My Granny Penn was bed ridden for a year before she died, she became child like and took to wearing her hair in long grey plaits. In her last weeks she was visited by a cat who would jump up on her bed and she would stroke it and make encouraging noises at it. The thing was she was the only one who could see it,  to us it just looked like she was comforting and beckoning thin air. Everyone humoured her and didn’t do anything to discourage her nurturing of the cat and this continued for a couple of weeks. Then things got more peculiar, a grey tabby cat suddenly appeared, Granny Penn accepted the cat as if there was no change, this was her same cat and the cat behaved as the invisible cat, being comforted and sitting on her bed. When she died, a little while later, the cat stopped coming and was never seen again.

I have of course pondered this and wondered about beings taking you to the next life and have thought whether the cat was a sort of familiar. My Grandad or Poppa, had a similar experience, his house, that he built, had a visiting blackbird that came into it, just before he died. It would just walk into the lounge as if it owned the place and then it too disappeared just like Granny Penn’s cat, when Poppa died. Something similar seems to have happened to Ruskin the painter. Yeats defended Ruskin from a philosophical debate about a cat that appeared to the painter and whose meows could be heard by others. Betrand Russell had witnessed, Ruskin’s interaction with the invisible cat and tried to reason it’s non existence with the others. This was in response to Ruskin throwing the cat out of the window, claiming it to be a demon, in animal form. Russell argued that we should not confuse sense- data with physical objects. The playwright argued that what Ruskin was perceiving was as real as any other sense-data. This view influenced his plays The Resurrection, Purgatory and Cuchulain. (Yeats and European Drama by Michael McAteer).

Familiars are animals that have some attachment to a human, they are often associated with witchcraft. In attacks on witchcraft, cats were often seen as associated with the devil. In 1233 Pope Gregory IX denounced all cats as satanic, consequently thousands of cats were burned alive. In the medieval period, cats were thought to take other forms. In shamanism totem animals, act as spirit guiders, shamans help you to understand how your totem animal helps you to connect to all levels of life including the underworld. The cat in shamanism thought, represents independence, the spirit of adventure and patience. Cats appear to be the most often experienced ghosts animal. Read more here:

I am not sure if any of this answers Granny Penn’s mysterious cat, although I am interested that Ruskin’s story does involve a cat that was seen by him and not others. I think I connect to the totem idea, that the cat, may have been an animal totem guiding Granny Penn, through to the next world.

Writing Tasks
Use this link to find your totem animal. Free write on this animal and your attachment to it. If you know your totem already write about an encounter with it(15-20 minutes)

Write about a family mystery that can not be explained. (15-20 minutes).

Use the totem finder to write a poem about the animal it gives you. Include an encounter with this animal.15-20 minutes).

Happy Writing!


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