Week 11 (F): familiars
To me, a familiar is an animal without which, your practice would be weaker. A traditional familiar is usually a cat, though if you’re a Harry Potter fan you know they can also be toads or rats. My partner and I have two cats, Maya Mae and Emma Rayne, who are wonderful and cuddly but far from being Crookshanks. Emma is irritable and hisses readily when she decides she doesn’t like how you’re breathing. Maya, by contrast, is unfailingly sweet, but perhaps not the smartest catnip addict in the kennel.
Gilbert was the cat who was to be my first and (so far only) familiar. When I lived with my parents, I held nighttime rituals out on the driveway. I constructed giant circles of candles that spanned the entire driveway and enclosed me in a circle of light. Within them, I sat and danced and soaked up the moonlight. Every single time I held one of my driveway circles, Gilbert would slink over. He was black with a bit of white on his chest. He would lay on my chest when I laid down after doing yoga, or he’d show up in my meditations.
One time he didn’t come to circle and I panicked. About a week later, I found out he’d been hit by a car and had a broken leg. Luckily, he lived, but his visits to my circles were never the same after that. He had become skittish, and seemed less engaged. Gilbert’s absence left a hole in my practice for a few years following, though I gradually adjusted to not having his presence. Eventually the neighbor that owned him moved away, and to my knowledge Gilbert lived to a happy, if slightly more skittish, old age.
But Gilbert is not the most intuitive animal I’ve ever met. My best friend‘s cat, Elphaba (Elphie for short), always knows when I’m in town. She paces the house, and is waiting by the door when I finally come over. I knew her as a kitten, but she has a better memory than almost any other animal I’ve met. Elphie is what I’d call a wise animal. She’s not my familiar, because she doesn’t live with me, but she’s a damn smart cat. Elphie always knows what’s up.
As for Maya and Emma, my current cats, neither seem terribly interested in the witchy goings-on in our house. Oh sure, Maya and Emma are interested in the candle flame or the ceremonial rattle, but they’re not real familiars. Neither has mystical prowess. What they, along with most animals, do have is empathy. It doesn’t matter if she hissed at me an hour ago, if I’m crying Emma will curl up and squish her way into my side. Maya begs for scritches by shoving her head under my chin. They usually know when I need cuddles, and they readily supply them. Empathy is as important a quality in an animal as magical ability, and I’m grateful for their easy companionship.