Persecution of slaves and persecution of witches in the context of our hatred toward animals.

In 1753 Captain John Newton looked back at his life. His journeys were tiring and difficult, filled with his crew’s attempts to revolt and take charge of his vessel, during the long voyages, which were plagued with disease and death. After eight years of enormous difficulties and tiring ordeals, now he is a wealthy man, happily married and a devout Christian trying to instill his love of mankind even to his ship crew. In his writings he described how:

“God brought us out, as I consider it my duty to say, from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; from the bondage and hunger in the coasts of Africa, to the where I am now.”

While writing these words, Newton was sitting in his Captain’s quarters, as he was commanding a slave ship that carried 87 children, women and men who would later be sold into slavery as soon as the ship reaches its destination. Newton believed in his words, and did not see the connection between his own enslavement (in 1745 he was enslaved by another dealer, a situation he Describes  as “a despicable situation of injustice and sickness”) and the enslavement of the human “baggage” he was bringing to the shore in order to profit from it.

(His story can be found in the book : The Slave ship: A human history. By Marcus Rediker)

One of the most useful and horrifying tools on board these vessels was an instrument that belonged to the captains of slave ships, named “Cat O’ Nine tails”. This was a Leather whip with nine tails, all of them being knotted and tied to a number of blades or twigs in order to tear and damage the skin with each injury. “The Cat” was used as punishment and suppression of hunger strike attempts. Whippings were made or in front of the eyes of all the people on board, or in the office of the captain, for his exclusive pleasure.

A little over a hundred years earlier, in 1647, A book by Matthew Hopkins was published, called “Discoverie of witches”. On the title page of the book was printed illustration depicting Matthew Hopkins, as he faces two witches sitting on chairs and talking to each other. Using a method similar to comic books that will be published decades later, the illustration described one of the witches calling on behalf of the demonic creatures that accompany her (feared witches were believed host “Familiars”, who were demonic creatures that accompanied her and helped in her devious doings). These demonic creatures are being shown clearly in the illustration, and they are a cat, a dog, a rabbit, an ox and a rat. The perspective on these animals underwent a sharp and painful turn, for those animals have immediately transformed into vile emissaries of Satan. Perhaps, I suggest, the theoretical freedom into which these animals were born to, detached from the chains of human culture, is what provoked the hatred and fear of human beings from them in the first place.

Discoverie of witches, 1647

Discoverie of witches, 1647

Friendship between man and beast has led the deaths of many women who were considered to be witches, and heavy penalties for witchcraft included many tortures and executions. numerous paintings that shows the worship of Satan as an act, even sexual act, between man and animal, and a kiss the rear end of Satan, as a form of worship, was also described as kissing the rear end of a goat, as in the book “Tractatus contra sectum Valdensium”.

Tractatus Contra Sectum Valdensium

Tractatus Contra Sectum Valdensium

in a19th century drawing we can see “Black Jack”, a devil or a demon, as he viciously hits a group of wizards with a whip with split tails, as those frightened sorcerers are helplessly trying to protect themselves from the threatening blows. The weapon is the same weapon that was waiting for its blood ration inside the closet of captain John Newton. The relationship between the user and the victim is also the same, in the attitude of disgust and ridiculing the beaten down victims. Connections between how we treat the weak, and how we are afraid to be treated by stronger beings becomes increasingly clear as we explore and examine.


Taken from a Circus related magazine. The whip has changed its victims once again.

Taken from a Circus related magazine. The whip has changed its victims once again.

3 thoughts on “Cat O’ Nine Tails

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