Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Norwegian Forest Cat: Ancient Breed Has Mythological Origins

By Lexiann Grant

The Norwegian Forest cat is, as its name indicates, a cat of Scandinavian descent. A breed believed to be between 1,000 and 2,000 years old, the "Wegie" was the cat of the Vikings, living as a ratter on both farm and ship.

Breeders from Finland describe the cat as the "mystic wildcat of the fairy tales." Norse mythology tells that these cats were the favorites of Freyja (also spelled Freya, Freja, or Frejya), goddess of love, fertility and the hearth. Freyja traveled in a chariot drawn by either two white or gray Wegies.

Legend says that the goddess' presence passing through the countryside caused seeds to sprout and grow. Farmers that left out pans of milk for her divine cats were blessed with bountiful harvests.

Freyja also symbolized domesticity and was often portrayed with Norwegian Forest cats playing around her feet. Lovers wanting to marry asked the blessing of Freyja and her cats. Because of this custom, many superstitions about weddings and cats began. Some of these were:

* Girls who value cats will definitely marry
* Giving newlyweds a black cat as a gift represents good luck
* If someone steps on a cat's tail, that person will not marry for a year
* If a woman feeds a cat before she goes to her wedding, she will have a happy marriage
* Scandinavians believed that feeding a cat well would guarantee sunshine on the day of a wedding.

Besides the Norwegian Forest cat's role in transporting Freyja about the countryside, they drove her into battle against the Aesirs (or Asers), the gods of the dark side. They also pulled her chariot to the funeral of Balder, the god of beauty and kindness.

Called Norsk Skogkatts or Skaukatts in their native Norway, these cats were originally thought of as fairy cats. A naturally large breed, Forest cats were said to be so huge that not even the gods could lift them. One tale relates how Thor, the strongest of the gods, lost a contest of strength to Jormungand, who was disguised as a Forest cat. (Jormungand was the serpent son of Loki, god of mischief and deceit.)

Old though the breed is, their mythology continues into the present. Stories as recent as the 1930s spin mythological narratives about Wegies turning into trolls, and trolls turning into Wegies. Today's breeders still name their catteries after ancient Norse myths.

For more information about Norwegian Forest cats, visit the websites of The Cat Fancier’s Association or The International Cat Association.

Read more articles by Lexiann Grant

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