The familiar (physical, astral, or elemental) can help you by strengtening your magical power. Some physical creatures do this by actually being in the room whenever you work a ritual.
Familiars can improve your life by warning you of danger, or defending you when danger arises. Animals, such as cats and dogs, can warn you when danger is present by hissing, growling, and even refusing to enter a room if someone they consider questionable is there. They will also awaken their owners during the night to alert them to fires, intruders, or other potential disasters. Quite often they will refuse to enter an area that has a malicious, troublesome ghost.
An example of subtle warning is when a cat or dog leaves the room when a particular person enters, or when the animal avoids a person altogether. The animal may also sit and stare at the questionable person. If you listen to these warnings, and are truthful to yourself about the person in question, you will find in some way that the person is not compatible with or healthy for you.
Animals are also good healers. They seem to know when someone they care about is sick. It doesn’t matter to them whether the illness is emotional or physical. They get as close as they can and send comforting, healing vibrations.
When it comes to strengthening magical power during a ritual or spell working, there is nothing better than a familiar. Some physical creatures simply can’t be kept out of the room when magical happenings are in progress. The buildup of energy draws them like a magnet. You can tell if your “pet” is a true familiar if the power builds even more with his or her presence. A very few pets, like some people, siphon off energy, but this is rarer in the animal kingdom than it is among humans.
A good familiar can also let you know by telepathy and subtle actions whether or not you are using the appropriate type of magical procedure. If you aren’t, they sometimes become disruptive until you listen to them. Usually only an adjustment in viewpoint of the desired result is necessary to bring back their help.
Another benefit of familiars is learning certain techniques from them. By studying a creature a magician can learn how to temporarily adopt some of their traits which may be necessary to cope with a situation. For example, you may find yourself wanting to make a stealthy exit from a crowded room. By concentrating on the quietness of a mouse or the cunning of a fox, it is possible to leave the room without being noticed. In a way, this is becoming “invisible.”
Physical or astral familiars are frequent companions during astral travels or meditations. They are protectors and guides in otherworld realms. Often by following them, you are led to new sources of information and understanding, particularly those of a spiritual nature.
There is nothing evil about having a familiar, whether they are creatures of the earth plane or the astral plane. Non-pagans sometimes do not understand the companionship and working relationship between Pagans and their familiars, and sometimes fear the very idea of familiars. However, having a familiar makes one more aware of the connection between humans and all other creatures, and the more intricate connection between all creatures (human and otherwise) and the universal source of spiritual power.
The Making of A Familiar
To most people today, a familiar is a witch’s companion, a small animal “pet” that helps the witch with magic. The idea of the familiar is a very ancient concept and is generally applied to such creatures as cats, dogs, ferrets, toads, snakes, and some birds. Unfortunately, familiars have been given negative connotations by those who know nothing about them and don’t bother to separate fact from propaganda.
Anyone can have a familiar. You may already have an actual physical familiar living in your home in the guise of a pet. You can also attract an astral-bodied animal familiar. This can be a particular creature that is impossible to have as a “pet” in the physical.
Most people have at least a little knowledge about the power animals of the Native American traditions. However, the Native Americans were not the only ones who knew of and used the powers of familiar, which is what power animals are. For centuries, European cultures called upon animal allies in shamanistic rites. European shamanism eventually evolved into Wicca and Paganism.
Types of Familiars
There are different types of familiars. The first kind is an actual physical creature who lives with and has a rapport with a human. These familiars are the ones who establish a psychic link with the human of their choice. They can communicate their needs without vocalizing and are usually very good at telepathy.
The second kind of familiar is an astral creature of animal form that attaches itself to a human for the purpose of aiding the human. This type of familiar can be a creature that can’t be kept in the house, and can be drawn to the human by the person’s intense rapport with it. It may also appear because of a specific need within the human’s life. Deceased pets sometimes return in this capacity.
The third category of familiar is an elemental spirit or otherworld entity. Although ceremonial magicians sometimes call upon such an elemental to inhabit an object, such as a talisman, statue, crystal, magic mirror, or piece of jewelry, most magicians do not command or imprison such beings. The mythical, fantastic beasts and such entities as faeries and brownies often work as familiars and co-magicians in magic.
The fourth familiar is a discarnate human or the spirit of someone who has died. A discarnate spirit who has been commanded against his/her will can be troublesome. Then you will be faced with the necessity of getting rid of them, which can be more difficult than the original calling. Discarnate spirits who are willing, take the positions of astral teachers or guides, some people call them Guardian Angels.
Even if your circumstances prohibit you from having a physical “pet,” you are never barred from having an astral familiar. Common sense should tell you that having a panther or bear in the house is impossible, if not illegal. Allergies may prohibit you from sharing your life with an animal, but you can enjoy the companionship of an astral creature safely and completely. The only restriction are your own desires to be friends with such a familiar, to learn from them, and to grow spiritually and magically.
Meditation for a Familiar
The first thing to concentate on during meditaiton is relaxing the body.
Begin with the toes and feet. Mentally tell the muscles to relax. Slowly move up through the body relaxing the muscles as yougo. Don’t strain at this. Take as long as necessary. Spend more time working on the muscles of the shoulders, neck and jaw as these are the ones we tense almost constantly.
When you are relaxed, surround yourself with white light. Breathe it in; wrap it around you. Now visualize a well before you; you can also use theimage of a pond or river, if you like. Mentally take all the problems that are bothering you and drop them into the well. If the problems won’t stay in the well, visualize a lid with a stout lock to keep them inside. Doing this symbolized to your subconscious mind that these things need to be taken care of. You don’t want to go into meditation carrying negative feelings with you.
Visualize scenery around you. This can be forests, jungles, deserts, whatever, but picture a place without buildings or other humans. You may be surprised to find yourself in a place you didn’t have in mind at all. Accept whatever scenery is shown and begin a leisurely walk around. Be very observant for any creatures that appear.
If a creature approaches you, try to communicate with it. Watch what it does and how it responds to you. since this i the astral plane, it is possible to communicate with any creature you see. Communication is commonly by tlelpathic conversations within the mind. You may be told that this creature will be one of your astral familiars or that it has come to make you aware you have need of some of its traits. You may find yourself communicating with several astral beings before you are ready to return to this plane of existence.
When you have wandered through this landscape, and perhaps through others, and observed several astral creatures who show an interest in you, thank them and begin to pull back to your physical body. As you think of your body, slip gently back into it and slowly open your eyes. Move your arms and legs slowly to get the circulation going before you try to stand up.
Magical Role of Familiars
Apart from being companions and confidantes, your familiar can have a definite place in magickal ritual.
A common role played by familiars is as a ‘lookout’ for magickal entities, as many animalsare far more sensitive to entities than humans. Cats typically begin watching things and get agitated when an entity is in the area, snakes also display unusual behaviour. Obviously, you’d best be familiar with the animal’s usual behaviour in order to notice when it’s acting unusually.
The soothing effect animals have on humans can also be taken advantage of in a magickal situation.
In terms of more drastic participation in magick, it has been known for familiar animals to apparently become possessed by an entity, often one that appears in the form of that animal.
Magickal Protecton Of Your Familiar During Workings
Depending upon your attitude towards magick and your familiar, you might want to consider how you can protect it magickally during rituals and at other times. If your familiar wears a collar, protective sigils or symbols can be drawn in ink or scratched into the collar with a sharp instrument or protective amulets and talismans may can be hung from the collar.
Of course, this is all very well in the case of cats, dogs, or even rats, lizards, or ferrets, which can wear collars. However, if your familiar is a bird, fish, spider, or snake, a collar is out of the question. A bird could have a small amulet clipped on to it’s leg, but if your familiar is a snake or fish, protective amulets probably aren’t an option, but if they are going to remain within a container of some sort during the working, protective items may be put on it.
Another method for the protectction of a familiar is petitioning a deity which is protective of the species of familiar you have. Bast can be petitioned to protect cats, Lamia to protect serpents. Research may be necessary, but most animals have a deity which can be called upon to protect them. A consideration when calling upon a deity to protect an animal is that it does not confilict with whatever other entities you wish to work with.
If you use circles or anything similar, it should be noted that your familar will not necessarily stay put. You really don’t want your cat to idly wander through and break a circle when you’ve got something on the other side howling for your blood.
Physical Protecton Of Your Familiar During Workings
Make sure that your magickal tools cannot be easily knocked over, and you should be especially careful with candles, breakable objects and glasses of liquid. Many animals dislike smoke, so excessive use of incense near the familar might aggrevate it. Some animals might feel the desire to play with or eat your magickal tools, so this is something else that should be taken into account.
If you are undertaking along ritual, you may want to make sure that animals such as cats and dogs have water to drink. Animals that can be kept in small tanks, aquaria, or cages, can be kept in a containiner within the ritual space with items that are necessary for their needs, and taken out (or not in the case of fish) at an appropriate point.
In simple terms a familiar is an animal that is inclined to assist a witch in her/his workings. Familiars can be of this plane or astral.
One may have a single familiar, or several. They are not totems, as totems lead us, teach us, while a familiar works along side us.
During the witch trials of the 13th century, the accused where believe to take on the form of an animal, or be gifted by the devil with an animal that would carry out the witches bidding, which essentially was believing by the accusers to be the biddings of the devil.
The most popular animal associated with being a familiar…drumroll….the cat. For centuries the cat has been attributed to all that surrounds magick and the mystic.But the cat is not the only animal so gifted, and as many of us know, magick runs deep in the eyes and heart of many of our animal kingdom.
Familiars are sensitive to psychic vibrations and energies. They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative energy.
Familiars cannot be summoned, more often than not, they find us. They can be invited, or they may arrive at the exact moment in time, just when you needed them most
Generally there are three types of familiars. The physical, the astral and the spiritual.
First we’ll cover the most obvious, the physical. This particular familiar takes on a physical animal body and dwells among us on the earth plane. And you wonder just how will you know if you have a familiar or not? Oh well, they certainly have their ways of reaching out to let us know they are willing and eager to work along side us.
Next is the astral familiar. These are the magickal companions we make on the astral plane. Here we find the dragons, the unicorns, the pegasus, the mystical creatures that enchant us. Finding an astral familiar is easier than finding a physical familiar, as we can easy reach out to astral and request that one come forth.
Finally the spiritual familiar. The spiritual familiar can take on any form. They can be the statue you have charged to guard your home, or they can be the unseen inhabitant that guards the home. They can be the flame that dances and flickers upon your altar. They can the poppet you make to safeguard a child or pet. Like the astral familiar we can easy reach out and request a spiritual familiar come forth.
All three types of familiars can be very helpful working with thought-forms created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral/spiritual plane.
Witches and magicians throughout the ages have had familars. There is a wealth of lore behind these beings, but for now I’m going to concentrate on the practical side of aquiring, keeping, and workingwith a familiar.
Knowing whether you need or are going to get a familiar is an important issue often ignored. Your choice to aquire a familiar may be based upon a ‘feeling’ that you ought to have one, and this is often the best way to find out if you need one or not. However, you should be wary of wanting a familiar as a fashion statement of sorts, or to make up for some deficiency in yourself, percieved or otherwise
There are also practical considerations to take into account, as there are with any animal. A familiar can often look after itself better than most animals, but you still have to be prepared to feed it, pay vet’s bills, create a clean, comfortable, and appropriate environment for it, and get any licenses necessary. Not to mention legal restrictions on keeping certain animals in your area.
It is possible to get round some of these restrictions by being extremely sneaky, but the law has to be taken into account sometimes, not to mention that the possibility of finding space for a 7 foot salt water crocodile in an inner city flat is somewhere between that of my being Madonna’s long lost sister and of New York being devoured by a Shoggoth (oh my gods, what have I said?!?).
Divination is one way of finding out if a familiar is necessary, and which familiar is suitable for you, as is meditation upon the matter. A familiar will often be of the same species as your totem animal (see previous essay on shamanic totems for more information on finding your totem animal) or of a related or compatible species.
For example, my totem is the snake, as are my familiars, but I have also worked with lizards and cats (which on the surface may seem to be the enemy of snakes, but which have a lot more in common with the scaley little darlings than one might think). Someone who’s totem is a dragon, might well have a monitor lizard as a familiar (monitors are one of the most advanced and intelligent species of reptile, can get extremely large, sleep a lot, and can bite chunks out of people they don’t like). For what it’s worth, the infamous Komodo Dragon is a gigantic (and very appealing) species of monitor.
This also applies to entities you work with which have animal associations, i.e. your familiar could be the animal with which your patron deity is associated. For example, a magician working with Epona could have a horse as her familiar, or a witch who’s patron is Athena may have an owl as his.
Other ways of telling if you are destined to have a familiar include dreams, affinities, constant reccurrences of images relating to a specific animal, entities telling you during a communicatory working and, not least of all, an animal you have been dreaming about turning up on your doorstep.
You should never choose to bring up or aquire a familiar lightly. More than any animals in your life, your familiar with be your companion, ally, and confidante. Do not abuse this privelege. One way of aquiring a familiar is to bring it up yourself. For this it is necessary to get the animal when it is very young and to nurse it by hand. You should feed it by hand (although you should also ensure that it should be able to feed itself). A young carnivore, when weaned can be fed meat you have chewed for it, and so forth.
Whatever animal you choose as your familar, you should learn as much about it and it’s dietary and other needs as possible before you start. Pay careful attention to the animal, and learn what its needs and likes are.
Of course, not all, or even most familiars are brought up this way. Your familiar may just turn up on your doorstep one day and let you know what it is. This often applies to animals such as cats, dogs, and birds, and whatever fauna is native to your area, but even animals that are not typically found wandering the streets of wherever you live can ‘find’ you. If you go to shops selling, or hang around with animal breeders, you may well find your familiar sitting in a tank (or whatever) looking at you, and demanding that you take it home.
If you work with an entity that feels you ought to have an appropriate familiar people with a non-literal attitude to god-forms can plug their ears here), you might well be compelled to go to an animal shop and to attend to a particular creature. This particuarly applies in the case of god forms which have associated creatures that are not native to the environment in which you live.
You should take the advantages and disadvantages offered by the species you have or are considering as a familiar. Cats are probably the most common witch’s familiar, as they are intelligent, psychicly inclined, hardy, and versatile. Snakes are similarly psychicly inclined, but in mose countries there will be times of the year where it is unsuitable to take them out at all, and you can never send them out alone. Dogs in general tend to be a bit too boistrous and fearful of a magickal environment to be really useful, although there are a few who seem to take well to it. Such things should be taken into consideration, but are less important that your own instincts.
An often unconsidered question is what to do with your familiar once you have it. Now, while it’s all very well to have your familiars perched around you looking sweet and fucking up your typing skills (thank you Yig), there are actually a lot of magickal uses for the modern magician’s familiar.