Understanding your familiar
We have all heard about cats and rats as Witches’ Familiars, but do you really understand what a Familiar is? A Familiar is an animal you have a psychic connection with, or one that will help you with magick. Most modern Witches don’t have Familiars, they have pets and animal companions whom they love dearly.
There are two types of Familiars identified in The Witch-Cult of Western Europe (1921). There is the physical (domestic) Familiar and the spiritual (divining) Familiar.
The domestic Familiar is an animal that stays with the Witch, provides magickal assistance and represents sacred nature. The divining Familiar is an animal, usually wild, that is in the Witch’s life for a short time, and can change from year to year. The divining Familiar provides spiritual guidance, teachings and is connected with the animals within us.
You can call upon your Familiars for help. Finding your divining Familiar is a long, meditative process. Many Witches have neglected finding their divining Familiar, although there has recently been a resurgence of totem animals (using the Native interpretation of animals). The domestic Familiar is easier to contact, simply because it is with you all the time.
The domestic Familiar is sacred, a representation of the Goddess and God in living form. As a Witch, or as a Pagan, you have a heritage of a connection with nature, a spiritual connection with animals. Your pet is not necessarily a domestic Familiar, so don’t think that you can force your hamster into magickal service for you.
The stereotypical familiar in Western culture is the black cat. Because black cats are strongly associated with witchcraft, there are a number of superstitions regarding them. A black cat crossing ones path is said to be a portent of doom, for example. A familiar may be nearly any animal, however. Other common forms for a familiar to take are a dog, an owl, and a toad.
In the days of widespread persecution of witches, every witch was believed to have a familiar, and close animal companions were sometimes considered proof that a person was a witch. In addition to animals, humanoid creatures were believed to serve as familiars; sometimes, these familiars looked like regular people, and sometimes, they were said to be odd in appearance, having some deformity or resembling stereotypical images of demons. Legends of this period also often attribute the habit of drinking blood to familiars. Familiars were considered at least as dangerous as witches, as they were thought to be supernatural beings that looked like normal animals and could spy or wreak havoc for their witch without being easily detected.
While Christians traditionally interpret familiars as demons, to Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, they are more like the Christian concept of a guardian angel. A witch’s familiar can be his or her closest companion, offering moral support, special knowledge, and/or physical healing. Wiccans may seek a familiar through meditation or divination, but most do not believe that familiars can be summoned, contrary to traditional Western legend regarding witches and black magic. Author Phillip Pullman offers an interesting take on the idea of the familiar in his His Dark Materials trilogy, in which every human has a “daemon” in animal form that has parallels to various cultural interpretations of the soul.
A Meditation for a Familiar
The first thing to concentrate on during meditation is the relaxing of the body. Begin with the toes and feet. Mentally tell the muscles to relax. Slowly moving up through the body relaxing the muscles as you go. 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 the image of a pond or river, if you like. Mentally take all the problems, including people, that are bothering you and drop them into the well. If the problems or people won’t stay in the well, visualize a lid with a stout lock to keep them inside. Doing this symbolizes to your subconscious mind that these 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 of 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 is the astral plane, it is possible to communicate with any creature you see. Communication is commonly by telepathic 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.