Friday, August 19, 2011

Familiars and Familiar Spirits

Woodcut depicting witches giving the names of their familiars.
Witchcraft, as we have said before, is a kind of survival or revival of ancient European shamanism.  Just as shamans work with totemic spirits and spirit guides, so do we work with our familiars and familiar spirits.

A familiar is a creature that regularly helps a witch with her Craft.  A familiar can be corporeal (existing in flesh and blood in this realm) or incorporeal (a spirit or astral body).

Corporeal Familiars

The first kind of familiar is usually a common household pet that the witch has a very special kind of working relationship with.  There is a bond (an energy link) created between the witch and her corporeal familiar that is forged through mutual love and trust.  Sometimes this bond is formalized through the creation of a blood link.  This is done by feeding the creature a bit of your own blood.

In the Middle Ages, the Inquisitors of the Catholic Church believed the pets of accused witches to be possessed by demons. A witch was supposed to feed her familiar spirit with her own blood, which the animal sucked from her body at a special nipple that became known as a witch's mark. This nipple might be anywhere on the body. It was identifiable to the witch-finders of the Inquisition because it was completely insensitive to pain. A long needle might be thrust into it without the awareness of the witch, if her eyes were covered or averted during the operation.

Mr. Jinx on the main altar.
A corporeal familiar is usually a singular creature, even if the witch has a plethora of animal companions with which she is close.  This animal will make itself useful whenever the witch is practicing the ways of the Craft in its presence.  Indeed, my own precious companion gets excited whenever I even so much as approach an altar, or talk a bit about the Craft.  He is at my side now as I write this entry.  He has, in accordance with the lore of familiars, even taught me certain types of magic.

Also existing in this realm is the plant familiar.  A plant familiar is a plant grown with offerings of energy and intent to a specific purpose.  The most famous of plant familiars is the storied Aluran, which I will write about more in another entry.

Incorporeal Familiars

The spirit familiar is a creature that most witches are less... ahem... familiar with.  The spirit familiar fits the classical idea of an imp or demon spirit that the witch associates with that gives her workings special power.  The spirits of the Goetia, or the Lesser Key of Solomon, fit the requirements for a spirit familiar nicely, and many of them (Valfor, Paimon, Buer, Purson, Gaap, Malphas, Shax, Alloces, Amy, Amdusias, and Belial) specifically manifest and act as familiars.

Spirit bottles on an altar.
In Vodoun the familiar spirit is known as the Ti Bon Ange or "little good angel".  This spirit is housed in a lidded jar draped with beads, and made offerings to maintain its energy.  This concept can be translated for our purposes by use of a spirit bottle or jar.  A suitable vessel is selected, such as a fancy sugar bowl, or an empty liquor bottle with some character to it.  If you are fortunate you may find a spirit bottle in the shape of an animal, or with a human face, or even an impish one.  Fill the spirit jar with nail clippings, a lock of your hair, and a bit of your blood (if you are a woman of childbearing age some of your menstrual blood would be ideal, as this is the very blood of life).  Add any herbs or charms you feel are appropriate for the type of spirit you want to attract.  Lodestones painted red and fed iron fillings are a good start.  Drawing powder (powdered sugar) or honey are also good additions.

When you have created a spirit jar ready to house a spirit you will need to lay a compass and tread the mill, asking the Gods of our tradition, the Ancestors, and the Mighty Dead to send forth a familiar.  Traditionally it is the Witch Father, in our tradition named Azazel or Tubal Qayn, who offers a familiar spirit to a witch. The payment for this service is determined by the stone bowl, but is traditionally a piece of silver. After receiving a familiar spirit offer it food -- your own blood is best, but milk, bread, honey, or alcohol are all acceptable.  Keep your familiar spirit's jar in a safe place, and adorn it with offerings.  Feed it on a regular schedule, at least once a month.  The familiar spirit can be sent forth to do tasks for you, can teach you the Craft through inspiration and dreams, and can add its energy to any spell as you see fit.

I have also heard of familiars being tied to pieces of jewelry, such a a ring, certain stones, and even mojo hands.  Let your intuition guide you.

In fairy tales familiar spirits come in times of need or crisis, such as Rumplestiltskin (who notably can be controlled by knowledge of his true name), and Puss in Boots (who is inherited as a kuthun and serves his master in exchange for a pair of boots).  Familiars are also alluded to in many Mother Goose rhymes, the most useful of which gives a formula for procuring a familiar spirit.

There was a crooked man, he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

"There was a crooked man" -- there was a cunning man, or a witch.
"he walked a crooked mile." -- he tread the mill.
"He found a crooked sixpence" -- he made an offering of a bent sixpence, or silver (see Peter Paddon's Grimore for Modern Cunning Folk for an excellent explanation of this custom).
"upon a crooked stile." -- in liminal space, astral space (a stile is a structure which provides people a passage through or over a fence or boundary via steps, ladders, or narrow gaps).
"He bought a crooked cat," -- he received a familiar.
"which caught a crooked mouse." -- the familiar needed to be fed immediately.
"And they all lived together in a little crooked house." -- he took the familiar in and gave it a place of rest, such as a spirit bottle.


  1. I wrote a little something about my own familiars -- with PICS:

  2. As Laurelei can attest, I've been working heavily with the magic of the incorporeal familiar for half a year now. I think that a foray into the Goetia is next on my to-do list. Working up a Trad-Craft adaptation of the Solomonic circles and calls should be challenging and exciting. I'll be sure to record my work here.

  3. In the interest of posterity, here is a list of names of familiars taken from witch-trial records. I've culled these from The Witches' Almanac's excellent publication "Witches All" pg 32.

    Robert the Rule
    Sack and Sugar
    Vinegar Tom

  4. this reminds me of the Grimm tale:

    a seemingly beneficent interaction with a spirit in a bottle.

  5. Indeed, Jacob! Mercurius sounds exactly like an interaction with a Goetic spirit -- especially the part where he planned to strangle the poor chap!

    What a wonderful tale! Thank you for sharing.

  6. im wondering what i shud call my familiar. hes a nameless cat but helps with my workings

  7. You may find that he has a name already. =) Ask him directly, and then see what name keeps coming to mind over the next few days.

  8. How does one actually receive the familiar spirit?

  9. Great post! Here is how i acquired my familiar using a clay statue as a physical representation:

  10. I have one cat I have named Pywaquet..often spelled Pywoket or Piwacket..there are many spellings of this familiar's names..take your pick ...whatever comesto mind will be just right for your cat. I'm about to receive another cat called Meluma...a name I don't like..he is a black/white tuxedo cat neutered male..Maluma means dirty I need to rename this cat..any suggestions? Send them tome Thanx


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