Saturday, April 22, 2017

[Familiars 2017: Part 2] Domestic Animals as Familiars - Is my pet a familiar?

Previously, I talked a bit about the different types of familiars.  We typically imagine familiars as the little black cat trope but animals are not the only kind.  Broadening our perspective on the definition of familiar not only opens us to new kinds of connections but helps us butter understand today's topic.

Historically called imps, these animal familiars are physical creatures who form an agreement with a witch to assist said witch in their work.  Imps are what I prefer to specifically call domestic familiars.  From here on out, when I say "familiar," I'm referring specifically to that of a witch's partnership with an animal.

If you're here, you may be interested to find out if your pet or recent animal friend is a familiar.  Many times, when I talk about familiars on my blog, I get several comments with a pet's life story that end with the question "Is s/he a familiar?"  Let me put this in bold letters:

I cannot judge from your story in the comment section as to whether your pet is a familiar.

Only you can decide if an animal in your life is familiar worthy and if a pact can be made.  However, the following article can help.

The History of the Domestic Familiar
During the European Witch Trials

The first historical notes of a familiar or imp in reference to witches came during the European Witch Trials of the 17th Century.  References to a witch's imp are most prominent in the works of English witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins.  Attributed with the responsibility for the intense increase in "witch" prosecution in England between 1644 and 1646, Hopkins believed that a witch made a pact with the devil or a demon for her power.  In exchange, she was gifted with an animal, called an imp, to spy on others, carry out her wishes and guard her.  Animals believed to be imps were usually cats and dogs, but could also be other animals, like mice and toads.  To feed this imp, the witch was given a third nipple, or teat, from which the familiar would draw blood as its food.  This teat could be located anywhere on the body and would be unusual in shape, size and color, so it was the most common "identifier" for witches.  Hopkins was convinced that the teat was the only evidence needed to prove a witch of her guilt.

One of the most specific cases, and perhaps the most popular, was also one of Hopkins's first. In 1644 in the town of Manningtree, he arrested and deprived a woman of sleep for four nights straight.  Afterward, she named all of her familiars and their forms: Holt, a white kitten; Jarmara, a legless overweight Spaniel; Vinegar Tom, a greyhound with a head "like an Oxe;" Sacke and Sugar, a black rabbit; and Newes, a polecat.  In addition, she listed five more familiars, described as imps, one of which was the famous Pyewacket.

Of course, the name Pyewacket would be popularized in the 1958 film Bell, Book and Candle as the name of a cat familiar, and has remained in popular culture even to this day.

It should be noted that the European and American Witch Trials were not an affront on witches.  Most people prosecuted during that time had no connection with witchcraft.  Executions between the 15th and 18th Century likely totaled between 30-100k (not millions) and can be attributed to mass hysteria, poverty, illness, blight and other reasons.


Perhaps the easiest way to initially describe the concept of the modern domestic familiar is by listing misconceptions first.

Not every witch has a domestic familiar.  Not every witch wants one and they're perfectly within their right to that.  But, however disappointingly, not every witch that truly wants a familiar finds that kind of bond over their lifetime.  And that's okay!  Having a familiar is not required to be a witch or to practice magic by any means.  The sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be to move forward.

Cats are not the only animals that can be familiars.  In fact, mammals are not the only kinds of animals that can be familiars.  Just about any kind of animal or insect you could ever imagine possible could be a familiar.  In fact, even plants can be familiars.  Thus, while the stereotype is the little black cat, you could just as easily have a snake, horse, bird or tarantula as a familiar too.

Separating the Pet from the Familiar

But perhaps the biggest misconception is that familiar is just another word for pet.  

Let me be clear: Not all pets are familiars. In fact, most aren't.

Do we love our pets and do they love us? Yes.  Do we form amazing bonds with our pets?  Of course.  Does it feel like we've known our pets from another lifetime?  Sure.  But does this make a pet a familiar?  No.

The pet/owner relationship can be just as sacred as the familiar bond.  Pets become family because they love so unconditionally and purely.  In turn, we love them in a similar manner.  This kind of mutual love is rarely echoed in other chosen relationships in our life. That's why it's so hard to imagine that Fluffy isn't a familiar.

Many familiar relationships begin as pets initially.  In fact, it's a great starting point.  The unconditional love that comes from owning a pet with a fantastic connection to you is a solid foundation for familiardom, but it does not a familiar make.

So Exactly What Denotes a Familiar?

The Call of the Familiar

Typically, we as witches don't get a choice in who our familiar is.  There are ways to call for a familiar of a particular type if you don't already have one, such as extensive meditation, visualization and projection, but the most real of familiars I find are ones who make that initial call to us instead.  You might see your familiar in a dream, meet them on the astral plane, visualize them during meditation and hear them even up to months before you physically meet them.  Some traditions believe that you can only be given a familiar, particularly by a prior relationship with a spirit of sorts, such as a demon or a spirit guide.  Even in this case, this requires you to meet your familiar before physically coming into contact with them.

On that note, all of this isn't to say that you can't go to a pet shelter and find your familiar.  Though maybe a bit less likely, your presence at the shelter could have been orchestrated by the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, it's not something you can force.  You can't go and pick up just any animal and decide that that animal will be your familiar.  You can't look down at your cat of 10 years and force them into a familiarship no more than you can force a human being into any kind of contract.  This is why I typically feel like spell work to call for a familiar won't have much baring on your actually finding one.  If you have a familiar out there, it will happen.  If you don't, it won't.

My best suggestion if you're wanting a domestic familiar is to keep your channels open.  As I mentioned above, we often meet our familiar on a separate plane before meeting them in the physical realm.  If that's the case, it's important to be adept at astral travel and meditation and to be in close contact with the deities and spirits you work with so as to be receptive to their call.

And even if your spirit guide gives you a vision of the animal before you meet, this animal may still be a pet unless...

The Familiar Bonds With You on a Spiritual Level

This one is easy to mistake with the unconditional love of a pet/owner relationship, primarily because it has its roots in just that.  It's why we get so caught up with pets being familiars.  This spiritual bond can seem similar to unconditional love if you've never experienced it and thus blurs the line for those who have not had a familiar.

The kind of spiritual bond I speak of transcends physical realms.  It's obviously not a romantic or physical bond; I want to make it clear that I would never suggest that.  And it's more than just an eerie "I-know-what-you're-thinking" link or the feeling of knowing that animal from another time and space.  In fact, I find it hard to describe this bond at all because it goes beyond words.  It is deeper than you can ever imagine if you've never had a familiar, terribly frightening if you're just now experiencing it and can be physically exhausting for even the most experienced of witches and pagans.

But there's more...

You Can Trust Your Familiar Wholly.

Oftentimes, we feel we can trust our pets with our life.  While it's a sweet sentiment, and in many cases true, the kind of unconditional trust I speak of goes beyond what you might expect of a normal animal.

The easiest way I can point out the difference is to pull from personal experience and print screen a reader question about my rune chain.  For reference, this is what my rune chain looks like:

And here is a question a Tumblr user asked about it:

While I did cleanse the rune chain with lemon juice initially and cats tend to not like citrus, I also have several blessing keys hanging in the house:

And a large bowl of salt and fragile items called a Blessing Bowl on my coffee table where even my dog could access it:

The Blessing Bowl, in its various incarnations, has been around for over a year and not once has it been knocked over by a familiar.  Not a key or rune has been pulled down.  I don't rearrange, cover or move these items when I'm gone or not present in the room.  In fact, I have never once worried about damage by one of my familiars to any of my spiritual items.  Because I have complete trust in my familiars, I have the confidence that they will not harm my possessions and, in particular, any protective and blessing items I have throughout and around the house.  

So when I speak about love and trust, I'm speaking on levels that exceed beyond that of a pet owner.  If you can't trust your pet around something spiritual, that pet is not a familiar.

To that tune, don't put your pet in a compromising situation to test its familiarship.  Putting a pet's life in jeopardy is never good practice.  Besides, if you have a familiar, then there's more to it than just trust...

A Familiar Guides Your Magical and Spiritual Endeavors

A true familiar takes an active role in your spiritual undertakings.  If you're the ritual type, they participate in rituals without having to be closed into the same room as you and being forced to be present.  They offer guidance and wisdom beyond what might have been available to you without them.  This means that they push things into place, or pull things out.  They make you notice things that you need to notice.  Again, they are choosing of their own free will to actively participate in your craft. 

I want you to take a look at the familiar present for this ritual: My cat, Zeus.  Notice that he is not being forced to be there; he is calm, lying on my grimoire.  He's also intense.  He is completely unafraid of the flames, yet he's not approaching them dangerously.  Instead, he's staring at them intently.  He's not looking at me.  He's not looking off in some other direction.  He's not laying his head down.  He is lending his energy to the spell at hand.  It is clear in the picture that he knows exactly what he's doing and that it's working as the flames reach up far higher than I anticipated.

Your familiar should empower you in your workings.  Beyond the strong spiritual bond and utter trust, there's a vibration when you touch them or they touch you, like being at the brink of a storm on a cliff or that moment the wind swirls the leaves around you.  That kind of empowerment is reflected into your work.  Your spell work is bigger, deeper, richer, stronger, more focused with them present.  And it's not just a feeling you get; the results are clearly evident.  You couldn't hide that this animal was your familiar if you tried.  If anyone has worked with you spiritually, they already know exactly which animals are and aren't your familiars just by how those familiars interact with your craft.

Your Familiar Speaks

Now I'm not suggesting that your familiar will open its mouth and form physical words.  I'm aware that actual lingual communication with a human isn't logically feasible for the majority of animals. Instead, the kind of speaking I'm referring to here is a sort of telepathic communication.  It crosses all realms and you need not necessarily be in the same room or building to hear them.  And while most familiars will only speak to their intended witch, some may be open to communicating outside of that.

This is Artemis, my empathetic water dog.  He is incredibly social and I am not the only one he speaks to.  Ask my husband, my Catholic and logical husband, and he will tell you that he hears him.  Ask any of my previous roommates and they will tell you that they hear him.  Ask my coven, my entire coven, and they will tell you that they hear him.  And if, for whatever reason, someone isn't adept at hearing him, he will speak through me.  This isn't me talking for him.  He will literally take me to the person, face them and talk through me while looking at them - not me.  If he does speak through me, it usually ends with the person's terribly shocked face - and it's likely that they will start to hear him not long afterward.

This is not a normal pet occurrence.  Never would I have ever suggested, in my empirical, pragmatic mind, that an animal could speak.  Yet here I am with four that speak clearly with their voice echoing within not just my head, but others'.

If your pet can't speak to you in this manner then you most certainly do not have a familiar.  This is because...

Your Familiar Will Make a Pact With You

As I mentioned before, one of the most common questions I get involves some sort of long-winded story about a pet ending with "So, do you think they're a familiar?"  And my response typically goes something to the tune of:

"Have you asked them?"

The bond between a witch and a familiar is solidified with a pact, an agreement of some kind that typically involves some sort of exchange of DNA (typically blood, but also not limited to claws, teeth, hair, etc).  Your familiar will bring you something and request an exchange that is sort of like a signature on a contract, spiritually binding you to your agreement.  Simply put:

If your familiar has not initiated a pact with you, you do not have a familiar.

It doesn't matter if your familiar meets all of the above criteria and more.  Without an agreement, your animal is in no way obligated in any shape or form to help you further your path as a witch.  Your pet may perform some cute tricks, such as knocking a particular book off of a shelf when needed or comfortably cuddling next to you during ritual, but will they bring you wisdom in the astral plane or cross you over the veil to the spirit realm?  Doubtful.  The pact not only safeguards them but also you in your journey together, sealing your souls in an unbreakable bond.  


  1. I really love this. It gives me some clarity about what I think of my little fur ball. Everything in this article made it extremely clear that she is my familiar. Ive never been so attatched to something, in such a way that I almost feared. I thought it odd how so very human she is, as if we are on the same wave length. So thank you, for supplying information about this topic. Its reassuring and beautifully exciting so further my future with her. ♥

  2. My pumpkin and I are very close, we are very close in personalities, and we are the same age: cat vs human years...
    We came together by her original owner.. The lady asked, "who wants a cat?" And I was planning on getting a cat in the future, but it just came out of me, "I want one!" And she described all of her cats, Pumpkins stood out the most, so I chose her..
    On my birthday she woke me up with kisses. She kissed my face, my arms, then started on my legs... but then I started to realize, and asked her, "Are you grooming me for my birthday," she began to purr in acknowledgement...
    I take baths as rituals and she makes sure to leave me be and not knock off my stones (I place them on the border of the tub) into the water or on the floor...

  3. I don`t mean this to be disrespectful but apart from all the rituals, candle burning, dancing around and dressing up what do you actually DO? What is the point of it all? Obviously the spells have no effect on reality so what`s it all for?
    I can see your home is very cluttered with mystical `stuff`, rune chains, blessing bowls etc; each to their own but do you really, honestly BELIEVE any of it has any effect?

  4. Very interesting to me that you deleted probably the only critical comment on this site; perhaps because you can`t answer the question I asked: strip away all the posturing, pretending to do magic, pretending animals are `adding their energy`to a spell, ritual and household clutter what are you left with? What do you, as a `witch`actually DO? What is the point of it all?

    1. Hi Anon. I did not delete your comment. I'm not sure where you feel that came from. It's clear that no response I give you is going to satisfy your questions as you're already coming to this from a point of prejudice against witchcraft. Have a good day.

    2. I`m not prejudice at all; I have an open mind. Perhaps I put it a bit harshly but it was a legitimate question. What DO witches do?

    3. It is certainly a little harsh when you call my belief system a sham. Everything you've dismissed is a critical part of my practice. For me, I'm not "pretending" or "posturing," and my house is most certainly not cluttered. I would suggest reading the following article:

    4. Also, I checked the comments section and your original comment went into spam. I have marked it as legitimate and you should see it appear above. If you're truly seeking a discussion, perhaps coming to the table dismissive, angry and presumptuous isn't the best practice.

    5. Marietta, you are right and I apologise. I did come across as dismissive, angry and presumptuous. I suppose the issue I have is that there are two voices in my head. One is drawn to Witchcraft; I can`t even begin to explain why, it`s just a feeling. I start to research online, buy books etc then the logical part of me says that it`s all bunkum so I walk away, un bookmark the sites and sell the books.
      I have even bought some Witchcraft books multiple times!
      I suppose in a lot of ways I envy your `devotion`(Sorry if that`s the wrong word) to your craft when I, myself feel so scattered and conflicted.
      I would love it if you would allow me to wipe the slate clean and start again and I would also appreciate any advice you could give me on where to go from here.
      Have a lovely day and, again I am truly sorry for my previous posts. (It would actually be quite nice if you could delete them!)

    6. I did reply to you, but I think it went in Spam again.

    7. Just going to toss you my two cents if you're truly interested in wiping the slate clean.

      Examine what beliefs you've held your whole life up until now. Ask which parts you believe and why. It sounds like deep down inside you're having a crisis of faith

      But as few people posess the desire to be so introspective here's an alternative you might find helpful until you can do the above

      Think of it as an experiment

      Start a journal and pick a divination (I chose tarot cards when I started)

      I kepr a journal of my reading and what would follow. I was drawn to tarot cards but logically agnostic

      To my surprise I found through my journL I was very accurate with my tarot readings and always what I predicted would happen would happen within 5 days

      I then put away the skepticism and embraced my spritual journey

      Good luck to you

    8. Hi Anon! This conversation continued on another post where OP got belligerent. I don't believe they were truly looking for answers but rather wanting to be a bit of a troll to the blog itself. Your suggestions are great - for those who want to hear it. :)

    9. What started off as trolling was clearly (to me at least) a call to the Craft that this person was fighting. Most of mankind has had the spirituality knocked out of us by science and logic. It's still there, we just have to re-discover it, or answer the call. I'm so glad Anon got there in the end.

  5. So.. Ive had my Mimzy-cat (aka the mystical whimsical mimzical) for 4 years, since he was a baby. He almost died when i didnt realize he had worms when he was one and i nursed him back to health and we have been inseperable since. I never considered that he could be a familiar (i am just recently reconnecting with my beliefs after a 10 year hiatus) until this past week, on a particularly synchronic day, an enormous black cat with a scar on his forehead (much like mine) waltzed into my house like he lives here and the usually hyper watchful and protective Mimz did absolutely nothing about it. Big Black has been back every day since then and he has the most beautiful eyes and I felt connected to him immediately (actually when i picked him up the first day he ran in the house it almost felt like picking up a human) and his presence was actually the light bulb that went off nd made me want to look into familiars. One other thing i should mention, i always find Mimzy's hair tangled up with mine when i comb my hair. Now my question is, is Mimzy a familiar? If so how do i create a contract with him, if he's already initiated one? And do you think Big Black could also be a familiar? Ive noticed at since he has started "guarding" my front walk and deck, Mimz has been less desperate to go outside, preferring to lounge around the house and keep watch from my upstairs window. Please tell me what you think, im very interested in your insight.

  6. My one fur baby I have, is a dog name rose. She’s a pekashu (Pekingese/shih tzu mix). I worked with animals a few years back, and she was one of the puppies we had. I would clean cages and feed all the pups 5 days a week. I wasn’t looking for a dog at the time. But my boss called me one night saying she was super sick, not eating on her own or drinking water. I was the vet tech, so I would always take pups home to care for them. So I drove to pick her up and a whole bunch of supplies from work to take care of her. I woke up every hour to check on her, force feed her baby food, give her fluids. By that morning she was eating and drinking on her own. So I had her for the weekend, brought her back that Monday. And anytime I would open her cage to feed her or anything she would run and jump directly into my arms. I ended up keeping her. I felt something with her I couldn’t explain. And to this day were inseparable.

  7. This articular was really helpful. I have looked into witchcraft and i find it really interesting, but i never really found a source to properly educate myself that's free so i ended up giving up. that was until i found who i think is my familiar. Let me start by saying that im allergic to cats. Earlier this month, it was my birthday. At some point i ended up at a pet store and i held the cutest, nicest black kitten. i wanted to adopt him so badly, but the second we left the store, my entire face turned red and i get super itchy, so we didnt buy him. It made me really upset because i've been wanting a let really badly and he was just the cutest thing
    Now, skip ahead to a few days ago. i walked outside to go get in my car to go to school and this gray cat runs up to me. he's not a kitten, but he is really small and very skinny. He's a stray, but he acts like he's known me his whole life. i opened my door to grab him some water and dhe just walked inside my house like he owned it. i decided a allergic reaction was totally worth it and i tried to pet him. HNot only did he let me pet him, but he let me pick him up, move him around, craddle him in my arms and pet his stomach. Normal stray cats don't do that. He follows me everywhere, all the time. and the weirdest thing? Its been a few days with him just coming and going and i havent had a allergic reaction yet. the first two days, i took allergy meds but im fine without them. he's sitting next to me right now, just curled up and chilling. I dont know for sure, but i think it might be a sign that i should try and start practicing my craft? I dont know.

  8. I have two cats. Coleen is very cuddly and loves nothing more than to snuggle up on my lap - but she's not my familiar. Sandra is more private and loves her own company. However, she brings me gifts, such as the perfect leaf to make a template to finish an applique quilt project; she's brought me some nice feathers too, and the occasional live mouse to play with in the night, bless her. All these offerings are placed on my bed, which happens to be in the path of a spirit portal. I don't do much ritual work due to lack of space and opportunity, so I don't make a magical space, which means I don't really know if Sandra would be happy to join me in it, but she likes to be on the edge of things when I'm in bed, or just lying on it gazing at candles or reading a witchy book. She feels like a familiar, whereas Coleen just crashes in and asks for food or attention. I think Sandra's The One.

  9. I have a cornsnake who came to me in a dream and informed me she is my familer/Spirit animal..I heard her say both (not with words we speak, but like with her eyes..I heard her tho)but how do ik we have completed a bond? She's in a tank so don't bring me anything and she got out of her tank and disappeared for a few months...she's bright pink and orange in color, hard to miss. My dad found her (next door!) In his kitchen and he brought her to me.when I hold her I feel a connection I can't explain and she's extremely picky who she let's touch her, men especially. Funny thing is her name is Lilith, I named her that before I met her when I got her, but it felt right. But I'm still trying to figure out how a snake familiar can aid me. I once had a cat familiar that I had an incredible bond with..then one day he got sick and got killed by stray dogs. I still miss him. And I suspect one or two of my 6 dogs may be familiars as well

  10. (hello, first off sorry for the wall of text, i feel it pertains to my question) My whole life cats have kinda been my thing, i volunteered at shelters, and even helped raise abandoned kittens to help them be ready for adoption, my entire life ive been a nature lover, i raised my first kitty when i myself was young until she was 21 bless her heart, the cat i have rescued now is growing quickly and has bonded with me in the same way my other did,a level of bond where i can call her like a dog and she will come squeaking and meowing with joy and leap into my arms, i seem to have this odd effect on kitties, they naturally just accept me and always are asking for attention, even the severely abused kittens at the shelters ive worked at would go from angry to calm and serene around me, now as i study more on spirit animals and totems i've noticed cats are associated with feminine energy, as im sure you guessed by the name im using i am male, but i clearly have some strange yet powerful connection to these animals, is it likely my current kitty and previous ones have been guides or familiars of a sort? and is it normal for men to be connected them as well? thank you for any input anyone can give me