Whoooo! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new in here. Thanks to those of you who reached out via email; your kindness, concern and encouragement to get back to the writing grind has truly been touching. I am humbled by and grateful for each of you ❤ . I’ve been doing great, I’ve just been super busy, but I am happy to be back here and sharing with you again.
It’s really amazing what grief can compel a person to do. Some of us withdraw while others seemingly go off the deep end. I think I’ve teetered between the two in the last two months, finding myself at present time, somewhere in the middle.
I know a ton of other practitioners. Some of these folks are private, affectionately referring to their pet in magical terms, while others are out there in our communities, at some of the most well-know Pagan and Witchcraft events rolling up their sleeves and teaching others about the very subject of this blog post: Familiars.
According to the Witchcraft act of 1604, it was a felony to “consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil or wicked spirit to or for any intent or purpose.”
Historically speaking, familiars were believed to be given to witches by the devil….hence the “wicked spirit” the Act referred to.
Go on ahead, chuckle it up…I’ll wait…
Familiars are typically used to assist in divination and for assistance in calling upon spirits.
At least, that’s where many leave off in their articles regarding animal familiars, but it is so much more than that.
I’ll be honest here and admit it: I didn’t believe in familiars or in the relationship between a Witch and her familiar or the unexplainable bond they share. Of course, each witch refers to their four legged furry companion as their familiar, but I just figured doing so sort of went with the territory, just as how modern witches, post- Harry Potter, refer to non-magical folk as “Muggles”. After all, I didn’t hear anything about my friend, (we’ll call him “Sam”) Sam’s 3 cats slipping through the spiritual barrier at night whilst he slept to carry out his spell work, to spy on his enemies, or any of the other acts a familiar is said to carry out on behalf of their witch.
Forgive my seeming short-sighted, but I’m one of those literal people. If you were to tell me your cat plays hopscotch or your dog can hula hoop, you can bet your sweet ass I’m bringing a box of chalk and a hoop with me the next time I visit you, and giving that pet of yours the hopeful side eye of anticipation. I prefer to call it healthy skepticism, with a dash of hope that anything is truly possible, so here is a hula hooping dog to make you smile today:
One October afternoon in 2012 I stopped by one of the semi-local animal shelters, as I periodically do, to donate blankets, new food bowls, dry dog and cat food and toys. I’m going to point out the obvious: I like animals more than people.
While I’m there, I’ll volunteer my time and walk some of the dogs then go inside and spend some time with each of the cats; petting them, letting the kittens out to play and give mom a break, and I’m pretty successful at leaving the shelter empty handed, but not on this day.
He was in the last kennel. He was a beautiful blond, long-haired bundle of snuggly love, I knew it just by looking at him. He watched me excitedly as I made my way to his kennel. I lifted the latch, opened the door and he came to the edge of the kennel, put one paw on either one of my shoulders and then….he hugged me.
I was unable to resist him. I wasn’t gonna let him know it, and try as I might to convince myself that this cat and I didn’t just share something special that I’ve never experienced with a pet before, it was a losing battle for me. I knew it and so did he.
I pet him and whispered sweet nothings to him, and then I placed him gently back into his kennel, closing the door and the latch.
When I turned around, the staff and president of the shelter (a friend of mine) were standing there, looking at me like this:
I tightened my lips and shook my head, determined that I would not be leaving this place with a new family member. I had too much going on in life, I told myself as I walked over to my friend’s desk.
“I’ll sponsor him”, I offered, sounding semi-defeated, with no prompting from her. She smiled but said nothing as she reached into her desk and handed me the sponsorship form. I started filling it out.
“He came from a really horrible hoarding and inbreeding situation”, she volunteered. “Gosh, he is one of the sweetest cats we’ve ever had come through here, though”.
This is the moment where I made
my mistake the best decision of my life. I turned around in my chair and looked at him. There he was, watching my every move, looking at me longingly with his head cocked to one side as if to imply, “When are we going home?”
I turned back around in my seat, facing my friend who was still smiling, to ask her for the adoption form instead, when I realized she had placed it on top of the sponsorship paperwork while I was admiring the beautiful golden eyes that stared back at me from behind a metal kennel door.
“He was watching you with that look from the moment you walked in”, she offered. “He’s meant to go home with you”.
So I’m a sucker.
It is wonderful to bond with an animal in such a way that you could practically read eachother’s thoughts. That’s what I had with my guy. Whenever I blended oils, he was right there beside me. When I was pouring candles, he was right there. If I was sitting in communion with the spirits of my ancestors at their altar, he was right next to me. If I were in deep daily mediation, he found his place on my lap. I knew the true character of a person by just watching how he interacted (or wouldn’t) with them. I knew when trouble was coming because he’d howl at night, I soon realized, to warn me.
On a personal level, he adored my children. Most cats don’t want to be anywhere near groups of people or noise, but he’d be right there with them watching Saturday morning cartoons. I’ve got a photo of my older kids and their friends sitting in a circle on the living room floor playing “Cards Against Humanity” and there he was, sitting in the circle with them.
He comforted me through failed relationships, dating snafu’s; he knew every secret I’d ever kept; he greeted me when I came home and would gently pat my face to wake me up when he was hungry if I’d slept in too late on a Sunday.
He was more than a family pet, more than a best friend. He was my familiar, and of all of the wonderful things I’d read about them, both in books and online, nothing prepared me for what would happen when he passed on. No one ever talked about how painful it is for the witch when their familiar dies.
I’m here to tell you, it is traumatic. A part of you seemingly dies with them. I’m not here to sugar coat, I’m here to give you unabashed honesty. It’s different than losing a family pet. While losing a pet hurts, this cuts deeper. It reverberates for weeks and months, all day, every day. No matter how emotionally detached you think you are, or how hard you’ve worked for it, that wall is going to crumble and you are going to turn into a sobbing sissy.
And regular people won’t understand it. They’ll be shocked you’re taking it so hard, or concerned that you haven’t recovered in the time frame they think is acceptable to grieve. They’ll say, “So just get another cat (dog, guinea pig–whatever form your familiar decided to take). You’re going to want to sucker punch them for saying it. Don’t/ Try to understand that they don’t get it and it isn’t their fault.
My darling left me on July 22, and there has not been a day gone by that I do not think of him. A photo I’d taken of him two years ago came up in my Facebook memories yesterday and instantly brought me to tears. I keep going back to the afternoon it happened. He was standing next to me one moment, dead the next. It was that fast and that unexpected. He was only 6 years old. Frankly, I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call 911 because of the screaming that was broadcasting from my house. The house has felt as though all of the joy has been sucked out of it. He, and that Facebook memory–his memory, is what brought me back here to write after a two year hiatus.
Devastation is an understatement. Desperation quickly sets in. Desperation to try to revive them, to see them in spirit, since we now there is an afterlife. Desperation that comes from well meaning friends who say, “They’ll return to you”.
Do they? When? How long does it take? How long will I have to wait, search, for that familiar soul in the eyes of another animal?
Are they fucking with me? Are they just telling me this to ease the pain?
You will ask these things, particularly when you’re staring mortality down through blurry, tear-filled eyes with your beloved familiar in your arms laying there, lifeless.
You’ll also have those well-meaning friends or family who offer you a kitten. gain, don’t get angry with them. They aren’t being insensitive, they’re trying to help ease your pain.
(I’m no expert, just a mama to a fur baby and witch to a familiar who has passed on, and still going through the motions) is:
Do something that will bring closure to you, and honor to your familiar. I wrote, “Prayers for a Deceased Pet” a while back. Performing a short yet meaningful funerary service for your familiar to help their spirit cross that Rainbow Bridge and to assist you in setting the stage for closure.
Talk to other witches who have been through this. Swap stories of your familiars. you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and everything in between, and you’ll form a new or deeper friendship.
Keep something that belonged to your familiar. Whether it be their favorite toy, a lock of their fur or a favorite photo. Simply because the physical body has expired, doesn’t mean the connection to your familiar has been lost. You can continue to call on them for guidance in spirit.
Take your time. Some people immediately or almost immediately find another “pet”. I’m of the belief that you cannot replace a life with a life and besides, familiars choose their witch. Not the other way around.
Understand that there is no time frame for grief. Don’t let anyone get away with telling you to “Get over it”, “Move on” or any other such nonsense. I could be wrong, but I’ve never witnessed a successful guilting out of grief session. It doesn’t usually end well for the one who is doing the guilting.
I do hope this helps anyone reading this who has also lost a beloved familiar. Know that i share in the grief of your loss. Sorry to return on such a somber note. I’ve already got the next post in mind, and it sure is sure to be upbeat and of interest.
Horus April 16, 2012-July 22, 2018