Sunday, December 24, 2017

[Familiars 2017: Part 7] Can I Have Multiple Domestic Familiars?

So we've outlined the various types of familiars and distinguished the domestic familiar from an ordinary pet.  We've detailed the pact, the ways your familiar will offer to help you and what you can offer in return.  We've even talked about the familiar in the context of ritual.  Before we enter the end phase of the domestic familiarship series, I'd like to discuss one more topic:

Multiple domestic familiars.

One common phrase I hear, and have at points repeated myself in error, is that it's extremely uncommon to have multiple familiars.  This is simply not true.  Perhaps it's because we so often conflate the owner-pet relationship for the witch-familiar relationship.  When witchlings sometimes have a hard time separating the two, witches may be more apt to tell others that familiarship is rare and that multiple familiarship is even more so simply to caution against making unnecessary pacts.  This is a mistake, one of which I attempt to remedy by clearly drawing the line between a potential familiar and a pet here.

Historically, having multiple familiars was common.  Self-proclaimed "witch hunter" Matthew Hopkins gave us plenty to work with during his two year hunt between 1644 and 1646.  Elizabeth Hubbard had three, Alice Wright claimed four and, of course, we have the famous account of the unnamed woman who had eight in total, including the infamous Pyewackett.

Once you open yourself to pacting with any kind of spirit, even a domestic familiar in a physical vessel, the pathways clear for many types of pacts and multiple familiars.  After all, it was my first familiar, Nyx, who led to my rescuing my second familiar Artie.  And Artie's walks provided the next three.  It was in Nyx's death that I learned of pacting with a spirit and tying that spirit to a non-living vessel.  That led me to spirit work and to my psychopomp guide.  In fact, the whole of my practice as a witch has largely been shaped by those initial pacts I made and the familiarships I have in my life.  Multiple familiarships was a natural evolution of the initial one.

As always, your mileage may vary.  Because familiars tend to choose us and not the other way around, we don't have much of a say in the matter, in my personal experience.  Just like every witch might not have a familiar, every witch may not have multiple familiars lined up and looking for a pact.  And, even if a witch does, they may not want that.

Having one familiar is a lot of upkeep. Having multiple is just that much more.  Tying your soul in one, two or five directions is spiritually exhausting.  Imagine, if you will, that having a familiar is like constantly having to extend and bend your leg at the knee for the entire duration of that animal's life.  That's what it feels like to be constantly connected to another soul, or at least one element of it.  If you're the fidgety type, you might think that that's not an issue.  But have you ever played that game where you have to hold your arms up over your head until you can't anymore?  Remember how heavy they got after a certain amount of time, simply by existing, by gravity's pull?  Binding your soul and an animal's soul will become exhausting because you are always extending that part of your soul - that bond is always active.  Now imagine having to do it two, or three or even four times.

There's an energetic exchange, of course, but it won't change the fact that there is a spiritual and physical upkeep to a familiar.  It's the same reason why being in a romantic relationship can be exhausting, why family can tire us and why friendships can be demanding.

And it's okay to say no.

In fact, I want to repeat that clearly: It's okay to say no.

Consent is a huge and important part of familiarship.  Initiating the pact and getting through the contractual part requires consent.  Consent should be written into the pact.  Every step along your journey with your familiar should be marked with consent.  Just as you can say no to your first familiarship offer, or no to ever having a familiar in the first place, you can say no to having a second, third or fourth familiar.  It's important to not overwhelm yourself.  If you find that you cannot physically, emotionally or spiritually manage another familiarship, simply let the animal know.  There's far more harm in having a familiarship you cannot manage than there is in turning down one - in fact, saying no is relatively risk free when it comes to domestic familiars.

If you choose to have multiple familiars, it should be because you are missing something in your Craft and that familiar, and only that familiar, can fill that void. They should give you something that your other familiars can't.  For example:
  • Artemis is extremely empathic and social, meaning he is the Circle's witch dog and participates in group settings in a way that most of the other familiars don't.  Without Artemis, I might not even have a coven.
  • Zeus is an energetic stabilizer, allowing an almost instantaneous grounding and centering.  My participation in ritual sometimes hinges on his existence because I can't always ground myself given my health.
  • Hermes pushes me outside of my spiritual comfort zone, helping me to attempt new rituals and dig deeper in my practice.  Without Hermes, I would have stayed in a "love and light" type of path that insists on dichotomies of "good" and "bad" rather than the range of gray area that truly exists.
  • Apollo taught me that familiarship can take on many different forms.  Because he has some mental disabilities, he created new pathways for communication, energy work and ritual that I would have never thought about without him.
  • And Nyx taught me that familiarship can extend past death and include spirits.  Without Nyx, I would not have the relationship I have with my psychopomp guide.  Our familiarship ended when I pacted with my guide.  I believe that's why Nyx and I pacted and why she passed so quickly.  I had a lot more to learn from her as a spirit than as a cat.

A few cautions on the subject of multiple animals in a household: Always go through the proper transitions that you would with any pet.  Your familiar's animal instincts can take over, causing strife and distress between new members of your household.  I typically give cats a minimum of a one month introduction period where they stay in separate rooms and get comfortable with the scent of another animal in the house.  This allows my familiars to get past their animal brain for a moment and focus on their true spirit when meeting.

Separation and a lengthy introductory period is particularly important for animals of different species, particularly in a predator/prey scenario.  Never, ever put an animal in danger for the sake of a familiarship.  If you pact with a fish and a cat, never put the cat in the water, take the fish out of the water, or try to force them together and assume that the cat won't just eat the fish out of instinct.  Animal brains are hard-wired.  Being a pet owner first in these scenarios and a witch second is essential.  Take care of your animals physically, logically and lovingly and they'll reward you regardless of whether they're a familiar or not.

And, generally, multiple familiars should get along within reason.  Because your familiars should have your best interests in mind, they should work together to guide you, lend energy to you and protect you.  Being able to work together requires some sort of camaraderie in some form.  My four may love each other like family.  I'm not saying that your multiple familiars should, but they should at least be able to be in the same room without fighting.  If you have two animals that don't get along, it will be that much more difficult to work with them as familiars.

All of that being said, while having multiple familiars can be difficult and exhausting, it can also be highly rewarding.  Filling voids you may never have even known existed without that pact can lead to breakthroughs in your Craft that you never thought possible.  As long as you take the necessary physical world precautions, multiple familiarship is absolutely possible - and wonderful!

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