Many people today have a fascination with vampires—they are ubiquitous in pop culture from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles to Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. Cats also have quite a fan base.
The two make a strange combination.
But, just as Romania’s Vlad Tepes, “Vlad the Impaler,” is said to have inspired the Dracula tale, perhaps there is some sinister base for the vampire cat folklore of Asia and Ireland. Here’s a look at a few accounts of the devilish felines.
1. Japan: The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima
Woodcut portraying the cat of Nabeshima for Lord Redesdale’s “Tales of Old Japan.” (Ôdaké)
Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, Lord Redesdale, served several years in the British Foreign Service in Japan and became well acquainted with the culture. His “Tales of Old Japan,” written in 1871, has long been a standard source for information about Japanese customs and folklore.
He recounted the story of “The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima.”
This story was passed down within the Nabeshima family, the family of the Prince of Hizen, one of the 18 chief Daimios of Japan.
The Prince of Hizen had a beautiful lady in his house named O Toyo. One night O Toyo and the prince spent some time in the garden before she bid him goodnight and went to her room for the night.
Lord Redesdale wrote: “At midnight, she awoke with a start, and became aware of a huge cat that crouched watching her; and when she cried out, the beast sprang on her, and, fixing its cruel teeth in her delicate throat, throttled her to death.”
The cat buried her corpse and then took her shape to beguile the prince. He became ill and the cat would visit him nightly in O Toyo’s form, working black magic on him. But the shape-shifting cat’s efforts were frustrated by a stalwart guard who eventually confronted the cat, no longer fooled by O Toyo’s form.
The beast escaped and caused much mischief in the region until the prince—who recovered from his illness—ordered a hunt and the cat was found and killed.
2. Bengal: Chordewa
The Chordewas of Bengali folklore are similar to the creature described in the Japanese tale: they are cats that also take the form women and they are associated with houses where people are ill.
Chordewas are described in “Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.” The Asiatic Society of Bengal was established by the British government in 1784 to improve the understanding of the Orient. The Chordewa is said to ghoulishly lick an ill man’s lips and eat his food so he would continue to waste away and die.
The cats are elusive, but have been caught on occasion, according to folk accounts. The accounts tell that the cat comes out of the woman’s body to engage in its macabre delights, then returns to her body. When it is caught outside of her body, the woman remains in a sort of comatose state. When the Chordewa is injured, a parallel injury appears on the woman’s body.
3. Ireland: The Demon Cat
Poet William Butler Yeats described a demon cat in a book about Irish folk tales, though it was not a shape-shifter as in the Asian accounts. Two women were spinning and a young girl was sorting fish in a home in Connemara, west Ireland, when the door to the house burst open. A big, black cat walked in, went to the fire, turned around, and growled at them.
“Why, surely this is the devil,” said the young girl.
The cat spoke: “I’ll teach you how to call me names.” It attacked her, drawing blood. A man who was passing by the house heard the commotion and came in and hit the cat with a stick. The cat tore his face and hands and the man ran away. The cat started eating the fish the girl was sorting, so the women attacked it.
It spit fire and tore their head and arms.
It was finally killed by a dousing with holy water.
*Image of a Halloween cat via Shutterstock