The belief in the demoniacal possession of animals was prevalent in Europe for several centuries, and in order to drive away the evil spirits it was customary to employ various exorcisms and incantations, which were supposed to be infallible after approval by ecclesiastical authority. Reginald Scot, in his "Discovery of Witchcraft, says that, according to the testimony of reliable authors, spirits were wont to take the forms of animals, and especially of horses, dogs, swine, goats, and hares. They also appeared in the guise of crows and owls, but took the most delight in the likenesses of snakes and dragons. Bewitched animals were usually of a black color. A black cat is the traditional companion or familiar of witches the world over, and the black dog is also associated with sorcery in the folk-lore of some lands. Among the Slavs the black demon Cernabog has this form, and the black hen is a common devil symbol in mediaeval witch-lore. The gypsies believe, moreover, that black horses are gifted with a supernatural sight, which enables them to see beings invisible to the eye of man. Black animals figure prominently in many legends of the dark ages. Thus the Devil, in the form of a black horse, disturbed a congregation which had gathered to listen to a sermon delivered by St. Peter of Verona in the thirteenth century, but was put to flight by the sign of the cross. Among birds the crow is considered an ominous creature in some countries, and in northeast Scotland is always associated with the "black airt." The raven, too, is traditionally portentous, and is sometimes called the Devil's bird; its plumage is said to have been changed from white to black on account of its disobedience. In Swedish legend the magpie shares the evil reputation of the raven and crow, and is characterized as "a mystic bird, a downright witches' bird, belonging to the Devil and the other powers of the night."
The Kirghis, a nomadic people of Turkestan, are very superstitious in regard to the magpie, and note with care the direction whence the sound of its cry is heard. If from the north, it portends evil; from the south, a remarkable occurrence; from the east, it denotes the coming of guests; and from the west, a journey.
The Rev. Alexander Stewart, in his "Nether Lochaber," deprecates as unreasonable the universal distrust of the magpie. It seems probably that this is due less to its color than to certain other characteristics; for the magpie is a confirmed mimic and kleptomaniac, and of exceeding slyness withal.
Apropos of crows as foreboders, whether of good or evil, an amusing story is told of a man who wished to test for himself the truth or falsity of a popular belief that seeing a couple of crows in the early morning is a sign of good luck. He therefore directed his servant to awaken him at daybreak whenever two crows were to be seen. Accordingly one morning the servant called him, but in the mean time one of the birds had flown away. Thereupon the master became angry and gave his servant a sound beating, upbraiding him with having delayed until but one crow remained. The servant, however, nothing daunted, replied: "Lo, sir, have you not seen the luck which is come to me from seeing two crows?"
Superstition has been defined as "a belief not in accordance with the facts," but this is manifestly incorrect. An ignorant person, who thinks that black cats are more evil-minded than white ones, thereby cherishes a mistaken idea, but is not necessarily superstitious. If, however, he believes that a black cat or any other animal is endowed with a supernatural faculty of exerting evil influences over human beings, then he is not only ignorant, but also superstitious.