🐈 Familiar Spirits and Power Animals: What is the difference?

Familiars, also known as animal guides or family spirits serve the Witch or young Witch, providing protection for them as they come into their new powers :crystal_ball:

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During the Middle Ages, they were believed to be supernatural entities that would assist Witches and cunning folk in their practice of Magic. By some, they were considered a type of demons and it was even believed that Witches fed them with their own blood in exchange for favors.

Familiar spirits were most commonly small animals, such as cats, rats, dogs, ferrets, birds, frogs, toads, and hares.

Frog Spirit Animal

But having working with the energy of an animal is not limited to a specific type of witch or a tradition. Many people all over the planet use animal symbology in one way or another.

Some cultures also worked with the spirits of their ancestors or deceased heroes who came back as animals. An example can be seen in the movie Mulan, where Mushu (a tiny Chinese dragon) acts as a guardian spirit of Mulan’s family.

Mulan's Mushu

The concept of animal spirits arises from the needs of human beings for a mediator between the material plane and the world of spirits. A spirit that takes the shape of an animal can then keep in contact the witch to send messages or channel guidance from ancestors. :skull:

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What are Power Animals?

The Power Animal is considered to be a guardian; teacher, a source of power and an alter-ego. This animal conveys wisdom and direction only if a person recognizes the animal and understands how to communicate with it. Power Animals are also called Animal Guides or Totem Animals, which can confuse things.

Native American cave paintings

Animal Guides are an essential component of shamanic practice. They are the helping spirits which add to the power of the shaman and are essential for any work undertaken by a shaman. ¹

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Familiar Spirits in Wicca

Since the 20th century a number of practitioners, including adherents of the Neopagan religion of Wicca, have begun to use the concept of familiars, due to their association with older forms of magic. These contemporary practitioners utilize pets, wildlife or believe that invisible spirit versions of familiars act as magical aids.

Having the energy of a family spirit allows the Witch to work with the spirits and forces of Nature since the senses of the familiar are more acute than those of a person.

Snake Familiar Animal

What’s the Difference? :thinking:

While the energies and symbolisms can be similar, the ways to approach them and the formalities are different because they come from different traditions. The term ‘familiar’ tends to be used around European Witchcraft and Pagan circles. Meanwhile, 'Power animals’ or ‘Totem animals’ are connected with shamanic teachings.

How to Find an Animal Guide :snake:

“Animal Guides can appear in meditations, visions, dreams, shamanic journeys, or on the earth in their physical form. They can be mammals, birds, or reptiles. Even so-called mythical animals such as unicorns or dragons can be Animal Guides, although they have no physical representations in our material world.” ²

How Native Americans find their Animal Guides

"In ancient times, the revealing was done basically like this. There would be a gathering of the Tribal Elders, Medicine Man or Woman, those with special Powers/Memories for interpretations. There would be a bundle of assorted animal bones, bone or teeth fragments, special stones, etc., each serving as a symbol for a certain animal or animal family. A special ceremony would be conducted, a part of which was the calling forth of the animal spirits to reveal themselves to the “Seeker” there wishing to learn who they were.

The symbols would be scattered on the ground, and the individual animal spirits would guide and manipulate the symbols so that the correct interpretations were made by those who knew how to read the layout of the symbols." ³

Tiger Power Animal

Other Ways to Find a Familiar or Spirit Animal

You can connect or invoke an animal spirit in several ways, here are a few ideas:

Meditation: Meditation is useful both to discover your power animal and to invoke it. Sit back and get comfortable in a quiet place. Then light some candles or incenses if you want, and start the meditation. In it you can see yourself with your power animal, or simply ask for its help to come to you.

Hypnosis for Meeting Your Spirit Guide In a Lucid Dream (1 hour 36 min)

Ritual: Your ritual can simply be to light candles, incenses and write a note asking your power animal to come to you. Or, you can even write why you need their help. For example, you can write to the bear to ask for his/her strength, or the wolf for his/her inner wisdom.

Use your words: As with prayers, you can ask your power animal for help by using words. You can create your own prayer or call it the way you feel at that time, for example: “Help me, fox, I need your cunning to get out of this situation.”

Divinations: If you are used to reading Tarot or Oracle cards, you can try a new deck and see if it helps you find your spirit animal. One such deck is The Spirit Animal Oracle: A 68-Card Deck and Guidebook

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Thanks for this post. It has a lot of good information, although I would be careful in using the term “totem animal” or anything similar. Totem animals, and many other forms of animal guides, are very specific indigenous practices and - if not careful - you may step on some toes and enter the realm of cultural appropriation.

Love this! Having my Healing Crystals Animal Totem Crystal Deck is very helpful. I have done several readings for people to help them with what animal is guiding them currently.


@MeganB Absolutely. There’s a whole Wikipedia entry on the term “Totem”, which at one point mentions that:

Contemporary neoshamanic, New Age, and mythopoetic men’s movements not otherwise involved in the practice of a tribal religion have been known to use “totem” terminology for the personal identification with a tutelary spirit or guide, however this is generally seen as cultural misappropriation.

But it also presents a whole branch of anthropology which is known as totemism. “Totemism is the tendency of definite social units to become associated with objects and symbols of emotional value”.

But then again:
“Many Indigenous groups object to using the imported Ojibwe term “totem” to describe a pre-existing and independent practice, although others use the term.” I guess it depends on the context and specific group.

@Missa Nice! It looks like it includes plenty of animals. How many cards are there in the deck?

1 Like

@Francisco There are 49 cards!


I definitely agree. Cultural appropriation is a huge gray area and, since I do not belong to any indigenous or First Nation peoples, I tend to err on the side of caution. I also know that many different cultures and traditions had a similar practice, and the Celtic animal guides are something I am in the process of learning about myself.