In 2012, I stumbled across francophone1 folklore involving black cats. I believe this folklore may be illuminating for some aspects of USA Southern hoodoo lore, particularly hoodoo folklore involving the crossroads as well as black cats.
The amalgamation of the French and Spanish settlers created the Louisiana Creole culture, mixing and matching folklore in the metaphorical New Orleans cultural gumbo. One thing brought from the francophone culture were legends of matagots. However, that name hasn't stuck in New Orleans. What developed instead were the hoodoo practices of the lucky black cat.
I haven't found a full French folktale other than English versions of Puss and Boots, or I'd share it here. I would particularly like to locate a New Orleans version of the Master Cat, but I haven't found that either. Instead, I will simply share these fragments I have located.
In the south of France, it is believed that black cats bring good luck to their owners, who respect and care for them. This belief is related to the folklore of the chat d'argent, matagots, or mandragots, which could be described as magic cats, magician cats, or sorcerer cats.
The Money Cat
In Gascony, the money cat (le chat d'argent) is called a "mandragot." In Provence, the money cat is called a "matagot." The specific name "le chat d'argent" is mostly used in Brittany.
The chat d'argent, literally the "cat of silver," is a "silver (coin) cat" or "money cat." This creature of French folklore is a direct link to many black cat superstitions in the USA. These beliefs are in turn tied back to the historical persecutions of cats, involving charges of sorcellerie or witchcraft.
The most basic legend about the money cat is as follows: The money cat [chat d'argent/silver cat/silver (coin) cat] or matagot is always black. This cat is often in service to either a sorcerer or witch. Stroking a money cat/matagot brings health and wealth. A money cat should be fed with the first bite of the meal at dinner. A suitable box should be provided for the money cat to sleep in. Finally, this cat must be given on to someone else before his master's death.
Spirit-Walking Magic Cat
The mystical symbolism of the matagot is associated with magic and the passage between worlds. The matagot will walk (promener) through the mysterious places of the night (mysterieux pendant la nuit). Thus causing the matagot to like to be, as is said, a "faire marcher." Near as I can tell this French phrase,faire marcher, translates in this context as something like "playful walker," "fair marcher," "do/make run," "well-treader," "performs quickly footing it," "fair step," etc. The matagot is a mystical, magical night traveler.
There are several variations of the legend involving this folkloric creature.
The Domestic Spirit
In some folklore, "matagot" can also mean a domestic spirit (esprit domestique), whose main function is to guard and protect the property of home owners. This faery-like creature lodges sometimes in the stable or sometimes in the barn. In this case, the matagot sounds like a cross between a farm cat and a house faery, perhaps one of those domestic faeries that prefers a stable or barn and oversees the well-being of the animals therein.
A Devilish Creature
In other versions, the money cat was specifically a diabolical beast received by a sorcerer in exchange for his soul. (Le chat d'argent est un chat généralement diabolique obtenu par un sorcier en échange de son ame.) Thus, this cat is clearly a petit diable.
Le Herb du Matagot
The French word, mandragore, also refers to the infamous mandrake plant or root (Mandragora officinarum). This term, mandragore, derives from the Latin, mandragora and is related to mandragots. In several areas south of the Loire, the herbe du matagot or herbe du matangon colloguially means the mandrake plant or root. The mandrake plant is surrounded by many magical legends in France and the rest of Europe. The magical herb du matagot folklore links the folklore of the magic mandrake root with the magic of the money cat.
At the Crossroads
Some of the folklore about obtaining a money cat (chat d'argent) is particularly enlighting in connection with some USA Southern hoodoo lore, which features connecting with a magical entity at the crossroads.
In Brittany, those who wanted to get a money cat went to a crossroad [either a four roads junction (carrefour) or five roads junction (croisaient cinq routes)] and invoked "the Abominable" (l'Abominable/est l'esprit du mal/le diable). A black cat (chat noir) would soon arrive. This black cat would be accompanied by various animals, including another cat which would be given to the sorcerer (sorcier) in exchange for his soul (ame). If the sorcerer accepted the animal, the sorcerer would be assigned a purse containing some money (somme d'argent). This cat will soon disappear, but he will always return the next day with double that amount of money.
Another legend was concerned with capturing a money cat (chat d'argent). A person who wished to get a money cat should stay several nights with a dead hen at an intersection of four roads (la croisée de quatre chemins). The person waited and watched at the crossroads with a sack. The dead chicken will lure the cat out so that the person may capture him in the bag. Once the money cat has been put into the bag, the person has to go home without looking back (la personne doit rentrer chez elle sans se retourner). The person must not let the cat out of the bag before reaching his home. Upon reaching the person's home, the cat must be enclosed in a box [(coffre) chest/truck/safe] and then fed until it is completely tame. The person would later find money in the cat's box every morning.
Cat with the Gold Coins
In another story, the "cat with gold louis" (chat aux louis d'or) travelled at night through mysterious places, returning at dawn, with a stock of gold louis (louis d'or) for his master. In turn, the sorcerer cared for and fed the cat with suitable food. The cat slept in a trunk [(coffre) box/chest/safe] which his master provided for him. At each meal, the sorcerer also gave his first bite to his cat. As long as the sorcerer provided this care, every morning he would have a new gold louis coin for his efforts.
Woe to the master who neglected or did not reward his money cat. The magical animal will certainly be offended, and may seek revenge. It was said, that once an ungrateful sorcerer (sorcier) in Biscay was strangled by his money cats (chats d'argent) whom he had abandoned somewhere far from his home, once his fortune had been made.
Puss in Boots
The French faery tale cat, "The Master Cat or Puss in Boots" (Le Maitre chat ou le Chat botte) can be considered a money cat. Puss in Boots was the only inheritance of the youngest son in a family of three boys. Though Puss has not always described as black in the tale, the father had arranged that the cat would pass on to the younger son before his own death. Puss not only spoke and wore boots, he traveled out each night and returned with food for his young master. Finally, he eventually secured a castle and the king's daughter as a bride for the young man. Thus, Puss brought glory and riches to his new master.
Spirit of Luck
In provinces of Bearn, France, the "mandragot" meant "the spirit of luck." Supposedly on June 23, the night before the la fete de saint Jean, the spirit of luck in the form a black cat will travel abroad and give money and luck to whoever can catch him.
Other folklore about the matagots more or less describe them as members of a faerie race. The "Cat-Matagots" are large cats (grand chats, la grande race des Chat-Matagots). These lutins-fauves "faerie-beasts," were exceedingly fierce. Like Dahus, Folletti, Troglodytes, Blancs Bonnets (White Caps), the Cat-Matagots were enslaved as servants to magicians, forcing them to find gemstones and minerals from the earth, and to cultivate the herb, mandrake (l’herbe matagone), used for making magic potions (confection des philtres magiques). The survivors turned themselves into the mundane and harmless black cats (Les survivants, metamorphoses en de banals et inoffensifs chats noirs), settled in other regions such as the Dauphiné, Berry, Sologne, Touraine, Gascony, Poitou. All the Matagots scattered throughout the country would meet on the nights of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, to participate in all the festivities of the sabbat, where they meet for a few hours of speech and song to teach their offspring the history, and recount the deeds of matagots and their secrets, exchange spouses, and dance the sabbat. (Tous les Matagots disperses sur le pays se retrouvent les nuits de mardi Gras, le Mercredi des Cendres et participent a toutes les fetes du sabbat ou ils retrouvent pendant quelques heures la parole et le chant pour transmettre a leurs progénitures l’histoire, les hauts faits et les secrets Matagots, changer d’epouse et danser le noir sabbat.)
I have to admit this description of the Matagots' festival sounds a bit like a faery revel or even the whimsical Jellicle Ball.
I hope readers will see the possible connections between the money cat from francophone folklore and the Lucky Black Cat from hoodoo folklore. Anyone who has more information on the subject is welcome to share it with me at Jesterbear@verizon.net.
copyright 2012, 2016 Myth Woodling
1. This adjective francophone literally means "French-speaking." It generally refers to a population using "French" as its first (primary) language, or sometimes as a commonly spoken second language. The adjective francophone may be applied to individuals, or a cultural group. The term francophone may also be applied to geographic places or the culture in those places. For example, Louisiana now has a variety of dialects of the French language which are used by several cultural groups of people, mostly located in the southern and southwestern areas of Louisiana. These francophone dialects are often lumped under the term, "Louisiana Regional French," also known as "Cajun French."
Katharine M. Rogers, The Cat and the Human Imagination: Feline Images from Bast to Garfield, University of Michigan Press, 2001
Sandra Choron, Harry Choron, and Arden Moore Planet Cat: A Cat-Alog, 2007.
Frederic stated this supernatural creature known as the “matagot” or “mandagot” appears in “stories across generations in southern France, and is basically a spirit in animal form.” One of the matagot’s favorite forms was the black cat. He adds it might also appear as a “dog, cow, fox or even rat.”
Frederic, 15 Supernatural French Creatures You Haven’t Heard Of (A Pre-Halloween Special), French culture, October 23, 2015, accessed 8/4/16 .
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