Familiar or Pet – A Fine Line
Author: Lione Moon
Wikipedia describes a familiar as this: “…supernatural entities that were believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic, ” and their primary purpose being to “protect the new witch coming into his/her new powers.” The article goes on to say that sometimes familiars were viewed as demons or fairies, sometimes benevolent, sometimes malevolent, but always three-dimensional forms easily recognized as “familiar” animals. Dictionary.com doesn’t recognize the term as anything other than an adjective. If one searches witches familiar, familiar spirit, or the like, countless pieces of information can be found by the click of a mouse. (Not the mouse Fluffy laid at your feet as a gift, the one next to the keyboard with 18 feet of duct tape meant to repair Fluffy’s chewing obsession last week.)
Conversely, there are many opinions of what a pet is versus a familiar. All animal cruelty aside, some “pets” are simply animals being given minimal care, within their owner’s ideal refuge, and are carefully pushed aside so that said owner can deal with more pressing issues and higher priorities. To others, pets are family members, treated with the utmost respect, pride, and care an owner is able to provide. These pets are given the best veterinary care, fresh and clean housing, and new toys regularly.
So, all definitions aside, is your pet just a pet, a family member, or a familiar? Is Fluffy a combination of the three? Can she be a pet sometimes but a familiar in the circle? Can she only be a familiar if others perceive you as a Witch? I’ll lend my personal examples here, as well as my thoughts on those questions.
I currently have a dog, Penelope, three hermit crabs, Spongebob, Spiderman, and Tinkerbell, and two cats, Sam and Jupiter. In essence, I have a family member, three pets, and two familiars. I’ll begin with the crabs. Spongebob, Spiderman, and Tinkerbell were my daughter’s choice of souvenirs from her last trip to the ocean with my mother. Although I have always had hermit crabs, and know that their care is typical of any exotic animal, they are simply pets in my household. They have fresh water and food, adequate housing, and clean sand. Sometimes their light doesn’t get turned on in a timely manner, and the extent of their handling is when a visitor asks the eternal question, “What’s in the aquarium?”
Now, these creatures are by no means abused or neglected, but the emotional attachment to them is very limited. The lack of my personal bond with these creatures is not what they are- I had four hermits that I kept until their demise, a total of eight years, and my bond was much greater- but more of what circumstances they came to me under. They came as my daughter’s choice of pet (She was four at the time; I can hold no blame to her.) , no one in the household is interested in them, and above all, they are nocturnal. No one here is willing to sacrifice much needed sleep to bond with three cold-blooded, foreign, beady-eyed creatures in the middle of the night. Because of my personal lack of emotional attachment to the crabs, I could never view them as familiars; also, without having any bond with them, they have become more of an obligation than a source of enjoyment. In that regard, I can’t classify them as family members either, since I enjoy my family a great deal.
On the other hand, my friendly four-legged pooch, Penelope, is indeed a family member. Much more than a pet, she demands attention from everyone. She is proud, spoiled, well cared for, and enjoys her weekly truck ride to the garbage dump. She says ‘mama’ for a ‘cookie’ and her circular tail wagging makes one think she’s in the process of lift-off. She is in want or need for nothing (unless the handsome little boy-dog across the way counts) . However, she still gets treated as an animal in many ways.
She’s not allowed on the furniture. Her natural instinct takes over, and where her nose leads, she follows- even if that means mindlessly wandering out into the busy highway in front of our house. She must be on a leash at all times, most especially around people and animals she’s unaccustomed to. She is crate trained, and spends her nights there as well as times when we’re not home. She is housebroken and can be trusted as long as a watchful eye is upon her, but that hound dog nose often leads her right to the trash, the cat food bowl, my daughter’s toy box, or the sock drawer. She will shred a paper towel carelessly, and wee in the floor out of sheer excitement over a guest. And sometimes, when no one’s paying much mind, I will hear a small cry coming from underneath a table, and realize she has a cat pinned and trapped. It’s only her nature, her primal instinct; but because of these undomesticated traits, she must be treated as an animal, even if she is a well-loved family member. And, with her larger-than-life, bull-in-a-china-shop, clumsy puppy personality, I could never allow her to become part of a circle. Unless of course I wanted a very noisy, scattered, shattered, house-on-fire experience. But I love her.
What can I say about my beautiful boys? They’re different. I rescued Sam from pending death when he was six weeks old. I willingly took his brother, Memphis, but quickly wound up with Sam the tabby too, when my coworker who had promised to take him, disappeared. He would have been, most literally, on the death list at the shelter within 24 hours. I made a split decision to take both precious kittens. At home, I already had an adult cat named Monacle. Less than a week later, my husband rescued a small gray furball from a cardboard box left on his jobsite. I named him Jupiter, because of the bright white ring of fuzz that appeared around him after the bath. (To tie up loose ends here, Monacle eventually decided he liked living at the neighbor’s house (she fed him tuna every day) , and I lost Memphis some years later to a traumatic, heart wrenching incident with a pit bull.) I devoted most of my free time and attention to Sam and Jupi, spoiling them every way I knew how, as I had no children at that time. They found me, and that made them very special.
After the kitten years, the full-of-energy-climbing-the-curtain-rods-jumping-on-your-head-from-the-top-of-the-fridge-flipping-in-mid-air-while-chasing-dust-toppling-the-Yule-tree-and-thinking-the-hair-on-your-head-is-another-animal kind of years, Sam and Jupiter settled down some. They were entirely my children. They were fed at a certain time, got treats for being cute, got a new pack of “mousies” every week, and wore matching jingle bell collars so I could find them. Even now, they get away with things I don’t let my daughter do, like sitting on the coffee table, drinking from and playing in my table fountain, and bringing in “treasure” from outside. They are both lap cats, napping as long as I can sit still, lying across my book, or my computer, or my crafts. They hold full conversations with me as if we truly understand each other.
I once called them my soul mates, and still wonder if they truly are. Sometimes I feel like they’re my only friends in the world, as if they’re the only ones who can see me on a deeper level. I have never had more loyal companions, and this is why they are my familiars. They are welcome in my circle anytime, and somehow instinctively know that. Sam and Jupiter have always been well-behaved during spells and rituals.
My cats are my familiars. My cats are my family members, and sometimes, my cats are my pets. Most days, the difference depends on whom I am speaking to about them. If I’m in conversation with an acquaintance that I don’t know very well, perhaps a new client or a coworker, Sam and Jupiter are simply my pets, just as Penelope and the Crabs. At home, amongst my family and close friends, they are my family and my familiars. For my fellow Witches, they are only my Familiars. To my friends who have no interest in my religious and spiritual practices, they are just a big part of the family.
I have read others opinions as to why a familiar should never be treated as just an ordinary pet, and to some extent I agree. They are much more special, on a very spiritual level, than that. In the sense of whether or not they are my demons or fairies, I can only say that some days they’re demons, and some days they’re fairies. Sam and Jupi are my babies, such as my daughter will always be my baby, but they get into trouble too. They are animals, and they don’t always abide by the household rules. My Familiars sometimes like to familiarize their claws with my kitchen chair legs or the back of the couch.
They are completely separate from my spirit guides, although they guide my spirit in ways words can’t convey. There’s nothing like a curly or a spotted kitty belly when I’m upset. There’s nothing else like a drawn out conversation with them about why they can’t shred the furniture, and to know that their ears hang on every word I say. They’re never so cute as when their tails swish in unison to a simple rhyme. And there’s nothing better than waking up to a kitty paw planted right on my forehead, telling me ever so gently that my alarm has been going off for an hour, and it’s getting annoying.
May you all be blessed with knowing your own Familiars.
Wikipedia – familiar