familiars

Tink about It

March, 2016

About Foofur and Familiars

17 years ago I spent quite some time in the local pet shelter. I was a member of the foundation board and the local SPCA, but I also worked in the shelter itself, cleaning the kennels and everything else that needed to be done. One day a little dog was brought in for surrender with just another lame excuse. His name was Bambi and he was a crossbreed Jack Russell / Welsh Corgi, just 8 weeks ‘old’. It was love on first sight for both of us. I instantly loved the little bundle of joy that almost fitted on one hand. We were meant to be together. The name Bambi didn’t fit him, so one of my co-workers suggested Foofur and that was perfect. My husband and I had just lost our previous dog, a Bernese Mountaindog. We both love large dogs, but somehow I couldn’t help but love this little Corgi dude… It took me a lot of effort and persuasive power, but Foofur came home with us and we never had any regrets.

As he was our only dog at the time, he was raised by the cats in our household. He took over some feline behaviour like sitting in the window sill and washing habits. Foofur’s favourite place wasn’t fixed, he was happiest when he was around me. Even when I meditated he was sleeping in my lap and didn’t move until I did. I took him almost everywhere I went. In the car he sat next to me on the passenger seat as my co-pilot. He often went with me to witchy events, weekends with my craft systers, etc. Everyone loved him. He could get along with every living creature, be it human, canine, feline or otherwise… he loved them all. At one of these events someone asked me if Foofur was my ‘familiar’. I had heard of the word before, but didn’t know the exact meaning. I thought it just meant ‘a witch’s companion’ so I said yes.

Foo

 

Foofur, around 3 years old

As always with your beloved pets you hope they’ll live forever, but we all know they don’t… Foofur got older and got some infirmities of old age. He could handle those, but we knew he was living in borrowed time. As one of his infirmities got worse that would be the beginning of the end. He got slower and lost some weight, but he was still the lovely little dog he always was and we still loved each other to pieces. We got some extra years together, but last year in June I had to let him go… I still miss him so much and I’m crying when I’m writing this. I love and loved all of our pets very dearly, but Foofur always had a special place in my heart and he still does. I know he hasn’t left me. I sometimes feel him on my feet at night, like I did when he was alive. I feel his presence and I still talk to him. Someone told me she felt his presence at my left shoulder. After all this years, again someone suggested he might be my familiar. So I decided to look it up a bit.

What is a familiar? That looks like an easy question, but the answers are multiple and diverse… Most common is a definition like ‘a familiar is a magic-user’s spiritual helper manifest in animal form’ or something similar. Some people use the words totem, power animal and spirit animal synonymously with the word familiar, but that doesn’t seem right. Sometimes they overlap or can be the same animal, but that’s more often the exception than the rule. Many see familiars as common household pets with an extra twist. They seem to have special powers and a way to communicate with the witch without words. Although the black cat is most well-known as a familiar, it can also be a dog, hare, ferret, raven, owl, or any other animal for that matter. Some sources take the definition a bit broader to include humans or human form, and spiritual entities. There are many stories in folklore about familiars, familiar spirits and the like. It is very possible that familiars are a twisted and demonised form of the Roman ‘lar familiaris’ , a family guardian spirit kept safe as a small statue in the ‘Lararium’, a shrine often close to the hearth. Among Australian Aborigines the medicine man sends his familiar spirit (his assistant totem, spirit-dog, spirit-child or whatever the form may be) to gather information. While this is occurring, the man himself is in a state of receptivity, in sleep or trance. During the English Civil War, the Royalist general Prince Rupert was in the habit of taking his large poodle dog named Boye into battle with him. Throughout the war the dog was greatly feared among the Parliamentarian forces and credited with supernatural powers. As noted by Morgan, the dog was apparently considered a kind of familiar. At the end of the war the dog was shot, allegedly with a silver bullet.These are just a few examples, there is much more interesting information to be found. I’ll list some sources under this article.
Charles Baudelaire, the famous French poet, seemed to believe in familiars. In his poem ’Le Chat’ (The Cat, 1857) he writes about it. 

(Top: original, Bottom: translation by Roy Campbell)

C’est l’esprit familier du lieu;

Il juge, il préside, il inspire

Toutes choses dans son empire;

peut-être est-il fée, est-il dieu?

 

Familiar Lar of where I stay,

He rules, presides, inspires and teaches

All things to which his empire reaches.

Perhaps he is a god, or fay.

 

When researching familiars, one undoubtedly encounters the name of Margaret Murray and her book ‘The Witch Cult in Western Europe’ (1921), in which she devotes a thorough chapter to familiars. It’s a very interesting read, I can definitely recommend it. She is responsible for much of the modern scholarship on the witch’s familiar. Her work delved into the variation of the familiar found in witchcraft practices. Many of the sources she relied on were trial records and demonological texts from early to modern England.

Using her studies into the role of witchcraft and magic in Britain during the Early Modern period as a starting point, historian Emma Wilby examined the relationship that familiar spirits allegedly had with the witches and cunning-folk in this period.


So the research field about familiars varies from folklore to hearsay and speculation to scientific scholarship to literature, and back and forth again. It is researched in many ways. And the truth? I don’t know whether that really exists or not. I guess it’s what you believe in, to whom you’d want to listen. Is Foofur my familiar? I still like to think so and in a way I see him like that so yes, for me it’s true!

Blessings

 

Foo2

 

Foofur
February 12, 1999 – June 2, 2015

Sources and more to explore:

 

Musings of a Hereditary Witch

November, 2014

Twerp – The Best Familiar

I want to share with you about the best familiar this witch has ever had. He came to me as a Mother’s Day gift from a friend, an orange Tabby that fit in the palm of my hand. She told me he was the runt of the litter and needed a good home. He was so cute! He had white from under his chin spreading out down his whole underside to his tail. The rest of him was Tabby orange. Immediately I wanted to name him Merlin, but familiars have a way of naming themselves. The little trouble maker that he was, earned him the name Twerp.

Twerp was my constant companion in ritual. As soon as I sat on the floor before my altar, he was there, often in my lap or sitting regally beside me. It didn’t matter if I was doing devotions or a full blown ritual. When students or guests were invited to ritual, Twerp would sit outside the boundary of ritual. However, once we began to share food, Twerp became everyone’s best friend. He received many praises and handouts. He would sit and eat with us. His favorite foods however, were Cheetos, hot cream of rice cereal (especially during the winter months) and tapioca pudding.

When I had clients over for healing sessions, Twerp was right there too. He would either lie beside ‘our’ client or lay between their shoulder blades. Sometimes, he would lay under the massage table. No one ever had an issue with Twerp assisting with a session. He was a healer in another since too. My 2nd husband had seizures, after a seizure he would pass out. Twerp would lie at his feet and draw him back into his body. He would then stay with him until he came back to himself.

Twerp had a habit of allowing playful little entities to pop into his body. When this happened it was like he was being takin for a test drive. You know, seeing how everything worked, like walking (more like staggering), twitching his tail and cocking his head first one way and then the other. When this would happen I would put my hands on both sides of his face, look in his eyes and in a commanding tone say: “Alright you, out of the cat. Now!” Poof, and the little bugger would leave. Poor Twerp would sit there for a moment like he was trying to understand what had just happened and then he’d want a snack. Snack cured everything.

Twerp was with me 13 years and crossed over in 2000, almost a year after my husband passed. He is buried in the Sacred Grove, where our Land Guardian dwells, she watches over him now. Twerp left with a blanket for warmth, a toy to play with and herbs of blessing.

Twerp saw me through the end of a bad marriage and through the transition of becoming a single parent. He saw me through a second marriage and subsequently becoming a widow. He introduced me to one of my patron gods, Taranis. Twerp was there for all the tears and the laughter. He was a constant companion, a magic worker, and a healer. Even today, those who knew him will remark about his time in ritual with us. There will never be another like him.

Blessings on your Hearth & Home

Spot – Our Magical Cat: The Story She Wants Me to Share

January, 2011

Spot – Our Magical Cat:

The Story She Wants Me to Share

Spot was our very special pet.  She came to us from out of the wild in the spring of 1995 when she was about a year old.  We decided that May 1st was her birthday.  She had a very playful and inquisitive nature.  For a couple of months when my husband, Mack, and I would walk to the nearby restaurant down our street, often on the way there and back we would become aware of the presence of a little black cat following us.  We would turn to look and she would scamper into the shadows of trees and nearby objects only to emerge and follow us when we had turned away again.

Sometimes we would pretend to chase her and she would pretend to be chased, only to resume following us, and eventually disappear into the shadows.  I thought to myself, “There is a cat who knows she is black.”  I assumed she had a home somewhere in the neighborhood, but she had no collar.  For the next three weeks it rained almost continuously.  Then, one day, we returned to our home to find this little black cat all drenched and crouched on our doorstep.  She was obviously in need of a home.  We took her in, fed her, and nursed her back to health, as she needed some nourishment and de-worming.

Mack said he thought she had been living in the wild for some time, but, as she was very affectionate, she must have been raised by some loving humans.  She had no fear of people, only a healthy wariness of them.  It was also obvious that she was in heat, and we were deciding whether we really could keep her as we were not supposed to have a pet in our apartment.  We are on the second floor and have a spacious porch.  Naively, we thought she would stay on the porch with her food and litter box when we were away.  That is how we discovered ‘the cat elevator.’  One of the juniper bushes along the side of the building had a trimmed area off its trunk, just at the level of our porch.  By the time we discovered that she could come and go as she pleased, we also discovered that she was pregnant.

By this time, it was also pretty obvious she had chosen us and we were going to have to make things work out together.  We named her Spot because she was all black but for a large white patch from her throat down to her chest.  I checked out the cat encyclopedia and found her in its pages staring back at me, matching exactly the description of the beautiful longhaired black Norwegian Forest Cat with the large intense yellow eyes and exquisite triangular shaped head and face.  She also had the characteristic of ‘rusting’ when exposed to sunlight.  I would refer to her as my fire cat when her reds, bronzes, and golds reflected in the sunlight.  When out of the sunlight she would transform again to black.

Spot gave birth to five beautiful babies.  We ran an ad in the paper and found loving homes for all of them.  Then, I rushed her to be spayed, assuring her that she would always be my ‘kitten’ no matter what.  Spot was a natural birder.  She was not at all much interested in mice or frogs or anything other than birds.  She was so good at catching birds that we kept a bell on her to give the birds a fair chance.  In spite of the bell, Spot still managed to occasionally catch birds and would bring them to us, dead, as a gift, or, quite often, she would release them alive inside the house so she could chase them.  This always created pandemonium, which she loved.

Spot would regularly accompany us on walks in the neighborhood, usually to the post office, but she would not go all the way.  She had a favorite set of bushes she would sit inside of, and watch and wait for us to return.  She would then come out and resume the walk home with us.  She was not as fond of riding in the car but, with some persistent encouragement, she would tolerate it.  At her best, she really enjoyed watching the world pass by through the windows.  At home on her porch, she would constantly survey the neighborhood, her ‘domain.’  Riding in the car expanded her sense of place.  She knew exactly where she lived in the scheme of things.  She could come and go freely, and she was known and loved throughout the neighborhood by people and creatures alike.  She was a true queen.

I had become accustomed to Spot being around me a lot now that I was working from home.  She was always very communicative.  Very talkative.  And, she had a large vocabulary.  She would boss me around and make me do things just the way she wanted them to be done.  For instance, she would command me to make the bed for her every morning, and would not allow me to leave any wrinkles.  Sometimes I would hold Spot on my lap and gaze into her deep yellow lantern eyes and ask, “How will I ever live without you?”  Not that I was really expecting an answer, but her answer would come innocently, “What do you mean ‘without’?”

I know the life span of a cat, in human terms, is short.  But my last cat was a venerable Siamese who lived to the age of 23.  He was very healthy all of his life and was never under a regular veterinarian’s care because I could not really afford it.  When we lost Si, it was difficult, but understandable.  His bodily systems were shutting down.  He had lived a long life and it his time had come.  Now that Spot was going to be a part of our family, I wanted us to do the best we could for her.  We decided that rather than rely on the same country doctor who had done her spay surgery, we would take her for annual checkups at the large veterinarian facility in nearby Sumner.  They were well established, with a good reputation, so we trusted them and went along with their program of recommended vaccinations.

Spot was very happy and healthy and we never had any problems until the summer of 2007 when, based on her blood tests from her standard annual examination, she was diagnosed with early feline hyperthyroidism.  She was 13.  As far as I could tell, she really was not manifesting any symptoms of the disease.  I was curious about its cause and asked her doctor lots of questions.  According to him, in many cases they are finding that it is hereditary and begins to manifest as a cat approaches its senior years.  He also told me that it has become more prevalent in the later part of the last century, which veterinarians theorize is due to successive inheritance of the trait among the cat population.  He gave me literature to help me understand what effect the disease can have if it is left untreated and what the options for treatment were.  He also strongly recommended radioactive iodine treatment, which is a onetime procedure done at a specialized clinic.  As it so happened, there was one nearby, in Tacoma.  He referred to this treatment as safe and assured me that it was a ‘cure’ for the condition, whereas the other treatments would require lifelong therapy.  My husband and I discussed it and agreed to have it for Spot.

Because it was an expensive procedure, we could not have it done until March 2008.  By this time, Spot was 14.  Everything went well with the treatment.  Spot’s 1st month follow-up examination was perfect, and so was her 3-month follow-up.  This examination coincided with the time that her standard vaccinations were due, so I asked that they be done at the same time, thinking it was convenient to do so.

Over the course of the next 14 months, Spot began to develop a progression of serious medical conditions: osteoarthritis, lupus or similar auto immune disorder (requiring chronic steroid dosage), prerenal condition (earliest indicators for a body in danger of developing chronic renal insufficiency that can often be averted with appropriate medical treatment), chronic urinary tract infections (requiring antibiotics), chronic kidney disease (requiring 3 times a week intravenous fluid), anemia (requiring a blood transfusion), diabetes (requiring twice daily insulin injection), and ultimately, end-stage renal disease and sepsis.  Spot was in and out of the emergency hospital and several times needed to stay in for extended periods of time.  At home, we cared for her and gave her the treatment she needed.  Assisted and supported by Mack, I nursed her throughout her progressive stages of health and appealed to the Goddess to heal her.

Throughout this period of Spot’s illness, Mack and I were in the process of closing a deal, on a lot across the street from where we live, where we plan to eventually build our own home.  I found myself, on several occasions, sitting by a little crab apple tree on our soon-to-be-own land, praying to the Goddess to heal Spot.  Every time the thought occurred to me that she was dying, I was afraid because we did not, yet, own our own place.  Where to bury her?

Spot, however, was not afraid.  She made an amazing recovery and seemed to be making progress to her good state of health.  In May of 2009, we finally closed the deal and got our land.  Spot had become healthier than she had been in quite awhile and spent the next three months hanging out with us on our property, doing wonderful lazy cat things in the sun and exploring all of its plant life.  Until nearly the very end, I believed that Spot could be healed.

Her time to die came on August 19, 2009.  Spot was 15 years old.  Mack and I were with her during the day and a half of her passing, until her very last breath.  The Goddess had given us time for Mack to build her a beautiful wooden coffin, and we knew where we would bury her.  Now, she is the heart of my sacred grove near the little crab apple tree.  Mack later built me a beautiful garden bench, where I can often sit and meditate, and be with Spot.  It is a powerful place.

But this is not the end of her story.

Initially, my grieving period was intense.  I could still feel Spot’s presence and I strove to maintain contact with her.  In meditation, I can see her eyes gazing back at me.  I can feel the exquisite silky texture of her long fur and the velvet of her nose and paws.  I can feel the outline of her cheek bones while I rub her cheeks.  Now, when I do this, it is a joy.  But it was extremely cathartic for me in the beginning.  Several times, I asked Spot for a sign.  Once, right after I asked, a crow landed on the window ledge, called loudly, and then flew off.  Another time, when I was on the bench in the grove, a black walnut dropped from the sky.  It landed ten feet away on the grass glistening with dew, making it look like a jewel in the sunlight.  What is most interesting about this experience is that crows like to drop these nuts, usually on the pavement, to crack them open.  But, as I examined the sky, I could see no sign of a crow nearby.

For months after Spot died, I tried to deal with nagging thoughts and emotions regarding the progression of her illness, things I had not allowed myself to completely process earlier because I was so absorbed with trying to save Spot’s life.  I was conflicted.  I could not let go of the feeling that something was not right.  I asked Spot what she wanted me to do, and she told me she wanted me to uncover the truth.  I had kept all of her health records and I started going back over things.  It was a puzzle I felt I had to solve, and I also felt Spot driving me to do it.  There was data indicating Spot had had signs of a prerenal condition prior to having the radioactive iodine treatment and studies show that the radioactive iodine treatment can worsen such a kidney condition.  It looked to me like Spot’s doctors should not have recommended this treatment and should have alerted us to the need to be proactive in treating her prerenal condition.

I learned that a pet loss support group was available at the Tacoma Humane Society so I went there for two consecutive Saturdays, and was fortunate to be the only person attending.  Therefore, I was able to have a one-on-one session with the same facilitator both times.  She helped me find my conviction to go ahead and put together a detailed report of my findings to present to the veterinarian specialist who had given Spot the radioactive iodine treatment.  I decided to send him my report and ask him to meet with me to discuss it.  It took awhile to make the connection with this doctor, but he eventually honored my request and we talked the entire experience out over the phone.  He pointed out where some of my conclusions were not correct, agreed with some of them, and also pointed out some other things that were astonishing to me.

When Spot’s osteoarthritis was diagnosed, I had taken her to her doctor because she seemed to be in pain around her hips.  They gave her an injection of Metacam, which they referred to as ‘Kitty Tylenol’ and also gave me an oral form that I was to give her several more times at home.  But this veterinarian specialist informed me that Metacam is usually given to dogs and is known to be toxic to cats and especially damaging to their kidneys.  There is a website that has some startling information regarding this:  www.metacamkills.com .

The veterinarian specialist graciously offered to contact Spot’s doctors at the Sumner facility for me.  Eventually, all the doctors involved in Spot’s care, including this specialist, conducted an in depth review of her case and held a conference.  The outcome of their conference is that the hospital has made specific changes in their health policy for cats, and they have even named the new policy, ‘The Spot McLaughlin Health Policy for Cats’ in honor of Spot.  They will no longer prescribe Metacam to cats unless the owners insist on having it, in which case they must sign a disclaimer.  They also will stop giving vaccinations to any cat over ten years old.  In gratitude, I sent them one of my favorite photos of Spot, framed, to hang on their office wall, next to her health policy.

It was some consolation.  Far from replacing Spot, of course.  But both Mack and I feel satisfied that our efforts have born fruit for Spot to be long remembered, knowing that she lives on in a way that will make life better for many other cats.

Ever since Spot died, I have sensed her presence with me often.  She still goes walking with us, like she did in life, for she was that kind of amazing companion.  I know when Spot is walking with me now, because even though I cannot see her, I can feel her and am filled with a joy that is like warm sunshine.  There are other creatures, and a rare person, who also seem to notice her with me.  Spot is here because she likes this place.  It is still her earthly home and even though she can travel anywhere anytime she wants, she always comes to me when I call her.  Sometimes, sitting at my computer, I feel her lightly brush my bare leg with her fur.  Sometimes I see her from the side of my eye, but when I turn to look, she has disappeared into the shadows.

Now, more than a year later, we have another wonderful kitten.  A Ragamuffin breed, he was given to us in circumstances filled with synchronous coincidence that leaves us no doubt that Spot picked him for us to fill in, with joy, the deep space she made in our lives.  His name is Socks.  As a result of my veterinarian experiences with Spot, we chose to take a different health path for Socks and find an alternative to allopathic medicine for him.  Just at the time we decided this, a friend introduced us to Dr. Jennifer Preston, Holistic Veterinarian.  She has opened our eyes to the truth surrounding the current widespread common use of vaccinations in animals and the fact that there is a healthy alternative.

She provides a lot of excellent information on her website:  www.holisticvetexpert.com .

I am still shocked and amazed, that I was so naïve.  But, I also know that I am not alone in having blind trust in allopathic animal doctors’ advice.  I am also grateful that I want to learn and understand more.  On behalf of Spot and Socks, Mack and I encourage you to do the same.

Mary McLaughlin, November 2010