I might have said this before, but I think it bears repeating.
In the classic sense, a Witch’s familiar was generally an animal. Most of the time, it was probably a cat, toad, crow, etc. – almost always a small animal. In the movie The Witch, released in 2015, the goat “Black Phillip” can be seen as a familiar. While some believe it was possessed by the Devil, Himself, it is more likely that Black Phillip was merely a familiar.
Metaphysically speaking, an animal already has a spirit of it’s own. It’s a living creature. And, like it or not, the spirit that naturally took up residence in that animal will never be your familiar. It could potentially offer you some magical assistance, as it’s an animal, and every creature has some level of natural power. But a familiar it will not be. Why? Precisely this: a familiar is a spirit being, external from you, that offers supernatural power of some sort. Hence, why so many were believed to be demons in the past.
Every familiar spirit, however, does require a physical vessel in which to dwell, as noted from history. Modern-day Witches often make fetishes for these entities to take up abode. The best are usually of clay, stone or wood. It’s a natural material. Most spirits don’t like iron, so an iron vessel wouldn’t really be the best idea. And some spirits don’t even like ceramic “spirit pots” or “spirit jars.” I’ve seen a few reject their well-crafted home because it isn’t of a material to their liking.
But, in order for an animal to be a familiar by proper definition, it’s own spirit must be replaced by the familiar.
This is not an easy process. And quite often, it’s traumatic.
If you’ve ever experienced “astral travel,” or an OOBE (out of body experience) without consciously attempting to do so, you might know what I mean. Usually, a spirit that is traveling away from it’s body (until it is used to the process of separating and rejoining the body) is going to experience some trauma. Whether that trauma is at the separation of the spirit from the body, or when the spirit inadvertently “snaps” back into the body, it’s still trauma. In fact, trauma is quite often both the cause and the effect of such an experience.
Not to mention, the displaced spirit of the animal needs some place to go. Otherwise, it’s just a random spirit floating around out there wondering what the fuck is happening to it. Not cool, asshat. To willfully do this to animal is just plain abusive from the perspective of a true animist.
If you’re going to look for a familiar or attempt to summon one up, please find out some correspondences ahead of time and construct a home in which it can dwell. Don’t call it up and then leave it to find it’s own home. I’ve seen a summoned spirit evict the spirit of a snake from it’s body because someone didn’t construct a home for the familiar ahead of time. Again: not cool.
I’ve heard it said that a fetch and a familiar are different entities. But, they are not. Not really. A familiar, as noted above, is generally a summoned spirit for whom you construct a dwelling place. It will live with you and aide you in your magic and your life. A fetch is the same thing. Your fetch is a familiar – a very close, personal one, yes, but a familiar, nonetheless. It is an external spirit.
Side note: the term “Fetch” is used in some Craft traditions to mean something else. As an example: in Feycraft, we sometimes refer to one of the three Selves as “Fetch,” but this is a capitalized term that is specifically referring to a part of you, a human being. It is an internal piece of you. The “lower-case-fetch” is a familiar spirit.
If – and only if – your fetch decides to appear to you as human, it will appear as the gender you’re most attracted to in this life. I think this is what leads people to believe that the fetch might be one’s “twin flame” or “soul mate.” Truthfully, though, it isn’t. Your relationship with your fetch could, if you let it, become sexual. However, I will say that I’m not an advocate of that idea. The use of sexual fluids, the act of masturbation, or the use of sexual intercourse with another human – all as means to arouse certain powers associated with sex – are fine. But this is not the same as having sexual relations with your fetch.
I would advise against such an act merely because I met one Witch whose relationship with her fetch became sexual and the consequences were nearly unbearable for her. For all intents and purposes, she was no longer able to have a relationship with the man she loved. The fetch would get jealous of her mate and cause problems for him in his daily life, from short runs of bad luck, to years of unemployment. So be cautious about entering a sexual relationship with your fetch.
How does one find a familiar?
There have been several ideas throughout history. Some accounts say that the familiar just appears to the Witch in odd moments of entranced activity, such as reading a book or knitting. Others accounts have said that the familiar was inherited, perhaps from a dying or dead relative who kept that very familiar throughout their lifetime. And still some have said that they asked and received – either from the Devil, Himself, or from another spirit, such as one of those listed in the Goetia. Some have said it requires nothing more than a limited-time contract (but that, to me, is more of a business relationship than the personal relationship of a familiar, and can be done with almost any spirit).
My personal favorite was one that I heard from a long-time friend nearly a decade ago. He’d decided he wanted to find a familiar and he just so happened to live on the edge of a wood. It wasn’t a huge wood – perhaps the size of an average house-lot that hadn’t been cleared. So he went to the edge of the tree-laden swath of land late one night on a full moon. There, he left offerings of milk and honey and asked the Wind-dweller (also called “Witchfather” by some of us) to send him a familiar to aide in the gathering of information, the maximizing of his Witch-powers, and a successful life. He did this for a full 13 days. In the meantime, he constructed a vessel in which the spirit could reside. It was nothing more than a small, black sugar bowl.
One night, my friend awoke from a dream and wrote it down immediately. He went back to sleep and reviewed his writing the next morning. When he read what he’d written, he was somewhat taken aback. In his notebook, my friend had drawn a symbol that had appeared in his dream. He knew immediately it was the signature of his familiar. He’d also written the familiar’s name and scratched out a brief description of it’s appearance and what it requested to be fed.
My friend still has that familiar, to my knowledge, and has communicated with it often in dream-state. He has knowledge of what the familiar needs to feed on, what the vessel should look like and how often it should be cleaned and so on. He painted the object red (which is the color the spirit familiar had told him to paint it) and etched the symbol into the paint.
I have not completed this process and I’m not sure if I want to do so. It sounds fun. But I don’t want anymore spirits waking me up in the middle of my sleep. I’ve already got one who likes to do that!
One’s relationship with their familiar can be quite the complicated mystery. But like all spirits with which one works, it requires regular feeding (offerings). It requires relationship-building (conversations, communication, trust, etc.). It requires a home in which to dwell. (Don’t displace an animal’s spirit, please.)