Mythology and Legends of the Norwegian Forest Cat

Legends are stories, with an element of truth embedded in them, passed down from generation to generation that tell of long ago traditions, events, and beliefs. Myths, on the other hand, are fictitious accounts of people, places, or events with no basis in truth, but they do give us insight into superstitions, and beliefs of people who lived in a much different world. The mystical Norwegian Forest Cat found a place in Viking legends and Norse mythology.

The Norwegian Forest Cat (NFC or Wegie) originated in the forests of Norway around 4,000 years ago, and is considered one of the oldest cat breeds. In their native land, they are called Norsk Skogkatt, which means “forest cat.” The Wegie was named the official cat of Norway by King Olaf I. These lynx-like cats evolved on their own through natural selection, adapting to the harsh Scandinavian climate by developing a long thick double coat, water resistant outer coat, lion-like mane, long bushy tail, and tufted ears to protect them from the wind, snow, and cold. Large snowshoe-like round feet with heavy hair between her toes, a layer of fur on the bottom of her feet, long claws, and hind legs longer than the front legs helped her navigate uneven terrain, climb trees and scale rocky inclines. The Wegie is the only cat breed capable of climbing down a tree headfirst because of her muscular legs. Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she created the Norsk Skogkatt.

According to legend, enchanted felines roamed the Scandinavian forests for centuries, disappearing and re-emerging at will. Some people thought NFC were feminine spirits that belonged to the forest. Eventually, the cats came out of the forests to live with farmers, and were highly prized for their mouse catching and hunting abilities. Viking ships sailed with Forest cats on board, including the great Norse explorer, Leif Ericksson, who is acknowledged as the first European to land in North America long before Christopher Columbus was born. It’s believed some of his cats jumped ship and found a home with the feral cat population in North America. It’s possible the Maine Coon Cat owes her existence to these Viking cats who bred with the locals.

In Nordic folklore the NFC held extraordinary powers as a mystical fairy cat. Viking gods, according to Norse mythology, were divided into two tribes. The Aesir waged war as gods of the dark, and the Vanir were gods that blessed the harvest. They were wise with mystical powers. It was believed Freya, goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and the home, traveled across the sky in a fiery golden chariot with two huge cats pulling it. Their long flowing tails trailing behind them as they race across the heavens. They ferried her chariot into battle with the Aesir, and guided it across the land as Freya spread love and provided protection for the home. One cat was black and the other one white to represent both sides of the night that brought evolution, and renewed nature. One was male, one female, because both genders were needed for life to continue. It was Freya who controlled the sunshine and rain. She caused seeds to sprout and grow as she rode her chariot across the land. Farmers who sat out bowls of milk for stray cats were blessed and rewarded for their kindness with bountiful harvests.

Because Freya was associated with the home, the goddess was depicted with NFC playing at her feet. Couples wanting to exchange wedding vows asked for her blessings. Friday is the day dedicated to Freya, and was considered the most favorable day of the week to marry. Scandinavian superstitions guided couples to not tempt fate when it came to cats.

* Gifting a black cat to newlyweds would bring them good luck.

* The bride who fed a cat before going to her wedding would have a happy marriage.

* Girls who valued and loved cats would receive a marriage proposal.

* If someone stepped on the tail of a cat, it would be at least a year before that person would wed.

* A well fed cat would guarantee sunshine on the day of the wedding ceremony.

* If a cat was seen at a wedding, it was a good omen, and meant the couple’s wedding was blessed with good tidings.

* When the newlyweds were ready to move into their new home, they put out fresh milk. If the cat drank it right away, it meant a good spirit occupied the house.

One legend tells the tale of an old farmer who entertained trolls in his home each Christmas Eve. On one occasion, a traveler and his pet bear was passing by. The farmer invited the stranger to stay for supper. One of the trolls, believing the bear was the farmer’s cat, offered the sleeping animal food. Unfortunately, the bear had been dreaming and was angry the troll woke him. A fierce growl rattled through the house. Trolls hated thunder and was scared of it. When the bear roared, it sounded so much like thunder, the trolls raced out of the farmhouse in a panic. Since they thought the bear was a feline, all trolls were forever terrified of cats.

The real history of the Norwegian Forest Cat is unknown. Most likely, they are the descendants of shorthaired cats brought back to Norway on Viking ships, and longhaired cats that journeyed with Crusaders. The Wegie is athletic, enjoys playing in water, is even-tempered, adaptable, people friendly, and gets along well with other pets and kids. It takes three to five years for her to fully mature physically, and males can weigh up to 17 pounds. Legends, superstitions, folklore, and mythology honor a cat created with no human intervention, and believed to have mystical powers. A gift to humans from the forests of Norway.

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