By Louise Clover
Hello dear readers, welcome back to another edition with me. If you haven’t already seen the previous articles, don’t hesitate to click your way there later.
Today we’ll take a closer look at animal familiars and their place in Wicca. We’ve all heard of the stereotypical black cat associated with witches but surprise, surprise, animal familiars have a much deeper connection than that.
Animal Familiars Throughout History
Animal familiars have actually been around for centuries throughout different cultures and religions. In Native American tribes familiars or spirit guides are also known as totem animals. In those cultures there is a general consensus that a person can have more than one familiar. Each animal typically has different meanings and associations that will usually help one on a spiritual guide.
Ancient Egypt in particular worshiped the cat-headed goddess Bastet. She was often associated with fertility, domestic happiness, pleasure, dance and music. Hence their reverence for domesticated cats since they believed each one had an essence of the goddess in them.
A drastic difference to when the famous witch-hunts ran rampant across Puritan Europe. Familiars were considered a ‘demon’ sent straight by the Devil as a witch’s assistant to spread their black magic and illnesses. Black cats were often rounded up and persecuted as well. The negative connotations linger until this very day.
Modern Day Animal Familiars
Wicca is much simpler in terms that familiars can be any animal that your energy calls out to. Depending on the situation this animal may have crossed your path a number of times.
Have you been seeing the same bird hanging around your yard? Or maybe even a particular yellow honey bee?
They could be there for a reason. That’s usually a time when one should take a much closer look at one’s life and any lingering problems that might be attached. Often an animal or insect will hold a particular meaning. They may possess characteristics that can help you get through the situation.
There has been much debate if a pet can be considered a familiar. While they certainly can it isn’t a necessity. While there are spells and rituals that will progress smoother with the assistance of a regular familiar, there is no harm in having one that contains more of a spiritual meaning.
Types of Animal Familiars
There are several different types of animals that are usually associated in Wicca:
Not often portrayed in a good light, bats are often thought to be a negative omen. Mostly due to their strange, rodent-like appearance. They have also been considered to be a witch’s ‘alter ego’ whenever they need to escape. Just like how vampires are thought to turn into bats when they disappear. Not surprisingly, due to their natural nocturnal habits bats represent the lunar cycle and other night-time patterns one might possess. They are also often connected to the unconscious. They are meant as a sign for one to access those deep-rooted feelings that are hidden there.
Whether it is because of the Goddess Bastet and her associations, cats are typically thought of as protectors of the home. They represent independent and self-nurturing attitudes. Cats are considered the best of the familiars because of their abilities to travel between the Earthly and Spiritual realms. Cats are also taught to be particularly sensitive to psychic experiences and are great assistants for rituals and spellwork.
Often associated with loyalty, they are considered protectors of the Earthly realm. The endless positive energy they bring that can be harnessed for protection spells. There is a phenomenon known as ‘canine intuition’. It heightens the belief that dogs possess the ability to sense others emotions. They will often be the first to alert their witch or warlock of any danger, be it physical or spiritual.
Their beautiful jewel-like colors and transient lives represent change and transformation. Usually they are considered symbols of wisdom and maturity developed within a short time period. They are also associated with creativity and activities that require specialized skills.
Quite a surprisingly domesticated familiar, these animals are particularly skillful and playful. They represent an inquisitive mind and nature that can easily be applied to one’s outlook on life. Different cultures have identified the ferret with ‘trickster’ personality traits due to their cunningness at outwitting their predators.
This specific animal has strong associations with the Greek God, Pan, due to his half-goat, half-man nature. A goat as a familiar offers a different perspective in life. They urge their witch or warlock to maintain a strong, individual personality.
As it was with the bat, owls are a representation of one’s nocturnal habits and lunar cycles. That makes both great familiars if you enjoy attuning yourself to the lunar phases. Owls are also a sign of wisdom and have a strong connection to Nature. They are alert and remind one to remain on their toes. Owls are after all considered the silent predator of the night.
Across Ireland and Scotland, rabbits were once believed to be another alternate form a witch could take on. It’s no wonder why. According to other ancient religions, several goddesses have chosen the rabbit specifically as their sacred animals as well; Aphrodite, Hecate and Artemis (hare), Holda a Germanic goddess who had torch-holding hares as a part of her attendants. They have been associated with the ability to commune to the Faerie world. Perhaps because the animal itself is usually seen during the ‘in-between hours’ of rising dawn and sunset. Their quick movements and natural habits are interpreted as access to hidden knowledge.
Their bad rep is mostly thanks to misleading information. It was believed that these rodents had transmitted the Black Death throughout medieval Europe. Recent studies have debated that it was the infected flea that is to blame. Not its innocent transmitter, the humble rat. When placed in a secured, domesticated environment rats are quite pleasantly clean and will spend hours grooming themselves. In certain cultures, rats are revered for their intelligence and are a symbol of good fortune.
These rodents possess similar characteristics to mice. They are extremely social and responsive to their owners making them a fun familiar to have close by. Rats are thought to represent fertility, adaptability (typically in overcoming adversity) and patience.
Alongside the similar looking black crow, ravens have long since been associated with witchcraft as a bad omen or a message from the Divine. There have also been several mentions of a raven in creation myths that span across America’s west coast. Like the cat and toad, they have the ability to travel between the Earthly and Spiritual realms. They are quite often used in potion ingredients as well. These birds aren’t just extremely intelligent but their observant and perceptive nature also helps them to identify danger quickly. They are thought to be quite secretive by nature as well and have been deemed the ‘Keeper of Secrets’.
According to some religions the snake has been painted as a symbol of evil. A being that is ultimately the Devil in disguise or a trickster that leads one astray. On the other hand, there are also religions and cultures that view the snake as a symbol of rebirth, transformation, and the general cycle of life. According to ancient Celtic belief snakes are considered healers of the Earth. They were said to possess the secrets of Earth’s creation and Wisdom. This coincides with Greek’s God of Medicine, Asclepius. He was thought to have a rod with a single winding snake around it. There are debates that this might have in actual fact been a parasitic worm. As familiars snakes are thought to represent masculine energy and a secretive nature.
While some might be put off by the number of legs spiders possess, they are considered one of the ‘superior’ familiars due to their small size. They can sit quite comfortably with you wherever you go. They are quite vicious hunters when it comes to feeding and are often linked with creativity and patience. The web they weave is a specific symbol for the strings of Fate. They can also be considered to be a reflection of one’s darker personality traits. It is also considered bad luck to kill a spider. Even if this isn’t your particularly favorite familiar, do try to release them back to Nature.
Like the bat and the raven, toads were sometimes seen as negative omens particularly due to their warty appearance. In medieval Europe many believed warts to be the mark of a witch. As a ‘place where they kept all their magic’. Toads were often accused of being sent to someone’s home to poison or spread diseases by their witch counterparts. They are also used as common potion ingredients particularly involving dark magic and Necromancy. As familiars, toads are intelligent and associated with clarity in divination. They are a representation of transformation, death and rebirth, and hidden power.
Declare Familiar Spell
If you already happen to have an animal that you believe you have a personal connection with, there is certainly no harm in declaring them as your familiar.
To do this you will need:
Three (3) brown or purple candles
A crystal bowl
Your animal in the same room
- By your altar preferably during a full moon, melt the three candles into your crystal bowl.
- When the wax has cooled a little but is still malleable, shape it into an effigy of your animal then put it on your altar.
- Pluck three (3) hairs from yourself. If your animal wears a collar, tie it around their collar or, keep it close to their cage or terrarium.
- Gather something belonging to your animal. Scales that were shed, a feather dropped feather, or hairs if you must but please ask permission before doing so.
- Anoint the rose oil in a pentagram symbol on your wax figure. Then press the gathered material from your animal into it.
- While in steps 3 to 5, fill your mind with intentions of love and connection. Declare your particular pet as a familiar. Keep the effigy on your altar.
Summon Familiar Spell
If you do not have a physical familiar and are interested in summoning one, you may try this spell.
You will need:
A dream journal
A photo or figurine of an animal that embodies your characteristics
An amethyst or azurite crystal
- The best place to summon a familiar is in your home. Choose a spot that you spend the most time in. If it’s possible, try to time your spell to coincide with a full moon and before bed time.
- Get comfortable and meditate while holding the crystal, concentrating in particular on calling upon a familiar.
- When you are ready, speak your intent clearly out loud. If you are feeling creative, you can create a specific incantation or poem to establish stronger bonds in the spell.
- Write your intent/incantation in your dream journal.
- The next morning, analyze your dreams for any clues that might relate to your familiar. Make sure to do this immediately upon waking up. Most people forget a majority of their dreams within the first ten minutes of being alert.
Increase Your Chance of Success
Some find that it might take several nights of practicing the summoning ritual before they are visited by their familiar. Sometimes they don’t come in the forms that we expect them. A goat might not be in the traditional animal form but may manifest in terms of stubborn emotions or ‘butting heads’ with someone in the dream. Take important note of how you are feeling throughout these dreams. Try to write as much detail as possible.
Creating a ritual that centers around Nature (gardening, meditating outside, etc.) will increase your chances at summoning a familiar. Open yourself up to receiving what the Universe has to offer. Always be mindful of your surroundings during this ritual. A particular animal could canter or hop away in a blink of an eye.
To learn more about animal familiars check out our video course.
Keep an eye out for more articles written by yours truly as we continue on our paths together. Blessed be!