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Thursday, March 02, 2006

 

Legendary Felines: When lions sneeze


We tell ourselves our own stories selectively,
in order to keep our sense of self intact.
--Robert Stone

Even felines have stories. As chief catymologist, I catalogue as many stories as I can. Usually I do it in my dreams.

There's a story about how cats came to be that comes from the Cochiti, Pueblo people who live in New Mexico. It was collected by Ruth Benedict back in the early part of the 20th Century. We, both felines and humans, must have been more innocent then.

ORIGIN OF THE CAT
At Painted Cave there was a village and out of this village came a deer and bear and lion and lynx and wildcat. "Now we will go east and find our living the best we can." Before they went they said, "There is one thing we have not got and that is the cat. But how can we get the cat?" The lion stood in the middle of the circle and all the oldest animals were smoking around him. He said, "Now I'm ready." He sneezed and out came a female cat from the right nostril. He sneezed again, and out of the left nostril came a male cat. From these two came all the little cats and they came down to Cochiti. The lion said to the cats, "Now you are the offspring of the lion and have my face. When you have kittens, people will want them, and with these cats they won't have mice any more. They will be watchmen (goatcini) of the houses. The rest of the animals shall live in the mountains, but these two cats shall live in Cochiti."
Tales of the Cochiti Indians
by Ruth Benedict
Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 98
[1932]
Text: Sacred Texts
You may fault the lion and the other animals for smoking: it's a nasty habit. But if the lion hadn't been smoking, he probably wouldn't have sneezed, would he? And then where would cats be?

It turns out that the Cochiti probably borrowed the tale from Judeo-Christian legend: The story goes that cats were created when Noah's ark became infested with rats. Noah commanded the lion to sneeze and out came a cat!

Just to prove that the tale has a life of its own, there’s an Arabian proverb that goes: "The cat was created when the lion sneezed."

Humans need to account for the way the world is, so they make up stories. Telling whether the stories are true or not--that's as problematical as trying to open one of those little cans full of treats.

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1 Old Comments:

What a lovely story! I have not heard this one before.

By Blogger Gigolo Kitty, at 7:27 AM  

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