Our furry, scaley & feathery friends:
If you’ve ever read the Sabrina comics, watched the TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or its newest adaptation, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina — then you’ll be familiar with…familiars (haha).
Salem the cat is an iconic representation of the witch’s familiar. In traditional witch lore, a familiar was a spirit or imp that could take the form of an animal and help a witch in their magical undertakings. Familiars served a witch as their guide and companion, often appearing as a household pet.
In modern witchcraft, familiars aren’t necessarily seen as a spirit inhabiting an animal to guide, protect, and help a witch in their craft. Familiars are now widely seen as a pet a witch has a special emotional and spiritual bond. When we have deep connections with our pets, they can help balance our emotions, soothe mental stress, and fill our lives with love. These are not direct aids to a witch’s practice — but in my opinion, these things are absolutely magical.
History of Familiars
Familiars became primarily associated with witches and witchcraft beginning in the European witch hunt and trials. One characteristic used to condemn witches was whether or not they kept an animal companion. At that time, it was believed that these animals were either devil spirits or given to witches by the devil and would help a witch spread evil and mischief. Familiars were often handed down from one witch mentor or family member to another.
The cat, specifically the black cat, has become the cultural symbol of a witch’s familiar (reinforced by our friend, Salem). But why cats? During the witch trial era, European witches kept all kinds of animals. Ferrets were popularly associated with witchcraft. Mice and rats were also seen in stories of witches accused during the European witch trials. Insects could also be familiars, and One account from 1591 in Wales tells of a witchy woman suspected of keeping a fly as her familiar. (National Museums Liverpool)
In Norse mythology, Freyja, a goddess who ruled death, the afterlife, and was known to practice witchcraft, rode a chariot pulled by cats. (Petfinder) Cats are also predominated in ancient Egyptian art. Many folks believe ancient Egyptians worshiped cat-deities, but cats were significant to ancient Egyptian cultures, even if this wasn’t the case. Their domestication is traced back to this time.
Finding Your Familiar
Not every witch has or needs a familiar! But if you want one, or are wondering if you already have one, here are some things to think about.
You may have a pet you feel strongly bonded with. Does this mean they’re your familiar? While that could be the case for some folks, it’s not always as simple as that!
Witches and familiars have a psychic connection. They can read each others’ thoughts and emotions. Do you have a pet that you can talk to without using words? Do you both communicate on a level that goes above the heads of others?
If you often dream about a pet, this could also be a sign that they’re your familiar and communicating with you in psychic ways.
While some witches still use familiars in the traditional sense (to help with their magical practice and spell work), many modern witches define their familiar as their best animal friends they have a soul connection with.
You cannot choose your familiar — you both find each other when the time is right. If you want to call a familiar to you, you can meditate or manifest finding this connection.
Familiars are typically housepets: cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits, mice, rats, birds, frogs, toads, lizards, spiders, insects — animals that wouldn’t cause suspect from unwitchy folk. And you can also have more than one familiar throughout your life.
Do you have a familiar in your life?
Teen Vogue — What a Witch’s Familiar Really Is
Learn Religions — What is a Pagan Animal Familiar?
National Museums Liverpool — Familiar spirits and devilish imps