Sunday, August 8, 2010

Familiars - Part Two.

On a forum, another Hedge-crafter took exception to some of my comments about Familiars, and I can certainly understand why they might. It made me realize that I might have been somewhat unclear in some of my thoughts. What I said was a direct reflection of my own experiences, and of the research I've done. Though, I suppose I ought to have been more clear in the first place (sad is the day when a forum of Hedgewitches have to resort to mincing words).

In the trial of the Pendle Witches, Alizon was compelled to accept a familiar by Old Demdike while the pair were walking home. The process of the Familiar feeding on her left a mark which lasted six months afterward. In all of my experiences concerning beings feeding upon a person, if it leaves a mark that lasts such a long time - well... that's not exactly a "deep, loving, relationship". It hurt, it was probably frightening, and at that moment it was more parasite than life-partner.

Some Witches did, and do, doubtlessly deal with gentler beings, while some will have other kinds of work, for which neither gentle beings nor gentle partnerships are appropriate. Their interactions will be different. No two witches are alike, nor should they be, and as such their perspectives will be different. No one should expect (or demand, as some do) otherwise.

As was one point of contention - at best, one can expect to have a symbiotic relationship, a mutually beneficial, and even loving one. At worst, one may find that they are the prey, and foodsource, of a much stronger and less gentle being than they had assumed (or been lead to believe by white-washed source material). To me, this is no more controversial than saying "At best you can expect to have an awesome day, at worst you can expect to die". Both statements are unflinchingly honest, however uncomfortable they may be to hear.

The second point of contention was the Familiar leaving the Witch. Well... when/if there is nothing for them to gain anymore, they will leave... the same as any being. I have also stated that in my experience, sometimes they can get annoyed enough to simply leave.

My original post had also stated that the more pleasant the familiar, the more pleasant the partnership as long as the Witch is pleasant too. Sometimes, no one in the relationship is pleasant, or nice, or gentle. For some instances that's rather the point.

A Tale of The Blackedogge.

Alizon Device met with a pedler on the highway, and demanded that the peddler sell her some pins. He refused, and Alizon, leaving the scene of the altercation, met again the black dog who had suckled at her, leaving a mark which lasted six months. The Dog said "What wouldst thou have me do unto yonder man?" Alizon asked "What canst thou do to him?"
The dog answered "Lame him". The man didn't make it more than 200 feet down the road before he fell down, lame.
Five days later, the Black Dog appeared to her again, compelling her to stay and speak with it. She refused, and did not see the Black Dog again.

Alizon Device, amongst a long line of witches real and accused, would likely laugh very hard at the idea that familiars are relegated to ONLY being gentle, loving, beings.


  1. Nothing in this world is 100% gentle and nice. Soft breezes can become hurricanes, plants can poison as well as heal, dogs may be obedient or vicious. I don't know why any of us should expect that things from the otherworlds would be any different.

    Nor does everything that is ultimately beneficial need to reach that end gently. Even truly reciprocal and loving partnerships often involve pain and sacrifice.

  2. I am surprised to read that people believe they can create a familiar. This seems like the crossing of Chaos concepts into witchcraft, frankly, with the servitor morphing into a familiar. From what I have read about familiars, they seem to be completely independent beings who do in fact choose the witch and not vice versa. I don't even remember reading about any Early Modern witches who wished they had a familiar; the familiar just appeared to them unasked and unanticipated. It does seem that some familiars wanted love, but others were very demanding and bossy, even mean. One of the ideas that Wilby puts forward that especially appealed to me was that the familiar was as ambiguous a figure to the witch as witches themselves were to their own society. They could do good or ill. This moral ambiguity, I think she called it, seemed very realistic to me, very much of a piece with what I (and I am sure many others) have experienced in general. No karma, no threefold law. More like shit happens.

    I have been wondering since you brought the familiar idea up whether plants could be familiars or not. I don't know. One person posted on that forum about plant familiars, saying s/he saw the communication with plant familiars as much more problematic. Certainly it is my experience (especially lately!) that communication with plant spirits can be extremely difficult, full of mixed messages and metaphorical thinking and perhaps humor that falls flat as a pancake to an ape.

    My sense is that a familiar wants to work with a witch for reasons of its own. Plants can certainly throw in their lot with humans--lots of them choose to grow only around human habitations--but I really wonder if they can have much more in mind than their own desires and plans. But then, maybe that is the nature of a familiar--that it holds its own agenda as primary, and the witch's is there to be worked on when convenient. Not sure.

    An interesting topic, that's for sure.

  3. @ Harold:
    ===I am surprised to read that people believe they can create a familiar.===

    I am saddened by the assumptions people make about Spirits, but not surprised. The belief that one can essentially pull out of their ass whatever they like is pretty much the vocal majority of operation within Neopagandom.
    IT's also a symptom of the "I am the head of the world" disease that most people fall prey to. We are disused to being second-class, let alone a childish nuissance. The idea that someone can come into magick and be considered that by the spirits is shocking to them, sometimes to the point that they go into grandiose delusions about what they are, what they do, or what place they hold in the occult food-chain just to make the uncomfortable reality go away.

    As far as "make a spirit", yeah... that's Chaos Magick all the way. It is 100% the creation of a servitor. When discussing "making a servitor" it's honest, hard, rewarding work. When calling it by any other name, it's horse-bicuits. The same stupidity can be found within the Fairy-Magick community in the form of "You can create a fairy!!!!!".

    ===familiars... seem to be completely independent beings who ... choose the witch and not vice versa.===

    Absolutely. They are spirits which are either gifted to the witch by "The Devil"/Sabbat Lord, or which chose the witch. Once they're in contact with people they seem to be gifted from generation to generation, and the only way to get rid of them yourself is to give them away, or refuse them until they leave.

    ===I don't even remember reading about any Early Modern witches who wished they had a familiar; the familiar just appeared to them unasked and unanticipated.===

    That seems to be the trend, yes. And in some cases, debatably unwanted (they may have claimed this to save their own skins in trials, though)

    ===One of the ideas that Wilby puts forward that especially appealed to me was that the familiar was as ambiguous a figure to the witch as witches themselves were to their own society.===

    When I say to another witch, even someone with my ... er... inclinations... that I have entered into a partnership with a Familiar spirit which can only be described as an "Imp" or "Faun" they get nervous. I don't doub that it would've been much different in those days. "You can work just fine without one. I can't fathom doing magick that relies on something with it's own mind and will!" is about the top contender.

    ===plants ... familiars or not.===

    Absolutely. Alrune/Alraun are plant familiars, just done in a very specific way. I have no doubt that my old Wormwood plant was a close familiar.

    ===But then, maybe that is the nature of a familiar--that it holds its own agenda as primary, and the witch's is there to be worked on when convenient. Not sure.===

    Isn't that exactly how we'd do things? Why would spirits deviate very far from that?

  4. I wanted to comment on this yesterday, but couldn't really make much sense.

    Human conceit has so come to color experience when it comes to the phenomenon of the Familiar. Perhaps this was always the case, but the 'add water and stir and hey! instant pagan badass!' attitude *really* dooms it.

    The first thing off the top of my head was that it is just folly to have a list of conditions a Familiar must meet in order for it to be suitable to be in a working relationship with. 'Working relationshop', because you know, we modern witches are apparently very goal-oriented... The second thing off the top of my head, related to this, is that because there is this pervasive view that one gets to work with whatever Familiar one wishes, there must be a hell of a lot of solitary witches who would not be solitary if they lived in a different century/frame of reference/perspective colored by attitude.

    Must be friendly and approachable.
    Must be unconditional in positive regard.
    Must be cute and cuddly.
    Must always be helpful and supportive.

    Well, shit, why not just get a teddy bear and sit it on the work bench during workings. Call it something deep and portentous and then call it a day. "Yeah, that's Rupert. He's my plush Familiar."

    I've encountered what might be my familiar twice now. It is a really unexpected-looking creature, but didn't shock me in appearance so much as behavior. It was dive-bombing people in a crowd for no apparent reason, and sort of resembles a cross between a cat, a gargoyle, and a raven because it has wings. It is black and quite weighty (I caught it and carried it around like a small child). My human conceit-colored supposition is that I'm not ready for real contact yet, hence the limited contact thus far.

    For all we know, the Familiars and similar agents are the ones doing the Great Work and we're just the grunts who run the operations and experiments for them. In return, we get some nifty insights and conclude that great knowledge has been imparted to us.