A lot of people have the mistaken belief that Halloween is associated with witches and cat sacrifice. This is a myth that should not be perpetuated any longer.
Halloween began as a pagan holiday, Samhain. Although animal slaughter was a common practice associated with this time, cat sacrifice never was. Eventually Samhain was given the Christian name of Halloween, and stories were told that the ancient pagans, and witches, use to sacrifice cats (particularly black cats) at this time – none of which is true!
In the fall of each year the Celts would slaughter many of their livestock animals, particularly their older animals, sick animals, and ones that probably would not survive the winter. This was a common sense thing, that not only provided them with food, but meant less labor in terms of feeding and care for those animals over the harsher winter months.
Sometimes the skulls of those animals would be put on stakes to honor them. This was not a sacrifice. The animals were honored and consumed, not wasted.
While the early Celts often played games involving predicting one's future, these were not consider to be witchcraft. It was the early Christians who considered fortune telling as a form of witchcraft. Even when we look at those people whom did consider themselves involved with the occult, as witches, we see they treasured these animals (typically black cats) and would never consider sacrificing them.
Cats were being slaughtered though, just not by the people whom we are now often told, and not just at one time of the year. It Christians who made a point of killing cats, particularly black cats. Ironically the systematic killing of cats by fearful Christians is what allowed the plague to spread so quickly as it was carried by fleas on rats. When the plague first started killing people many blamed the cats, associating them with the devil himself due to their aloof behavior (unlike the loyal dog).
Christians were fearful of witches, they even felt that witches could turn into cats to sneak about at night. As such during the time of witch hunts Christians killed cats, often throwing innocent felines into the fire along with people accused of witchcraft.
To say that people, other than Christians, did not kill cats is also false. When the pagans were killing their livestock animals they probably also practiced a population control on their cats and dogs. Even to this day farmers often kill excess cats by drowning them, shooting them, or by other means, but this is not a sacrifice.
Taghairm was never associated with Samhain, or Halloween, but was an animal sacrifice ritual practiced in Scotland that may have included cooking cats alive. The people who partook in this claimed to be devil worshipers, with the practice ending in the early 1800's.
From this we can learn that although we are often told that Halloween, witches, and black cat sacrifice, went hand in hand, it is not true. We should also learn that while so many people are fearful of black cats, perhaps it is the black cats who should be terrified of us! Nonetheless, the time before Halloween is sadly not a safe time to let your cats go outside.
Learn more about Pet Safety at Halloween.