Updated: Mar 1, 2021
I'm going to come right out of the gate and say it, Fido, Fluffy, Fifi, Scruffy, Spot, and Sugar--- they are NOT your Familiar.
Familiars and a Pet...NOT the same thing. Nor should you want your beloved pet to be your Familiar. For a modern witch to lay claim to a Familiar spirit, the animal must have made a pact with the witch. The animal Familiar is actually not an animal, but a spirit who takes the form of an animal (or other form) and typically this spirit will not reside in the witch’s home. They pretty much come and go as they please.
Familiars are different from totem animals and animal spirit guides, though they are all thrown into the same proverbial cauldron. ---that may be another article!
I see so many modern witches talking about their "Familiars". So desperate to will it to be the case, as if somehow they are a witch failure without one. When someone points out they actually don't have a Familiar, all hell breaks loose! The endless social media threads of fighting begins. If you are a witch and practice witchcraft and don't have a Familiar, that is quite fine. You have not failed at anything. If you want your pet to have a "cool-title", I highly recommend NOT using the term 'Familiar.' Call it something else - there are thousands of words to pick from the English language! I hope when you are done reading this, you will understand WHY the term 'Familiar' should not be interchangeably used to describe your beloved pet.
So what exactly is a Familiar and what does it represent? Commonly found in animal form, a Familiar is a spiritual entity that aids a witch in their practice. These Familiar spirits could take on nearly any form, sometimes human likeness. Sometimes the Familiar was described as a grotesque creature of fantasy, a mixture or blend of several creatures all rolled into one thing.
Definition of a Familiar taken from Encyclopedia Britannica: Familiar, in Western demonology, small animal or imp kept as a witch’s attendant, given to her by the devil or inherited from another witch. The familiar was a low-ranking demon that assumed any animal shape, such as a toad, dog, insect, or black cat. (1)
The Familiar was believed to subsist by sucking blood from a witch’s fingers or other protuberances on her body such as a mole or a wart. During the European witchcraft trials of the 15th–17th century a suspected witch was searched for the “teats” by which she fed her Familiar, and these, like the devil’s brand marks, were considered sure signs of her guilt. Alternatively, a witch may have fed her Familiar blood from sacrificed animals.
Thomas A. Donaldson points out the complicated relationship between the witch and Familiar. The Familiar didn’t just do what it was told. It also made requests of the witch, in exchange for its magical help (December 1995). Most of the time, the Familiar itself initiated the contact with the witch. It would choose a person to attach itself to, and that person rarely had any choice but to keep it and work along side it.
Familiars were given names like any common household pets. One 16th-century Essex woman accused of witchcraft admitted that she had three Familiars in the form of mice: Littleman, Prettyman and Daynty. Another had four mice named Prickeare, James, Robyn and Sparrow. Elizabeth Clark, was the first victim of Matthew Hopkins, England’s great witch-hunter of the 17th century, confessed to having five Familiars, including unearthly ones: Holt, a kitten; Jamara, a fat, leg- less spaniel; Sack and Sugar, a black rabbit; Newes, a pole- cat; and Vinegar Tom, a long-legged, greyhound-like creature with an ox’s head and broad eyes, which could turn itself into a headless four-year-old child. (well isn't that pleasant!)(2)
Familiars can also "take a hit for you", in other words, they could be used as a magickal shield to protect your butt if you happened to piss off another witch. Familiar's are tools, they are entities that work with you magickally and magick isn't always rainbows and unicorns. Magick can be ugly. In no way, shape, or form, should you WANT your beloved pet to take on this role.
So in a nutshell, a Familiar is NOT a beloved pet. A Familiar was a spirit creature that was masquerading as a normal animal to 'blend in' and could be used as a magickal shield to protect you.
So what exactly is a Pet? Honestly this should not even need to be explained, but here we go! An animal, not of spirit form. A living being you care for by feeding it, cleaning it, providing medical care when needed, loving it, playing with it, and general maintenance of it. Typically this animal is loved dearly by the family, and is never wished ill upon. You don't want any harm coming to your pet, this is why most humans, take their pets to the vet and spend thousands of dollars in treating their ailments, and spend hundreds of dollars spoiling them with toys, treats, etc.
A pet should NOT be a "tool" you would want to use for magickal workings, defensive or otherwise. Now mind you, a pet can certainly take interest in your magickal workings. Because you love and care for them, they may just want to be with you and act as a comforting presence. This is no way means they are magickal entities. All it means is, they like your company and want to see what you are up to.
"But, but...my pet is interested in my craft practices!"
Well, OK...99.9% of the time, they just want to be around you. That is it. Period. Our pets love us with no strings attached. No conditions. They love us unconditionally. They would probably be around you whether you are casting a spell, reading a book, or laying down in bed. Even if you are allowing them to practice in your craft with you, does not make them a Familiar. Pets are REAL, living creatures that just want your love and attention. They have ZERO clue what a spell is or what magick is.
Used as magickal shields
A tool to assist in magickal workings
Spirit taking on a physical form - usually animal
Gifted or there was a deal made with the witch
Comes and goes as they please
Are magickally inclined
Seen as evidence to convict a witch
Cared for by humans
Are a loving part of the family
Needs protection, medical care, food, water, grooming, cleaning, and love
Wants your love and attention
Can be a part of your practice, but will not actually be an active participant
They give love and emotional support to their owners
I hope this has helped clarify why people get so upset when others nonchalantly claim, "This is Fifi, my Familiar."
Some neat stuff I found in my research. This is some cool Folklore I never knew about!
Historian Emma Wilby believes that stories such as The Frog Prince, Puss in Boots and Rumpelstiltskin are about familiars.
In the 1600s, Prince Rupert of England and his companion dog Boye were an unstoppable force in the English Civil War. It was widely reported that Boye was a familiar animal.