Familiars in Witchcraft and Paganism

Familiars are an often talked about and highly debated topic in the witchy world.

As with most things, I don’t personally believe there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think about them, but there are definitely many options. I’ll share a few of them and let you know what I believe!

Familiars throughout history

Familiars have made appearances for a variety of purposes and in a variety of ways throughout time.

Some perspectives view them as demons that inhabit the bodies of small animals like cats, dogs, rats, birds, and toads. They are there to help a witch with their workings.

In some cases familiars have even said to exist in human form!

Some accounts describe inheriting familiars through family members, covens, or mentors, usually around the time of an initiation. Witches were also thought to be presented with a familiar after making a deal with the devil.

Others say a witch’s familiar will appear to them out of the blue during mundane activities.

During the European witch hunts, animals believed to be familiars were often used as evidence of witchcraft. Even the presence of a fly or bee was enough to convince some witch hunters of an accused witch’s guilt!

Familiars today

Today, familiars are not seen as something negative and are often sought after by pagans and witches. There are essentially two main views of what familiars are:

  1. A physical animal that shares a close bond with a witch and often is involved in their magical practice.
  2. A non-physical being that acts as a guide for one’s magical and/or spiritual path.

These are definitely not the only two views, there are other versions of familiars specific to certain paths, but these are what I think of as the most general views.

physical animals

When people talk about their familiars as being in physical forms they are often a pet or other animal they have regular contact with. Usually this will be an animal that “found them” rather than one they sought out.

Some people say their physical familiars will find items to use for their practice or guide them to certain items or paths. Other witches have familiars that help keep them focused or make sure they know when it’s time to take a break and relax. There are also people who say their familiar likes to simply be around them when they are doing anything magical.

Aside from assisting and supporting their witch, some people believe they also act as protection from energetic attacks. In a physical familiar this could look like injuries or illness with no apparent cause. It is believed that this is them taking the hit from something that was actually meant for their witch!

Some people also believe witches can draw on their familiars for more energy when performing spell or ritual work. The ethical nature of this is highly debated because of the involvement of another being and potential to burden them with more than they can handle.

non-Physical Spirits

Many people believe familiars are not physical animals, but spirits that are there to help and guide a witch.

Non-physical familiars often act more as guides on one’s spiritual and/or magical path. They might be communicated with via meditation, dreams, divination, or any other method one might use for connecting with spirit. As with other spirits, some people are able to sense the presence of a non-physical familiar in their day to day life.

Some people believe that even physical familiars are only the presence of one of these non-physical beings in an animal and that you could even bind a familiar spirit to an animal of your choosing. This is another situation where ethics are questioned as it could be seen as influencing another being’s free will.

Just like with physical familiars, those in spirit forms are also thought to act as protection or a source of energy to draw from. The difference is that since they are energy rather than a physical form, they are often thought to adapt to and recover from these instances more easily.

My thoughts and observations

I’m sort of in the middle of these two theories. Familiars can absolutely be physical, but that the term is often over/misused.

I also believe there is a spirit component, there is a special element to who the familiar is on a non-physical level to explain the connection to their human.

I don’t have a familiar as of now, though I would love to have one. The closest I have to a familiar is the cat my parents gave me for Christmas when I was two who passed my freshman year of college. I believe he visits me every once and a while to comfort me when I am going through rough times.

I see a lot of people calling pets that they have a close emotional relationship with their familiars. While this may not always be wrong, I don’t think these are usually actual familiars. Sort of how when people who are intensely in love with each other say they are “soul mates” when most people consider soul mates to be something much deeper.

Then again, that is only my opinion and everyone is entitled to their own!


How do you view familiars? Do you have one?

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