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The Glorious Tabby

The Magnificent "M"


gray mackeral tabby cat

April, showing the classic "M"

Probably the most distinctive feature seen in common on all tabby cats is the "M" on their foreheads. You will also see this M on many of the big jungle cats, such as tigers, cheetahs, and ocelots.

From the ancient Egyptian days came the first legend about this unique marking. Cats were called Mau, most likely a reflection of their conversational sound. The word Mau also translated to seeing, or light. Since cats' eyes appear so luminous at night, it was only a couple of steps further to associate these glorious animals with the moon, and their marking to reflect that relationship. The Egyptian Mau is a direct descendant of those ancient Egyptian cats; domesticated as an offspring of the African Wild Cat, it carries the M to this day.

The Tabby in the Manger

Another wonderful legend about the origin of the "M" tells about Mary and the tabby cat in the manger. It seems that the baby Jesus was cold and fussing, and Mary asked the manger animals to move in closer to warm him. The manger was simply too small to accomplish that, but a little tabby cat came in and nestled next to the baby, and cosseted Him with purring and warmth. Mary was so grateful, she bestowed her own initial, "M" on the cat's forehead.

Mohammed and the Tabby

Islam legend tells us that Mohammed loved cats. One story says that he once cut off a sleeve of a garment when he had to leave to attend prayer, rather than to disturb his cat, Muezza, who was sleeping upon the sleeve. It is said that the reason he loved cats so much is that one once saved his life when a snake crawled into his sleeve. (This may be a variation of the well-known Muezza story.) Legend also claims that Mohammed bestowed on cats the ability to always land on their feet. A writing of Mohammed tells about his vision of a woman punished in Hell for starving her cat to death. These stories have all come down to the assumption that the "M" symbolizes the enormous esteem which Mohammed felt for cats and that the sight of the "M" on a cat's forehead invokes memories of Mohammed. In any case, cats today are still generally protected and respected in the Islamic world, and are even permitted inside mosques.

Beloved of Bast

My personal favorite story of the magnificent "M" was told by Jim Willis in his story, Beloved of Bast, which is included in his book, "Pieces of my Heart - Writings Inspired by Animals and Nature." It tells the tale of an old brown tabby "barn cat" by the name of "Mother," and I was honored to be able to reprint it for my readers.

Another frequently quoted piece says that in Ancient Egypt, cats were worshiped as gods, and the cat has never forgotten this. Indeed, the Goddess Bastet was depicted with a cat's head and Re, the Sun God was often depicted as a cat.

Small wonder that tabby cats are particularly worthy of the esteem in which we hold them. In fact, many of them are creating their own legends today, a fact to which many of you will attest.

Recommended Reading

The Complete Cats in the Sun, by Hans Silvester
Cats of Cairo, by Lorraine Chittock
Pieces of my Heart, by Jim Willis

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