Article By: Eilfie Music
Ravens, toads, spiders, dogs, and cats – the companions of witches. Not just your average domestic pet, these animals do more than simply sit in the window and sun themselves. When we think of familiars, the black cat is perhaps the first and most prominent image to come to mind, with its back arched and eyes aglow. During the witch trials, these creatures were defined as low-ranking demons or imps that were given to the witch by the Devil to assist in any tasks, such as spying, ruining crops, and stealing the breath of sleeping neighbors. The witch could have more than one familiar and even acquire one from another witch. The witch’s mark (used as evidence in accusing someone of witchcraft) was in essence an extra nipple that nourished the familiar. According to some confessions, it seemed at times that the witch could take on the form of their familiar in order to go around and do harm as well. If a dog or cat could not be found at the residence of the accused, they would look for a bee or fly that could also act as a familiar. Any animal or creature could be seen as an agent of the devil and witches assistant. Along with those accused of witchcraft being executed, many of the animals marked as familiars were killed as well in Scotland and other areas of Europe.
Today, the idea of the familiar is more connected with the spirit animals or totems. Instead of being called low-ranking demons, they are now seen as either the spirit of the animal, or a nature spirit taking the form of an animal. People also connect the familiar with the animal form of their subconscious mind. Some practitioners are drawn to a certain animal, wanting to gain its traits such as the craftiness of a fox or the confidence of a cat, while others have certain animals come to help them through troubling areas that they are not fully aware of.
A familiar works with the witch in circle casting, and can move in and out of the circle without disturbing it (though you want be careful of a wandering tail hitting a candle), and they can also assist on the astral plane during meditation. Often the familiar finds the person when they are not expecting it, when you do need them in your life for certain tasks. Twice my father’s same familiar found him. My Father never told me the first story, or perhaps I just don’t remember it; the second time, though, was out in the woods while he was hunting for roots. This half-starved fluff of feline came running up the dirt road towards him and wouldn’t stop until he took her. She ruined her voice from the amount of yowling she had to do to keep his attention up one side of the hill and back down.
Unlike the common household pet, a familiar in physical form is often seen with more awareness. This, of course, can also be something projected by the witch onto that pet just by being more aware of its habits and personality. Our pets seem to have their own way of life that goes beyond the simple animal habits; they oftentimes also take on similar traits to their human counterparts (this might be why people often forget that they are beasties, and refer to them as furry children for whom you don’t have to pay college tuition).
In the shamanic sense, the familiar is an extension of yourself that many people don’t wish to deal with. It contains both the bad and good parts of us. It’s more than simply the happy parts of us that we want to focus on while quite frankly ignoring the bad. The fox may be sly and crafty, but he can be lazy and selfish as well. These animal spirits are also at times higher beings that take the form of animals to make a point.
Animals have a uniqueness that we as people forget at times. The household pet becomes more of a fixture then a companion. A connection can be formed with your cat, dog, or rabbit in an energetic working to help the practitioner through spell work or even difficult times.
One of the methods is to simply meditate on the goal of bring an animal spirit to you for help. Unless you have a particular animal in mind that you know would work well with you, you can also just focus on the idea of any particular animal coming through and then finding out why that one did. When an animal comes through in your meditation, research more then just the magic side of it; find out what this animal is like in the wild. What are its habits? How does it survive, and does this connect to you?
The familiar today should be looked at as more then simply a magical creature we connect to on this plain. It is a link to the natural side of us that we tend to forget. Familiars help make that link between man and wild.
-Guiley, Rosemary Ellen The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft, facts on file, inc New York, NY, 1999
– Robbins, Rossell Hope The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, Crown Publishing, New York, NY, 1973
-Grimassi, Raven Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft Llewellyn publications, St. Paul MN, 2002
-Llewellyn, 1998 Magical Almanac, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN 1998
– Zimmerman, Denise & Katherine A. Gleason The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft 3rd edition Alpha publications 2006