When Your Pet is More Than A Pet – Familiars and Avatars

When Your Pet is More Than A Pet – Familiars and Avatars

Author:   Bronwen Forbes   

As a prologue to this, you need to know that Herne has been my patron God since I was nine years old. You don’t need to know, but you’ll probably figure out by reading this (if you haven’t already) that sometimes I’m a little slow to notice the obvious.

A few months after adopting my red and white beagle mix Herman, I was trying to sleep in one Saturday morning when I began to idly wonder, “There are so many Goddesses with dogs as part of their symbolism. I wonder what Gods are associated with dogs, too?” And then it hit me like a two-by-four to the forehead. Herne, Lord of the Wild Hunt, is very much associated with dogs, especially red and white hunting dogs, than you very much. (I warned you I’m a little slow sometimes) .

Needless to say, sleep was no longer an option. I sat up and looked at Herman (who had spent the night, as he usually did, asnooze at my side) who was already staring at me with a definite, “took you long enough to figure it out” expression.

And just like that, I not only had a familiar, I had an avatar.

I’m defining “avatar” here not as a recent hit movie or a small picture that represents you on various blogs or discussion boards, but as the earthly representative of a deity. And for the love of me, I hadn’t a clue what to do with mine.

Four months later, we adopted a German Shepherd mix named Katie – and lo and behold, she was also what my husband likes to call a “God-touched” dog. But unlike Herman who was also my familiar (notice the past tense; I still miss him) , Katie let us know pretty quickly that she had no interest whatsoever in being my husband’s familiar, but would happily attend her Goddess Nehelennia’s tasks of safe travel, healing and commerce. Period.

Since acquiring Herman and Katie in 2001, I’ve alao gotten the clue what to do, not just for my special dogs, but for anyone else who may wake up one morning and see deity shining through the eyes of their pet.

First and foremost, and I know this sounds obvious, you have to keep treating your pet like a, well, pet. Your animal companion is your spiritual and or magickal support (familiar) or a little bit of deity (avatar) but he still needs proper food and water, adequate shelter, regular veterinary checkups, exercise, training, vaccinations, etc. After all, it’s not like the Gods can or will take care of your pet for you.

But once the regular, responsible pet ownership duties are taken care of with your familiar or avatar, there are still some things you need to think about to keep your relationship with your animal companion – and your deity – as smooth and fulfilling as possible.

1. Remember that, despite her spiritual role in your life, your pet is still going to act like an animal. Herman used to drive me crazy with this. He was a daily reminder of my relationship with my patron deity, helped me work through some serious ritual issues, was a whiz at helping new students ground and center simply by sitting in their laps during ritual – and he was also a master escape artist. He could climb or dig under any chain link fence, and did so on a pretty regular basis.

Katie, a born healer, is also a big dog and an unrepentant counter-surfer. I can’t begin to count how many times I packed my lunch, left the kitchen to get dressed for work, and came back to find my lunch bag and food containers in Katie’s crate and my ex-lunch in her stomach. She may be God-touched, but she’s still a dog!

2. Give your familiar and/or avatar full autonomy regarding ritual attendance. This includes personal workings, small group rituals, festivals, and rites of passage. Shortly after my Saturday morning revelation about Herman, my husband and I took him with us to visit my parents for the weekend. While we were there, I helped my parents bury the ashes of our old family cat in the side yard garden – an understandably emotional activity. Herman was in the back yard, separated from me by a picket fence. He could see me through the fence, but couldn’t get to me. As my father dug a hole for the ashes, Herman went nuts, for want of a better word. Instead of pursuing squirrels (his usual pastime in my parents’ backyard) , he was throwing himself against the fence and barking frantically, trying to get to me. I should have stepped over the fence, opened the gate, and allowed Herman to join the small ritual. After all, he only wanted to do his job.

There have also been instance and rituals where Herman or Katie did *not* want to attend a particular ritual, and we quickly learned to “listen” to their opinions – rather like knowing that it doesn’t feel right to take a certain tarot deck with you when you go do readings at a community event. We learned this lesson the hard way when we took Katie to a ritual she clearly didn’t want to go to and she had a seizure.

3. Give your pet enough down time. Just as you can’t be in ritual 24/7, it’s unrealistic to expect your pet to be “on, ” i.e. actively acting as a divine representative or helping you with your spiritual work all the time. Don’t bug him to help you if he clearly doesn’t feel like it – the fact that he’s asleep or ignoring you are clear signs that he “doesn’t feel like it.”

If you find yourself needing extra protein, water or sleep after a working or ritual, offer some to your familiar or avatar as well.

If you have a pet that also enhances your spiritual practice or connection with your deity, you have been given a gift beyond price. Very few animals, at least in my experience, can do this, and if you get one or even two in a lifetime, you have truly been blessed. It’s also not something you can actively look for; it’s like love (actually it *is* love) – the more you try to find that special animal, the less likely you are to succeed.

Be patient. If and when you’re ready, the right animal will come.

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Hiring a God: Selecting a Patron Deity

Hiring a God: Selecting a Patron Deity

Author: Chirotus Infinitum

So you’re a pagan now! Fun and exciting times await, full of mystery, magic, and maybe a skyclad ritual with the hottie working at the occult bookstore. For some, the magic and mystique are enough, but many take their new religion seriously. The religious aspects of paganism can be a little difficult to wade through, however, whether you’ve just started or even if you’ve been slinging spells for years. Many pagan traditions – branches of Wicca included – allow the adherents to choose his/her own patron deity. Given the wealth of religious traditions and pantheons pagans have access to this can prove a daunting task.

The first point that must be addressed is the importance of research. If you really want to devote yourself to a god, you should find out all you can. You should look up what pantheon he belongs to, who his friends and enemies are, how he was worshipped, and what is sacred to him. If at all possible, rely upon academic sources, as modern paganism is rife with fluffery and politically altered ideals of the gods. You’re better off establishing a solid link with a deity by finding out what we know of how past worshippers regarded that deity, rather than contemporary conceptions which may be watered down and edited for content. With that consideration in mind, let’s audition some gods.

The first thing you may want to consider is what pantheon you want to follow. Sure, some traditions ascribe to the belief that you can mix and match from different pantheons, but I’ve found that staying with a particular group of deities allows for significantly more self-consistency and a deeper meaning for the myths and lore attached to your personal deity. So what strikes your mood? Your personality? Your interests and passions?

A person who is physically active and aggressive may appreciate Norse pantheons more. An intellectual might find a Greek or Roman pantheon more appealing. Traditionalists could find all they need in the pseudo-pantheon of the Qabalah. Those with a flair for the exotic might look to ancient Egypt. Chaos Magicians might think that Voltron looks pretty cool this week. The point is not just that there are many options, but that each pantheon has a specific flavor to it that may appeal to you more than others.

Next you will probably want to look at what roles and areas of influence are sacred to certain gods. These associations are most likely to speak to your passions. Is home and hearth most important to your life? Academic success? Is much of your time spent in pursuit of the opposite (or same) sex? Various pantheons have different gods that fill these roles, but they are generally covered by someone. An artist working in the Greek pantheon might gravitate toward Apollo, while someone who parties all the time may find Dionysus more appealing. Again, do your research, as you may be surprised what gods are associated with what fields. A geologist may find more in common with Poseidon than Gaea!

If you’ve narrowed down your search for a patron deity, you may now want to consider how that deity relates to others, both in and out of its pantheon. A follower of Ares may want to be cautious in dealing with Hephaestus. Yahweh isn’t known for playing well with others. The devotee of Hera needs to watch she’s not too friendly with any of Zeus’ illegitimate children, but the follower of Zeus may want to include Hera in certain festivities. The gods have friends and enemies, just as we do. They may appreciate us extending courtesies to friends, but may frown upon associating with enemies.

Once you’ve taken into account matters of divine friends and foes, you might want to look at a calendar. Many gods have certain times of year associated with them, and some have particular feast days. You may even want to consider feast days of other gods in the pantheon than may be best celebrated or avoided. Certain times of the day may be more appropriate to make offerings than others. Devotion can be very time-consuming, and while I’m sure that most gods will allow for some schedule conflicts, you’ll want to keep matters of time and seasonality in mind.

So you’ve picked your god, know who he likes and dislikes, and have an idea of what times are best for you two to get together. How are you going to facilitate that? What should be included on an altar or shrine? The design of the altar should be appropriate to the gods in question, and should probably include materials and objects sacred to your chosen deity. Perhaps some gold plated censors will be nice for your Apollo shrine? A battery-powered mini-fountain might be nice for Neptune. Statuary might be appropriate as well (and easier to find) . Will your altar have candles, incense, or both? Perhaps a vessel for burning herbs? A god who liked animal sacrifices in the good old days may appreciate a barbeque grill dedicated to him.

This brings up another issue as well – how best to honor your god. Are prayers and daily devotions enough, or will your god want incense (the right kind!) burned regularly? Appropriate celebrations for feast days should be considered as well – while it might be fun, holding a full-scale Bacchanalia might be problematic. Perhaps a good party with an opening and closing ritual will suffice. Or perhaps not.

Issues of worship and divine associations bring up another important matter: the myths and stories that surround your patron deity. These stories help describe the personality of your god and those he cavorts with, and helps explain why he does what he does and rules what he rules. Such myths can inform how you set up your altar, what days you hold sacred, and what prayers and songs you may recite. These myths can also illustrate important associations and moral ideals that relate to your god, which can influence your daily actions and means of showing devotion.

A devotee to Hermes might carry silver coins in his pockets as a symbolic gesture, but he might also act as a grief counselor for those who have lost loved ones. Living one’s life according to mythical examples is paramount to Christianity, and can have positive results for pagans as well. Of course, depending on the myths you pick, you could run in to problems as well.

Settling down with a particular patron deity will assuredly have effects on how you live your life. Regular devotion will probably take some time from your day, and you may be mindful of things you hadn’t considered before. Close interaction with a god can change the way you see things, or the way you respond to things. Your religious understandings – about your place in the world, and how you should live – will most likely, and probably should, change as you continue to develop your relationship with your chosen divinity.

Any magical practice you may have will also be affected, as certain associations may become stronger or weaker, and as certain areas of magical work become more or less allowable. The symbols and tools you use should be appropriate to whatever pantheon and deity you chose, and care should be taken to avoid altering them too much (at least without appropriate divine consultation) .

One thing that should be considered at length, though, is what you hope to gain from your new relationship. Are you choosing a particular god who demonstrates a quality you have in abundance, and seek to honor through that quality? Or are you hoping that devotion to a god representing a quality you lack will result in personal improvement? Is it your hope that devotion to a specific god will result in rewards, such as luck from Jupiter or love from Venus? Or are you just looking for a deeper connection to the divine, through a form you can relate with well? Consideration of what your expectations are is important, especially with regard to the character of the gods you’ve chosen. Will your particular god be receptive to your goal, or will he laugh at you and smote you? Just remember, Cthulhu eats his worshippers too.

So now you’ve done all this work. You’ve selected a pantheon that appeals to you. You picked a god that seems appropriate to your passions and loves. You’ve met his friends and family and shunned his enemies. You set up a nice place to visit him from, and found out what kind of offerings he likes. You know when he likes to play and when he’s not to be bothered, and hopefully you know how he’ll respond when you ask him for something. What now?

Well, submit an application and wait for a reply.

Any effort to connect with a deity can prove challenging, and it may take a while before a strong bond is formed. At some point, though, you should expect some sign of acceptance from your patron deity. This may be a feeling of comfort after a ritual, an inexplicable lack of injury from a severe car wreck, or maybe just a feeling of coming home to a god you’ve always been fascinated by. Or, it may not come, and you may feel uncomfortable with your choice after practicing for a while. Your chosen god may instead send you a sign to chose another, and may even be polite enough to show you who. Openness to divine input should be part of any devotion – just be aware that sometime the message might be, “go away.”

The decision to devote yourself to a particular patron deity should not be taken lightly. Careful research and consideration should accompany all phases of the process, from the initial attraction of a particular pantheon to the final details of a sacred feast. What should be remembered is that no matter how we chose to relate to the divine, the divine will guide us in the way it sees fit, and openness to that counts for far more than adherence to a ritual schedule.