Familiar Spirits have existed throughout man’s history. From the ecstatic rituals of Siberian Shaman, to John Dee adviser to the Queen Elizabeth I. of England and Cunning Folk across time, from Odin’s two ravens and his supernatural consultations in the North, to Sorcerers, Shaman and Medicine Men of various cultures around the world, all have consulted and employed the spirits of their ancestors, local spirits and animals for their wisdom and assistance in magickal undertakings.
Yet despite the positive traditions, the most commonly shared and widely recognized archetype of familiar spirits, stemming from European fairy-tales, still have their roots in the Christian fear and prejudice of the Dark Ages, and have little in common with the real familiars of both ancient times or modern.
During the horrific Witchcraft Trials and hysteria of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, evidence for consorting with the devil often included accounts of the accused keeping company with an animal, many a lonely old woman was executed as a witch because of her fondness for her pet. If so much as a fly buzzed in the window while someone suspected of being a witch was being tried, it was said to be their familiar and evidence that they had made a pact with the devil.. Familiar spirits were considered by the Christian authorities as hellish imps given by Satan to his faithful followers to assist in their evil deeds.
Familiars were given names like any household pet, which many probably were. Perhaps the best known familiars name is ‘Pyewackett’, famous as the Witch’s cat in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, and a familiars name that dates back to Renaissance England. Pyewackett, said Matthew Hopkins (the infamous Witch hunter) was a name ‘no mortal could invent’ and thus his case against her owner was irrefutably proven…….
It’s interesting to note that, while Witches’ familiars were considered evil during the early modern period, the harnessing of spirits was acceptable in certain circumstances.
Outside of Witch trials, more benevolent familiars were believed to exist serving Wizards, Wise men and Women (Wiccan’s and Cunning Folk) who were magicians or village healers, indeed to deny their existence would also call into question the Christian faith in divine spirits, so belief in the one naturally included belief in the other. Needless to say, the common people held these spiritual guides in a different view than that of Christian orthodoxy and often considered them as or equivalent to angelic assistants sent from god. The familiar’s helped diagnose illnesses and the sources of bewitchment and were used for divining and finding lost objects and treasures. Magicians conjured them in rituals, then locked then in bottles, rings and stones. They sometimes sold them as charms, claiming the spirits would ensure success in gambling, love, business or whatever the customer wanted.
This sort of familiar was technically not illegal; England’s Witchcraft Act of 1604 prohibited only evil and wicked spirits. Some familiars were said to be Faeries. Oberon was a popular name for fairy familiars in 15th and 16th century England.
Similarly the Christian Church itself during this period also sold indulgences or permissions which granted the buyer a limited forgiveness for sins yet to be committed, ie a sinners diplomatic passport of sorts. It seems a case of double standards then, as consorting with the spirits was permissible as long as the spirits were considered benevolent by the Christian authorities irrespective of their effect upon the people ie healing or helping, which reputedly many wicked spirits did do, whilst Christian authorized spirits might infact follow a different path.
There is a little evidence of familiars in early American Witch trials. However one case is representative of the prejudicial perspective shared with Europe, in the Salem Trials, 1692, John Bradsheet was indicted for “inciting a dog to afflict.” The dog was tried and hanged as a Witch…..
Familiars reputedly are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power and are welcomed partners inside the magic circle and other magical work. They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it be an unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic. Familiars are also given psychic protection by their Witches.
Many modern Witches have animal familiars, often cats – sometimes dogs, birds, snakes or toads, as their magical helpers. Witches do not believe the familiars are “demons” or spirits in animal form but simply animals whose psychic attunement makes them ideal partners in magical workings.
Some folk it seems also use the term familiar to describe thought-forms created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane.
In Shamanism, a novice shaman acquires his familiar spirits, usually manifesting in animal, reptile or bird shapes, when he completes his initiation. He or she may send them out to do battle in his or her place, but if they die, so can the shaman. Familiars usually stay with their shaman until death, then disappear.
Traditional Animal Familiars;
*Badger – Tenacity and courage. The badger will teach you perseverance and endurance in the face of adversity. The badger is a powerful protector of both material possessions and ideals held close to your heart.
*Bear – Strength, stamina, healing, medical diagnosis, strength
*Bee – The bee is industriousness, hardworking, community, work, industry, organization
*Blackbird – Enchantment, work between the worlds
*Boar – Sacred, cunning, ferocious, warrior spirit, leadership, strength
*Bull – Strength, potency, symbol of mobile power, ability to expand opportunities, creativity
*Butterfly – If a butterfly is seen while vision questing, no negative energy will be in the immediate area. Transformation, artistic endeavors.
*Crane – The crane is the bird of the Moon, magick, shamanic travel, secrets and reaching deep mysteries. The crane also represents the logical mind as well as patience while healing occurs.
*Crow – The Crow is a symbol of conflict, war and death. Its skill is wisdom with trickery. It is also a protector of scared records.
*Deer or Stag – The white Stag is a messenger from the otherworld, following the animal often leads to a quest through the Otherworld. The deer represents grace, swiftness and gentleness.
*Dog – Underworld hounds are white with red ears, they hunt and punish the guilty, they represent tracking skills and companionship as well as Loving protection.
*Dragon (lizards) – Wealth, raw powers of nature, the treasures of the unconscious mind.
*Eagle – Wisdom and long life, Keen sight, Knowledge of magick and swiftness, the eagle is a strong ally when traveling into new territory.
*Eel – Adaptability, Wisdom, Inspiration and defense.
*Fox – Cunning, slyness, Perceptive, makes fools of those who chase it.
*Frog – Shamanism, Magick, Nasty illusion with something wonderful hidden inside.
* Hare – considered fleet and swift, symbols of diligence, can also aid people in recognizing the signs around them by attuning to lunar cycles and understanding the tides of movement in their own lives.
*Hawk – Clear sightedness, teaches how to receive and interpret inner and outer signals.
*Heron – Of the Moon and magick, shamanic travel, secrets, the logical mind, through the heron one can find magick in nature.
*Horse – Stamina, endurance, and faithfulness, the horse was a faithful guide to the otherworlds.
*Magpie – Omens and prophecies.
*Mouse – Secrets, cunning, shyness, the ability to hide. If you see a mouse in a vision quest—pay attention to details.
*Otter – Enjoying life, recovering from a crisis, faithfulness, friendliness, and being helpful to others. The otter provides valuable assistance in the otherworlds.
*Owl – Teaches us to silently observe life, and gather information to gain understanding.
* Rabbit – clever, fast, coming and going as if by magic, classic tricksters, representing the triumph and joy in life, and success.
*Raven – The battle cry of an upcoming life crisis, it is a powerful protector if one can gain its favor.
*Snakes – Wisdom, reincarnation and cunning. If you see a snake while vision questing, be prepared for the power of transformation to enter your life. The snake represents the life-death-rebirth cycle.
*Swan – Helps to interpret dream symbols, smooths transitions and spiritual evolution.
*Wren – Also a symbol of Druidry for its wisdom, the wren’s song was used in divination, the power of strengthening and cleansing.
You will create a magic circle about yourself to aid your focus as well as to assist the spirit to find you in.
– Continue for at least five minutes to draw the attention of the spirit, and to approach a state of trance or of ‘monotonous focus’ in which the spirits all around may be better perceived.
A true bond of friendship across eternity blessed. Less important the exact words,
of key importance the heart & spirit in which they are spoken or chanted.
If no spirit has presented themselves, they may choose to reveal themselves to you in a vision/dream, or they may be waiting for the best time to cross the realms between…