The familiar as an animal companion to a witch is a dominant theme in the history of witchcraft. For many, when one mentions a “Witch’s Familiar” an image of a black cat springs directly to mind. In legend and the recorded history of witch trials, cats were followed by toads, mice, ferrets, bats, snakes, hounds and birds as popular companions/assistants of witches. These and other creatures were often placed on trial for being “partners in evil” and suffered cruel torture and death as well. For example, in the seventeenth century a chicken named Nan was charged as being a familiar with three other chickens cited as imps in the case.
Modern Witches tend to view the concept of a Familiar along the lines of a Native American power/spirit animal, which can be categorized as being physical, astral/spirit, and created Familiars.
The perceived reality of a “Familiar” is that a spirit from the Otherworld lives within the physical body of an animal/creature; working in tandem as a magickal partner and companion. There is also the potential for a forged link between the world of humans and nature via partnership with fairies, imps and +plant spirits. In addition, there are nonphysical familiars and conjured thought forms which occupy the astral plane – which in addition to animals (including creatures such as dragons, unicorns etc) can also be associated with an inanimate object such as a stone, jewelry, or sacred tool such as a besom, athame or wand.
About a year ago, a woman came into Talisman and with some trepidation shared her concerns about the close bond she felt with her rosewood wand. She felt very strongly that the wand was aligned with her own moods and emotions to the point she felt it needed to be on her person or close to her at all times. As a member of a coven, she brought this to the attention of her high priestess only to be told that she was using the wand inappropriately as a sort of “security blanket” which left her in much distress. After much discussion, we came to realize that the wand was in reality working with her and serving as a familiar – a fact which eased her mind and comforted her greatly.
The closely-bonded relationship between Witch and Familiar creates an energetic attunement which fosters magick – in partnership with the Witch, a Familiar works in healing, spell casting, and protection. By moving between the planes, a Familiar facilitates communication with the spirit realm and retrieves information which facilitates divination.
Never having given much thought to the process behind finding a Familiar; I searched the internet for answers to the question. The answers ranged from elaborate rituals, to simple meditations; to you don’t find the Familiar, the Familiar finds you. Some talked of pets who stepped up to the plate, which made good circle animals or served as guardians during rituals. Others even expressed an extreme closeness to what most would consider inanimate objects – and in many ways, this would be me. I’ve had many pets, including two stereotypical black cats (which others assumed were Familiars) but truly none were up to the task. They were for all intents and purposes four legged family members required to be nothing but who they were. Even my current dog has one job, being cute. The hours are good, there’s no heavy lifting, and he’s very good at it. However, what has truly resonated is my relationship with crystals, rocks, minerals, and fossils.
To most people these beings aren’t alive in any traditional sense. Though they sense a vibration from the stone/crystal, they never really attempt to communicate with it or consider the vibration as a life force. The stones and crystals are not viewed as entities unto themselves, but rather examples of a collective set of vibration criteria. This is especially true with people who are just starting to work with crystals, and sadly many of the people who write about crystals and stones from a metaphysical standpoint. For me however they’re just as alive as any animal and working in tandem with them is as easy as breathing. Each has its own separate and unique personality. It’s been that way since my brother got the rock collecting set – he got the toy that was deemed inappropriate for a girl – and I got the passion and eventually the set. My first lessons regarding following instinct and using intuition came from letting myself be guided to the right place to dig. They do talk to me and they listen intently and I can’t bring myself to refer to them as tools. I simply can’t lump them into groups and say, well it’s an Isis crystal and you use them for this. Each and every one is an individual in its own right, and some I’ve developed strong relationships with that not only extend well into my workings as a witch, I number them among my friends. I honestly can’t say who picked who, and maybe that’s the real truth when it comes to Familiars: It’s a simultaneous finding of each other similar to the finding of a soul mate. And like searching for one’s true love … the best results are often obtained when you stop trying so hard.
Well this is my own experience. There was never really a bonding or a forging, just a knowing that seemed to always exist. A feeling that went beyond attachment and ownership, the “mind meld” was just there, no work involved to create or maintain it. The communication was so natural I wouldn’t have believed that not everyone can do it, or that some would think I was crazy for thinking it possible. The only apparent necessity was my being open enough to hear the call without dismissing it as a figment of my imagination, and finally remembering that all relationships require mutual respect. It should probably be noted that the relationship was formed well before I adopted my path. You may have already found your Familiar, the bond is there, and it’s just waiting to be realized.
I would love a relationship like that of Gillian Holroyd and Pyewacket in Bell, Book, and Candle, but the bonds I’ve formed so far with the animals I’ve been close to haven’t crossed over into the magickal. I’ve interacted in the short term with many animals, I’m well acquainted with my spirit animals, but I’ve never experienced a dedicated relationship with an animal that could be defined as having a Familiar.
For all I’ve read regarding finding one, I think the only thing that can be said is, you’ll know it when you find it, and it may not be what most would consider a living entity.
Note: Co-written by Laura Lenhard and China Mayhew
Christopher Penczak. The Plant Spirit Familiar. Copper Cauldron Publishing.
Raven Grimassi. The Witch’s Familiar. Llewellyn Publishing 2003
Laura follows the path of the Hedgewitch. Raised in Southern California she brought with her to Connecticut a lifelong fascination with the metaphysical world, along with a deep-rooted belief in the concept of Universal Spirituality. A deep respect for all spiritual paths and love for the natural world combined with a vision for a unique shop filled with all things mystical, magical and natural. This dream was realized when Talisman, located in Monroe, opened in April of 2007. Laura now works to educate and share information regarding the metaphysical and spiritual realms through my day-to-day interactions with patrons at the shop, guest appearances on various radio shows, Talisman’s monthly newsletter and blog with Hearst Publications. Learn more about Talisman at www.talismanct.com.
China is a Fractal Artist, Welsh Celtic Reconstructionist and practicing Witch. She’s lived in Connecticut nearly all her life and has been fascinated by the metaphysical from a very early age. She took the winding road from ceremonial magick through many forms of witchcraft, and finally settled on reconstructionism in her early twenties. She prefers the more hands on forms of the craft that incorporate herbs, stones, and the crafting of oils, potions, incense, and brews. She can be found working at Talisman on Tuesdays, and will identify rocks for you any time!