This is the second week of the letter F for the Pagan Blog Project. I’ve considered a few different subjects. I finally settled on Familiar and what a familiar is to me.
The common definition of a familiar is an animal, often a cat, that is a witch’s helper in magickal workings.  I have come to the conclusion that the term familiar is something that started out to be a completely different relationship altogether. 
Miriam-Webster defines Familiar like this:
Definition of FAMILIAR
1: a member of the household of a high official
2: one who is often seen and well known; especially : an intimate associate : companion
3: a spirit often embodied in an animal and held to attend and serve or guard a person
4 a: one who is well acquainted with something
   b: one who frequents a place
Both 1 and 2 seem to be a pretty good place to start with an understanding of what a familiar is. 
I believe the term familiar originates with wise men and women working with animal spirits, and “others” (clergy, conquering tribes or those not of the practice or area) describing this practice in a way that sounds like the wise person is working with a living animal.
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A witch and her familiar spirits.
In the past it was thought that witches could shape shift into the form of a cat, particularly a black cat. I’m sure this is because cats were common place in Europe; they helped to kept pestilence down. There is also some thought that places frogs and other small creatures as the familiar spirits of witches.
You also have this notion that witches are flying around on brooms at night and cats and many other creatures associated with witches are nocturnal creatures, so it would make sense to link these from a superstitions standpoint or from a place of condemnation.
So, back to the working with animal spirits…. Many healers, wise men and women, shamans, medicine men and women; from many different cultures have worked with them. Sometimes they are thought to be totem animals, animal spirit helpers, or representative of clan affiliations.  
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Witches and their familiars
I believe the term, familiar, became associated with magickal workings with living animals, based on a misinterpretation or misdirection about working with animal spirits. I’m not saying that working with a living animal is not possible, nor am I suggesting that they cannot be representative of the spirit of a particular species in a broad sense. I am saying that often traditions from the past are told by people on the outside of the particular belief system, and there is misunderstanding and misrepresentation when an outsider of any community or belief system retells the practices or beliefs.
I grew up with a variety of animals on the farm and in the wild areas around the farm, and of them all, the cat and I never hit it off. I’ve had several cats in my life on and off and I will admit… I am not a fan of cats… so for me the idea that familiars are primarily feline, just doesn’t work.
I have worked with living animals in my magickal practices, but I do not include them in my workings unless they have made it very clear they wish to be included. I more often work with the broader understanding of the animal species.  I tend to think of these animals spirits as partners and sometimes as extensions of myself. 

I know my understanding of familiars is not the same as most people have, but it is how I work with my familiar, totem or partner animal spirits.
Have a Wicked Good Day!

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