The Natural World & Magickal Practice
Animal & Spirit Familiars – An Overview (Video Transcription)
The natural world and mysticism have walked hand in hand since the early stages shamanic thought. From this relationship of human and nature, we have greatly advanced on both the fronts of science and spirituality. Our relationship with the natural world and its creatures have greatly shaped what the world is like today. This relationship is not merely material, but also spiritual. Much of the spiritual movements today, whether new or resurrected are directly linked to nature and its reverence. The use of animals or animal spirits as guides, companions and even deities is commonly found in various religious, philosophical and occult text and practice. This article will discuss the concept of an animal familiar used in magickal practice. This article will discuss what they are and the ways in which the magickal community perceives and uses them. Since many forms of spirit guides and beings exist, this article will be limited to the animal familiar concept in particular.
What are familiars:
Familiars come in various types if we look at historical documents and how they are perceived today by the ever growing magickal communities. They can be broken down into three primary different types. These as defined by Raven Grimassi in ‘The Witches Familiar – Spiritual Partnerships for Successful Magic’ as Physical familiars, Spiritual/Astral Familiars and Artificial familiars. The first and most well known is the physical familiar as is commonly seen in popular culture. They are physical creatures, usually no more different in appearance than any animal. The second is the spirit, etheric or astral familiar. These are animal entities that exist on their own in the ‘other’ realms. The third is a crafted familiar, which are those familiars that practitioners create themselves in a mental/spiritual or physical way. Silimar to the concepts of a tulpas, servitors or golems. Where through will, imagination and trance a being is created. The various accounts of familiars reveal that they do not always appear in animal form, but may be anthropomorphic, take other shapes, or even be from the elemental and fey realms. Acting as spirit guides of their own nature and personalities. Old accounts from various practices also speak of some familiars as the embodiment of an entire species of animal, being either physical or spirit. In certain African witchcraft folklore, a which has an entire clan of hyenas as servants, both protecting one another. A common theme in chaos magick is the creation of a servitor, a mentally and spiritually created being that is given a specific command. Many use this idea of creating entities, borrowing from the eastern methods of creating a tulpa. Whether these entities are physical, spiritual, or crafted it is clear that the magick minded community is only advancing in their understanding and use thereof. Donald Tyson, in ‘Familiar Spirits – A Practical Guide for Witches and Magicians’ defines a familiar as “any spirit that links itself to a person in an ongoing way so that frequent communications take place between human and spirit.” A relationship between the familiar and human is what defines the entity as one’s familiar spirit. However these entities are defined, there is no question that many practitioners of ancient times and new encounter animal beings that seem to be much more than simply animal.
The physical familiar:
The first familiar type is the physical, material being that most commonly is in the form of a typical animal. There are multiple theories and reports of the capability, attitude and purpose of these creatures. On one hand, they are perceived as being magical incarnations of spiritual entities and on the other simply house pets. If the familiar is simply a pet, their spiritual use is still prevalent. A common theory as to why a simple house cat can be a familiar or companion is due to certain senses that they have or which are more in tune with the natural and spiritual phenomenon. In general, the animal kingdom is capable of sensing things that to us are either impossible or too subtle to notice. Concerning the natural realm, specific animals are far more capable of sensing approaching weather, earthquakes and other natural disasters, while on the spiritual realm they can more easily sense the presence of a force or entity than we can. Whether the dog might be barking at a potential ghost, or your cat displaying strange behaviour when a spirit entity is near, they act as useful companions letting us know about things we may not be aware of. Many who practice invocation and evocation of spiritual forces have their physical familiars close in order to observe their behaviour. The practitioner is made aware of the presence of an entity before the entity might be perceived by the practitioner themselves. Folklore and mystic text also speak of familiar spirits that are physical while also being of higher spirit. Either they are a powerful spirit taking the shape of the particular creature, or they are creatures containing a more powerful spirit within themselves. These beings are thus an amalgamation of physical and spiritual forces. These are reported to be powerful magickal familiars with a high state of consciousness.
For convenience, these familiars will simply be referred to as a spirit familiar or animal. These beings are not manifest upon the physical world, and therefore have a completely different capability and function than the physical familiars. They remain beings of their own independent nature, however, do act with purpose and duty. These beings are of a higher consciousness. They can be tied or bound to an individual to serve them as a guide, messenger or to perform tasks for the practitioner. Unlike the crafted familiar, these beings were not created by the practitioner, but are instead discovered, either having them come to the practitioner or the practitioner seeking them. As Raven Grimassi states, “Many modern Witches tend to perceive the familiar in much the same wat that American Indian traditions view animal guides or power animals. In this regard, they are messengers to and from the Otherworld and are gifted to one by the Great Spirit. They are also healers and powerful allies for those whom the form relationships with.” Being spiritual beings, these familiars operate and are accessed within the spirit realm. It takes fine attunement of the practitioner to realise that they are there unless an applicable trance state is entered and the beings are directly interacted with. Those that have experience with these entities will know how accessible and useful they can be. To some they are seen as subservient beings at the disposal of the practitioner, however, this point of view is fading in modern magick as many are starting to see all intelligence as equals. For many nature orientated practitioners the view of respecting each human, creature or spirit is at the forefront of their faith. Different beings perceive and experience things in their own right, and therefore contain their own wisdom. They must then be respected for their place in the vast universe. Because these beings exist in the spirit realm, they do not directly interact with the physical world in a physical manner. Instead, they alter the spiritual sphere, which in turn affects events on the physical plane and human experience. Folklore and myth document many types of spirit familiars, not all of them animal in nature. Elemental spirits and other anthropomorphic intelligence of a ‘lower’ nature are written about frequently.
The crafted/artificial familiar:
These entities or familiars are known by many names, such as tulpas in Eastern philosophy, golems in Judeo-Mysticism and servitors in Chaos magick circles. These entities are created by the practitioner in order to fulfil a specific purpose. In essence, they are summoned from the will of the practitioner themselves. Many of these entities are not animal in design, as any form or purpose can be ascribed to them. However, they are also used to create animal creatures that serve as temporary companions, aids or guides. These entities are temporary for the most part, however, many states that with continual magical effort, these entities may become permanent beings, with their own personalities. What exactly these entities are and the way they function remain debated as most magic usually is. They are argued to be mental beings, while others state that they are spirit beings or an amalgamation of the two. It is even reported that with enough effort, intent and energy being invested over time, the crafted entity can become physical. Or will at least be perceivable by the physical senses too. Commonly the entity will only be perceived as a familiar if the spirit is a permanent companion and aid. Thus many of the servitors being created for temporary means are not regarded as a familiar, but instead as a manifested being with a defined and temporary purpose. Many use the methods of servitor creation to create things without particular intelligence, the crafted spirit simply resembles an object radiating a specific aura for example. In this way, the artificial creation can be anything one wishes to conjure temporarily. More similar in nature to a spell, than a familiar companion.
To conclude, we can see that the familiar concept is as diverse as any magickal practice. Many explanations and classifications exist concerning animal spirit guides, however, it remains clear that these beings are revered and that the interest of their subject is not fading. If anything, their use and understanding are growing along with the magick minded community. Whichever theory as to the nature of these entities is correct, is not the primary concern and will forever remain debated in the larger community. Instead, any practitioner who puts in the effort to contact, interact and learn from these entities will inevitably understand more about them. It is one’s own understanding and experience that will reveal far more than any text or opinion can. These entities are intelligent beings of their own, and must, therefore, be treated with respect. As with all forms of magick, the ethics of practice remains a crucial aspect. I encourage anyone willing to learn more about familiars to have a look at the reference list for a start and work from there. Remember that your personal individualisation of magickal practice remains important and that there is nothing wrong with not following another practitioner word by word. You remain as free as the magickal force itself.