Is Your Pet a Familiar?

“Once upon a time, in a far away land, there lived a witch and her familiar…”

It sounds like the beginnings of a wonderful fairy tale, doesn’t it? However, Familiars have gotten a bad wrap for a very long time.

Thought to be malevolent beings, or even demons, by The Church- familiars were supposed to be a spirit sent to help a witch carry out evil deeds. Though most history surrounding witches is biased in a post-crusade rhetoric, it’s easy to see that witchcraft and animals were often mentioned together.

Witchfinder General by Matthew Hopkins detailing the many evil forms a witch’s familiar may take

In reality, a familiar was a guardian, sent or contracted, to protect a witch from evil or harm. They often took the form of animals, though sometimes could take shape of insects, reptiles, fairies, and even humans, depending on the witch’s gifts or needs.

In contrast to a spirit animal, a creature one embodies traits of or is protected by from another realm, familiars were physical beings that practiced and assisted the witch in her rituals and every day magicks. In modern times, the popularity of familiars has risen again, creating a link between our witchy ancestors and our selves.

In saying so, we might often find ourselves asking the question: is my pet just a pet, or are they my familiar?

If we go on ancient practices, there are a few rules that designates one as a familiar instead of an ordinary animal: the sudden apparition of the spirit when there was none before, a magickal ritual, and/or a contract negotiated between the witch and the spirit before the spirit takes a form.

Writings from sources in the early 17th Century note instances of these “demons” surfacing in such ways, but the biased nature of these documents lead me to believe that most witches came across their familiars back then much as we do today.

MacBeth Seeing the Three Witches [and their demon familiars]; Engraving by Reynolds c.1786

Therefore, I’ve created a few new ideas based on interviews of modern witches and readings of old texts of how to tell if your pet is a familiar that isn’t based on puritanical witch hunting!

How to Tell if Your Pet is a Familiar:

  1. Your familiar and you will have a soul connection. If you have several furbabies or animal loves, your familiar will be distinguished from the pack by the feeling you have when around them. For most people I’ve interviewed, they knew their familiar immediately- as if a piece of their soul was returning home.
  2. Your familiar may have resisted other owners to find you. When your familiar is meant for you, it will find you when you’re ready for it. Circumstances may present themselves for your familiar to go to a different home, but things will not work out for one reason or another- and this animal will find its way to you.
  3. Your familiar may present itself in an unanticipated moment. Even if you’re not looking for your familiar, if your soul is calling out for one, it will hear you- coming to you in mysterious, or often fated, ways. It will present itself to you when your soul and heart are ready for the connection, not necessarily when your brain is!
  4. Your familiar will understand you and you will understand it. Having the love of an animal is an honor, however, being understood by one is something few of us are ever gifted. If you find that your “pet” understands your moods, your unspoken thoughts, or even your heart, it is likely to be your familiar.
  5. Your familiar will love you the most. If you live with multiple people, or if your familiar is around others constantly, it will still always look for, and prefer being in your company than any other human. This is not to mean they will be exclusively in your face, as animals are social creatures, but you will notice your familiar has a tendency to follow you around, sit by you, or even choose to protect you before itself.
No matter who she’s with, she’s always paying attention to what I’m doing…

It’s necessary to note that as long as you know your pet is your familiar, the above conditions are only a guide. For me, the most important of them all is number one. Everyone I’ve ever asked has always said the same thing, myself included, when they found their familiar: “I just knew”.

My Sadie, a one year old Coonhound at the time, was like this. She was a malnourished, petrified, little pup that hid in the back of her cage when my husband and son passed her at the local ASPCA. However, when I walked by, I instantly stopped- feeling a tingle settle over my entire body. She immediately came to the gate, stuck her spotted nose through the stainless steel webbing, and licked me. I knew, in that moment, that she was mine and I was hers.

We’ve been inseparable ever since. After learning of her history, it became clear that we were connected on a deeper than surface level. She’d been forcibly removed from her last home, abused and beaten, and abandoned by her first home for being a gun shy hunting dog (aka: “not good enough”). She’d been in the care of the ASPCA for a while, not liking any of her handlers and showing no emotional response to anyone- leading many to believe she wasn’t adoptable. Until I came along, that is, and she came alive with the wonderful and loving spirit she is! Sadie was me and I was her, we were the same and without ever having met before, we both instantly understood and loved each other.

We’re always together…even three years later

For many people who don’t have familiars, and believe pets are just animals, it’s hard to describe how a creature of another species can know the pain you’ve lived through in a deep and profound way, but Sadie does. And I know hers. She saved me, that day, just as much as I saved her.

Many I’ve listened to who’ve spoken about their familiars have very similar stories, leading me to believe we all find our loves when it’s meant to be.

When a familiar comes to you, you may wonder: what’s next? What does a familiar do?

Familiars are often uniquely adept at picking up on your needs. For some, protection and comfort will be their designated purpose- as Sadie definitely does this for me. For others, it will be friendship and guidance. Do not try to force the relationship, as your familiar will show you its purpose over time.

Always looking out and guarding me…

Often, familiars will seek to enjoy magick with you, creating a connection that is deeper than simply your own. This can present itself in various ways, such as a cat lingering in your circle, a bird perching on your shoulder during spells, or a dog laying by your feet during ritual. However, given time and trust, your familiar will choose its own way of preforming or assisting your practice- and will very likely be unique to you and your relationship with it.

Sadie often follows me, sitting and guarding my space while I preform any sort of magick- from the mundane to the involved. When I walked the perimeter of our property during our protection spell, she followed right behind me- blending our magicks together in a beautiful dance of intention, love, and power. I, honestly, feel my spells are stronger and more natural with her by my side, as if she balances out my own chaotic energy with her patience and love.

A friend of mine has a cat who found her on a stormy night, meowing on her porch- demanding to be let in. He will sit in her lap while she meditates, purring in tandem with her breath. Though he usually is hidden away, sneaking about, when she goes to sit in her circle he pops up out of nowhere and helps her ground. She’s always claimed he saved her sanity, for he appeared to her when she was at her worst- and chose to show her how to remain calm when she didn’t believe she could.

Therefore, I fully believe each familiar will be different. Yours may shit in your shoe when you leave the house without him, but will sit in reverence as you light your candles and preform your spells. There’s no telling- but believe me when I say, your familiar will not leave you guessing for very long. It’s there for a reason, and it will show you why if you let it.

My question to you is: Is your pet a familiar? How did you know? I’d love to hear about it below!

And, just for the hell of it, here’s a gratuitous picture of Sadie that my phone happened to snap on its own one day!

She smiles for me all the time, and I smile for her…my little Sadie Baby ❤

Until next time, my friends…