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Home / Articles / Columnists / Life 101 /  A Cat's Nine Lives and Human Reincarnation
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Monday, March 2,2020

A Cat's Nine Lives and Human Reincarnation

By Cary Bayer  

“To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.”

– Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road

Aproximately seven percent of the world’s seven billion people believe in reincarnation (Latin for “entering the flesh again”) or what the ancient Greeks called metempsychosis (meta means change, empskykhoun, means to put a soul into). Kabbalistic Judaism believes in Gilgul neshamot (cycle of souls). A 1999 study found that about 20-25 percent of Americans and Europeans believe in the transmigration of souls.


Seven percent of the globe means an estimated 500 million people. Hindus believe in reincarnation. Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Jains believe in reincarnation. Sikhs believe in reincarnation, even when they’re sick. Taoists too.


Great Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras and Plotinus also believed in reincarnation. Ditto ancient ones like the Celtic Druids, Hermes Trismegistus/ Thoth, the Gnostics, the Orphists, and even Origen, the early Christian Church father. Speaking of fathers, frankly, so did Franklin – our founding father Benjamin.


Esotericists in Orthodox Judaism believe in reincarnation, as do some sects in Christianity, such as Unity, the Rosicrucians and the Cathars. Some Islamic groups like the Alawites, the Druze and the Ghulat also believe in this transmigration of souls. Theosophists, Anthroposophists, Wiccans, Scientologists, and those who adhere to Spiritism do too. On our shores, reincarnation has been part of the worldview of Native Americans and the Inuit people of the Arctic regions. Ditto for quite a number of tribal cultures in South America, Australia, East Asia, and even cold Siberia.

The Cat and Reincarnation

Just about everyone who’s ever lived with a cat – and perhaps most of the rest of human inhabitants on our planet – believe that a cat has nine lives. (Some areas of Spain believe that a feline has seven lives, while some Turkish and Arabic legends think they have six.) That means about 6.5 billion people believe in feline reincarnation but not human reincarnation. What in tarnation!

A proverb from England goes: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”

In "Romeo and Juliet", Shakespeare wrote the following exchange:

Tybalt: What wouldst thou have with me? Mercutio: Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.

So why nine?

The highest of all the single digits has mystical associations, and cats have been held in a similar esteem by ancient Egyptians who worshipped Bastet (or Bast), a cat goddess. Not only were felines thought to be mystical by those in Egypt long ago, but they were also thought to have magical powers, as well. Atum-Ra, the Egyptian sun god of this Biblical land, was thought to have taken the form of a cat on his trips to the underworld. Egyptian legend holds that Atum-Ra gave birth to eight other gods; as a result, he represented nine lives in one.

Felines’ extraordinary – better yet, superhuman – ability to survive dangerous falls and land on their feet must have given some credence to their immortality credo. Their flexible musculoskeletal system (despite their tiny bodies, they have more vertebrae than people) and their “righting reflex” have enabled them to survive despite falling out of skyscrapers and high trees. How do they do it? They can twist very quickly in the air. (Take that Chubby Checker, who could only Twist very quickly on the ground.)

“Number nine, number nine, number nine….,” chanted the Beatles.

Nine is the number of muses in Greek mythology. Nine, “the trinity of trinities,” is also the lucky number in China, where “long dragons had nine anatomical resemblances.” While “One is the loneliest number you can ever do,” according to Three Dog Night (notice they’re not called Three Cat Night), nine is often the most magical and mystical number in religions and regions around the world.

While reincarnation has sometimes been suppressed by more fundamentalist believers, the doctrine, like cats themselves, seems to always land on its feet.


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