About Our Familiars

I had several questions today in regards to the Witch’s familiar. I dug up some information up and added a few things of my own. I hope this helps answers your questions. If anyone has any questions about anything, please feel free to ask. After this I have to get ready to go to the doctor. I hope you have a fabulous Tuesday and here’s the info…….


Many Witches choose to have a familiar— a spiritually attuned creature (who lives with or nearby the Witch) who offers the Witch insights into nature, and for help in magick. Today’s familiars include cats, dogs, birds, bunnies, and even the stereotypical frog, but, really, any living creature with whom the Witch can have an ongoing relationship or rapport can fulfill the role of the familiar! Actually, the Witch doesn’t necessarily choose this creature so much as the animal and the Witch seem to discover and bond with each other. No matter what kind of creature it might be, the familiar is no mere pet. The animal in question is the revealer of truths and a respected partner in every sense except being human!

If a Witch wishes to put out a call for a familiar, he usually does so through a spell or ritual. This ritual typically takes place outdoors, near the home. The Witch begins by creating sacred space, and then he meditates, prays, and places the request in the hands of nature. During the meditation the Witch visualizes the living space so the right creature can easily find its way to the door.

Below is a list of not so average animals we might not think of as being familiars:


According to many demonologists, if a witch or sorceress managed to eat a queen bee before she was arrested, she would be able to withstand torture and trial without confessing. This was one of many ready explanations offered by witch-hunters when their victims refused to confess. In this way, many witches were condemned to death despite the lack of a confession.


A chicken named Nan was considered a familiar in the 17th-century Bury St. Edmonds trials of Suffolk, England. Three other chickens were also cited as imps in the same area.


Sooty-feathered and harsh of voice, the crow was a fit familiar to witches, prized for its ability to fly and spy. Villagers feared this carrion eater, for it was a messenger of mortality. A fluttering crow around the window or one that flew thrice over the roof, croaking each time, meant Death was on his way. Simply to see the bird flying alone could bring bad luck, and crows rising in a flock from a wood sometimes presaged famine.


Margaret Wyard, an accused witch of Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk, England, confessed to having flies among her familiars.


In ways both physical and behavioral, the hare was a natural ally of witches: Hares are swift and agile, able to stand on their hind legs like a person, prone to gathering in parliament like groups,

orgiastically mad in the spring, wantonly destructive of crops and possessed of a most unbeast like cry. Some witches traveled in the shape of hares.

Given the association of hares with witchcraft and magic, it is not surprising that superstition surrounded them. It was said, for example, that the sight of a hare running down a village street presaged fire and that the appearance of a white hare in a mine would be followed by a fatal accident. A hare that crossed a person’s path would bring bad luck. And the very word ‘hare’ could not be mentioned at sea, so great was the fear of the animal’s power.

Curiously enough, possession of a hare’s-foot brought luck. This belief arose not from the hare’s traffic with witches but from much more ancient associations: The hare is a notably prolific creature, and its foot was long a sexual symbol.


Margaret Wyard, an accused witch of Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk, England, confessed to having mice among her familiars. Other witches in the area admitted to having two “heavy and hairy” mice as familiars. In 1662, the nine- and eleven-year old daughters of Samuel Pacy somehow saw invisible mice, which they threw on a fire. One mouse “screeched like a Rat.” The other mouse “Flashed like to Gun-Powder.”  One 16th-century Essex woman confessed to having three mouse-shaped imps named Daynty, Prettyman, and Littleman. Another woman had four named Sparrow, Robyn, James, and Prickeare.


A victim of Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, John Bysack confessed to having six familiars in the form of snails. These imps sustained themselves by sucking Bysack’s blood. “Each snail was an assassin with a particular assignment: Atleward killed cows, Jeffry pigs, Peter sheep, Pyman fowls, Sacar horses and Sydrake Christians.”

Snakes and Cats

Anciently inimical to each other, the serpent and the cat were favorites of witches. The serpent seems to have played the smaller role: While it could serve as a familiar, it was chiefly valued for its fearful aspect and its link to Satan – useful in repelling the curious, who might interfere with a witch’s business. To dream of a serpent signified that someone had a grudge against the dreamer.

The cat, on the other hand, was surrounded by speculation. Its pupils – narrow slits in the daytime and luminous black globes at night – linked it to the moon and emphasized its power to see into the future. Cats were said to suck the breath from infants at night. And cats forecast the weather: When they scampered and cavorted, wind was on its way; when they washed their ears, rain was coming; when they sat with their backs to the fire, they awaited frost and storms.

Except in northern England, where it was thought lucky to own a black cat (but unlucky to meet a strange one), black cats were the most common embodiments of Satan. As for cats that served as familiars – rather than as transformations of the witches themselves – they were usually brindled.


Spinner of webs, an archtrickster, and a silent and murderous trapper, the spider was tiny enough to hide in the hood of a witch’s cloak as a familiar and whisper instructions in her ear.

Ordinary folk said that to dream of a spider meant betrayal. To see one in the morning brought bad luck, and to kill one summoned rain. The sight of spiders terrified wedding parties because the creatures were omens of unhappy marriage. And in Switzerland it was said that the plague, with its black sores, was spread by malevolent spiders travelling in secret from house to house.


Ugly and venomous thought it was, the toad seems to have been among the most cherished of witch familiars: The creatures were dressed in velvet by their mistresses, ornamented with bells and encouraged to dance. Common folk both feared and valued them though. Toads were burned because the horns on their foreheads marked them as agents of Satan and because witches used toad spittle to concoct ointments that conferred invisibility. On the other hand, toads were admired for their ability to hear distant thunder long before the human ear could catch it; the sight of the little creatures making their way to safe water provided a reliable indicator for approaching storms. And very elderly toads – rarely glimpsed – carried precious jewels in their heads, effective antidotes to poison.

Spell of the Comb and Mirror


Purify area, cast circle, etc. Burn a white candle for yourself, and say:

O Lady of shimmering beauty,
        For whom the stars are shining jewels
        And the Universe Her creation and plaything,
        Weaver of destinies and Protectress of things wild and free
        Make me now, I do ask, to be thy daughter
        Make me one with thee and grant me thy far-flung power
        Grant to this, thy Witch and Sorceress
        Strength within and without.
As eternal as the boundless sea,
        The calm assurance of my powers
        To make any do my bidding,
        And the winds, waters, and fires,
        The hills themselves lend willingly themselves to me.
        Give to me, who am of thy ancient Craft
        The wisdom of ages, the lore of eons,
        Knowledge of light, knowledge of dark.
        Grant me beauty ever more perfect
        That I may reflect thee better.
        Build magic within me, build power within me.
        Power be drawn and power come.
        And make me one with thee.
        Make me greater, make me better
        Grant me strength and grant me power.
        O Goddess who is my friend and mother,
        I give you love and thanks
        O Beautiful One, may the magic I have summoned
        Return the stronger when I have need of it
So mote it be!”

July 10 – Daily Feast

July 10 – Daily Feast

New trends and new ideas interest us, but how we love the familiar. We like to keep those things that are dear to us, old songs, familiar places, the good faces. Most of us don’t want to recapture the old times. They have served their purpose and we have put too much into what counts for us now. But when something familiar comes to our ears, or a certain fragrance touches our memory, we are suddenly back there and reliving old times. It is tiresome to be forever striving toward the future. The road is unfamiliar – and every inch of it will have to be tested and tried. And then something we know by heart rises to the top and it buoys us up and we are ready to go again. Sometimes it takes the familiar to help us appreciate what we have today.

~ Grandfather, Great Spirit, the good road and the road of difficulties you have made me cross; and where they cross, the place is holy. ~


‘A Cherokee Feast of Days’, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler

Aumakua, Familiars, and Spirit Animals . . . Oh My!

Aumakua, Familiars, and Spirit Animals . . . Oh My!

  • Dr. Steven Farmer

Animals and Spirit Animals

From the Rainbow Serpent of the Aborigines of Australia that birthed the land and its inhabitants, to the “Cowardly” Lion that accompanied Dorothy to Oz, to the tale you tell of the hummingbird that hovered for several seconds two feet from your nose, cultural and personal stories and mythologies (or mythos) are rampant with animals and spirit animals. These stories and experiences resonate with our instinctual connection to the animal kingdom, as well as conveying an innate kinship with this vast realm of beings we share our planet with. We owe a great deal of thanks to our animal brothers and sisters who give so much to us humans, such as companionship, warmth, and food. In some traditions it’s even told that humans descended from the animals.

As for animal spirit guides, the awareness that Spirit sometimes shows up in animal form was inherent in the cultural beliefs of indigenous peoples. These traditions all have some variations depending on the mythos of the particular culture, but the common thread is the unquestionable acceptance of animals as spirit guides. Even some creation myths credit spirit animals with the birth of the world, such as the Rainbow Serpent mentioned above. As human consciousness continues to evolve during this present era, we look with greater interest and curiosity at what these ancient peoples can teach us, and some of the greatest lessons are what we can learn from the animals, whether in the flesh or in spirit.

When an animal makes an appearance (whether physically or symbolically) in an unusual way or repeatedly in a short span of time, the spirit of that animal is attempting to get a message to you. Often you’ll have a hunch or a sense of the message from this spirit guide. Trust it. As you’ll see, it might even be a distant, long-deceased relative that is guiding and protecting you by showing up in animal form.


As I mentioned, every culture has a slightly different take on this idea of animal spirit guides. From ancient Hawaiian spirituality, still alive today, comes the concept of aumakua—spirit guides clothed in the language, customs, and mythos of this culture.

Aumakua (ow-ma-koo-ah) are very simply the spirits of deceased ancestors. They can be called on for protection, guidance, and spiritual support. The very first ‘aumakua were the children of humans who had mated with the Akua, or primary gods, the main ones being Ku (Koo), Kane (Kah-nay), Lono, and Kanaloa (Kah-nah-low-ah). When someone died, they went through a period of time where they stayed with these Akua and thereby acquired a degree of mana, or power. Eventually they could make themselves known to their descendants. One of the most prevalent ways they could make their appearance—although not limited to this—was through animals and animal spirits. They could also show up in the wind, rain, or lightning, or in your dreams.

Very soon after her father’s death, Ellen took a walk on the beach. She noticed a dolphin jumping along the water, much closer to shore than usual. She realized that this was her father’s spirit expressing through and in cooperation with the spirit of Dolphin, embodied in the one that was tracking her as she walked along the shore. Ellen was reassured that her father was just fine in the spirit world. His spirit had elicited Dolphin’s help in getting this message to his daughter. This was her aumakua.


From Western Europe a few centuries ago comes the idea of familiars. During the Middle Ages, familiars were mainly associated with witches, while these days they’re associated with Wiccans. Familiars are spirits often showing up as animals, although they can also inhabit objects, such as rings or lockets. The spirit animal can also be the companion of magicians and sorcerers. Think Harry Potter’s Owl.

Another term for familiars that has been grossly distorted over the centuries is daemon or demon. Up until the persecution of witches that began in late 13th century, the word itself did not mean something evil. In other words, the word demon got . . . well, demonized. In more contemporary terms, a demon would simply be an animal spirit guide or power animal, often embodied in a companion animal, such as a cat or dog. In fact, older women who kept a cat during the persecutions were often accused of being witches and put to death, whether or not they actually practiced witchcraft.

So an animal spirit guide by any other name, whether called ‘aumakua, a familiar, a power animal, or a totem animal, is still an animal spirit guide. And they can help you navigate through this lifetime. And who knows—maybe the next time you spot that hummingbird, it just might be great-great-great auntie Jane telling you that she’s watching over you, so try to cheer up!

What is an Animal Familiar?

What is an Animal Familiar?

By Patti Wigington

The black cat was the traditional witch’s familiar, but some people connect better with other animals.

In some traditions of modern Wicca and Paganism, the concept of an animal familiar is incorporated into practice. Today, a familiar is often defined as an animal with whom we have a magical connection, but in truth, the concept is a bit more complex than this.

History of the Familiar

During the days of the European witch hunts, familiars were “said to be given to witches by the devil,” according to Rosemary Guiley’s Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. They were, in essence, small demons which could be sent out to do a witch’s bidding. Although cats — especially black ones — were the favored vessel for such a demon to inhabit, dogs, toads, and other small animals were sometimes used.

In some Scandinavian countries, familiars were associated with spirits of the land and nature. Fairies, dwarves, and other elemental beings were believed to inhabit the physical bodies of animals. Once the Christian church came along, this practice went underground — because any spirit other than an angel must be a demon. During the witch-hunt era, many domestic animals were killed because of their association with known witches and heretics.

During the Salem witch trials, there is little account of the practice of animal familiars, although one man was charged with encouraging a dog to attack by way of magical means. The dog, interestingly enough, was tried, convicted, and hanged.

In shamanistic practices, the animal familiar is not a physical being at all, but a thought-form or spiritual entity. It often travels astrally, or serves as a magical guardian against those who might try to psychically attack the shaman.

Today, many Wiccans and Pagans have an animal companion that they consider their familiar – and most people no longer believe that these are spirits or demons inhabiting an animal. Instead, they have an emotional and psychic bond with the cat, dog, or whatever, who is attuned to the powers of its human partner.

Finding a Familiar

Not everyone has, needs, or even wants a familiar. If you have an animal companion as a pet, such as a cat or dog, try working on strengthening your psychic connection with that animal. Books such as Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak contain some excellent pointers on how to do this.

If an animal has appeared in your life unexpectedly — such as a stray cat that appears regularly, for instance — it’s possible that it may have been drawn to you psychically. However, be sure to rule out mundane reasons for its appearance first. If you’re leaving out food for the local feral kitties, that’s a far more logical explanation. Likewise, if you see a sudden influx of birds, consider the season — is the ground thawing, making food more available?

If you’d like to draw a familiar to you, some traditions believe you can do this by meditation. Find a quiet place to sit undisturbed, and allow your mind to wander. As you journey, you may encounter various people or objects. Focus your intent on meeting an animal companion, and see if you come into contact with any.

In addition to familiars, some people do magical work with what’s called a power animal or a spirit animal. A power animal is a spiritual guardian that some people connect with. However, much like other spiritual entities, there’s no rule or guideline that says you must have one. If you happen to connect with an animal entity while meditating or performing astral travel, then that may be your power animal… or it may just be curious about what you’re up to.

Familiar or Pet – A Fine Line

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

Introduction To Scrying – The Magickal Mystery Tour

Introduction To Scrying


The Magickal Mystery Tour

The first scrying technique is very simple, and can be very entertaining. The results you get with this method can range from silly to sublime, from inconsequential to important, depending on the conditions of the moment. This method lets you acquire a feel for the ways in which your unconscious mind symbolizes things, and gives it some practice in doing so in a non-critical situation.

Enter your magickal space and re-affirm your safety there, using the method previously described. Then go to some familiar outdoor location in your space, and look around to establish your bearings and the relative positions of the other familiar regions.

Having done this, imagine that these familiar territories are surrounded by vast areas about which you know nothing as yet, in which anything at all might be happening at any given moment. Decide that you are going to take a walk and look around some part of those areas. Then look around you again, pick a direction, and start walking. As you move out of your familiar areas, don’t try to imagine that you will find any particular features in the landscape, and don’t try to look for any particular thing. Let the your imagination fill in the features of the areas you pass through without interference.

Move around in the wilderness until you find some interesting item. It might be an interesting natural feature, an object, a building, a person or animal. Examine the object or explore the building, remembering that everything unusual has some sort of meaning in a magickal space. If nothing clear comes to you, move along in the direction you were going. Sometimes it happens that several locations in sequence tell a story that isn’t clear until you have been to all of them; other times, the first locations you come to simply aren’t very important.

Talk to a person or animal as if they existed independently of yourself; treat them with the respect and politeness you would give to any stranger you encounter in an isolated place; try to maintain a friendly and unthreatening attitude no matter what the being does, and remember that since all this is taking place in your private world, you are perfectly safe. Don’t try to script their actions, just let them speak and act spontaneously. Asking a person you meet to tell you about himself and what he is doing will nearly always get a positive response.

If the person does not acknowledge your presence, or does not respond to your queries, then watch what they are doing for a time, until you don’t see any point in continuing to do so. Then move on to another location. If they do respond, when you have run out of questions then ask them if there is anything else interesting to see in the neighborhood, and follow any directions they might give you.

Usually such explorations will tell you something about yourself, your life-situation, or your current magickal environment. It will all be in symbolic form, of course; the obvious meaning of the events won’t always be their deepest significance. But once you understand the symbolism, the results usually turn out to be something useful or interesting, though not always important.

This method is particularly good for those times when you know something important is going on in the magickal side of your life, but you can’t tell what it is. It is also very good for any situation where you aren’t certain what questions you should be asking. To use the method in such a way, hold the idea that you need information or answers in your mind while you are picking the direction for your tour, and try to sense the direction in which the answers lie; there will always be such a direction. Then go in that direction and continue finding interesting things until you feel like you have received all of the answer; this will usually manifest as a sense of relief or a reduction in some vaguely-sensed pressure. Then consider the things you have seen in relation to your current situation; the meanings they contain will usually provide essential clues you need.

Familiar Consecration Spell

To cement and/or formalize the psychic bonds between you and your familiar:

  1. Cast a circle large enough to hold you, your familiar and any magickal tools that you wish to consecrate (these may include leashes, collars or similar pet paraphernalia, as well as spell components or ritual tools).

  2. Burn frankincense on the periphery of the circle.

  3. Sit within the circle, with your familiar, until you feel that it’s time to come out.

  4. Repeat as needed.

Live dangerously! If your familiar is a cat, cast your circle with dried catnip and instead of frankincense, burn diviner’s sage to enhance your powers of prophesy. Let the cat play, while you allow yourself sudden bursts of inspiration.

The Witch’s Teat and Fluffy, the Evil Devil Poodle

Author: Fire Lyte

Black cats, warty toads, and a menagerie of creepy, slimy, crawly animals have all been accused of allying themselves with witches. The image of the witch with her pointed hat and magic broom just wouldn’t be complete without Fluffy the magic talking cat taking a nap on the bristles as she flies through a full moon sky casting her spells on the unsuspecting public below. It is because of their connection to witches that many people are afraid of black cats, black dogs – otherwise known as Grims, and toads. In fact, people kill black cats every year, because people are so frightened of them. Where does this deep-seated fear come from, and is it merited?

The word we use to call a spirit in animal form that helps a witch is ‘familiar.’ This term originally comes from the Latin ‘familiaris, ’ meaning ‘domestic, ’ but it also has root definitions in the Old French ‘familier, ’ and the Spanish/Italian words ‘familia/famiglia’ meaning ‘family.’ Dr. Jim Maloney of NYU proposes that the noun form of ‘familiar’ that we use to mean a witch’s companion spirit most likely derived from these later definitions in the 1580s, because women that lived apart from society – who were tried for witchcraft – would have probably brought in stray or wild animals, nursed them back to health, and tamed them. That woman would have, most definitely, thought of such animals as family.

As with all things witchy in the Middle Ages, familiars got a really bad rap from their respective local populaces, as everything having to do with those put on trial for witchcraft was considered of the Devil. The Encyclopedia Britannica showcases these definitions clearly in their entry on familiars, in which they highlight that the noun form of ‘familiar’ – meaning an imp or spirit that assists, instructs, or otherwise augments a witch’s powers – came about in the Middle Ages during the witch trials. Not only were they thought of as spirits, but also they were automatically assumed to be demons.

But, let’s think about this for a second. So, familiars were actually wild or stray animals that men or women brought in from the outside – where they otherwise would have starved to death – nursed them back to health, and tamed them. Think about what this looked like to the average person in the 14th century in conjunction with what we know about the witchcraft trials. A man or woman living away from town near the woods, who has knowledge of medicine and agriculture, that subsists off of their own garden, and also seems to have tamed wild animals to do their bidding without any help from anybody else. Wouldn’t that seem strange to you? Would that seem a little…magical? It would if you lived 500-600 years ago and relied on your fellow townsfolk for your needs, and if you also happen to be a puritanical sheep that listened to everything your local fire and brimstone preacher said.

The Britannica goes on to explain that people believed these tamed animals must have been gifts from Satan, who apparently tames animals in his spare time. It was believed that the witch must feed the familiar by a mark given her by the devil known as the witch’s teat. During the trial of a witch, he or she was typically stripped naked and searched head to toe for such a teat. And, in every instance, some such mark of the devil was found: a mole, a wart, or even a finger could be used as evidence of this mark. Elizabeth Howe, Harvard scholar on the Salem witch trials, said in her book ‘The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane’ that a woman’s clitoris was also used as evidence of this witch’s teat. Once the mark was found, it was over for the defendant. The mark was considered a sure sign of the person’s guilt, and sentence was passed shortly thereafter.

However, a familiar wasn’t always just a mooch from Satan who sucked on a woman’s nether regions and blighted the crops of nosy neighbors. They could also be what are known as ‘tutelary spirits, ’ or ones that teach. Michael Freeze in his 1992 book Patron Saints talks about a host of tutelary spirits in various religions. From the African tribes that worshipped the spider god Anansi, to the Native American people whose entire pantheon was made up of animal spirits, to the magical foxes of Japan, to genies, angels, and devas, the never ending list of spirits that take the form of animals covers the globe. And, of course, none of them had anything to do with the devil.

Zeus turned into a swan and a bull in order to mate with a young, pretty girl. Odin had ravens that flew across the world and reported back to him each night the events of the day. Animals as teachers have had a firm place in religious and folkloric history for thousands of years. However, that was legally put a stop to in 1604 with England’s passing of the Witchcraft Act, which made it illegal to associate with, hire, be friends with, feed, or reward any evil spirit for any reason. The law was truly put into effect in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts when two dogs were tried, convicted, and hanged for being believed to be a witch or a witch’s familiar.

Given all this, though, familiars have become one of the most beloved tools of the modern witch. Every television witch from Sabrina, to the Halliwells, to Samantha had a cat that, in one way or another, identified itself as their familiar. They are there to point out information that is right under the witch’s nose, but is being overlooked. While many witches today like to keep an animal – or seven – around the house, the idea that they are working magical companions does not seem to be as prevalent as it once was. Or, is it?

Let’s go back to the original propagation of the familiar. They were probably animals that needed care, love, and attention from someone, and the people on the edge of the town were the ones that provided it. In all reality, did these people actually work magic or learn arcane secrets from these animals? No, but they probably appreciated the company and felt less lonely, which is a kind of magic in and of itself. Though, a quick scan through your local bookstore will tell you the notion still exists in modern witchcraft and paganism that we learn from our pets, and many texts actually encourage us with spells and high rituals to find our familiars.

A quick story: The folklorist William Morgan said that during the English Civil War, the Royalist general Prince Rupert was in the habit of taking his large poodle dog named Boye, into battle with him. Throughout the war the dog was greatly feared among the Parliamentarian forces and credited with supernatural powers. The dog was apparently considered a kind of familiar. At the end of the war the dog was shot, allegedly with a silver bullet.

So, what category do you fall in to? Are you the loving outsider who takes in strays or runaways, who has a house full of love and furniture covered in pet hair? Or, are you the puritanical witch who dances with the devil on the full moon and feeds Evil Fluffy from your nether-teat? Either way, make sure to spay and neuter your familiars. We don’t need more imps running around.

William Morgan, “Superstition in Medieval and Early Modern Society”, Chapter 3





http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=familiar and searchmode=none


Daughters of the Witching Hill: In Search of Historical Cunning Folk

Author: Mary Sharratt

In 2002, I moved to East Lancashire in northern England—the rugged Pennine landscape that borders the West Yorkshire Dales. My study window looks out on Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received the ecstatic vision that moved him to found the Quaker religion in 1652.

But Pendle Hill is also steeped in its legends of the Lancashire Witches. Everywhere you go in the surrounding countryside, you see images of witches: on buses, pub signs, road signs, and bumper stickers. Visiting friends found this all quite unnerving. “Mary, why are there witches everywhere?” they’d ask me.

In the beginning, I made the mistake of thinking that these witches belonged to the realm of fairy tale and folklore, but no. They were real people. The stark truth, when I took the time to learn it, would change me forever.

In 1612, in one of the most meticulously documented witch trials in English history, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were executed, condemned on “evidence” provided by a nine-year-old girl and her brother, who appeared to suffer from learning difficulties. The trial itself might never have happened had it not been for King James I’s obsession with the occult. His book Daemonologie—required reading for local magistrates—warned of a vast conspiracy of satanic witches threatening to undermine the nation.

But just who were these witches of Pendle Forest?

Of the accused, Elizabeth Southerns aka Mother Demdike, had the most infamous reputation. According to the primary sources, she was the ringleader, the one who initiated the others into witchcraft. Mother Demdike was so frightening to her foes because she was a woman who embraced her powers wholeheartedly. This is how Court Clerk Thomas Potts describes her in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, his account of the 1612 trials:

She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had
been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast
place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man
knowes. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no
man escaped her, or her Furies.

Quite impressive for an eighty-year-old lady! Although she died in prison before she could even come to trial, Potts pays a great deal of attention to her, going out of his way to convince his readers that she was a dangerous witch of long-standing repute. Reading the trial transcripts against the grain, I was amazed at how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written expressly to vilify her.

Mother Demdike freely admitted to being a healer and a cunning woman. Her neighbours called on her to cure their children and their cattle. What fascinated me was not that Mother Demdike was arrested on witchcraft charges but that the authorities only turned on her near the end of her long, productive life. She practiced her craft for decades before anybody dared to interfere with her.

Cunning folk were men and women who used charms and herbal cures to heal, foretell the future, and find the location of stolen property. What they did was illegal—sorcery was a hanging offence—but most of them didn’t get arrested for it. The need for the services they provided was too great. Doctors were so expensive that only the very rich could afford them and the “physick” of this era involved bleeding patients with lancets and using dangerous medicines such as mercury—your local village healer with her herbal charms was far less likely to kill you.

Those who used their magic for good were called cunning folk or charmers or blessers or wisemen and wisewomen. Those who were perceived by others as using their magic to curse and harm were called witches. But here it gets complicated.

A cunning woman who performs a spell to discover the location of stolen goods would say that she is working for good. However, the person who claims to have been falsely accused of harbouring those stolen goods could turn around and accuse her of sorcery and slander. Ultimately, the difference between cunning folk and witches lay in the eye of the beholder.

Intriguingly, Mother Demdike’s family’s charms recorded in the trial transcripts mirror the ecclesiastical language of the Catholic Church, demonised and driven underground by the Reformation. Her incantation to cure a bewitched person, quoted by the prosecution as evidence of diabolical magic, is a moving and poetic depiction of the passion of Christ as witnessed by the Virgin Mary. This text is very similar to the White Pater Noster, an Elizabethan prayer charm Eamon Duffy discusses in his landmark book, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England: 1400-1580.

It appears that Mother Demdike, born in Henry VIII’s reign, at the cusp of the Reformation, was a practitioner of the kind of quasi-Catholic folk magic that would have been commonplace in earlier generations. The Old Church embraced many practices that seemed magical and mystical. People believed in miracles. They used holy water and communion bread for healing. Candles blessed at the Feast of Candlemas warded the faithful from demons and disease. People left offerings at holy wells and invoked the saints in their folk charms.

Some rituals such as the blessing of wells and fields may have Pagan origins. Indeed, looking at pre-Reformation folk magic, it seems difficult to untangle the strands of Catholicism from the remnants of Pagan belief that had become so tightly interwoven. Keith Thomas’s social history Religion and the Decline of Magic is an excellent study on how the Reformation literally took the magic out of Christianity.

But it would be an oversimplification to say that Mother Demdike was merely a misunderstood Catholic. Although her charms drew on the mystical imagery of the pre-Reformation Church, Mother Demdike and her sometimes-friend, sometimes-rival Anne Whittle, aka Chattox, accused each other of using clay figures to curse their enemies. Both women freely confessed, even bragged about their familiar spirits who appeared to them in the guise of beautiful young men. Mother Demdike’s description of her decades-long partnership with Tibb, her familiar spirit, seems to reveal something much older than Christianity.

In traditional English cunning craft, the familiar spirit took centre stage: this was the cunning person’s otherworldly spirit helper who could shapeshift between human and animal form. Mother Demdike described how Tibb could appear as a golden-haired young man, a hare, or a brown dog. In traditional English folk magic, it seemed that no cunning man or cunning woman could work magic without the aid of their familiar spirit—they needed this otherworldly ally to make things happen.

So how did Mother Demdike, a woman so fierce that none dared meddle with her, come to ruin? The triggering incident reads like the most tragic of coincidences. On March 18, 1612, her young granddaughter, Alizon Device, had a bitter confrontation with John Law, a pedlar from Halifax in Yorkshire.

Moments after their blistering argument, the pedlar collapsed and suddenly went stiff and lame on one half of his body and lost the power of speech. Today we would clearly recognise this as a stroke. But the pedlar and several witnesses were convinced that Alizon had lamed her victim with witchcraft. Even she seemed to believe this herself, falling to her knees and begging his forgiveness. This unfortunate event resulted in the arrest of Alizon and her grandmother. Alizon wasted no time in implicating Chattox, her grandmother’s rival, and Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redfearne. Before long, further arrests of family and friends followed. The rest belongs to the tragic history that ended at Lancaster Gallows in August, 1612.

Although first to be arrested, Alizon was the last to be tried at the Lancaster Assizes. Her final recorded words on the day before she was hanged for witchcraft were a passionate vindication of her grandmother’s legacy as a healer.

Roger Nowell, the prosecutor, brought John Law, the pedlar Alizon had allegedly lamed, before her. Again Alizon begged the man’s forgiveness for her perceived crime against him. John Law, in return, said that if she had the power to lame him, she must also have the power to heal him. Alizon regrettably told him that she wasn’t able to, but if her grandmother, Old Demdike had lived, she could and would have healed him.

Long after their demise, Mother Demdike and her fellow Pendle Witches endure, their spirit woven into the living landscape, its weft and warp, like the stones and the streams that cut across the moors. No one in this region can remain untouched by their legacy. This is their home, their seat of power, and they shall never be banished.

Further reading:

Owen Davies, Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History (Hambledon Continuum)
Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (Yale)
Malcolm Gaskill, Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy (John Murray)
John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson, Lancashire Folklore (Kessinger Publishing)
King James I, Daemonologie, available online: http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/kjd/
Jonathan Lumby, The Lancashire Witch-Craze (Carnegie)
Edgar Peel and Pat Southern, The Trials of the Lancashire Witches (Nelson)
Robert Poole, ed., The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories (Manchester University Press)
Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, available online: http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=230481
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin)
John Webster, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (Ams Pr Inc)
Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits (Sussex Academic Press)