Witches and animals go together like peanut butter and jelly. Throughout the Western World, at least, witches have often been associated with an animal familiar spirit. Dogs, cats, hares, owls, ravens, yellow birds, and all manner of toads, snakes, and salamanders have been said to be familiars in one text or another.
These accounts might be a cultural vestige of ancient shamanic practices–after all, people of cultures gone by read the movements of animals as a divinatory practice and found different qualities in the wildlife surrounding them that they would metaphorically use to increase that quality in themselves or another. One might serve rabbit to a warrior before battle so that its speed would help him dodge arrows and sword blows.
Different cultures have had different associations with animals. The Germanic people painted bison, elk, deer, owls, wolves and such upon caves. The ancient Egyptians held hawks, cats, jackals, leopards, dogs, and so forth to be sacred creatures. Native Americans perhaps honored the buffalo, coyote, crows, and jaguars. Today, contemporary magical practice links a lot of this global honoring of “charismatic macrofauna” (hey, not too many people have honored bacteria!) to a shamanistic belief that each of us has an animal spirit dwelling within us.
Over the next few days, Roderick has us examining different aspects of animal work; particularly the two main types of familiars that are part of Wiccan practice: the “domestic” familiar and the “divining” familiar. The domestic familiar is the physical animal magic workers kept as a tool of powerful magic. The divining familiar was a spirit helper that could change over time. Today, we might view this familiar as the energies of our own animal selves.
Practice: Personal Animal Traits
Before you understand more about the familiar self, try this practice. Make a list of your personal traits, characteristics, and habits. Try not to edit the list. Once you are finished, try to look at the traits objectively to determine what kind of animal might closely resemble your traits. Make a short list of animals you think might fit your profile. If you don’t know much about the traits of animals in the wild, take a trip to the library and do some old-fashioned research, go to the zoo, or find an online resource that will help you to compare your personal traits to those of animals.
One mistake to avoid in this exercise is altering your traits so that you fit the profile of an animal you admire. Not everyone is a wolf, tiger, lion or bear. Some of us might closely resemble pigs, skunks, porcupines, or black widow spiders! Allow your reality to shine through fully, unedited. Through this comparison process you can develop a list of potential animal candidates that might represent your familiar self. Try not to consider the list as definitive. You make ultimately find a surprising animal spirit residing within.
I care a lot about maintaining a good, clean, functional home, and I really enjoy a lot of homesteading activities like canning, gardening, and so forth. I avidly seek knowledge on all levels, but I can be a little lazy about doing something constructive with what I’ve found out. I love hanging out with friends, but I’m withdrawn around strangers. They’ve got to get into my good graces before I relax. I also value time alone. I really enjoy babies and playing with young children. I’d rather be busy than idle, but I do love a good “vegetate and do nothing” session. I’m really good with handicrafts of all types, but especially love embroidery, knitting, and pysanky. I’m very interested in interpersonal relationships and understanding how various groups of people are connected. I kind of like things to be a little dangerous and understand that pain is not always a bad thing. I’m not particularly aggressive until something near and dear to me is threatened…if someone was poking fun at my baby brother, I can’t say I wouldn’t throw punches (well, the baby is now 20, so he can get into his own fights, I guess). Once you’re my friend, you’re a friend for life. But I do tend to ignore friendly acquaintances and don’t cultivate them into a deeper relationship. As much of a homebody as I am, I also love travel.
As far as animals go…I can sort of see communal insects in my emphasis for creating a functional home, industry, and interpersonal relationships. I see bees especially in their wariness around strangers. Oddly enough, I can see bears in how I relate with babies and how I’m not particularly aggressive until provoked (although the latter is a bee quality, too). I also can see lots of pair-bonding animals in how I latch onto certain people for life. Wolves, albatrosses, swans, turtle doves, beavers. Actually, beavers mesh well with other traits of mine, like the home-building. I suppose the owl and salmon might correspond with my pursuit of knowledge. Pigs and dolphins are also wickedly smart. And dolphins do enjoy a good session of chilling out and playing.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that I just don’t give a shit. Exactly like the honey badger. I just take what I want.