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~ Familiars ~

Deva Bluewing

Non-Pagan history describes familiars as low-ranking demons in constant attentionto Witches for the purpose of carrying out spells and bewitchments. Familiarsusually assumed animal forms - cats, toads, owls, mice and dogs seem to have beenthe most common - though virtually any animal or insect could be suspected. In the Witchcraft Trials, if so much as a fly buzzed in the window while someone suspected of being a witch was being questioned or tried, it was said to be her (or his) familiar.The inquisitors took the Bile to heart: those who had familiars were "an abomination unto the Lord" and should be "Put to death: they shall stone them withstones: Their blood shall be upon them" (Lev. 20:27).

Familiars - also called imps - were said to be given to Witches by the Devil or bought or inherited from other Witches. A Witch could have several of them. Cats were thefavored forms, especially black ones. The fear that all cats were Witches' familiarswas one of the primary reasons for the famous cat massacres that swept through medieval Europe.

  Familiars were given names like any household pet, which most of them undoubtedlywere. Perhaps the best known familiar name is Pyewackett, the monicker the Witch's cat in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, and a name that dates back to Renaissance England. Pyewackett, Matthew Hopkins (the famous Witch hunter) stated, was a name "no mortal could invent."

  During the Witch hysteria of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the obsession with familiars was confined mostly to England and Scotland, where they are mentioned innumerous trial records, especially those related to Hopkins. The Witchcraft Act of 1604 made it a felony to "consult, convenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or rewardany evil and wicked spirit to or for any intent or purpose." But the Malleus Maleficarum (1486),the major Witch inquisitor's handbook, offers no instructionsconcerning familiars in the interrogation and trial of Witches. The book does acknowledge that an animal familiar "always works with the Witch in everything."

  There is a scant evidence of familiars in early American Witch trials. In the Salem Trials in 1692, John Bradsheet was indicted for "inciting a dog to afflict." The dog was tried and hanged as a Witch.

  Outside of Witch trials, more benevolent familiars were believed to exist, servingwizards and wise men (and women) who were magicians or village healers. The familiars helped diagnose illnesses and the sources of bewitchment and were usedfor divining and finding lost objects and treasures. Magicians conjured them in rituals, then locked then in bottles, rings and stones. They sometimes sold them as charms, claiming the spirits would ensure success in gambling, love, business orwhatever the customer wanted. This sort of familiar was technically not illegal;England's Witchcraft Act of 1604 prohibited only evil and wicked spirits. Somefamiliars were said to be Faeries. Oberon was a popular name for fairy familiars in 15th and 16th century England.

  Many modern Witches have animal familiars, usually cats, which are their magical helpers. Some also have dogs, birds, snakes or toads. Witches do not believe the familiars are "demons" or spirits in animal form but simply animals whose psychicattunement makes them ideal partners in magical workings. Some Witches say thatit is possible to endow pets with magical powers and turn them into familiars, thoughothers don't believe it should be done. Still others believe familiars are never "pets"(and should never be treated as such) but are animals who volunteer to work asfamiliars and are Karmically attracted to Witches. Witches who do not have familiars send out psychic "calls" to draw the right animal.

  Familiars reputedly are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power and are welcomed partners inside the magic circle and other magical work. They also serve as psychicradar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it bean unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic. Familiars are also given psychic protection by their Witches. Some Witches it seems also use theterm familiar to describe thought-forms created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane.

  Sorcerers and shamans in cultures around the world also have helpers in the form of spirits. Dispatching them on errands to heal, harm or kill - called sending. The physicalshape of a familiar varies. New Guinea sorcerers rely on snakes and crocodiles, while in Malaya, the familiar is usually an owl or badger passed down from generationto generation.

  Throughout Africa, the wild creatures of the bush are said to be Witches' familiars: for the Lugbara, they are said to be the toad, snake, lizard, water frog, bat, owl, leopard, jackal and a type of monkey that screeches in the night; for the Dinka, they are black cobras and hyenas. The Zulus' familiars are said to be corpses dug up and re-animated with magic; they are sent out at on night errands to scare travelers withtheir shrieking and pranks. In Shamanism, a novice shaman acquires his familiar spirits, usually manifesting in animal, reptile or bird shapes, when he completes his initiation. He or she may send them out to do battle in his or her place, but if they die, so does the shaman. Familiars usually stay with their shaman until death, thendisappear. Among certain Eskimos, the familiar is embodied in an artificial seal, not a live animal.

  In closing, what I usually instruct in this area is that the student of magic who feels that they have found a familiar is that they should practice an exercise called "TradingPlaces" by Keith Harry. This exercise is simple enough to memorize and to practice, and though it was not written specifically for bonding with an animal familiar it was designed for becoming familiar with an animal, and inducing a mystical experience.I think you will readily discern its value in the acquiring of a familiar.


Trading Places Exercise

Objective:To trade places (mentally) with a dog or cat, or other animal. Setting:Home, Zoo, Wilderness, etc. Instructions:


1. Relax your body as completely as you can. Calm your mind, eliminating all thoughts which do not relate to your intent and purpose. Sit so that you are comfortable, and as nearly as possible on the same level with the animal you willbe working with. Lie down if you like. The important thing is that you are able tocomfortably make eye contact with your animal partner in this exercise. It is alsoimportant to satisfy yourself that the animal is likewise comfortable and secure with you.

2. Take a deep breath. As you slowly exhale, look into the animal's eyes, and imaginethat a part of your awareness is being transmitted through your breath into the animal'smind. Watch the animal breathe, and imagine that a part of its awareness is being transmitted into your mind.

3. Continue looking directly into the animal's eyes until you fell your consciousness merge with the animal's consciousness.


  As the boundaries between you and the animal dissolve, you may feel as if you've really traded places with a member of another species, as though a part of you hasbecome the animal - this is the height of subjective merging. You may begin to feelcompassion for another species. You'll also probably recognize some of the artificial differences between the human and animal worlds. You may be able to feel or sensethe actual flow of the animals emotions and mental imagery. Should you accomplish this then it should be no trouble for you to contract with the animal to serve as your magical partner. Asking another to become such a partner also places upon you the responsibility of becoming its partner. I would not recommend contracting an animal to become your familiar and then treating the animal as a pet. A pet is something you possess, own. A Familiar, to my way of thinking, is an individual who has entered intoa mutually beneficial relationship (partnership) with you, and therefore should be afforded the respect and consideration due a partner.


The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft - Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Twelve Exercises For Inducing Mystical Experiences (Omni Dec. 1988) - Keith Harary