“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” ― Jean Cocteau

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Viking's cat companions

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A large study on the DNA and origins of cats has revealed interested facts about the domestication of felines and Viking's cat companions.



The study showed the DNA of 290 cats from various different continents including Europe, Asia and Africa and also interestingly showed the remains of a cat in a Viking grave in German, which came to the surprise of many who did not even realise that Vikings had cats. You can find out more about the study from our previous article on how cats travelled the world.

There are many interesting stories surrounding cats and Vikings, they are always shown in Norse mythology, which is the mythology surrounding North Germanic people which include various different heroes and folk tales.

It wasn't just Ancient Egyptian who had cat gods and goddesses, Norse mythology also shows their love for cats. Freja was the goddess of love, cats, war, fertility, beauty and magic, she was known for her love for cats, she had two cats who pulled her carriage everywhere. It was actually thor (perhaps a more commonly known Norse hero) who gave Freja her carriage pulling cats after he tried to punch their mother when they were just kittens, the mother cat turned into a bird and flew away. Thor claimed the two giant kittens and Freja was overwhelmed by his present, she is actually now most commonly known for her cat-lead chariot. The two cats became so heavy that not even Thor could lift them from the ground.

[caption id="attachment_1353" align="alignnone" width="1768"]By Ludwig Pietsch (1824-1911) - Murray, Alexander (1874). Manual of Mythology : Greek and Roman, Norse, and Old German, Hindoo and Egyptian Mythology. London, Asher and Co. This illustration is from plate XXXVII. Digitized version of the book by the Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org/details/manualofmytholog00murruoft Published earlier in Reusch, Rudolf Friedrich. 1865. Die nordischen Göttersagen., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4777144 By Ludwig Pietsch (1824-1911) - Murray, Alexander (1874). Manual of Mythology : Greek and Roman, Norse, and Old German, Hindoo and Egyptian Mythology. London, Asher and Co. This illustration is from plate XXXVII. Digitized version of the book by the Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org/details/manualofmytholog00murruoft Published earlier in Reusch, Rudolf Friedrich. 1865. Die nordischen Göttersagen., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4777144[/caption]

Norse myths are also believed to have the first ever literary descriptions of the very distinct Norwegian Forest Cat. These were believed to be the cats which pulled Freja's carriage, whether you believe these stories of not it is solid proof that Vikings respected and treated cats a little bit differently to other animals.

[caption id="attachment_1352" align="alignnone" width="3744"]By Pieter Lanser - originally posted to Flickr as Ch. Rockringen's Jumpin' Jack Flash, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9834391 By Pieter Lanser - originally posted to Flickr as Ch. Rockringen's Jumpin' Jack Flash, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9834391[/caption]

With stories like these and obviously the practical fact that cats help with rodent issues, it is really no surprise that Vikings would take cats on their voyages. Vikings had extremely long voyages at sea and so having a cat companion would be mutually beneficial for both the cats - who would get a tasty feast and for the Vikings who wouldn't be swapped with rodents.

It has also been suggested that Vikings actually wore cat skins, which does perhaps suggest that they didn't own cats purely out of love, they would use the cats for work and like, with most animals, they would then wear their skin or fur, their clothes were designed to keep them warm and were most likely made from wool, linen and animal skins, which would include cats.

Never the less, this interesting study does show the strong and everlasting bond that humans have had for many years.
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