Cat Spirits in North-western China: Worship Practices, Origin, and External Relations


  • Ilya Gruntov Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Olga Mazo National Research University Higher School of Economics; Tel Aviv University


cat spirits, family spirits, demonology, China, Han people, Tibetans, Monguors, folklore


This paper examines the cult of cat spirits in north-western China and their veneration by the Han Chinese, Tibetans, and Monguors. These spirits are revered as family spirits and guardians of wealth and property, but possess resentful and revengeful personalities. The paper explores the origins of the cult, local worship and summoning practices, protection methods, and links with other vernacular traditions in the region. The study uses a combination of research methods, including analysis of Chinese historical sources, published modern narratives, and the authors’ own fieldwork in Mongolia. The paper employs a qualitative and comparativeapproach to identify invariant features of cat spirits across various local traditions and highlights the assimilation of the cult into different traditional belief systems where it is enriched with new traits. The paper sheds light on the rich and complex tapestry of beliefs and practices associated with cat spirits. The articlesuggests that the cult of cat spirits may have had non-Han and non-Tibetan origins, possibly connected to Proto-Mongolic tribes.


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