Love Your Familiar: Cats
Ah, the iconic witches familiar–the cat! Google “witches familiar” in the image search engine, and you see the vast majority of the pictures are of people’s cats. Like us, the cat is nocturnal, and spends her evenings under the light of the moon. Cats can take care of themselves and are very independent–at least, that’s what we’ve been taught to believe. A recent bunch of surveys show that cats are more popular than dogs. And to Witches, they hold a special place in our hearts because we have been associated with them for so long.
A familiar is a creature who works with the witch while she does her work. In traditional English medieval witchcraft, the familiar was a spy and servant, but they could also help with divination, and be a companion much like a roommate. These days, we avoid forcing our animals into servitude, but familiars still lend the same assistance today.
How to know if your pet is a familiar:
- You can’t keep them off your altars and shrines around the house. You are best off just making room for them, rather than trying to keep them off these elevated places.
- When you are working in circle, they enjoy walking in and out of it, or sitting just inside or beyond the circle. I suspect they like the energy, but they also are trying to protect you. I was taught that animals and small children can pass through the circle without cutting it, because they are “between the worlds” already.
- You talk to her and she talks back. Like, in your head.
- Your cat appears in your dreams.
- Your cat likes to “help” with tarot and divination readings. Usually by sitting in the middle of what you are doing.
- Cats are not the same as dogs. Sounds like a “no duh” but lots of people think animals are the same. They think, feel, and interact with the world differently. Imagine the difference in attitude for a cat who wants a food tidbit on the counter and the dog. Both want food very much, but the cat can simply jump on the counter and enjoy it, but a dog must convince you to give it to him. This will produce different kinds of behavior.
- Cats actually prefer a regular schedule. They are truly creatures of comfort. While they enjoy novelty in toys, they still prefer to nap at the same time each day and stay around the house.
- Cats are easily stressed. A change in food, people in the house, or sudden noises can really bother them. When they miss the litter box, it is often their way of telling you that they don’t feel good and something is off. Check with a vet if they don’t right themselves in a few days.
- Cats need us. They need our love and affection, but they also need us to understand their needs. Cats needs to scratch, you know? So don’t scold them for scratching–give them a place to scratch, and then correct them gently if they are doing it in the wrong place.
- Hitting, yelling, kicking, spraying with water, etc are abuse to a cat. They are very sensitive creatures. A simple but stern “No!” is usually enough to reprimand them. Classical Conditioning teaches us that positive reinforcement always works better than negative. So correct a cat’s behavior and say “Good kitty!” or give them a treat. Do not scold them for behavior that is natural to them–it won’t do any good anyway.
- Cats love to be talked to. They are very in tune with their people. Unlike dogs and people, they don’t express themselves in their face. Rather, they use body language, smell, and emotion to convey meaning. Look to a cat’s tail if you want to know how she’s feeling. They also make a lot of vocal sounds, but they will use the one that gets you to do what you want–so they are training you! They have a particular set of meows that sound to humans like an infant crying–which moves us to sympathy or annoys us–but it works like a charm!
- Cats have feelings. They can actually cry when things upset them too much. We are currently fostering a kitty who is ill. The cat we have now actually started crying when she found this cat in her bed. Not only did it take the place that was hers, and leave his smells all over it, but she thought her people were replacing her! It is likely that she will pee someplace to express her displeasure, if we do not give her the attention that she needs.
- Cats have individual personalities, just like people. Early experiences and genetics play a big role in what kind of cat you have. Some are lazy while others are active, some are shy while others are bold, you get the idea.
- You can’t! Cats don’t like to be forced to do anything. You know this if you’ve ever tried to give a cat a bath. But they can be trained. So reward them when they do what you want, and do not punish them for doing it wrong–it only creates more stress. Some cats do not have the personality or the interest in magical things. Don’t be disappointed if they prefer to sleep through your rituals.
- Cats need time to get accustomed to things. As much as they are dying to know about something (curiosity and cats and all that), they are also afraid of new things. Introduce important people, such as your working partner, to your cat. In fact, introduce your cat to them too, so everyone knows who is on everyone’s team. Let your cat smell your new altar stuff. She might rub on it to make it smell like her, but that’s her way of becoming accustomed to things. If you are happy and calm, she will be too. But if you freak out about her jumping on the tarot spread, she’ll freak out too, and then might not want to help anymore.
- Encourage your cat to attend magical things. Keep the bedroom door open when you are doing magic there, to see if she is interested in joining. Tell her what you are doing. When she disrupts your divination, ask for her help and see what she says.
- Give your cat magical objects. Perhaps a nip toy blessed in sacred space. One of my cats enjoyed an amethyst crystal hanging from her collar for awhile, until she gave it to the Fey.
- Build a strong relationship with your kitty. Playing, feeding, and petting are all the things a cat needs to be happy and healthy. When you honor her need to scratch, be on high places, and keep things clean, you are building your relationship. Consider doing a type of pet that only you and that cat do. For example, my cat LOVES to be pushed over roughly, but only by Dad (Mom doesn’t do it right apparently!). So that is a special thing they do. I had a cat I used to sing a special song to. She would be upset if I sang it to another cat! You build up the spiritual from the mundane.
The human/familiar relationship is really about, well, relating. Work at understanding your cat, and she will better understand you. Like any friendship, there may be times of closeness and times of distance, depending on the number of stresses in both your lives. Whether a cat is your familiar or not, it is your responsibility to care for them and give them what they need. Cats have many lessons they can teach us about compassion, caring for others, and fun, but they need us to listen to them.
Cats may be the most popular animal in the US right now, but they are also most often given up to shelters because of “poor behavior” such as missing the litter box. Millions of animals in shelters are put down every year, and most of them are cats. As witches who love our familiars, they deserve the best lives we can give them, and the best care.
Like ’Dear Abby’ with a pointy hat!
Jamie is a freelance writer, tarot reader, teacher, and pre-service counselor. Oh yeah, and she's a Witch!
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