Familiars and A Pet

I’m going to come right out of the gate and say it, Fido, Fluffy, Fifi they are NOT your Familiar.

Familiars and a Pet…NOT the same thing. Nor should you want your beloved pet to be your Familiar. For a modern witch to lay claim to a Familiar spirit, the animal must have made a pact with the witch. The animal Familiar is actually not an animal, but a spirit who takes the form of an animal (or other form) and typically this spirit will not reside in the witch’s home. They pretty much come and go as they please.

Familiars are different from totem animals and animal spirit guides, though they are all thrown into the same proverbial cauldron. —that may be another article!

I see so many modern witches talking about their “Familiars”. So desperate to will it to be the case, as if somehow they are a witch failure without one. When someone points out they actually don’t have a Familiar, all hell breaks loose! The endless social media threads of fighting begins. If you are a witch and practice witchcraft and don’t have a Familiar, that is quite fine. You have not failed at anything. If you want your pet to have a “cool-title”, I highly recommend NOT using the term ‘Familiar.’ Call it something else - there are thousands of words to pick from the English language! I hope when you are done reading this, you will understand WHY the term ‘Familiar’ should not be interchangeably used to describe your beloved pet.

So what exactly is a Familiar and what does it represent? Commonly found in animal form, a Familiar is a spiritual entity that aids a witch in their practice. These Familiar spirits could take on nearly any form, sometimes human likeness. Sometimes the Familiar was described as a grotesque creature of fantasy, a mixture or blend of several creatures all rolled into one thing.

Definition of a Familiar taken from Encyclopedia Britannica: Familiar , in Western demonology, small animal or imp kept as a witch’s attendant, given to her by the devil or inherited from another witch. The familiar was a low-ranking demon that assumed any animal shape, such as a toad, dog, insect, or black cat. (1)

The Familiar was believed to subsist by sucking blood from a witch’s fingers or other protuberances on her body such as a mole or a wart. During the European witchcraft trials of the 15th–17th century a suspected witch was searched for the “teats” by which she fed her Familiar, and these, like the devil’s brand marks, were considered sure signs of her guilt. Alternatively, a witch may have fed her Familiar blood from sacrificed animals.

Thomas A. Donaldson points out the complicated relationship between the witch and Familiar. The Familiar didn’t just do what it was told. It also made requests of the witch, in exchange for its magical help (December 1995). Most of the time, the Familiar itself initiated the contact with the witch. It would choose a person to attach itself to, and that person rarely had any choice but to keep it and work along side it.

Familiars were given names like any common household pets. One 16th-century Essex woman accused of witchcraft admitted that she had three Familiars in the form of mice: Littleman, Prettyman and Daynty. Another had four mice named Prickeare, James, Robyn and Sparrow. Elizabeth Clark, was the first victim of Matthew Hopkins, England’s great witch-hunter of the 17th century, confessed to having five Familiars, including unearthly ones: Holt, a kitten; Jamara, a fat, leg- less spaniel; Sack and Sugar, a black rabbit; Newes, a pole- cat; and Vinegar Tom, a long-legged, greyhound-like creature with an ox’s head and broad eyes, which could turn itself into a headless four-year-old child. (well isn’t that pleasant!)(2)

Familiars can also “take a hit for you”, in other words, they could be used as a magickal shield to protect your butt if you happened to piss off another witch. Familiar’s are tools, they are entities that work with you magickally and magick isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. Magick can be ugly. In no way, shape, or form, should you WANT your beloved pet to take on this role.

So in a nutshell, a Familiar is NOT a beloved pet. A Familiar was a spirit creature that was masquerading as a normal animal to ‘blend in’ and could be used as a magickal shield to protect you.

So what exactly is a Pet? Honestly this should not even need to be explained, but here we go! An animal, not of spirit form. A living being you care for by feeding it, cleaning it, providing medical care when needed, loving it, playing with it, and general maintenance of it. Typically this animal is loved dearly by the family, and is never wished ill upon. You don’t want any harm coming to your pet, this is why most humans, take their pets to the vet and spend thousands of dollars in treating their ailments, and spend hundreds of dollars spoiling them with toys, treats, etc.

A pet should NOT be a “tool” you would want to use for magickal workings, defensive or otherwise. Now mind you, a pet can certainly take interest in your magickal workings. Because you love and care for them, they may just want to be with you and act as a comforting presence. This is no way means they are magickal entities. All it means is, they like your company and want to see what you are up to.

" But, but…my pet is interested in my craft practices!"

Well, OK…99.9% of the time, they just want to be around you. That is it. Period. Our pets love us with no strings attached. No conditions. They love us unconditionally. They would probably be around you whether you are casting a spell, reading a book, or laying down in bed. Even if you are allowing them to practice in your craft with you, does not make them a Familiar. Pets are REAL, living creatures that just want your love and attention. They have ZERO clue what a spell is or what magick is.

Bottom Line

Familiars

  • Used as magickal shields
  • A tool to assist in magickal workings
  • Spirit taking on a physical form - usually animal
  • Gifted or there was a deal made with the witch
  • Comes and goes as they please
  • Are magickally inclined
  • Seen as evidence to convict a witch

Pets

  • Cared for by humans
  • Are a loving part of the family
  • Needs protection, medical care, food, water, grooming, cleaning, and love
  • Wants your love and attention
  • Can be a part of your practice, but will not actually be an active participant
  • They give love and emotional support to their owners

I hope this has helped clarify why people get so upset when others nonchalantly claim, “This is Fifi, my Familiar.”

Some neat stuff I found in my research. This is some cool Folklore I never knew about!

Historian Emma Wilby believes that stories such as The Frog Prince, Puss in Boots and Rumpelstiltskin are about familiars.

In the 1600s, Prince Rupert of England and his companion dog Boye were an unstoppable force in the English Civil War. It was widely reported that Boye was a familiar animal.

More sources

Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic, Emma Wilby, 2006

Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World

The Witch’s Familiar: Spiritual Partnerships for Successful Magic

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So I love this!!!
I have had to explain it for years. In fact, did you know due to religious rights people have actually gotten away with animal crultey because the “pet” was the familiar and their religion stated it could not be taken from them???
Crazy right? Puts a very black mark on anything good and pure.
Most of the US will not persue anything involving “religious freedoms”.
So this is a very good read. I appreciate the research. :slight_smile:

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This is super interesting! Thanks for explaining the difference between a familiar and a pet so clearly.
I also noticed that the term familiar gets thrown around a lot, but it never felt right to me to call any of my pets that, even though I feel very close to them. Now I know why :wink:

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There are a few things that make me cringe in the witch community… LOL.

The Familiar comments, and I totally blame Hollywood for making “familiars cool and trendy”.

and the titles, I did write about that too… Baby Witch, makes me cringe. I don’t know why, I just hate it…haha and do you know, I actually read the term FETUS witch…I can’t even with that one…LOL! :crazy_face:

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I really enjoyed reading this, @SilverBear! :star_struck: I am definitely guilty of calling pets familiars and using the terms interchangeably at times (oops! :laughing:) Thank you very much for bringing this to light, and for explaining that there is a difference! :pray:

For the witches that do consider their pet to be their familiar- perhaps different paths/practices have different standards or roles for what makes a “familiar”? Perhaps in some practices, what is called a “familiar” might be considered to be a “partner” or just “pet” for others?

I’m digging through my scrambled knowledge of various pagan and magickal practices to see what I can find. I don’t think that (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) familiars appear in traditional Japanese legends, although the gods could be animals or take on animal forms (like the Ainu wolf god Horkew Kamuy), and it is common for nature spirits to appear as animals and have magickal abilities in Japanese folklore and Shintoism. I suppose in this sense, the Yokai or Ayakashi spirits would be more like the small animals/imps used as familiars in Western Demonology- although I don’t know if these spirits could be entered into a contract with.

360px-Tanuki01_960
Tanuki are often portrayed as being trickster Yokai spirits with some very unique abilities! Pictures from the Wikipedia pages on Tanuki and Asian Raccoon Dogs

There are many fascinating Japanese folk legends about tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) and kitsune (foxes) that are real animals that can, in some cases, be kept as pets but are associated with having magickal powers and abilities. I wonder in such case, if they would be considered to be pets, familiars, or both?

I wonder in what other practices familiars appear in some shape or form? :face_with_monocle: @MeganB, do you know if familiars are common or appear in Celtic paganism at all? And for anyone familiar with these topics (maybe @Francisco and @mrs?) do you know if familiars play a role in Greek or Egyptian mythology? Or any other practices? :books::sparkles:

Thank you so much, as always, @SilverBear for sharing your wisdom and opening a discussion about such an interesting topic! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :open_book: :two_hearts:

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It is my understanding that Familiars - no matter what culture would not be considered a pet. Familiars are spiritual entities, pets are living creatures like you and I. A familiar also requires a “contract” of sorts to work with.

Some people also think, for example, they see a deer all the time. It just appears. They call that their Familiar. That would more than likely NOT be a Familiar as it doesn’t make ‘contact’ with said person. That would more than likely be a spirit guide. Make sense?

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Such an interesting topic!!:smiley:

So my understanding from English Paganism is that when people talk about their familiars as being in physical forms they are a animal they have regular contact with. Usually this will be an animal that “found them” rather than one they sought out.- so like for example the lady who has the little toad that visits her?! (So sorry I have forgotten her name, please can someone tag her in this?) I would say that’s a definite example of a familiar :frog: in regards to my side of the pond thinking :joy:

Lots of people believe that some can have a spiritual connection with your pet which can aid in your magic- in England specifically Black Cats :black_heart::cat:

I’m actually going to write a post later about Black Cats in English Folklore. I personally have 2; sisters from the same litter, Rita and Lenny :purple_heart:

Although thought to be bad luck by many across the globe, black cats in England were historically seen as good luck :four_leaf_clover: and unfortunately tainted by the “satanic panic” nonsense around witches!!

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I think that would be a spirit guide, rather than a familiar - although I don’t recall seeing a frog visiting post, so I can’t say this for 100% lol. Familiars have a close metaphysical connection with a witch and perform duties for her/with her rather than simply hanging out in the yard. Ya know what I mean? I hope I am making sense LOL.

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Yes definitely I get you :blush: my teachings were a little looser on the definitions. A lot of Pagan I’ve been taught to go with gut instinct :wink:

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I had a cat that passed away a few years back. Her name was Violeta and she was there when I was severely depressed. I get the feeling that she saved me or at least helped me cope back then.

Now I try not to bother her in any way but I still have a connection with cats and it feels sacred to me. I don’t know if that’s a familiar or what, I just wanted to put it out there. This is her when she was a newborn, she lived until 8. :slight_smile:


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She is a beautiful baby…they sure do crawl into our hearts…:two_hearts:

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Yes, I think so! Familiars= spiritual entities who have entered into a contract with a witch, when the term ‘familiar’ is used in a traditional context. Other relationships with an animal/god/spirit would come under a different name. Thank you for your wisdom, @SilverBear! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

I totally agree, @mrs! :laughing: @Katt! It looks like Fred could be a familiar! :frog: Or perhaps a spirit animal, if there was no contract made? Either way- Fred is a special toad! :blush:

Ahhh yes, please do! :heart_eyes: I had a black cat growing up, and while Boo was a bit of a strange and funny animal, she definitely never brought any bad luck with her! :cat2::two_hearts:

Violeta was absolutely lovely, @Francisco! I am glad she was able to help you through some tough times. Animals do have a special kind of magick to them- they are able to help us in ways that sometimes people can’t :cat2::two_hearts:

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On a related note, I saw this book while browsing online, and it piqued my interest!

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The author talks about her personal beliefs and experiences with familiars, and the description said something I found very intriguing:

The author explains how familiars are connected with shapeshifting and how the classic familiars of medieval witchcraft tradition are related to the power animals and allies of shamanic practices worldwide, including animal guardian spirits of Native American traditions and the daimons of the ancient Greeks and Romans. She examines the fetch spirit, also known as the fylgia in Scandinavian tradition, and how the witch or sorcerer draws on their personal sexual energy to give this creature its power to magnetize and attract what it was sent to retrieve. She looks at incubus, succubus, doubles, doppelgangers, and soul mates, showing how familiars can also adopt human forms and sometimes form romantic or erotic attachments with the witch or shaman.

According to this author, familiars can take human form!?! :astonished: I had never considered or heard about this before, but I guess if the familiar was powerful enough…

Just something I found interesting and wanted to share! It kind of makes me wonder if I ever met a familiar in human form before and didn’t know it! :laughing:

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Yes! I actually encountered this information too on my research. I should have added it, but I felt my article was already becoming very long LOL. There is SO much information on the topic, but as with anything there were conflicting findings, stories, etc… Hard to shift out the “truth”.

This was part of my article - Elizabeth Clark, was the first victim of Matthew Hopkins, England’s great witch-hunter of the 17th century, confessed to having five Familiars, including unearthly ones: Holt, a kitten; Jamara, a fat, leg- less spaniel; Sack and Sugar, a black rabbit; Newes, a pole- cat; and Vinegar Tom, a long-legged, greyhound-like creature with an ox’s head and broad eyes, which could turn itself into a headless four-year-old child. (well isn’t that pleasant!)(2) EEWWW? LOL :face_vomiting:

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She is gorgeous :heart_eyes: siamese? My two are half siamese :heart: beautiful

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Yes! Seal point siamese! They are so beautiful and friendly! :grin:

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Very true- it is a fascinating topic! :grin: And ahh yes, you’re right- as creepy and horrifying as it is, a headless child familiar would count as human form! Icccckkk :confounded: I hope I never encounter such a thing :laughing:

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They really are :purple_heart: mine follow me around all day! And when it gets to around 11pm and I’m not in bed Lenny comes downstairs and starts meowing at me until I go up :joy::cat:

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LOL Yes, I hope to never encounter that thing either.

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I’ve always loved this topic @SilverBear - and while I can’t speak for the practices that do or don’t have familiars, it has always bothered me when someone calls their pet their familiar. To my knowledge, familiars are like…indentured servants, so to say. The witch has a contract with them and vice versa. They carry out tasks for the witch on the spiritual realms and, as you said, don’t typically live with the witch in physical form.

As far as Irish practice goes, I’m not too sure if there is a concept like that of the Western magickal familiar. I will defeintely have a look into it, @TheTravelWitch :heart:

And thank you for all the sources and information, @SilverBear :heartpulse: you know I love a well-sourced piece of writing!

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