As sort of a precursor to this post, I would like to point out that yes, I do own a Black Cat. He’s maybe 20 lbs (really big…but not necessarily overweight…), and entirely black except for random hairs of white scattered throughout. Because of those white hairs, his name is Bubbles. It made sense to me when I was ten. I *also* have a gray tiger-kitty, he’s striped gray-white-black, his name is Bongo. I have a dog, who is probably the closest thing to a familiar, who is a doberman/german shepherd mutt of some sort, named Elvis. I have another dog, Winnie, who is as dumb as a pile of bricks, but lovable – she’s a lhasapu-beagle mix. We also have, caged, a leopard gecko named Caleb, and a cockatiel named Charlie.
As witches, or as pagans, or as any sane minded individual, we grow very easily attached to animals which sit with us at night, beg us for food, shit in our shoes, and are generally pains-in-the-butt whenever you don’t want them to be. My first ever online username, still used today in a lot of my endeavors, was petlover. I love and respect my animals, and what I have with them is a special connection. But what makes an animal more a familiar than a pet? I think it can be summed up in the level of “involved” that the animals get into your spiritual life.
Do they attend ritual with you? Or sit quietly outside the door, waiting for you to finish? Do they always stare at you knowingly? Or nudge you at just the right time during a meditation? Wake up in the middle of the night to patrol for things that you know only they can see? When you talk to them – do they answer back? Are they intelligent?
The funny thing about animals is that they don’t exist as we do. When we draw the magical circle and recite our words, and put our walls of energy up – our cats, and sometimes our dogs, can pass right through without disrupting the energy. This has been commented on by at least a few people I know, and I have seen it myself. Cats are known in Egypt as sacred – and they are meant to pass between the worlds with ease. Some Egyptians, as I’m sure you all know from history class, would even embalm their cats.
It is no wonder then, that you would choose an animal to help guide you between the worlds on your journeys as a witch. It is no wonder, also, then, that throughout common history up until recently, the monotheistic world decided it appropriate to change that which was most sacred – cat – into something most feared and, at times, despised.
Yet, you can’t just go out and buy a cat, or a dog, and expect them to be your companion in your endeavors. Some of my animals don’t fit the criteria to really be familiars. I think, in terms of finding a familiar, a kitten, or a puppy is probably most easy. You train them from early on to be your friend, and what to do around candles. Because, let’s be practical, no one wants to go to the vet with a singed animal and shrug, “They shouldn’t have touched the candles!” The rest – however far you take it – is up to your relationship with the animal. Out of my animals, only two of the four free-range are really in that sort of relationship with me to be considered familiars, or craft working partners.
It is much like working with a coven, or a partner in the craft: a fellow high priest or priestess. The bond that develops is one that cannot necessarily be described. Be warned, however: the deeper you love, the deeper you feel the loss – whether you are going on vacation, traveling away from home, or one of you is passing from this world into the next. Be warned, also, that many times, after a familiar has passed on, you will have recurring dreams of them. I still dream of my first close companions.
A familiar is not a demon rose up out of the ashes – at least in my experience. There is no bloody summoning ritual in Wicca to get an animal which you will control and bend to your whims. Perhaps you’ll find a cat, or a dog, someday, in the middle of nowhere, with no explanation or tags, and that animal will become your familiar. But I’m sure much of what we need by familiars can be fulfilled with a pet store, constant love, and affection, and careful meditation regarding the issues at hand.