What is a Familiar?
What is a familiar? That’s a good question. J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter series makes them out to be little more than a magical postman – or is he?
Obviously, while the HP franchise is great, it does nothing to defining witchcraft, or familiars.
Define: ‘A Familiar’
The most common definition of a familiar is: “a demon supposedly attending and obeying a witch, often said to assume the form of an animal.” Media often portrays them as black cats, crows, or other traditionally “spooky” animals. This does not have to be the case! No toads required. Your familiar, should you want one, is any animal you connect with on a unique level. This could be a dog, bird, cat, or any other animal of your choosing. You do not have to have a familiar to be a valid witch. You can be a witch with no spells or candles or anything at all.
History of Familiars
If we look at it historically, familiars have been known to be much more than the traditional black cat. In medieval times, they were more known as guardian angels. In ancient Rome, they were christened tutelaries. Around the same time, the Greeks believed in the daimon, which would guide people’s actions.
The witch hunts in the 17th century brought them a new name, imps. At this time, they began manifesting as small animals, and a witch could pass her power through to another via her imp. Believed for many years to be evil spirits, these familiars acted as servants. They taught witches magic and were often used as spies due to their shapeshifting abilities. They could sniff out bewitchment and diagnose illnesses.
Many small animals – cats, dogs, owls, toads and mice – came to be well-known as potential familiars. More unconventional familiars include snakes, blackbirds, toads, beetles, and butterflies.
The relationships between familiars and their witches have not always been the most amicable – cats are often impossible to persuade to do anything. Familiars have been known to summon their witches rather than the other way around. A familiar should definitely be an animal more ‘willing’ to do your wishes, which doesn’t just mean magick. This is everything from comforting you when you need it, to helping you as you perform rituals or cast spells. If an animal clearly is uninterested, they may not be the best familiar. (Although animals can be trained, it is not recommended to try and persuade animals to do things they don’t want to especially when it comes down to magick.)
Witches Familiars Today
Familiars are absolutely still around! While the culture around them has changed – they’re no longer considered evil and demonic – familiars are still a big part of a witch’s life. Face it, the connotation of the term “witch” has changed too. No more demanding the lives of first-born children – most modern-day witches are more focused on bettering themselves and the world around them. While we don’t condone spells or hexes, they should be used sparingly and by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. It is not to be played with.
Familiars are a massive benefit in this lifestyle, to help in re-charging the witch’s energy and expelling negative energy. They fulfill many of the same roles as they did throughout history.
They are no longer the traditional “spooky” animals either. Modern familiars are anything that gives a witch a boost of energy or stronger connection to the earth or their specific deity. Because of this, they can be anything from a pet dog to a crystal, a feather to a parakeet, a journal to a family member or fictional character.
How Can You Tell If You have a familiar?
If a cat curls up in your lap and falls asleep, it’s a furbaby. If you use that cat to help you with magickal purposes, it becomes a familiar. To an extent, whether or not you have a familiar is up to you. You’ll feel connected to this creature and you’ll almost feel as though they chose you as much as you chose them.
Whether it be the traditional black cat, a toad, mice, or a well-beloved journal, familiars play a special part in the lives of many witches. But if you are looking for a familiar, check your local shelter before calling a breeder. Animals rescue us just as much as we rescue them.
Find out more about witches and their magick cats, and let me know if I’ve missed anything in the comments. Namaste.