Familiars can assist the witch in carrying energy for healing, communication or spell-casting. The familiar can also be used for protection of the home and/or personal property. During astral projection or dream work, the familiar can not only safeguard the witch, but also retrieve information for her.
There are essentially three types of familiar spirit: the physical, the astral/spirit, and the artificial familiar. (I’m not going to get into the artificial familiar in this article, but I’ll give you examples of the physical and the astral.)
The physical familiar can be a pet or any animal/creature to which you feel drawn.
His deceased daddy, Magick, preferred to jump up on the altar during smudging, and stay there the whole time we were outside. That cat was huge. We had to set up the altar around him.
Cats, because of their independent nature, have a reputation for being aloof little bastards who don’t care about us humans, but I don’t think that’s true. Yes, they’re insatiably curious. But I believe they are drawn to the energy of my magical projects, and they invariably add to the working.
If you feel naturally attracted to an animal or creature, then it’s likely you are being called into a relationship. And during your years of practicing the Craft, you will probably acquire more than one familiar.
Or, you can seek out a familiar spirit through guided meditation known as a journey quest.
Raven is the spirit animal of my patron goddess, The Morrigan. I was adopted by the raven familiar before I even knew the name of the goddess they introduced me to, and now I see them everywhere I go. Nesting in the stadium lights at my son’s high school football games. The whoomp whoomp of their wings over our tent when we go camping. A whole murder of crows in the woods behind our forest cabin, who caw good morning to us as soon as we walk out on the deck to drink our coffee. And the biggest raven I’ve ever seen perched on the roof of an SUV in the parking lot at Grand Canyon.
I love observing their behavior and have learned so much from interacting with them. (If you would like to know more about ravens and crows, see my blog from July 2014 on raven magic.
Cats and ravens make sense as familiars, because they’re animals I have always loved.
I encountered it when I took my first shamanic drumming journey.
The Astral Familiar
An astral/spirit familiar is one that pre-exists as a conscious entity within the elemental realm or the Otherworld, which lies beyond the world of the living. It may look like a known animal (or not), but you can’t reach out and touch it.
My first shamanic journey took place in a community campground during a large fire circle with nearly 50 people. I traveled to what the Native Americans call the “upper world,” the spirit realm, and asked to meet my spirit guide.
The journey was absolutely breathtaking.
You’re not supposed to do that on a spirit journey, by the way, but I was pretty green.
My spirit guide was equally impressive: An immense, shaggy sabre tooth tiger.
I felt so peaceful and protected when our journeying ended that evening. We all bedded down for the night, and that feeling of peace continued until the Santa Anna winds blew in about three that morning. The wind howled so hard around us, it blew my tent away when I finally got up and stepped outside to see how everyone else was faring. (Yes, it was staked down, and it still ended up a football field distance away.) My feeling of peace and protection completely shattered, I retrieved my tent, threw it in the back of my SUV, belongings still in it, and drove home in the dead of night.
That was the weirdest camping trip I’ve ever been on. While my rational mind told me the howling wind and this large gathering or witches and their path working were in no way related, I just didn’t want to get any closer to my sabre toothed spirit guide. So, I put the experience aside and tried again, albeit several years later.
By the time I tried looking for a spirit guide again, I had done a lot of shamanic journeying. This time, we went to the lower world. I lit my candle and voiced my intentions, lay down on my rug and put my journeying stone over my third eye.
It was apocalyptic. Everything was dusty, dry, dull brown. The trees had no leaves and appeared stunted. Crystals hung by strings in the tree beside me, their luster blotted out by dust. There were no buildings still intact, every structure was ruined and obviously abandoned. I looked around for anyone or anything that could be my spirit guide, and spotted an old man with a long, dingy gray beard, dressed in a brown burlap monk’s cloak. He had an animal on his shoulder, but I was too far away to make out what it was. “Are you my spirit guide?” I asked him as I approached. “What has happened here?”
It was a spider monkey, and animal I had never seen in my life, I had to look him up. The little guy jumped up on my shoulder and pointed after the old man, urging me to follow him.
There’s more to this story, but this blog is about familiars, so let me just remind you: no matter how odd the creature, or how unlikely the scene, stay open to all possibilities. Everyone wishes their familiar was a bear, wolf, fox—all the usual suspects—but in reality, what you may need at this time is a little, goofy-acting monkey.