Friday, March 31, 2017

[Familiars 2017: Part 1] Types of Familiars

Looking as far back as old illustrations and as far forward as the popular series, Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, it seems as if any witch should have a talking animal trailing close behind.  The trope of an animal as a familiar, ranging from a cat to a toad, can be seen in a variety of popular media.  As is often the case, the reality of familiars is quite different from the Hollywood vision.

If you're here, it's possible that you're trying to brush up on a specific type of familiar called an "Imp" or "Domestic Familiar."

But wait.  Type of familiar?  There's more than one?

Nowadays, general jargon suggests that familiar refers to an animal but you might be surprised to find that many types of familiars exist.  Not all of them interact with a witch the same way a domestic familiar might.  Not all of them exist in the physical realm.  Some are born with the witch, some are manufactured by the witch and some require a contract or pact.  In order to eventually define domestic familiars, we must also define the other types of familiars as well.

Who knows - perhaps one will call to you soon.  Maybe one already is.

What is a Familiar?
Before we get into different types, let's define the word familiar.  In the broadest of senses, the familiar is a entity of some form - astral, physical or (as is often the case) both - who aids the witch in their work.  While some may be, not all familiars are direct servants of the witch.  Most of the time, a pact or agreement is formed between the witch and familiar which details the nature of their relationship and what should be traded between the two to maintain it.  While familiars are generally seen as independent, intelligent, separate entities from the witch who then forge a bond, I will cover other types of entities that may seem close enough to a familiarship to be included.

Familiars We Feel
Familiars of a different realm.

Imaginary illustration of Sabbath gathering by Martin van Maële (1911)
The Familiar Spirit
Historically, Christo-Europe believed that a witch's powers were born of a sexual pact created by a woman and a demon.  This demon of a specific name would often take an ethereal half-human shape.  The witch would not only have a relationship, particularly one of sexual nature, with the demon but would also be guided by this entity.  We see this relationship reflected in some ways by fairy tales where a woman makes a pact with a spirit in exchange for some sort of gift.  Most relevant to the concept of the demonic pact is Rumpelstiltskin, a trickster spirit whose name holds power over him and who gifts the miller's daughter with a special power.

While it varies from culture to culture, the idea of a guiding spirit bestowing a witch with special powers is perhaps one of the oldest in the book.  This guiding spirit is the original definition of a familiar and what we now specifically call the Familiar Spirit.

In modernity and without condemnation, the Familiar Spirit refers to an energy or guiding entity of the witch, an otherworldly being that enhances the use of magick, offering protection and assistance.  These beings can be anything from angels to demons to spirits to fairies and beyond, so long as their existence is primarily spiritual or astral.  They are called upon by name and willingly assist a witch.  Even more so, the Familiar Spirit becomes a companion and, sometimes, even a lover.  The intimate union of the Familiar Spirit with the witch, be it sexual or otherwise, is what creates oneness.  And thus the Familiar Spirit becomes a sort of reflection of the witch's soul.

The Tutelary Genius / Patron Deity
Tutelar refers to any deity or spirit that serves as a guardian, but the tutelary genius, spanning from Roman beliefs, refers to the patron god or goddess that guides, serves and protects you as an individual.  While you may not think of a patron deity as a familiar relationship, there is little that differs between your tutelary god and that of any other spiritual familiarship.  You often forge some sort of agreement, much like a pact, and that deity then helps you traverse your path as a witch by guiding, protecting and serving you in exchange for your worship.  You may even have a sexual nature to your relationship with the deity depending on your beliefs and personal sexuality.

The Spirit Familiar
Not to be confused with The Familiar Spirit, a spirit familiar is a spirit of the dead who creates a pact with a witch to offer assistance.  While this may be an ancestor or spirit the witch once knew in life, that's not always the case.  This familiar may agree to be anchored to a physical vessel or it may choose to exist around an altar or spirit house the witch creates.

Power Animals / Spirit Guides / "Patronus"
Power animals are sometimes inappropriately named as a "totem," spirit beings from certain Indigenous cultures, by some misinformed individuals. However, the correct terminology is a power animal, sometimes referred to as a spirit guide or a familiar spirit (not to be confused with The Familiar Spirit from above). A form of animism, the idea that all animals, plants and objects have a spiritual presence, power animals are spirits in the shape of an animal that guide a being.  Those with a core belief in spirit animals often feel that everyone has a power animal.  These spiritual guides protect, empower and imbue in the individual special wisdom, much like a guardian angel.

Individuals often discover their power animal through a dream or vision, or by having said animal repeatedly pop up in their life.  The animal can be anything from a mammal to a reptile and, depending on individual beliefs, an extinct or mythical creature as well.  Each animal has its own sets of traits and correspondences, so research is key once you discover your power animal.  A person may have many power animals over the course of a lifetime but it is thought that everyone has at least one.  Being without a power animal leaves an individual open to illness and misfortune.

Familiars We See
Familiars that exist on the physical plane

Domestic Familiars / Imps
Here we finally arrive to the type of familiar that covers cats and toads, among other witchy tropes!

Back in European history, and especially during the Witch Trials, imps were said to be gifts from demons to the witch, typically an animal who would protect and serve its witch. These familiars supposedly fed upon the blood of their witch, typically through a third nipple or teat.

Nowadays, imps refer to any physical world intelligent entity who protects and helps a witch on his or her path.  This typically refers to an actual animal such as, but not limited to, a cat, dog, snake, horse, bird and so forth, and can even include bugs and fish.  This animal has a special spiritual and magickal connection with the witch.  It is this bond that allows the witch makes a pact with the imp to further connect the two, officially making it a familiar.

Green Familiars / Plants
Familiars can also come in the shape of a plant.  Green familiars are typically raised by the witch from seed and charged via stones in the soil.  As it grows, it forms familiarity with the witch.  Green familiars, much like their animal counterparts, request a pact or agreement of some sort in order to work with the witch.

Plush Familiars
Familiars can even be of the stuffed variety!  Plush familiars are typically created two ways: By tying an existing spirit who creates a pact with you to a plush vessel or by creating a thoughtform that is then tied to that a plush vessel.

Familiars We Create
Familiars fashioned by the witch.

Thought-form of the Music of Gounod, according to Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater in Thought Forms (1901)
A type of thoughtform, servitors are beings you create to serve a particular purpose.  Many would argue that servitors are in no way familiars, yet many of the familiar tropes are present, such as making a pact or agreement and assisting the witch.  While created for a particular purpose, servitors can take up thoughts and actions of their own and, if left unattended, can "haunt" you, so caution and rules are encouraged.

The Fetch Beast
Borne of the witch's own spirit, the fetch beast is a reflection of the witch's self on the astral plane.  It can be anchored to an animal on this realm given that you have birthed that animal of your own hands and it has agreed to serve as an anchor.  The Fetch Beast does not necessarily serve the witch more than it is the witch.

Finding Your Familiar
What kind of familiar best suits you?  Only you can decide that.  My personal expertise lies in domestic animals as familiars, which is the direction I'll turn to from here on out, but perhaps another type works better for you.  Use this article as a starting point for your research!  The familiar bond, be it to a spirit, an animal guide, a real animal or a vessel, is something to enter into with great caution.  As always, be careful, protect yourself physically and spiritually, and arm yourself with plenty of knowledge before diving into the world of familiars, be it any type of familiar.



  1. Excellent post Marietta! I really appreciate your detail on this and it has inspired me to continue my research on the subject... Which I've sadly left neglected for a while. I definitely learned some things I didn't know! Thank you

    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad I could help spur your investigation. :)

    2. Hi, I have stopped practicing Wicca years back but always had a mental image of my Familiar a Grffith. I asked my Familiar to guard my son who is now 5 months old. My son roars like a lion very often. Is it possible that they are communicating?

  2. I was told by two mediums that my cat was my familiar. He died tragically so I spoke to some mediums to get peace of his passing and afterlife. They both said he was my familiar. But I'm not a witch? Can a familiar be with a non witch? Or was I perhaps a witch in a past life..

    1. I'm iffy that your cat was a present familiar. Typically, familiars must be formed by pact. Unless you pacted with your cat then it's doubtful. It's possible that you pacted in a previous life but I'm also a skeptic when it comes to reincarnated witches. Unfortunately, this isn't something I can really answer for you. All I can suggest is that you read through the remainder of the series (there's nine parts in total all about the domestic familiar) and do some soul searching of your own. Rely more on what you feel than what you've been told. Best of luck to you!

  3. Hi, I have stopped practicing Wicca years back but always had a mental image of my Familiar a Grffith. I asked my Familiar to guard my son who is now 5 months old. My son roars like a lion very often. Is it possible that they are communicating?