can on the topgallant fighting top, watching as the yard creaks and slowly turns to port only inches from us. It takes some acrobatics, but we work our way around the yard that’s now blocking our most obvious route down the ratlines and, after a speedy descent, find our feet back on the familiarly comfortable not-steady deck.

Our work continues in much the same manner for the rest of the day, and at around 1600, Charlie watch gets leave for dinner. As we congregate around the food basins near the forecastle, Third Mate Cusson leans back and sighs.

“We need a new name.”

Kiki giggles. “Aren’t we already Charlie’s Angels?”

We look around, seeing the measly 3 men in the crowd of 9 women that make up our watch. Kiki grins.

“Well obviously,” she chuckles, running her fingers through her hair flamboyantly. “We’re the goddess watch!”

And thus the tale has been recounted of how I achieved divinity.


Quotes from this day’s ship log:

“I also climbed up with Barbara to unfurl the main topgallant sail.”

“We came up with Charlie watch’s new title — Goddess watch.”