For today’s post I would like to discuss animals that have been associated with witches, and used as familiars throughout history! These animals are snakes, toads, rabbits, foxes, wolves, crows/ravens, owls, and of course cats.
Firstly I would like to define what a familiar is. A familiar is a special animal that helps a witch perform her magic. However, during the times of the witch trials, they were seen as demons that the witch fed with blood to help her do the bidding of the devil. Modern day practicing witches have pets that they may call familiars (as some simply use the term to describe a pet owned by a witch). Other witches let their familiars participate in their magical workings.
Whether beloved pets, or maligned as devilish imps, witchy animals are an important part of the history of witches. They are sometimes viewed as the witches themselves in an animal form!
Snakes are associated with sexuality as well as magic. In kundalini yoga the snake is seen as a coiled serpent at the base the spine that is awakened with postures and meditation! Snakes are powerful symbols of change and evolution, the shedding of the skin makes them an obvious interpretation of going through a metamorphosis within ourselves. This makes them an obvious example of magical animal. Toads are an amphibious animal that like the snake are often seen associated with witches. Most often toads were seen as a familiar for witches during the witch trial eras (when they were used as a connection to satan, supposedly). This was utilized in the television show Salem where a fictional version of the real woman Mary Sibley keeps a toad as a familiar.
Rabbits, foxes, and wolves are all mammals that can be used as familiars to witches in many ways. Rabbits have the association with sexuality (like snakes) so can be seen as an appropriate familiar for a witch working sex magic. Foxes are sly and cunning, making their connection with witches obvious. In older cultures women would sometimes refer to themselves as “cunning women” in an attempt to avoid association with the negative connotation of witches! Wolves as witchy animals have a relation to the witches of fairytales, like Little Red Riding Hood, a tale that does not have a wicked magic worker, but instead an anthropomorphic wolf! One could argue wolves and witches can be seen as an old conflation of werewolves and magic workers. In a positive light wolves are pack animals that are symbols of protection, and this can be viewed as a leader of a coven protecting her sister witches.
Ravens, crows, and owls are birds often associated with the supernatural. Ravens and crows feature in countless fantasy films, television, and literature as animals with magical ability. Most notably is The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe and the usage of ravens as messengers in Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire). In both of these examples, as with many others, the raven (or crow) is seen as a magical bird with almost supernatural abilities. Owls are symbols of wisdom and autonomy, as well as associated with certain deities (Blodeuwedd for example). The most obvious associations with owls and witches is in the Harry Potter series. Owls are pets, familiars, and messengers in this series!
Finally cats are the most witchy of all animals. During the witch trails in Europe cats were even put to death along with their owners. The fear of black cats, and association with them as unlucky, can be traced directly to their connection with witches. The fact that cats are sacred to multiple pagan deities did not help them when the witch trials were going on. Both the Egyptian goddess Bastet and the Norse goddess Freya had cats as sacred to them! Bastet was even often depicted in cat form! Many modern day witches still love cats and keep them as familiars, whether that simply means a pet, or the cat actually participates in magic!
I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about witchy animals. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
- The Weiser Field Guide to Witches by Judika Illes
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
- Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
- Mythology by Edith Hamilton
- Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch
- Invoke the Goddess by Kala Trobe
- The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff