So what is a familiar?
The biggest misconception is that your familiar must be a cat, or even more stereotypically, a black
cat. Not so. Any animal of any species can present itself as your familiar.
Where do you find one?
Sometimes you need to search out your familiar, but other times they will find
you. You can't summon a familiar, only invite one. Meditation or scrying are two methods that may help you locate your animal
companion. They may arrive in your life when you call, or just when you are in need of them. And the flip side to that, is
that they can also disappear from your life if you no longer need their help or guidance. I would say that most familiars
stay with a person for a good many years, typically the life span of their animal hosts. But don't be surprised if they move
During the Burning Times, animal familiars played a sizable role in the prosecution
of 'witches'. It was believed at the time that all witches had an animal companion, that was really a demon in physical form.
Seeing an animal in relationship with an accused individual would often be considered evidence to their witchery. Even something
as meaningless as a mouse or fly in their jail cell. Even today, many non-Pagans who don't understand our beliefs consider
any Pagan's animal companion to be an evil spirit in disguise.
Tis probable that the thing most folks associate with the Traditional Medieval
view of Witches (after the pointy hat and Broomstick) is that they have a Familiar, after all, what's a Witch without her
'evil' black Cat? In actuality, it was believed in less enlightened times that the Witches Familiar (or imp) was a companion
animal (or Spirit, for some of the imp's recorded by, amongst others, Mathew Hopkins, are not normal animals at all, and some
could only be seen by the Witch his or herself!) given to the Medieval Witch when they made their pact with the Devil! These
companions were alleged to have been the instrument of the Witches intent on many an occasion, (as recorded in Philip Sergeant's
book 'Witches & Warlocks' amongst others), with the Familiar then being rewarded with being 'fed' from the Witches Teat,
a small deformity upon the body of the alleged Witch that allowed the Familiar to 'drink blood' from it! As has been discussed
elsewhere on this site, many innocent folk fell prey to the hysteria of the Burning Times and the false accusations that were
levelled against them, with many of the alleged Witches Teats being nothing more than a birth mark, beauty spot of wart!
Nowadays folks are generally more open minded, and those of us that consider ourselves
Witches / Wiccan's / Pagans know that (for ourselves at least, others are entitled to their own views just as much as we are!)
we do not view our Religion / Craft as having anything to do with the Christian concept of the Devil, and that we are not
'Evil' nor do we seek (in general) to do harm unto others. In these more enlightened (well, at least in our view!) times,
many Pagans / Wiccans / Witches do feel themselves able to allow themselves to acknowledge the stereotype and do find that
they have companions that become their Familiars!
So, What's the Difference between a Familiar, Spirit Guide and a Totem Animal?
Ok, personally I take the view that they are 3 separate things, though very closely
related! Others may disagree, which is fine by me, but my own views are what I'm trying to explain here! As I currently understand
it, a Familiar is an entity that is resident (generally) upon the Mundane Plane (what we perceive as everyday reality), and
one that interacts (in some way) with the individual that it has chosen to be a Familiar for. It may well be that a Familiar
is actually a physical form that one of your Spirit Guides has chosen to take so as to enable them to have a more direct contact
and input into your life, and upon their passing from this Plane you may well find that they do then become one of your Spirit
Guides on the Astral Plane! A Familiar is much more than a pet (and not all pets become Familiars), and there is a tangible
bond between the Witch and Familiar. Generally the Familiar acts in a way that indicates it is 'more' than the animal (or
even plant!) that it's form currently occupies, for instance, Spiritwolf has a familiar, Lady (a cross breed Alsatian), whom
acts not like any normal Dog I've yet met! He rescued her from a Flat near where he was living at the time, where she'd been
abandoned by her owners as a Pup, and was in a very sorry way indeed, and Lee was the only person she would let near her!
Lady is extremely intelligent, drinks Tea, eats salad, can sense energies and other things that are not visible on the Mundane
Plane and seems to share a Telepathic link with Spiritwolf (she knows he'll be home at least 5 minutes before he gets here,
and even though I know dogs have better hearing than us, I'd be very surprised if she could hear our car 2 miles away in a
busy City centre - more so when he doesn't get home at a regular time each day, so I'm sure tis not just a routine time thing!).
Spiritwolf also seems to be able to 'hear' what she is saying / thinking, though others will probably say that it's just he's
able to read her body language! I've often said to folks when they remark upon her that 'She's not really a Dog, she's just
pretending to be so for this lifetime!' I've seen Lady (whom has an infirm hip due to a road accident) act in very strange
ways when other Energies are present (she runs around like a pup when taken to any Stone Circle, sits and watches intently
whenever we do Ritual, always comes to anyone that is unwell and comforts them) and *knows* what you are saying when you talk
to her! She even helped when we were looking into our personal Pantheon, signalling which names we should consider when I
was reading them out to Spiritwolf, and indicating the same names again upon my repeating, whether she was picking up vibes
from us both as to which we felt drawn to, or from somewhere else, I'll leave to you to decide! A very remarkable being indeed!
A Spirit Guide on the other hand is an entity I believe helps to guide you through
your life lessons, either via direct contact (through Dreams / Guided Vis / Astral Travel, or through choosing to reincarnate
as your Familiar and have direct physical input!) or through helping you to 'feel' whether a decision or choice you are about
to make is right (that 'gut feeling' or instinct that we all feel rear up from time to time!) Some believe they are entities
that travel along the same life paths as yourself (much as Spiritwolf and myself believe we are travelling together from life
to life and will always meet and share the love we have known forever), but have chosen at this point in time not to reincarnate
along with you, but to remain behind in the Summerlands / on the Astral Plane (depending upon your views and beliefs) and
help to guide you. Some believe they are their own personal Guardian Angel, an entity set to watch over them throughout their
life by their own view of Divinity. Others believe they are nothing more than a personification of your own Subconscious mind,
allowing you to interact with it in a meaningful way and to access your own subconscious store of wisdom. Still others view
them as the interaction of the Collective unconscious with the individual, that it is a means we are able to use to access
the wisdom of all whom have lived to guide us in our everyday lives. Personally I believe Spirit Guides can choose any form
they wish to interact with you, be it human, animal or even plant life! (I have 4 Spirit Guides, Moon Hunter, a Hawk - full
of life and joy, always ready to laugh and take me flying upon the Astral Plane when I meet with him, Silver Wolf - a mature
Silver Wolf whom is always ready with advice, well grounded and always thinking of practicalities, and 2 female forms - Lady
Epona / Rhiannon and Athena Parthenon - both Goddess aspects of our personal Pantheon (Mother and Maiden aspects). Now whether
you believe that the Goddess is able to be one (or more!) of your Spirit Guides I'll leave up to you, but I know personally
when I interact with my Guides via Dreams / Guided Vis / Astral Travel it always leaves me feeling wonderfully at peace!)
Whatever your own views / beliefs / explanations, it matters not that you choose an explanation, but more that you are able
to believe and to take the time to listen and receive the message that they send to you! Advice from any quarter is always
of some use, and whether you choose to heed it or not is entirely up to yourself!
Totem Animals I personally believe are a separate thing altogether again! Not
as direct in their form as a Spirit Guide, not an individual entity, but more that the qualities of the Animal are those you
either hold sacred to yourself (and that others can see in you), or that they are qualities you need to work upon to bring
into your life! Generally Totem Animals have no need of a name, they are not an individual, but the whole Spirit of the Animal
concerned, the separate identities of all of that animal that have lived brought together in one great soaring Spirit. Personally
I also see Hawk, Dove and Wolf as my own Totem animals, drawing into myself the qualities of these animals, and part of me
believes that the forms that 2 of my Spirit Guides (Moon Hunter and Silver Wolf) have chosen is to reinforce their effects
upon my psyche. Whether you feel drawn to a particular Totem Animal, interact with the Spirit of that Animal via Dreams /
Guided Vis / Astral Travel or just wish to meditate upon the Totem's qualities and invite them into your life is immaterial,
as long as you find it of some use to yourself!
Now, having said all of the above, there is no rule that says you MUST believe
in Spirit Guides, Familiars or Totem Animals, nor that your views are going to be similar to my own (as each individuals own
perceptions are going to be different, and what I choose to acknowledge and believe in isn't necessarily going to be right
for you), nor that as a Witch / Wiccan / Pagan you MUST have a Familiar, Spirit Guide and / or Totem Animal, rather they are
concepts that are available for you to choose to work with should you wish it and feel comfortable in doing so! Many choose
to work only with their Spirit Guides (meeting them upon the Astral Plane through Guided Visualizations), others with merely
meditating on a chosen Totem Animal, others feel they are able to work with all 3, and still others decide that for themselves
they wish not to open up to them at all. Which ever you personally feel is fine, there's no right and wrong answers, just
the Path itself. If it works for you, then tis good, if not, then try something else until you find something that does work!