A Familiar is an animal that lives with the witch and assists him/her in
It may or may not be your Totem Animal. Traditionally cats
are associate with witches. Other animals, like dogs, rabbits, horses, mice
and snakes can be familiars too. (Some urban witches have birds, squirrel
and even cockroaches as familiars).. A familiar represents all the good
qualities of that animal and is attune to the witch. It provides the witch
with a link to the animal kingdom and the essence of their power.
Since time began animals have been revered and worshiped as spirits of
nature, known to the ancients as power animals or the animal guides of the
Gods. Many animals therefore became associated with various deities, such
like: Diana and the Hound, Hecate and the Toad, Proserpina and the Raven,
Pan with the Goat and Athena with the Owl. Most other deities in one way or
another became associated with animals. The ancients believed animals were
closer to nature than humans, and would perform rituals and make offerings
to their spirits in attempts to communicate with them.
Old shamans believed that all things and beings, particularly animals, were
possessed of a spirit or soul, and that one could attract parts of their
soul, thus their spirit and powers with mimicry. To achieve this they
dressed in appropriate animal furs and feathers or wore horns and fierce
looking masks while performing dance and imitating their antics. The novice
shaman would acquire his animal spirits on completion of his initiation.
These he would send out on errands or to do battle on his behalf, however if
they failed or died, then so too did the shaman. The shaman would keep and
use the same animal spirits until his death, upon which time they would
disappear or be passed on to aid his apprentice.
Given the animal kingdoms intimate relationship with nature, its not
surprising that witches as they evolved should adopt certain animals as
their own link to nature, spirits and deities. Wise men and women commonly
used animals, while wizards, magicians and village healers used them to
diagnose illnesses, sources of bewitchment, divination and to find lost
property or treasure.
It was not until the Middle Ages and the rise of Christianity that the
witches pets and animals became thought of as agents of evil. As the
persecution of witches began, so the church started teaching the concept
that the Witches´ familiar was an associate of the Christian devil. They
became demons and evil spirits in animal form, sent out by the witch to do
their nasty bidding. They also believed witches possessed the power to
transform themselves into animals, in which guise they committed any number
of diabolical deeds. Later they were believed to use animal products in
spells, making potions and concoctions to aid transformation, gain power
over nature, or even to harm and kill.
The most common animals associated with witchcraft were the: Frog, Owl,
Serpent, Pig, Raven, Stag, Goat, Wolf, Dog, Horse, Bat, Mouse and of course
the Cat, though virtually any animal, reptile or insect would be suspect.
Obsession with the witches familiar was most prevalent in England and
Scotland and was mentioned in numerous trial records of the period,
particularly those related to "Matthew Hopkins", the infamous Witch Finder
According to the ancient Witchcraft Act of 1604, it was a felony to:
"consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil or
wicked spirit to or for any intent or purpose", an act that Hopkins used
with zeal when extracting confessions. He also used the "Malleus
Malificarum" the so-called Inquisitor´s Handbook.
Though it offers no
instruction concerning familiars in the interrogation and trial of witches,
it does acknowledge that an animal familiar "always works with the witch in
everything". As such it advises the inquisitor never to leave a witch
prisoner alone, "or the devil will cause him or her to kill themselves,
accomplished through a familiar". This in mind Hopkins would tie the witch
up in a cell and leave them alone, while watching secretly for their arrival
If so much of as a fly or beetle approached them, it was deemed proof
enough that they were indeed witches.
Today in contemporary witchcraft any thoughts of animals as "demonic spirits
of evil" has been left by the way side, though many modern witches still use
animals when working with magick utilizing their primordial instincts and
psychic abilities to attune with nature and deities. Animals are sensitive
to psychic power and vibrations, and are welcomed into the magick circle
when power is being raised or spells are being cast. They are also used to
aid scrying, divination and spirit contact. When working with magick
animals act as a guard in psychic defence for they react visibly to negative
forces and harmful energy.
Perhaps the most famous of contemporary witches to keep a familiar was Sybil
Leek and her pet jackdaw named "Mr. Hotfoot Jackson". Sybil was a
hereditary witch with a long lineage going back to the witches of southern
Ireland in 1134, but her choice of a pet jackdaw bears an uncanny
relationship to one particular ancestor called Molly Leigh:
As the story goes, Molly was born in 1685 and lived in a cottage on the edge
of the moors at Burslem near Stoke-on-Trent. Molly was a solitary character
who never married; she talked to the animals and kept a pet Jackdaw. She
made her living selling milk from a herd of cows to travelers and passers-by
An eccentric person, the Jackdaw was often seen perched on her shoulder as
she delivered milk to the dairy in Burslem.
Molly was known for her quick temper and the people of Burslem were
suspicious and frightened of her. This was not uncommon in those times, for
throughout the country `women´ and particularly elderly women who lived on
their own in remote places, were labeled as witches.
In Molly´s case it was the local vicar the Rev. Spencer who made witchcraft
accusations against her. He claimed that Molly sent her Jackdaw to sit on
the sign of the Turk´s Head pub, a pub that the vicar frequently visited,
and when it did the beer turned sour. She was also blamed for other
ailments suffered by numerous townsfolk.
Molly died in 1746 and was buried in the Burslem churchyard, but then many
claimed that her ghost haunted the town. A short time after her burial, the
Rev. Spencer along with clerics from Stoke, Wolstanton and Newcastle went to
open her cottage and retrieve her pet Jackdaw. When they arrived they were
shocked to see Molly (or an apparition of her), sitting in a favourite
armchair knitting with her pet Jackdaw perched on her shoulders (just as she
had often been seen in real life). Frightened, the vicar and others
returned to the graveyard and reopened her grave. They drove a stake
through her heart and threw the living Jackdaw into the coffin. The vicar
then decreed that as she was a witch, she would not rest easy until her body
was buried lying North to South. To this day, Molly's tomb is the only one
that lies at right angles to all the other graves in the churchyard.
Many believe that an animal familiar is not acquired through personal choice
more that an animal will choose you as its guardian and companion. One
cannot go down to the local pet-shop and choose a familiar simply on its
symbolic significances: "I shall take an Owl for Wisdom, a Dove for Peace
and a Spider for Imagination and Creativity". Sorry, but that won´t work.
Animals have their own in-built wisdom and intelligence, their own spirit
and skills, and a bond needs to be made with them if they are to volunteer
to work as your familiar. Most often the animal itself will let you know
when this has been achieved.
Generally there are four different kinds of animal familiar. The first is
our physical everyday live-in pets, most commonly the cat or dog. As with
all our other family members an instinctive bond and psychic link is created
over time. Silent communication of their needs exists and instinctively we
know if they are happy or sad, hungry, hurting or in need of attention.
They in turn reciprocate and adapt themselves to our life styles,
intuitively they attune to our mood swings and circumstantial changes.
The second type of familiar is an imaginative creature, one you can closely
identify with but never hope to own such like a lion, tiger or leopard.
This is an animal whose characteristics you admire, and you may collect and
hang pictures of it in your home. It resided in the astral plane and
because of your intense liking for it; you consciously or unconsciously
attract its aid. It´s said that deceased pets with which you had an
affinity return in this capacity.
The third type of familiar is magickal, an elemental spirit. Witches and
Magicians often call upon elemental spirits for aid when working with magick
When making talismans or amulets for specific purposes, they may call upon
a particular familiar elemental to inhabit an object to enhance its effect.
It is believed the Paracelsus; a medical academic (1493-1541) instilled such
a familiar into a large precious stone on the pommel of his ritual sword.
The fourth familiar is the spirit of a human being, someone who has died.
Many adept magicians will command the appearance of a human spirit but such
spirits are hard to control, for instance, a spirit who has been commanded
against his or her desires can be troublesome, in which case you need to be
sure of your ability to get rid of them and this can be much more difficult
than the original calling. Those spirits willing to act as our astral
guides or teachers are commonly called `Guardian Angels´.
The most effective familiars tend not to be our domesticated pets, for due
to their life expectancy our pets come and go, though the spirit of a
deceased pet can still be used. The use of our domestic animals as
familiars is merely a stepping-stone to the raw power and energy of wild
animals that are much closer to nature; for instance, a domestic dog is a
softened version of its wild counterpart the fox, wolf, coyote and other
wild canine creatures. Similarly a domestic cat can be linked to other wild
felines such like lions, tigers and leopards.
Many witches and magicians
start with a domesticated animal as a familiar in the hope that one day they
will be able to handle and work more effectively with its true power form,
the wild animals of nature.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Posted by Judith at 7:32 AM