AN ANCIENT CHINESE MYTH
When the world was a new-created place, the gods decided to appoint one creature to see that it ran smoothly and to oversee all other creatures. The creature they selected was the cat. Thoughtful and contemplative, cats were given the power of speech in order to talk with the creator gods and give instructions to the other creatures who shared the world. For a long time all seemed to go well.
Cats, however, were sybaritic creatures. Rather than attend to the mundane, day-to-day running of a world, they wanted to doze in sunbeams on beds of fragrant catnip and matatabi vine. The creator gods saw this and asked the cats whether they were doing anything to ensure the smooth running of this newly made world.
“Running a world is not of great interest to us,” said the cats, “we are content to roll on the grass and chase butterflies when the mood takes us. Mostly we let the world run itself so that we can enjoy the simple pleasures of warm sunshine and fresh, scented air.”
The gods asked the cats to be more diligent in the running of the newly made world and the cats promised to pay a little more attention to their allotted task. Some while later, the gods paid another visit to their vibrant new world and they found the cats sleeping under cherry trees or playing with falling cherry blossoms. Once more they questioned the cats’ dedication to overseeing the world.
“Running a world is, to be honest, a rather boring task. It is much more fun to sleep comfortably under cherry trees and frolic among the falling blossom,” said the cats, “however, we will try to pay more attention to the business of being in charge of the world – it is a great responsibility.”
The gods chastised the cats a second time and went away full of hope that the cats would pay closer attention to the running of the world the gods had given them. However, on a third visit, the gods found the cats chasing floating thistledown in the late summer sunshine.
“To be perfectly honest,” the cats said, “we’ve realised that we really don’t want the bother of running a world. We’ve noticed that one of your creatures shows much more promise in this respect, perhaps you could give the task of running a world to them so that we can spend our time enjoying the pleasures this world has to offer.”
The gods reluctantly agreed, but on one condition. Those appointed to run the world required the power of speech. Therefore cats would no longer be able to talk and the other creature, called humans, would be endowed with speech. And while man busied himself about running the world and remaking it to his own liking and filling it with chatter, cats basked in scented sunshine with inscrutable expressions.
From that day on, mankind gained the power of speech while cats enjoyed the delights the world had to offer – sunshine, scents, textures and things to chase or play with. But the gods never forgot that the cat was their first chosen one to run the world and made them timekeepers so that humans could always tell the time of day by looking into a cat’s eyes. In the morning their eyes are pools of blackness rimmed with gold; at noon they are mere black slits on disks of gold while in the evening they open out into pools of blackness once more.
Not only that, the purring of the cat is the sound of the machinery moving the world around the heavens and should the cats cease to purr, the world would stand still in the sky and the seasons, and all of time, would come to an end. So while mankind has the day-to-day running of the world, the cat still remains its timekeeper and guardian which is why cats always look so inscrutable and so smug.