Well, I know that this is not going to be very popular out there, but I have news for you witching world, not every pet you have as a witch is a familiar. A familiar is a very specific type of animal and frankly, is a bit rarer than the modern witching world would have you believe. A lot of animals, not all, but many do see spirits, additionally, many enjoy the energy of a good casting circle or ritual, this however, does not make that animal a familiar. Also, despite common belief, not all witches have a familiar. A familiar is also not, an animal totem or spirit guide as in Native American paths or other paths that include these types of spirits. It is easy to get these things confused and to feel that your special connection with your fabulous pet is that of a familiar and a witch, but it is probably not, no matter how awesome your pet is. This is in no way meant to diminish that pet and that relationship, but rather to clear up some ideas about what a familiar actually is.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a familiar as, “a spirit often embodied in an animal and held to attend and serve or guard a person.” http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/familiar However, I don’t feel that we in the modern witching world fully grasp this simplistic definition of what a familiar really means. It is not an average pet, but rather a spirit that is in the form of an animal in the physical as well as the spiritual realms. It is not like any old animal that has a spirit, but is a spirit manifested in the physical being of an animal in the physical plane and can move in the spiritual plane as well. This could be done for a number of reasons including a spirit being bound by the witch themselves for the purpose of serving them in magical matters. I highly doubt that most people who are claiming their household pets as familiars have gone to the trouble to capture and bind a spirit in an animal form. There are however, many paths that do spirit bindings in all sorts of things including animals, crystals, other magical tools, etc. This is an action not to be taken lightly or by the unskilled witch, it is an action that carries not only dangers, but also a line of other consequences.
Other reasons for the attendance of a familiar to a witch may be that spirit’s desire to assist the witch in their workings, other bindings from past lives, a familiar sent by a higher being, or any other number of spirit plane reasons. The idea is that this familiar has its own set of magical abilities and is able to carry out those workings to help out their witch both in the physical and spiritual planes. I think that the uniqueness of this creature is that it is a liminial creature, existing on the boundaries between the worlds and able to navigate and manifest in both the spiritual plane as well as the physical one. Unless your household pet can do that, it is not a familiar.
Now, having said that, there are other things that are possibilities for amazing connections with an animal that are not within the familiar range, but are easily confused for the term; the first is an animal that has its own abilities. This is very simply or perhaps not so simply, an animal in the physical world that is a regular animal but has magical abilities. We see these stories from time to time in social media about the cat who lives in a nursing home and knows when someone will pass, or animals who see spirits and are able to guard against or protect in a way that is beyond the average animal. I had a dog once that would do healing work with people by sending her energy out. People would see an image of her in their mind and feel better. It was the strangest and coolest thing. This type of animal is more common than people realize.
In addition to pets with powers, there are many paths, most commonly associated with Native American paths that include animal totems. “A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Native American tradition provides that each person is connected with nine different animals that will accompany him or her through life, acting as guides. Native beliefs further explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world.” www.legendsofamerica.com/na-totems.html This differs from a familiar in that it is not just an embodied spirit in an animal and serves different purposes. On many paths, animal totems connect with a person on a spiritual path through either visions, objects associated with a particular animal such as a bear drum, or wolf rattle for example, it can be an animal on a shield or other family emblem that embodies a way or characteristics of that person. Someone working with various animal medicines to provide spiritual or other types of healing may connect with that totem in a way that is unique to them to complete the healing.
For me personally, I work with a lot of animal energy and I have written in the past about Bear dreams which occur when I am in need of doing my own introspective work. I know others that experience other animals in dreams and various other states. I have personally also had experiences when I have returned actual animal parts, ie., fur, feather, bone to the fire for purification and release had the animal’s spirit come to me and offer thanks. For those who work this way, they will experience animal totems in a wide variety of ways that will be unique to the individual, as each person’s spiritual path is unique to them.
Another type is a spirit animal. This can be defined as, “an animal who chooses you or you choose it to get guidance & learning to help you thru life.” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Spirit%20Animal For me, this is a different type all together. This is an animal form that is only in the spiritual realms and connects with you by their choosing or that you seek out to learn from. You may call on that animal spirit to do specific magical workings or purposes or it may take you, ”under its wing,” so to speak to teach you as it has deemed you worthy of its attention. This comes in several ways, many see spirit animals as white or see through without any discerning color if they have the gift of sight. It may be a connection through an inner knowing or signs in the physical realm. However the animal manifests itself, you can be sure that it will make itself known to you if you are open and aware on your spiritual path. It could come in dreams, in many, “coincidences” (I never believe in coincidence, by the way, it’s usually a message of some sort,) various synchronicities, an actual increase in seeing that type of animal in nature or on television, or any number of ways, so keep your senses and your mind open.
I want to talk about one more animal that is not a familiar, but is related to all of this kind of discussion, and that is the power animal. This may be an animal totem, or spirit, or even a type of pet that you are most associated with in character, connections, and abilities or skills. I usually see them as having a red coloring more often than not. This is where your own skills will be strongest and you are probably best served by connecting and honing those skills in association with that animal on your spiritual journey. This animal, along with all of the other types can be any type of creature from mythology, other dimensions, the physical plane, anywhere, so if think you are getting messages from the animal world, you probably are. Have confidence and faith, the spiritual world is waiting to help you, just open up to it.
So, there you have it, not every animal is a familiar and not every witch has one. In fact, I have only ever experienced one in my life connected with a very strong witch, and I have met a lot of witches. My wish is that you find some clarification in this post once you get over being offended or put off, either way, the connections with the animal world can be quite magical and spiritual even if it is not specifically a “familiar” experience. For me, I think, I don’t think I would want a familiar, the thought of a bound spirit or one that had placed itself in a physical form to attend me is not all that pleasing to me. In my path, I prefer to work in cooperation with the natural world, but that is me. Blessings to you all.
2016 copyright by Katie Pifer http://www.witchpetals.wordpress.com