Matthew Hopkins’ “The Discovery of Witches”
It is the familiar spirit of the place;
It judges, presides, inspires Everything in its empire;
It is perhaps a fairy or a god? When my eyes, drawn like a magnet
To this cat that I love…
Part II, Part III
Throughout the existence of witches, they have usually been accompanied by familiar spirits, spirits of the dead, or some sort of faery or otherworldly being. It was said that the witches were given this spirit by the devil, and he taught the witches to feed their familiar through an extra teat, feeding the spirit blood (life force) to empower them to do witchcraft. Or the spirit may have been passed down through the family, perhaps even being an ancestral spirit to guide the witch on the witching way.
In our modern era familiars have fallen out of favor, though there are still some that refer to them. Now, familiar spirits are usually referred to as spirit guides, guardian angels, or the higher self. And then there are others that believe that the familiar spirit is a flesh and blood, domesticated animal. This is completely possible to happen, but not every pet is a familiar.
What is a familiar? Also known as the Fetch, a familiar is simply the animal self. It is the part of the soul that is the most primal, the most deep, the one that has the need to survive. It is also the connection of the witch to the primal source of creation, of life, of discovery, to the fire in the head. The familiar spirit usually comes in the form of a bird or animal, but sometimes as insects, reptiles, and amphibians as well. The familiar was traditionally wild in nature, but the historical trials also take note of dogs and cats, probably the most traditional.
What one must realise is that the familiar spirit isn’t just a dog, or a raven. It is the Raven, the Dog, connecting all those of one species to the ONE. Now, this might sound like Native American cosmology, but the fact of the matter is that in Europe our ancestors practiced in a very similar vein. Those of European descent have, sadly, forgotten that we were also once animists, otherworld travellers, spirit workers, and shamans (used in the anthropological sense). We must remember, and the way to do that is to discover ourselves again. Let us begin.
The discovery of the familiar spirit is no easy task in our day and age. We have been indoctrined at a young age to forget that the Other even exists. Some of us, however, when we were young had “imaginary friends”. I certainly remember a little girl that I used to play with, but no one knew she was there. We would play on teeter-totters together, teach each other songs, and read to each other. But I will discuss her more when I get to the subject of the Faery-Mate. This indoctrination is caused by our parents, our society, the domination of the Christian worldview ever constant around us. And so we must remember the worldview of our ancestors.
This is easily done, I think. In the early modern period there are a lot of trials that refer to witches denouncing Christ and the Church. I think we can draw from this. When I was younger I read Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft. In the beginning of this book he asked the reader to recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards, literally. Maybe he meant it in satire, maybe he didn’t, I don’t know, but I did it anyway! And I was surprised that I felt a certain weight come off of me. I noticed that I was no longer felt guilt for a number of things, among them my own sexuality. I discussed this with my therapist, and he thought that it was wonderful!
And so, this seemingly Satanic act can actually be a benefit in casting off the worldview of the Christians, to start with a clean slate, and to immerse ourselves in the worldview of our ancestors. The Witch of Forest Grove makes this note about modern witches:
“Modern witches no longer actually believe in the Otherworld, the Gods, or the existence of spirits and those who truly want to believe have such a strong fear of them being real that it prevents them from ever interacting and communing with them let alone ever advancing in their craft ability. Today many have boiled witchcraft down to psychology and magical scientific procedure – this is not true magic nor is it witchcraft.”
I completely agree. Even in my comparative mythology class, the professor boils down the spirits and gods to mere archetypes of the mind. However, those of us who have worked with spirits (be it of plants, animals, or the dead) know and have experienced the visceral nature of their power. And so it was with our ancestors. One must return to this state of openness, and the realisation of Spirit if one wishes to discover their familiar spirits, to discover their soul.
It starts very simply in making a deliberate call to the Otherworldly powers. Not any specific gods, not any specific spirits. A friend once advised me to “go out into the wilderness, get yourself good and lost, and then petition the spirits to come to you and show you the Path. You will either go mad, or come out a witch.” Now, I’m not suggesting that you do this, nor do you need to; there are plenty of house spirits, and for the most part a lot of the seemingly wild places of the US are not so wild. Especially where I live: there are many homeless that stay in the woods, and it isn’t always safe. But the petition can still happen.
Go to a liminal place and ask the spirits to guide you on the path. Dream of them, write about them, read about them. Read about your ancestors, read about their worldview, and adopt it into your life. I should stress that you shouldn’t start blaming everything on the spirits, that’s just scapegoating, and a very Christian thing to do. If you stubbed your toe, then you stubbed your toe. But, if you tripped over that nice forked branch there after giving offerings, or communicating with spirits, then that staff is probably for you. Go with your instincts, they will serve you!
After immersing yourself in the Ways, how do you go about discovering your familiar spirit? I say discover, but it can be very much like a journey. There are numerous methods, and most of the modern ones that speak of “power animals” ask the reader to go on a Pathworking to discover the beast. But, Pathworkings take time. One needs to do the pathworking many times so that the symbolism is embedded into their subconscious, and blah, blah. There are far more effective ways.
I discovered mine really by accident. Or, rather, the events that led up to it were an accident. I imbibed salvia divinorum, and travelled to the Otherworld in search of my fetch beast. I fell forever, glued to the floor, transformed into a wolf. And then I found myself in a ruinous area near a pool of water, and above the full moon shone brightly. Across the water was a woman, a beautiful woman. Her skin was alabaster white, and she wore a wondering silver dress. And then she turned to me, and I saw that the other side of her face was dying, ashen, and flaking away. And she pointed at me, and I popped out of my body and watched as my body rotted, and burned away into a pile of ash. Then I watched as she appeared behind me, and like a potter creating a vase, reshaped my body and gave me a mirror made from a giant clam shell. And in that reflection I saw the image of a black wolf with green eyes, and then I saw my self reflected in those eyes, and the reflection became me. And I knew, as I had always somehow known, that this wolf was my most primal self.
A witch feeding her familiars from England.
Now, I’m not saying that you should take of poisons and fly in spirit vision, though it is apparently quite effective. There are other ways. One way that I used to confirm the discovery of my familiar spirit was divination. Go to the edge of a wood, or a graveyard, or someplace that you find to be Between. And there, for three nights, leave offerings of milk to your familiar spirit. On the third night, bring a dagger wrapped in a winding, white cloth. Call out to your familiar spirit to reveal itself to you, and then begin unwinding the dagger about your torso, calling out the name of a beast upon each rotation: “My fetch is a rat, my fetch is a fox, my fetch is a cat, my fetch is a mouse!” However the names come to you. And then when your dagger is finally revealed, the last name that you call out is your familiar spirit. Leave an offering, and bow or curtsy to the spirit and go on your way. From this point, do not do anything until you receive a sign confirming this rite, be it a dream, or what have you. Then you can start giving offerings to the spirit. Perhaps set up a shrine, or make a vessel within which the familiar may reside. This divination was found in Lee Morgan’s A Deed Without a Name.
One way that I simply love, but learned about after the fact, is a kind of shape shifting dance. I believe the Witch of Forest Grove also wrote about this, but I could be wrong. I learned of this technique in The North Star Road, but also in Familiars by Anne Franklin. The Seeker should take hirself to a clearing where xe can set up a fire, and also room to move around. The night should be clear, so that one can see the sky. Johnson advises to find the North Star, and to focus on that as Axis Mundi, and World Tree. Lay down a circle, if you feel so inclined, of protection against evil spirits. Or burn an incense that discourages such spirits, such as benzoin and sage. Then call up all the powers of the animals. If you worship a god of animals, call to him as well to lead the animals on their way. Call them near and far, and see their approach in your mind’s eye. Then begin to dance in a circle around the fire. To me it seems appropriate to have a drum, or a rattle, or some sort of trance making device, either drumming yourself or have someone drum for you, or a recording. Either way, call up the animals, and specifically ask that your familiar spirit come to you and “ride” you. Go with your impressions, and begin to dance as an animal would dance. How does the animal move? How does it speak, if you feel inclined to sing? I have never performed this technique, but I think I will make time for it simply for its primal, and shape shifting nature.
“The Love Potion” by Evelyn de Morgan
What about flesh and blood familiars? Well, they certainly exist, as I have met quite a few pets that exude Otherness. If humans can have connections to the Other, why not animals (and plants for that matter!). The only book I have on flesh and blood familiar is the book Treading the Mill, by Nigel Pearson. He suggests that the owner should be at the birthing of the animal, and to feed it with drops of blood (blood which can also be used to “feed” the familiar spirit). The pet should also be slept with, and basically be about the witch at all times. He states that such an animal can be used for scouting, sending of spells, and for borrowing (that is the riding of the animal via the witch’s own spirit). I do not have any pets, so I can not attest to this at all. I will say that not every pet is a familiar, nor do you -need- a pet to have a familiar. Just a small edit here: This feeding and sleeping with the familiar pet imbues it with the witch’s life-force, instilling within it part of the Self. Thus it eventually becomes a part, and separate to the witch, just as akin to a spirit familiar.
I mentioned that plants can also be familiars. Probably the most famous of these is the Mandrake doll, housed in a “coffin” and petitioned to protect the witch, protect the home, and bring luck and fertility and fortune to the household. There are many ways to create this doll (or alraun) but that will be for a different post.
The familiar spirit can be called to assist in spellwork, to protect the witch while flying, to send spells, to spy, to protect others, for shapeshifting, et cetera. The trials also speak of witches have many familiars, which is completely possible. Some of these familiars are only around for a short while to teach the witch something, others many be around for a long time, others come and go. I know that Raven flits around me from time to time. A witch can also create artificial familiars used as a temporary existence, but I have heard of such familiars becoming permanent spirits that act very much like a discovered familiar.
Tomorrow I shall go into detail on the Faery-Mate, and later the Other Self.