Modern Witch Familiars – Going Beyond Black Cats and Bats
What is a witch’s familiar? It’s a big part of the lore surrounding the witch trials of earlier centuries (see: Pendle Witch Trials), when women were accused of cavorting with the devil. A witch’s familiar could be a black cat, crow, snake, rat, toad, or any animal viewed as odd or verminous. Witches used familiars to cast spells, communicate with the dead and demons, and magnify the witch’s powers.
Paranoid villagers spread all kinds of vicious rumours about women, but they got one thing right – a witch’s familiar is a valuable companion. These beasties are cherished to this day, when modern witchcraft plays a whole new role in society.
Any witch worth her weight in salt isn’t casting her spells to glorify evil and serve the devil. No, modern witches instead focus on bettering themselves, their friends, and their surroundings. It’s a lot of work. A witch may appreciate help from a familiar to keep their energy up.
Modern Witch Familiars
“In contemporary witchcraft, any thoughts of animals as ‘demonic spirits of evil’ have been left far by the wayside, though many modern witches still use animals when working with magick, utilizing their primordial instincts and psychic abilities ‘to attune with nature and deities.”
A modern day familiar can be a cat, a snake, a crow, or anything those women were accused of using centuries ago. There are no rules restricting what animals you can rely on for a boost in spiritual energy and a connection to nature and your muse.
None of us are given a list of “approved companion animals” in our Hogwarts letters, but perhaps that’s a good thing. Not everyone will bond well with an animal companion. They might not be a fan of pets or animals in the first place. (By the way, there’s a reason none of us received out Hogwarts letters, in case you haven’t heard the news. Just saying.)
For some, a dog might make a great familiar. They may seem the least “witchy” of all housepets, but look beneath the surface. There’s a reason why dogs are used in positions of protection, defense, and in some cases, offense (like when they’re trained to keep law enforcement and active soldiers safe). Your canine familiar may not race into the face of danger, but they are going to be eager to keep you safe from negative energy and mental exhaustion.
More Than Just Black Cats and Bats
We must forgo the idea that familiars must only be “witchy,” or “spooky” animals like black cats or bats. They don’t even have to be animals at all.
Familiars can be anything that offers a witch a sense of power, a boost of spiritual or emotional energy, a stronger connection to the earth or their personal deity. Maybe that’s a cat, maybe it’s a necklace. Maybe it’s a crystal, a feather, a dog, or a parakeet. Perhaps it’s a happy memory, a journal you keep hidden under your mattress, or a note from an old flame that sparks a boost of confidence inside of you.
Maybe your source of spiritual energy and mental clarity comes from your evening run, or mornings wishing the sun hello with a sun salutation. Perhaps your familiar is an animal that isn’t even physically on this earth anymore, but their spirit remains attached to you.
Maybe your familiar is a family member, a friend, a significant other. A book, a myth, a fictional character — but the point I’m trying to make is, while animal companions continue to be considered the “traditional” form of familiars, their purpose of offering magickal support in the face of performing spells, avoiding exhaustion, and steering clear of negative vibes, can be performed by a multitude of other, non-living objects.
These types of non-animal familiars are referred to as “low familiars,” and one of the many historical figures known for taking advantage of one is John Dee and his scrying crystal. An English magician, his crystal was said to be inhabited by an intelligent spirit, which he and his assistant Edward Kelley used to communicate with others on the opposite side of the mortal veil. Other familiars, “high familiars,” are known to take the form or shape of whatever the person in particular needs — whether that be an animal, a person, or a spirit.
Feeding Your Soul What It Craves
Sure, there are some animal familiar-based tasks that require, well, an animal, but for the most part, a person can find emotional support and mental clarity through the benefits of a number of different objects. It’s a little like how people can find relief from mental health issues in a number of different ways, including art therapy, animal companions, and comfort objects. As humans react differently to different forms of therapy, so will the soul react differently to different forms of a “familiar,” a magickal “muse,” whatever you wish to call it.
Maybe you look to your traditional black cat as your familiar — in which case, hell yeah. Maybe you use an old photograph, or a river stone, or a bundle of dried flowers, in which case, also, hell yeah.
Magick is meant to be personal, and relies heavily on an individual’s personal abilities, their soul’s individual abilities, and their equally individual connections to the Earth and her energy.
Whether you dabble in dark magic, earth magic, plant magic, or something else, it makes no sense to try and treat a missing muse with only the same methods as everyone else. Don’t be ashamed in embracing your “unorthodox” ways of feeding your hungry soul. After all, it’s yours. You know better than anyone else what it craves.
All art © Kelsey Morgan, 2017.