About the Artist:
Marina Dieul is known for her animals and figures paintings in trompe-l’oeil style, full of humor and poetry. She works in Montreal, Canada, surrounded by the many cats she fosters for a no-kill shelter.
This is an old British tale about the King of Cats. It’s somewhat different from the Irish story of the King of Cats, which can be found here.
Once upon a time, a man had a calf to sell and decided to go to the November fair in Macroom. He borrowed a horse and cart from a neighbour and was to set off for the fair at about one o’clock in the morning to be sure of arriving nice an early and getting a good price. At one o’clock, he got up and looked outside. The night was too black to see anything, so he stirred the fire into life and put on a kettle for a cup of tea while he harnessed the horse.
There was a heavy mist coming down and the man was wet through by the time he had harnessed the horse and was ready for a hot cup of tea. He thought it was a foolish thing to be doing – going out on a cold, wet night to travel twenty miles in the dark, with only the lanterns on the sides of his cart to show him the way. Still, it had to be done, so he put on a thick coat and set off. The horse was just as unwilling to travel on that cold, wet night and would far rather be sleeping in its stable. Barely and hour had passed and both man and horse were wet through and miserable.
As they drew nearer to the town, the man could see the lights in the farms by the roadside, where the people were getting up for the fair – people who lived close enough to Macroom that they did not have to travel in the middle of the night. Soon there was quite a procession of people on the road with calves and cattle being driven to the fair. It was still dark and the daylight was only just coming.
The man took his place in the fair, and no one made him an offer for the calf for a long time. A few made offers of poor prices and other farmers told him that the prices were low anyway. In the end, cold and dejected and tired from lack of sleep, he accepted an offer, though the price was not a good one, rather than be left to take the calf home again which would have meant a wasted journey.
Cold, wet and hungry, he made a few purchases and then met with some friends for some bread, cheese and ale before they all set off for their homes. He was not looking forward to the long journey home, but at least a full stomach and a quaff of ale raised his spirits a little.
He let the horse go at her own pace and though the rain came down again, the man fell asleep wrapped in his greatcoat and huddled on the driver’s seat of the cart. Dozing fitfully, he barely heard the other travelers passing him, but he began to have strange dreams that could scarcely be told from reality.
As he was passing the graveyard of Inchigeela, a cat put his head through the railings and said to the man, “Tell Balgeary that Balgury is dead.” The man paid little heed to that, for he was too tired to know if it was real or just the product of his exhaustion. At last he arrived home and settled the horse in the stable with hay and water and went into the house to change out of his wet clothes.
His wife immediately began to ask about the fair – how many were there, whether he got a good price for the calf and whether he had heard any news while in town. After replying to questions, the farmer told her to be quiet a while and fetch him some tea to warm him through.
His wife fetched the tea and asked again if there was any news from town – people that had died, babies that had been born, people that had moved into or out of the area and people that had married since last time the farmer had been to town. Her husband told her he had been too wet and tired to stand around gossiping at the fair.
“Fancy going in all that way and hearing nothing at all,” complained his wife, “And not getting a good price for the calf either. You might as well have stayed at home for all the good that you get out of a fair.”
Finally, the man remembered the strange thing at Inchigeela and said “The only news, if you can call it that and not a dream, was when I was passing the graveyard of Inchigeela. A cat stuck his head out of the railings and said ‘tell Balgeary that Balguny is dead’.”
At that, their cat, sitting before the fine, jumped up and glared at the man. “The Devil fire you!” said the cat, “why didn’t you tell me before? I’ll be late for the funeral. It does no good for the heir to be late.”
And with that, the cat leapt through the cracked open window and was gone like the wind. From that day on, the farmer and his wife saw no sign of him.
Found in Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, this is reputed to be a true story of the Horned Demon Cat of World War II.
It could have been a scene enacted from Dante’s ‘Inferno’ – even the clouds seemed to be wreathed in flames as torrent after torrent of plummeting German bombs screamed through the darkened skies over south London, and danced a fiery tarantella of death upon its shuddering streets, like a flurry of shrieking souls in everlasting torment. And in the midst of this panorama of pandemonium was Howard Leland – one of many volunteers with the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) who had been boldly defying the deadly rain of missiles throughout that fearful evening in October 1943 in a desperate bid to minimize its malevolent effects. Little did Leland realize, however, that he would soon encounter something infinitely more sinister, and malign, than anything conjured forth by the wartime enemy.
As the ground reverberated from the intensity of yet another mighty explosion nearby, Leland ran into a deserted house to take shelter, until the immediate danger had passed. The building’s interior was pitch-black, but with the aid of his torch he located a staircase, and rested on the bottom step for a while, waiting for this latest airborne assault to end.
Suddenly, a cold shadow of fear swept across him, for as he sat there he realised – indefinably but undeniably – that he was no longer alone in that house. Something – not someone – else was here too, close by, and watching him. Unbidden, his eyes gazed upwards, to the top of the stairs, and the feeling intensified. Surely there, concealed amid the stygian gloom, was the source of his fear – and now he would reveal its identity.
Leland switched on his torch again, directing its penetrating beam onto the topmost stair – and beheld a hellish sight that transfixed him with fear, expelling from his mind all of that evening’s previous horrors in an instant. Crouched upon the stair was a huge hairy beast with tabby-like stripes of black and brown, clawed paws, and blazing eyes like glowed like twin infernos, mesmerizing Leland with their incandescent gaze. It would have resembled a monstrous cat – had it not been for the pair of sharp pointed horns that protruded from its skull!
For almost a minute, Leland remained motionless, held in thrall by the cold aura of palpable evil that radiated inexorably from the beast’s unblinking eyes – and then it moved! With a single colossal leap, it sprang from the stair, plunging down into the shadowy room – but before it reached the ground, it had vanished. Yet its presence had not entirely gone – for Leland could plainly hear a spine-chilling yowling cry, echoing in the empty room.
At that same instant, however, the sound of human footsteps came from the open front door – and the spell was broken. The eldritch cries ceased immediately, and through the door walked two of Leland’s ARP comrades. Their reassuringly familiar forms and voices swiftly dispersed the shroud of terror that had encompassed Leland only moments before, and encouraged him to recount his chilling experience. Neither of his friends had heard anything when entering the house, however, so he did not expect them to treat his account seriously – which is why he was so surprised when they listened silently and with grave expressions throughout his story, making no attempt to scoff or scorn his words.
When Leland had finished, his friends informed him that he was not the first person to have spied the feline monster. On the contrary, it had been seen by many different eyewitnesses over a period of several years, and the sightings were always the same – an immense horned cat with demonic eyes, squatting at the top of the stairs.
Nevertheless, in the hope that a more straightforward explanation may be forthcoming, the three men walked up the stairs and searched everywhere thoroughly for any physical evidence of the creature’s reality, but nothing was found.
Still disturbed by the memory of this grotesque entity but anxious to uncover its identity and possible significance, two days later Leland visited a renowned clairvoyant, John Pendragon, and recalled to him his encounter. After listening intently, Pendragon located the house on a large map of London, then placed a forefinger on the precise spot marking it.
At once, Pendragon’s mind was filled with a whirling vista of cats – countless furry wraiths swirling all around at the top of the deserted house’s stairs in a screeching, spitting vortex of feline fury, a mad maelstrom of undying hate. And at its very centre was something much larger, but it was not a cat – not even a horned demon cat. It was a man – haggard and despairing, with a noose in his hand, about to place it around his own neck.
After describing this vision to Leland, Pendragon asked him to make enquiries among the house’s neighbours, to discover whether any details of its history and of its previous owners corresponded with those in his vision. A week later, Leland returned, bearing some extremely interesting (and vindicating) news.
One of the house’s former inhabitants had been an ardent practitioner of the black arts, in the vain hope of improving what he had perceived to be a wretched, unfulfilled life. In accordance with one particularly grisly ritual, he had routinely slaughtered numerous cats for sacrifice upon an unholy altar. Ultimately, the balance of his mind had become totally unhinged, and he had committed suicide – hanging himself with a noose, suspended from the banister at the top of the stairs. Shortly afterwards, the great horned cat was seen there for the first time, and spectral yowling cries have often been heard since too.
Was the horned demon cat an elemental?
When Leland asked his opinion as to this monster’s precise nature, Pendragon suggested that it was probably an elemental spirit – one whose feline appearance and vitriolic hatred had been created by the restless ghosts of the departed sorcerer’s many feline victims, and which would linger indefinitely in the grim locality where they had all met their terrible deaths.
Although the vast majority of Britain’s mystery cats are unquestionably exotic non-native cats that have escaped or have been deliberately released from captivity, or are simple misidentifications of common animals, some investigators have speculated whether a few of them may in reality be paranormal (zooform) entities ‘disguised’ as big cats – as would certainly seem to have been the case with London’s horned demon cat of World War Two.
Incidentally, it should be noted here that although the original source of this case was John Pendragon’s autobiography, Pendragon (1968), which was written in collaboration with paranormal mysteries writer-investigator Brad Steiger, it only contained a fairly brief account of events. However, Steiger’s own book, Bizarre Cats (1993), included a much more detailed, greatly expanded version as related to him by Pendragon, which not only emphasized the entity’s feline nature but also incorporated other noteworthy additional information – such as the full name of the eyewitness (merely referred to by his initials in Pendragon’s book), and the hideous cat-slaying rituals performed by the man who had subsequently committed suicide in the house where the horned demon cat was later seen.
By William T Cox, from “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts,” published in 1910, we have this description of the Splinter Cat, (Cactifelinus Inebrius).
How many people have heard of the cactus cat? Thousands of people spend their winters in the great Southwest – the land of desert and mountain, of fruitful valleys, of flat-topped mesas, of Pueblos, Navajos, and Apaches, of sunshine, and the ruins of ancient “Cliff-dwellers.” It is doubtful, however, if one in a hundred of these people ever heard of a cactus cat, to say nothing of seeing one sporting about among the cholla and palo verde. Only the oldtimers know of the beast and its queer habits.
The cactus cat, as its name signifies, lives in the great cactus districts, and is particularly abundant between Prescott and Tucson. It has been reported, also, from the valley of the lower Yaqui, in Old Mexico, and the cholla-covered hills of Yucatan.
The cactus cat has thorny hair, the thorns being especially long and rigid on its ears. Its tail is branched and upon the forearms above its front feet are sharp, knifelike blades of bone. With these blades it slashes the base of giant cactus trees, causing the sap to exude. This is done systematically, many trees being slashed in the course of several nights as the cat makes a big circuit.
By the time it is back to the place of beginning, the sap of the first cactus has fermented into a kind of mescal, sweet and very intoxicating. This is greedily lapped up by the thirsty beast, which soon becomes fiddling drunk, and goes waltzing off in the moonlight, rasping its bony forearms across each other and screaming with delight.
It seems that a witch decided to one day invite herself into a house that happened to be filled with people. Upon entering this house the witch began to dance around while muttering bizarre incantations, much to the chagrin of all who were present.
All at once, the people found themselves transported onto a sleigh drawn by a giant magical cat. This mysterious cat pulled the sleigh at fantastic speeds until it finally came to “Pohjola”, a place where evil resides in everlasting night, located deep within the hinterlands of Finland.
Why? How come? What did those people ever do to the witch? How did a cat get mixed up in all this, anyhow? And why decide to ask such questions NOW?
Actually, the Finns believed that cats led the souls of the departed through the obstacles of hell onto the glories of heaven.
This motif of “cat-as-guide-to-the-beyond” is rather common. In Egypt there is the story of Bast the cat goddess bringing souls to the underworld. Babylonians believed that the souls of priests were whisked to paradise by the agency of a benevolent cat. So perhaps the Finnish folktale of the witch and the cat-sleigh isn’t so odd after all.
Many springtimes ago, according to an old Polish legend, tiny kittens were chasing butterflies along the edge of the river and fell in. The mother cat, helpless to save them, started crying. The willows at the river’s edge swept their long, graceful branches into the water towards the kittens. The kittens gripped the branches tightly and were rescued.
Each springtime since, goes the legend, willow branches sprout tiny fur-like buds where the tiny kittens once clung.
There once lived a king and queen who longed for a baby daughter. Finally, just as they were giving up hope, the queen bore a girl child and the king and queen were the happiest people on earth. Only one thing marred their contentment. A gypsy witch had read the queen’s fortune in return for some food from the royal kitchen and she had predicted that the child would be a girl. The gypsy had given the queen a dire warning and in anger the king had driven the old crone from his land. The old woman’s warning weighed heavily on their hearts.
The old witch had said: “You will bear a daughter and she will be strong and healthy. However, she will fall dead if she ever gives her hand in marriage to a prince. Heed my advice. Find three pure white cats, with not a single white hair upon them, and let them grow up with your child. Give the cats balls of two types to play with – balls of gold and balls of linen thread. If they ignore the gold and play with the linen, all will be well, but should they ignore the linen and choose the gold, beware!”
The king sent out a royal decree and his subjects offered him cats and kittens of all types – tabby cats, ginger tomcats, tortoiseshell mother cats still nursing their kittens; he was offered black kittens, grey kittens and ginger kittens. All of these he sent away again, being only interested in three pure cats. After years of searching, three white cats without a single white hair were duly found and though they came from different places, they became good friends. The three cats loved their young mistress and she adored them. As the months turned into years, the linen balls continued to be the only toys the cats chose to play with. The gold balls lay dusty and forgotten.
When the princess grew old enough to learn how to spin the cats were happy as she was. They leaped at the wheel as it turned and at the thread as the princess spun it, behaving like kittens. She begged her playful cats to leave things alone but they ignored her and continued to play gaily. The queen was so happy that the cats played only with the linen balls and never with the gold balls that she simply laughed at their antics and frolics.
At sixteen years old, the princess was very beautiful. Princes from neighbouring kingdoms and further afield asked her hand in marriage, but she remained indifferent to them all. She was content to live with her three beloved cats. One day, however, a prince arrived who was good and charming, wise and handsome, kind and virtuous and the princess fell deeply in love with him. Though he brought her gifts and visited often, he never once asked for her hand in marriage. One day she could bear it no longer and she confessed her love for him. Delighted and surprise, he expressed his own love for her.
The three white cats were in the tower room playing with the linen balls, but no sooner had the prince and princess professed their love for each other, than the cats seemed to notice the gold balls for the first time ever and began to play with them. In horror, servants reported the dire news to the king and queen. However, it wasn’t the princess who was struck down but the prince. He became gravely ill and nothing the physicians did could ease or cure whatever malady had struck him down.
In desperation the princess sought the gypsy who had made the prophecy about the cats and balls. The gypsy witch told her that there was only one way to save the prince. The princess must spin ten thousand skeins of pure white linen thread before midwinter’s day. It was an impossible task – only 27 days remained before midwinter’s day. No hand but hers could spin the thread and if she span but one skein too few, or one too many, the prince would die at midwinter. The princess rushed to her spinning wheel and worked steadily day after day, but after only a few days she knew she could never spin ten thousand skeins. She burst into tears and her three cats sat by her feet to comfort and console her.
“If you only knew what was wrong I know you’d help me if you could,” she said to the three silent white cats at her feet.
To her amazement, one of the three placed its front paws on her knee, stared into the princess’s face, opened its mouth and spoke to her: “We know what is needed and we know how to help you,” it said. “Cats have no hands, only paws, so we can do the spinning for you and it will not break the terms of the prophecy. Now we must get to work for there is little time left.”
And so it was that the three white cats began to spin, each at a wheel provided for it. Each spun rapidly and beautifully. All day the three wheels hummed and when they were silent as evening came the princess looked into the room to find her beloved cats sound asleep next to hundreds of skeins of thread. The days passed and the skeins increased in number. Each time a skein was finished, the prince’s health improved and the princess grew more hopeful. On midwinter’s eve ten thousand skeins were ready and the prince was almost well.
The gypsy was amazed and please at the cats’ work though she had been cheated of a life. She told the princess to be sure and show her gratitude to her faithful cats. The princess loved her cats well and wisely and she gave them all her glittering jewels, which they had always loved to play with. On her wedding day, they sat in places of honour on magnificent velvet cushions, each cat with a necklace of precious stones around its neck.
As the feast continued, the three cats curled up contentedly on their cushions and – as cats are wont to do – fell asleep. From all three came loud, contented purring. This was the reward the cats had received for their work. Though no cat would ever again speak, all cats would purr like the whirr and hum of a spinning wheel. From that day to this cats have continued to purr whenever they feel contented.
Traditional British Fairy Tale
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