John Rush’s Cats: Keepers of the Spirit World, is a collection of history and cultural mythology about cats—housecats and big cats alike—and their relationship to humans and spirituality. As Rush himself states at the outset: he will be discussing “…origins, human and cat, for it is by looking at our ancient past that we can identify our deep connections to cats and our eventual attachment of spiritual characteristics to them.” (p. 10)

Rush starts with the history of cats as apex predators; creatures our ancestors feared to meet, yet were indebted to as we could scavenge the remains of their kills to augment our own food sources. He then moves us quickly to the present day of the cared for and much-beloved housecat, even the feral ones, who are quite a lot less fearsome than their larger/ancient counterparts.

I learned some very interesting facts from this book, some of which dispelled my earlier “knowledge”. Of particular interest, given how widely this is “known”, is that the ancient Egyptians didn’t worship cats, rather certain characteristics of cats “considered otherworldly, became associated with different gods and goddesses.”
While I still intend to enjoy comics and posters claiming that modern cats “remember” that they used to be worshiped—it’s amusing, after all—it’s also nice to have the truth pointed out.

In terms of reading, this is not a book to be merely skimmed. There is a lot of information packed into every page, and the book is organized by topics such as “Cat Evolution” and “Cat Behaviours and Physiology”, and within each topic are related subtopics that take the reader across time and place with a focus on the overarching topic. There are references to many times, places, mythologies, as well as scientific information and the author’s own thoughts throughout the book.

As a reference book, this one could be difficult to find a particular piece of information quickly unless you’ve marked it in some way for future reference. My own copy did not yet have the index in it, but that might make navigating to particular things easier.

I think for me to have a better and more thorough understanding of the book, I will have to re-read it with highlighters and sticky notes at hand, and make use of the excellent list of references at the end of the book.

If you are looking for a more academic look at cats through history and across cultures and what they’ve come to mean to humans as relates to spirituality, this book is worth having on your shelf.

~review by Mara McTavish

Author: John A. Rush
Publisher: Destiny Books
Pgs: 208, $18.34 (USD)