Where does the nine lives myth come from?

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Like many myths, the origin of the “cats have nine lives” business is a bit murky. It’s been around a long time, though, with a reference cropping up in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The number is not universal, however, since cats in Arab and Turkish myths have only seven. In truth? Our little friends have just one, but they lead it with such uncannily keen senses, they do seem to have a knack for getting themselves out of fixes.

Some of the more probable origins are in ancient cultures. In Egypt, where cats were worshipped as gods, the sun god, Atum-Ra was said to visit the underworld in the form of a cat. Atum-Ra gave life to a group of gods known as the Ennead, which means “the Nine.”

The myth was likely perpetuated through the centuries by waxing and waning periods of superstition. During the Middle Ages cats were often seen as familiars of witches and the devil. Many cats were thrown from high places in an effort to kill them.

Under certain circumstances, cats can achieve free fall from heights and can survive, literally landing on their feet. This ability only deepened the erroneous perception that they are in some ways invincible to the power of nine.

There are many more versions of the “nine life” myth, which is one of the most common cultural references to these fascinating creatures — right after cats can see in the dark. They can’t, at least not in pitch darkness. The one true story about cats? They always keep you guessing.

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