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Animal Symbolism, By Witchipedia

Familiars: Contacting, Working, & Taking Care of Them

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)


Reviewed by: Tina Caro

A familiar is a magic-user’s spiritual helper manifest in animal form. For many, it takes on the appearance of a common household pet and many have reported the same spirit returning time as a household pet, moving from the body of the elder pet as it passes on, into the body of a younger pet who is brought into the household.


When contacting a familiar, it’s crucial to understand that they are spiritual companions, not pets. They often choose you, and mutual respect is key.

Working with familiars involves tapping into their unique energies, enhancing your magical abilities. Learn their symbols and rituals specific to their nature.

To care for your familiar, provide a comfortable altar space, cleanse their aura regularly, and feed them with offerings, tailored to their preferences, to maintain a strong connection.

Modern witchcraft recognizes familiars as psychic allies, offering guidance, protection, and heightened intuition. Their role has evolved to suit contemporary practices.

These spirits do not always take the form or a pet, however. Medieval texts describe some familiars that were humanoid or even monstrous in appearance but in all cases, these were described as appearing as actual physical beings (though in some cases, not everyone could see them.) Most familiars, however, are very common and ordinary in appearance with common, ordinary names.

Although bonded to the witch they serve, familiars have their own personalities, goals, and prejudices. In other words, they are by most accounts real, solid beings. Not thoughtforms or constructs. Or, if they originated as one of these, they have existed so long that they have developed into sentient beings in their own right.

Familiars have been described as demons or faeries depending on the time period, the attitude of the person doing the describing and their opinion of the magic-user they are talking about. On researching the subject deeper, it would seem that there are different types of familiars.

Familiar TypeCorrespondenceRelated Information
CatIntuition, mystery, independenceOften associated with witches and magic
OwlWisdom, insight, divinationSymbol of ancient knowledge and spirituality
RavenMagic, transformation, prophecyAssociated with mysticism and the spirit world
HedgehogProtection, grounding, sensitivityKnown for their gentle and curious nature
SnakeTransformation, healing, regenerationSymbol of rebirth and shedding old patterns
Table 1: Familiar Correspondences

Some people use the words Totem, Power Animal and Spirit Animal synonymously with the word familiar. You may also wish to read those articles for clarity.

On Contacting a Familiar

Older and primitive accounts of first contact with a familiar are pretty similar. Either the familiar first appears to the witch or magic-user while they are going about their daily business OR the familiar was gifted to them. The familiar comes to the witch. While a witch may request the universe or a spirit guide to send her a familiar, the familiar comes when it comes- usually shortly after or as part of an initiation.

The Love Potion by Evelyn De Morgan, Oil on Canvas, 1903

In some cases, acquiring the familiar marks the beginning of a person’s foray into magic: Perhaps a familiar appears to them in a time of need and offers his services to help the person overcome their trouble. Some historical references suggest actual conversations, though these are usually dream or astral exchanges in modern times. In this case, the physical familiar will appear on the material plane shortly after initial contact.

Table: This table could provide information on different methods or techniques to contact familiars. Include the method, description, and any important considerations. For example:

MeditationDeep relaxation and focusCreate a calm environment, practice visualization
DreamworkSeeking familiar presence in dreamsKeep a dream journal, practice dream recall
Ritual InvocationCalling upon familiars in ritualFollow ethical practices, establish a sacred space
Animal CommunicationConnecting with animals telepathicallyDevelop intuition, practice patience and respect
Table 2: Contacting Familiars

Sometimes a familiar is gifted to a magic-user upon their introduction to the magical arts after the magic-user has formally made their interest known and begun their studies. The gift may come from a teacher or a parent or a spirit guide.

Most often a familiar comes to someone who is already involved in magic. They may ask their spirit guide or the Universe in general to send a familiar helper or the familiar may show up on their doorstep unannounced. There are also many cases when a familiar is inherited upon the death or incapacitation of a fellow magic-user. Familiars are often passed down through families or covens.

Among modern witches I have spoken to on the subject, the consensus seems to be that a familiar comes when it is least expected and perhaps most needed. There is nearly always something remarkable about their appearance, most people say they “came out of nowhere” and the event may be preceded or immediately followed by a dream message regarding the coming of the familiar.

Working with Familiars

Familiars are magic users’ helpers who exist in both the spirit and the material world. As such, they serve as a witch’s gatekeeper between worlds. A messenger and a guide. There are many ways for a familiar and a witch to work together toward a witch’s aims.

One way a witch and a familiar have traditionally worked together is “riding”. A witch, in a trance state, imprints her consciousness on the familiar creature and the familiar allows this. In this way, a witch can travel to places she might otherwise not be able to go, she can fly, she can climb, she can dig and she can watch and listen.

A witch may send a familiar to complete a task for her on either the physical or astral plane because familiars are both physical and astral creatures.

A familiar may act as a guide and guardian when a witch travels the astral plane.

A familiar guards a witch during magical work. It can guard her while she is in a trance or being ridden to protect her physically and also alert her to the presence of spirit beings and help to drive away those that may be harmful.

A familiar can help minimize the effect of spellwork on a witch. Sometimes, for example, a witch may draw certain energies into herself which may be overwhelming. A familiar animal can absorb some of these energies to “take the edge off” whole still keeping them available.

Care and Feeding of a Familiar

During the Middle Ages, witch hunters stripped suspects down and searched for a “witch’s teat”, a mole or an extra nipple somewhere on the body from which his or her familiar suckled and was sustained. Alternatively, a witch may have fed her familiar blood from sacrificed animals.


These days, most witches feed their familiars whatever physical food they need for their bodies to be healthy and may also burn a candle or some incense for the spirit periodically. Personally, I enjoy sitting in a Circle meditating with my familiar to feed both our spirits.

Care AspectDescriptionBest Practices
Physical Well-beingProviding proper nutrition and shelterRegular veterinary care, healthy diet, safe environment
Emotional Well-beingCreating a loving and supportive bondSpend quality time together, offer mental stimulation
Energetic ProtectionShielding familiars from negative energiesCleansing rituals, creating energetic boundaries
Respect BoundariesHonoring their autonomy and individualityAllow space for independence, consent-based interaction
Table 3: Taking Care of Familiars

Modern Views

Most modern authors on the subjects of familiar spirit reject the physical aspect of these spirits at least partially, if not completely. Many modern practitioners believe that historical references of familiars as physical beings referred to either normal animals that were not familiars or spirit beings that may have allowed themselves to be seen in one shape or another or entirely make-believe evidence spouted by “witnesses” with a vendetta or suspect witches under torture willing to say anything to end their pain.

Thus, according to this view, familiar spirits are simply helper spirits that have nothing whatsoever to do with physical animal companions. Other authors see a familiar animal as simply an animal with which a witch has developed a close, psychic bond. A more balanced approach describes a familiar as a type of spirit that has a very close affinity for an individual or more usually a family, that often inhabits the body of a household pet.

The spirit can operate in purely spirit form between incarnations but is most useful in a material body where it can act as a bridge between realms.

Familiars in History and Folklore

Historian Emma Wilby believes that stories such as The Frog Prince, Puss in Boots and Rumpelstiltskin are about familiars.

In the 1600s, Prince Rupert of England and his companion dog Boye were an unstoppable force in the English Civil War. It was widely reported that Boye was a familiar animal.

Recommended Reading

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: the Western Tradition, Golden
The Witch Cult in Western Europe, Margaret Murray
Malleus Maleficarum, Kramer and Sprenger
The Witch’s Familiar: Spiritual Partnerships for Successful Magic by Raven Grimassi

More Sources Online

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

4 thoughts on “Familiars: Contacting, Working, & Taking Care of Them”

  1. Can a familiar be a pet you´ve had for years and just…become a familiar? Because ever since I started being interested in this my cat and I became way closer, she basically lives in my room with me now. And I just feel closer to her too. Also I feel like she is watching over me if that makes sense.

  2. Do familiars always appear as a fully physical animal? Or can they also exist as a corporeal spirit form, similar to a shadow? Because I was experiencing an emotional breakdown when I felt the presence of another being with me, and when I looked up I saw the shadowy figure of a large dog; I couldn’t see any facial details but I kind of just know what it’s face looks like intuitively?


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