(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, March 16, 2005)
In one of my favorite sci-fi moments, a reptilian Narn studies a large wall poster in Michael Garibaldi’s quarters, looking for some clue to the disappearance of Babylon 5's security chief (played by Jerry Doyle). Finally, the amiable Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) concludes that Daffy Duck must be one of Garibaldi’s household gods!
This comic bit of polytheism in a fictional future is reflected in the reverence many of us hold today for our own little “household gods”: our pet cats! After years of serving these wonderful creatures, I can easily understand why cats were revered in many ancient cultures.
No, I don’t display a statue of Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, but I do hang a calendar each year with felines in various poses. Each month a different fur-person entertains me through a photograph or cartoon.
If you study a cat closely, you’re bound to recognize signs of the divine. You’ll appreciate their aerodynamic bodies, built for efficiency so they can run down and dispatch their prey. With grace and speed, claws and teeth, they are God’s perfect little killing machines! They take seriously their role in the ecological hierarchy, even as we try to circumvent it by pampering them as our own little “household gods.”
When a cat misjudges a leap, falling flat instead of smoothly landing on some high place, then quickly schooling his pride and strutting away as if he meant to do that, you know that God has a sense of humor. And when they’re in the mood to accept your petting, their soft purr lowers your blood pressure and stabilizes your heart rate--effective medicine with no side effects!
These are merely the obvious examples of the Grand Design that makes cats such wonderful companions. After years spent in the company of these fine creatures, I’ve discovered that cats express their individual canons through personal ritual.
For 14 years, we’ve enjoyed the company of a black cat whom we call Ray Lee. Though he first had two “brothers,” then later a couple of “sisters,” he has, by virtue of attrition, become an only cat, making him the undisputed center of the universe! Of course, each of his “siblings” and predecessors in our home had their own peccadilloes, but Ray Lee seems especially stringent about observing his personal offices.
Like most cats, many of his rituals center around food, a vital part of a feline’s existence. For instance, he prefers that I, rather than my husband, present his food. It’s not that he considers this service to be “woman’s work,” but within his species, females are the hunters who “bring home the bacon”--or antelope, as the case may be! Naturally, the flesh of a dead turkey has to taste better when it comes out of a can opened by a “great female hunter” like me!
Ray Lee is particularly fussy about the condition of his “china.” Actually, it’s a ceramic bowl, but he acts as if it is the golden paten upon which the high priestess offers the first fruits of the harvest! And he insists that his bowl be clean, so while I feed him with one bowl, I always keep a backup rinsed and drying in the rack.
Being a “grazer,” Ray Lee often returns to the “table” for a bite or two, and he expects me to follow and stir his food with the “sacred silver spoon”! The supernatural being delivers his commands telepathically--one look from those round dark eyes, and I come running! Though the ritual tool is just an old stainless-steel utensil, to him the music of metal on ceramic is as exalting as the echo of a gong resounding through the Himalayas!
To keep his coat soft and sleek, I reinforce Ray Lee’s personal bathing by daily ministrations with a wire brush and comb. This ritual so soothes him that he is restless until I perform it for him. When I tease him with the dangling “sacred string,” then “anoint” him on the lips with a dab of “blessed” mayonnaise (the oil he licks off his whiskers keeps those evil hairballs at bay), he becomes putty in my hands!
When cats aren’t occupied with their stomachs, they concentrate on their sacred role in the household. They often avail themselves of high places from which they oversee their domain. Ray Lee often sits, or reclines, on his “throne,” a resin chair in Jim’s office, where he studies some imaginary spot before nodding off to sleep, thus to dream his celestial cat dreams!
Like any god, cats are jealous creatures. They love to climb on top of whatever their humans are working on so that we are forced to devote our complete attention to them. Of course, when their interference involves paper, the crinkling sound is just a bonus!
Like any useful deity, cats are always on duty, in their own way! Yes, they do manage to sleep up to 20 hours a day, but they’re most likely spending that time communing with their fellow feline spirits on a higher plane. And when they are awake, they either shadow their human charges or watch them from a discreet hiding place. Otherwise, they’re outside stalking prey, which could become a sacrificial “gift” for their human family.
If cats are not actually gods, one might consider an alternate school of thought that suggests they are aliens from outer space. The concept has been promoted by many different authorities. In fact, I first read the theory in a short story in a scholastic magazine from my son's school more than 30 years ago! This theory might explain many uncanny qualities of members of the feline species.
I don’t mean to slight the canine worshipers among my readers, since I respect the devotion they hold for their fur-buddies. Like the felines I have known, those beautiful creatures have earned their own place of reverence in so many households. But I’ve belonged to a long line of cats over the years, so theirs is the creed I’m most in tune with.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not reverting to old-fashioned idolatry, but I understand why an appreciation of nature persuaded the ancients to acknowledge a Force greater than themselves. That’s why many who call themselves “pagan” today feel that a sincere belief in the Creator must be tempered with a respect for all of creation, which is not exactly true of many who call themselves religious.
Skeptics think some of us put too much stock into relationships with creatures that they consider to be members of a lower order. But I agree with another minister to that fictional space station, Babylon 5. Surely, Ambassador Londo Mollari of Centauri (Peter Jurasik) was talking about cats when he wisely declared:
“Ah, our household gods. In a world where every day is a struggle for survival, you need all the gods you can get.”