Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Familiar by any other Name

Little Girl and Protective Cat
I've always had at least one cat familiar in my life and vow I will never live without one. Yes, even when I was a little girl and my peers were playing with "Barbie" dolls, I played with my cats, who were my kindred spirits and confidants. I've blogged before about how my mother "introduced" me to magic, not on any formal level, but she was a witch and had an intelligence and love for animals that I inherited from her. Like most other childhoods, I had nightmares, terrors and anxieties, I couldn't trust any adult or other child with my secrets, so I turned to my cats. We always had at least one cat and a few dogs for our family. I loved my dogs and would play with them for hours outside, but it was my cats, I turned to, for my inner-world of thoughts and feelings. In archetypal language, the cat represents the feminine, intuitive, secretive and magical. Before anyone objects that dogs or other animals can't represent the feminine or there aren't cats who are more like dogs, I agree. My son has a cat who is completely opposite of what a "typical" cat is supposed to act like. He likes to hang out with dogs if there are any, he comes up to greet anyone he meets with a loud, demanding voice, and I doubt he'd have any patience for the workings of magic. In my life, cats represent the feminine spirit. I'm not the only one who matches cats with the feminine.

The Burning Times
 During the Burning Times, cats, especially black ones, were associated with the witch as her or his counterpart. The black cat could slip through the night unseen, when one looked at it's eyes, you can see the moon and a cat holds secrets that we can only guess about. I can understand why so many fearful, ignorant people who were terrified of the Goddess in her many forms. Notice, I didn't say, that the cats were owned because everyone who owns a cat agrees with the saying, "Dogs have Masters, Cats have Staff," and isn't that true? 

There are of course many different animals besides a cat that can be a witch's familiar. In the play "Macbeth" the Wyrd Sisters had "Paddock" a toad, "Harpier" an owl, and "Grimalkin" a cat. In the book and movies of "Harry Potter" all the students as well as the faculty have familiars, cats, rats, owls, bees, dogs, bees even.The black cat just seems to personify a witch. So don't feel too badly if you don't have a cat familiar. Really any animal "companion" as Mother Moon so beautifully wrote can be your magical partner in crime. However, not every animal is destined to be a familiar. 

I live with two very beloved cats who are sisters, Bella and Sele. Bella looks exactly like Mother Moon's Jimbo, right down to the exact size of the white diamond on the chest. She's elegant, leggy, athletic and extremely moody, like her mother. She would love to venture out under the moonlight if I let her outside, which I don't. She sits in the window communing with the moon and then whispers into my ear mysteries and dreams. Sele is a tuxedo kitty (black and white patches) and is Bella's opposite. All she wants to do is play, eat and sleep. In that order. If I tried to perform any magic with her, she'd run under the bed in fright. I love how Lynelle wrote about her cat "Cici" who can always put a smile on her face, that's Sele!

Bell, Book and Candle
It's strange how often I wake up from a horrible nightmare choking, gasping for air and burning hot. I have a continual dream about how my cats and I have been burned in my house. Knock on wood, I have never had or never will have that happen to me. I can't watch or read anything about any animal being harmed, especially a cat. That's when the real witch in me comes out as I chant a curse aloud to those perpetrators. Animal familiars were also known as "imps" because they were believed to be one of the devil's minions send to a witch as a messenger.One of the most famous names for a familiar is,  "Pyewackett." This name has been used for cat familiars in fiction throughout the ages and continues to be one. One of my favorite Pyewackett familiars is from the movie, "Bell, Book and Candle." The television series "Bewitched" was based upon this movie. The infamous, witch hunter, Matthew Hunter said that, "Pyewackett, was a name no mortal could invent."

The plagues that happened in the fourteenth century killing over 25 million people, 1/3 of Europe's population was believed to have come from fleas that lived on black rats which then infected everyone. I believe in karma, not as a principle to bring about vengeance or an event to justify the means, but I can't help but think that after all those seven million and plus who were killed as witches along with their animals that a horrible justice was served.

Witch's Crede
I always keep in mind with any type of magic I perform one of the oldest witch's credes, "Three by Three by Three." This means that whatever thought or action either positive or negative projected onto another can come back to you in threefold strength. Please know, I am not saying in any way that what happened to all those victims of the plague was deserved or justifiable. Most of the victims were the youngest children or the oldest citizens. Not the most likely to have been part of the witch hunt. In fact, the greatest population of people who were persecuted as witch's were the elders. Magic is powerful and the responsibility of working with a familiar is not to be taken lightly. They are able to access worlds which most humans can't. They stir the inner-cauldron of an instinctive animal realm which must be used with great consciousness and care. But most of all, our familiars bring out the best in us...Patience, humour, humility and a wisdom that is a sacred gift. I don't know where I would be if it weren't for the familiars I have loved. Blessings upon you and your familiar in whatever form they take.

Witch and her FamiliarsHow to Name Your Familiar 
When the devil brings him, like a Christmas puppy, examine his downy fur and smell his small paws for the scent of sulphur. 
 Is he a child of hell? O clearly those soft brown eyes speak volumes of deviltry.
O surely those small pink teats could suckle witches.  O those floppy ears hear only the devils hissing.
O that small pink tongue will lick at your heart until only Satan may slip in.
A fuzzy white dog? Name him Catch.
A little black kitten? She is Jamara
A tiny brown rabbit? Call her Pyewackett
Beware, beware-the soft, the innocent, the kingdom of cuddly ones-All these expose you to the jealous tongues of neighbor's flames, all these are the devil's snares!
~Erica Jong~


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Oh yes, the scent of sulphur on small paws! Little cats are almost always little devils!

JJ Beazley said...

Very interesting post, Wendy. My ex always said that our dog, Penny, was her best friend. Penny helped her through all the dark days. And she always referred to herself as 'Penny's human.'

Wendy said...

Debra, got to watch out for those little sulphur smelling kitties, they'll always get ya.

Jeff, don't you know that whether they are wild animals or "tamed" ones, I think we humans need to be owned by animals for humanities sake, yes?


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