19 June 2013 a post by Karen Wellman

Mystic Cat

One of the midsummer traditions we no longer observe is burning cats.

Bonfires at the summer solstice seemed to be common in previous centuries. The sun appears to stall in the sky at midsummer and a bonfire to encourage it or just to keep warm whilst celebrating the turn of the year seems a sensible practice. Putting cats in cages and roasting them seems to be a unique French practice in the 16th and 17th century which, thankfully, is a tradition that has died out.

Cats are mysterious creatures; independent and aloof yet we welcome them into our homes. I have always owned cats and with their superior senses it is easy to see how they became associated with witchcraft. As a child I had a cat that knew when my father was coming home and would sit at the window 10 minutes before he arrived. He came home at a different time each day so what the cat was doing appeared uncanny. Do cats have senses that we do not? Is there anything we can learn from cats?

cat black cats eye

I used to volunteer in a hospice which was mourning the loss of the resident cat. On the notice board there were pictures of cats and there were sculptures in the art room. Just about everyone I spoke to told me about the cat and the acquisition of a new kitten was a recurring item in staff meetings. This cat was much loved and much missed.

The staff at the hospice had a special reason for missing the cat. They had noticed that she had a talent for spotting when a patient was nearing the end of their life. They observed that when the cat snuggled up next to a patient then death followed within hours. Watching where the cat was sleeping became an extra indicator of when to call the relatives so that they could be with their parent, husband, wife or friend in their final hours.

The hospice cat was a death bed cat.

Now of course there might have been an explanation for the hospice cat’s uncanny ability to predict death. Maybe this cat had learnt that bodies slowing down at the end stage of life were nice warm and peaceful places to sleep. Or maybe there was a particular smell that the cat associated with a chance to get its head down and not be disturbed. Or maybe it was more than this.

Hospices are places where death and life meet. It is a place of crossing over; a thin place. I’ve heard lots of stories about how the dying person sees relatives who have already passed away and are waiting to accompany them to go onto the next stage of the journey. Near death experiences have a common theme of tunnels, white light and peace. Perhaps the cat could see or sense something that we can not.

sleeping cat

Maybe one day we will be able to explain how the hospice cat could know that someone was in their final hours. Maybe one day someone can tell me how my childhood cat knew that his favourite person in the house was on his way home. Even if it can be explained and getting to the how something happens is exciting, it doesn’t take away the wonder or the beauty of the event.

The summer solstice is a good excuse to share this picture of Stonehenge. I drive past it a few times a year and it is always stunning. The archaeologists and engineers can tell us how it was built and of what material and where that material came from but the why of it still eludes us. It is what it is and it is beautiful.

stonehenge

One of the things I learnt from my time volunteering at the hospice was the importance of being in the moment, enjoying the small achievements of a day and taking pleasure in simple things such as the love expressed in all that cat artwork. There will always be lots of questions of why and when and how but when time is short I found a reawakening of the wonder of life and the world and people how beautiful and complex it all is.

Jesus said ‘can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? (Matthew 6 v 27.)

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