Creatures of Light and Dark
The Cheshire Cat!
Most of you have already recognized the beast, and some of you know the beast but you just don’t recognize the name. Well… let me help you. It is a cat, from Cheshire, it grins and it has the ability to appear and disappear even partly.
Yes, indeed I am talking about the cat of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s (or as better known Lewis Carol) “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as first published or “Alice in Wonderland” as is usually called.
Now that we have established which is the Cheshire Cat, you may wonder why I write a post about it here while it is an imaginary being, a creature of Carol’s imagination. Well, the fact is that it is not. The phrase “Smile like a Cheshire cat” is far older than Carol. Also cheese makers of Cheshire gave their cheese the form of a smiling cat before Carol’s time. I don’t really know if the Cheshire Cat is a Creature of Light and Dark or just a legendary creature of the Cheshire area.
Ok, the ability of the Cat to appear and disappear it seems to be Carol’s addition to the smiling Cheshire Cat, but the smiling cat itself may be as old as pre-Roman England.
|A photograph of the picture of the
Cheshire cat in Carols book.
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It seems that when Romans came to Britain the Cornovii people lιving in land including the nowadays Cheshire area had as an emblem a cat. There is nothing I could find to indicate if this cat was smiling or not.
The wild cats of Iron Age England (for it seems that nowadays wild cats are not genetically quite the same) were unable to be domesticated. Cornovii people had tried that many times without success, until Phoenicians brought to them some Egyptian cats, and they couple them with the local wild cats creating a new cat that could be housed.
Now, Egyptian cats were sacred and Egypt didn’t allow ownership or trade of its cats, a law so strongly carved in the souls of the Egyptians, that even the Roman Empire forced it in order to keep peace with Egypt. So had in fact Phoenicians stolen Egyptian cats and sell them to Britain or they just said so to the Cornovii people to sell them in a high price? I don’t know.
The fact is that British Blue Cat, or British Shorthair is maybe the first domesticated cat of England, it has many similarities with the Egyptian cats and it seems to smile.
|British Shorthair with a seemingly smile
So if the Cornovii people had as symbol this cat it would be surely seemed to smile in the eyes of the Romans. And if indeed the Phoenicians brought Egyptian cats, maybe the spirit of Baast (also Bast, Baset), the cat-headed Egyptian Goddess, came along with them and blessed the British Shorthair, and maybe the Spirit/Totem of the smiling Cheshire Cat was created.
Now, as for the ability of the cat to disappear in Carol’s book there are even less information.
Jeffrey Pearson in “Cheshire tales of mystery & murder” talks of a notebook of a Cheshire writer under the name Richard Leatham who intended to write a book called “Out and About in Cheshire”. He never published this book, but for this book, Leatham had made some investigation about the Cheshire Cat and he came to a conclusion about the disappearing ability.
|Cheetos’ Chester – A modern and edition of
the Cheshire Cat!!!
He says that on Cheshire – Staffordshire border there is a sheer rock face called “Cat Stones”. He says that if you stand in the right position you see in front of you a giant cat’s face, but if you move, the face disappears and reappears according to your position.
Now, is the smiling cat that gave inspiration to the cheese makers, local phrases, poems and of course Lewis Carol just an imaginary creature or something more? I do not know. The fact is, I have never heard or read a real time story of an appearance of a Cheshire Cat. If you have, or even better you are the one that have lived it, please do inform me.
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