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 The Concept of Familiars

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PostSubject: The Concept of Familiars   Sun Feb 26, 2012 12:44 pm

The basic concept of a Familar spirit most likely arose from a human need to communicate with the unseen world of spirits. At firs the Familar spirity served as a type of mediator between the worlds. Later, the concept of a companion and ally evolved. As we shall see later ..., with the rise of Christianity the Church viewed the Familar spirit as a servant to the Wtich by the Devil of Judeo-Christian religion. In this biased and distorted view of the Familar spirit the creature was portrayed as a "partner in evil" who aided the Witch in casting harmful spells.

As humankind became civilised, establishing fars, cities, and the supporting structures associated with such communities, a resulting loss of connection with Nature occured. Instead of working in a "common cause" with Nature, humans set about trying to master Nature. All of Nature came to be viewed as a resource for the gain of humankind. In response, the spirits of Nature withdrew from the company of humans.

By contrast the Witch seeks to main tain rapport with Naute and to live his or her life in partnership. Wild animals, and some "domesticated" animals such as the cat, are more in tune with Nature in daily life than are the vast majority of human beings. Establishing communication with such animals brings one closer to the source to which the creatures themselves are attuned. Possessing a Familar spirit allows the Witch to merge with the instincts of the animal and thereby interface with the intelligence of Nature.

The physical senses such as hearing and smell are more acute in animals than in human beings. From an occult perspective, he psychic senses of animals are stronger as wel. A close rapport with the Familar spirit enhances the psychic abilities of the Witch. The Familar also benefits from having a relationship with the Witch. Merging with human consciousness provides the Familiar with an expanded view of reality, and intersifies the energy pattern of the Familar. The alien worlds of human consciousness and "natural order" consciousness join together to form a magical consciousness. In this the Familar becomes the mediator.

The magical consciousness of the Witch and the Familar can open portals to other realms, and can accomplish works of magic in the material realm as well as the astral plane. This is the basis of legends in which we find the magical servant of the Witch, and tales of shapeshifting by Witches. In reality the Familar is a magical partner and companion for the Witch, and vice versa.

The oldest concept of the Witches' Familar was the spirit-animal belonging to the group consciousness of a specific type of animal. In other words, this was the spirity of the entire species delimited into a single form. In some cultures this is called a power animal or animal guide. Such an entity can be used as a doorway or link connecting to the highter animal spirit or nature. In such cases the astral form of the animal becomes the vehicle for working with the greater consciousness.

The concept of the Witches' Familar is connected with shamanic pratices and the lore of magical creatures from many cultures. One of the earlies and most clear signs of the relationship between human and guardian animal spirits reflected in the Ver Sacurm, the ancient Italic rite of the Sacred Springtime predating the rise of the Roman Empire. Every spring season ancient Italic tribes observed a custom wherein a portion of the tribe was required to divide off and form new colonies. Their sacred animal guided each tribe in this endeavor, leading them to new lands in which to establish villages. The people known as the Sabellians were guided by a bull, the Piceni by a woodpecker, and Lucani the wolf, and so forth.

Many of the animals associated with various dieties, such as Diana and the hound, Hecate and the toad, Proserpina and the serpent, Pan and the goat, are animals that also appear as Witches Familars in the vast literature on Witch craft. It is worthy of note to realize that the various types of Familiars mentioned in Witch rituals are the same creatures associated with moon goddesses, mother goddesses, and ancient chthonic deities. In particular these are the frog/toad, snake, bird, and lizard amnong many others. This is an indication of the anitquity of pre-Christian themes found in Witchcraft, and demonstrates a long-standing mystical tradition.

Over the course of time humans personified various spirits and the forces of Nature. The concept of fairies and other supernatural being blended together into common mythos. Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, in this book Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (London: Cornell University, 1972), writes, "The small demons that became the Witches' Familars of the later Middle Ages were originally dwarves, trolls, faireis, elves, kobolds, or fertility spirits called Green Men . . ." He adds that black and gren were the favored color of Witches, and that green was a fairy color. Historian Diane Purkiss (The Witch in History, London: Routledge, 1996) comments on Familiars as being malevolent fairies. Viewing Familiars as remnants of earlier pagan spirits suggests a survived theme of pre-Christian religion within the folklore and folk magic traditions associate with Witchcraft of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance periods.

Richard Baaxter (1615-1619) was an earlier figure who viewed Familiars as Nature Spirits. Baxter was a Puritan cleric who wrote a treatise titled The Certainty of the World of Spirits, which was published in the year of this death. The treatise argued for the belief in "invisible powers and spirits". Baxter believed tha tsuch things aided Witches in raising storms and casting spells. In his treatise Baxter Wrote that it is uncertain whether the spirits that served Witches "are neither Angels, good or bad" or "whether those called Fairies and Goblins are not such." The fact that the latter concept was even considered here demonstrates the survival of such Pagan beliefs into later periods.

By the mid- to late 1500s, cats had emerged as classic familiars. Since familiars often acted as a cipher for a witch's own anger and desires, the explicit sexual nature of a cat tied in well with the sexual desires of a witch. In 1566, during one of the very first English witch trials, Elizabeth Francis of Hatfield Peverel admitted her grandmother had counselled her to renounce God and His word, and to give of her blood to Satan (as she termed it) which to delivered [to] her in the likeness of a white spotted cat, and taught her to feed tghe said cat with bread and milk, and she did so. Also she taught her to call it by the name of Satan, and to keep it in a basket.

When this mother Eve had given her the cat Satan, then this Elizabeth desired first of the said cat (calling it Satan) that she might be rich, and have goods, and he promised her she should, asking her what she would have, and she said 'Sheep' (for this cat spoke to her, as she confessed, in a strange hollow voice, but such as she understood by use) and this cat forthwith brought sheep into her pasture to the number of 18, black and white, which continued with her a time, but in the end did all wear away, she knew not how.

Item: when she had gotten these sheep, she desired to have one Andrew Byles to her husband, which was a man of some wealth, and the cat did promise thae she should, but he said she must first consent that this Andrew should abuse her, and so she did.

And after, when this Andrew had thus abused her, he would not marry her, wherefore she willed Satan to waste his goods, which he forthwith did, and yet not being contented with this, she willed him to touch his body, which he forthwith did, whereof he died.

Item: that every time he did anything for her, she said that he required a drop of blood, which she gave him by pricking herself, sometime in one place and then in another, and where she pricked hereself there remained a red spot which was still to be seen (Briggs 29-30).

Cats were cherished by the witches who owned them, and anyone who harmed these familiars potentially endangered themselves. In the Lake District in England, there lived a witch whose cat was killed by the innkeeper's dog. The old woman stood by, sad but dry-eyed (witches could not weep) while the innkeeper's servant dug a grave for the animal. The old woman asked the servant, whose name was Willan, to read some verses over the cat from a book she had, a request that sent the man into howls of laughter. He threw the small, furry body into the hole he had dug, reciting in a loud voice a silly, mocking rhyme: 'Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Here's a hole and go thou must.'

'Very well,' said the old woman bitterly. 'You will be punished, as you will see.'

And Willan was indeed punished. A day later, as he was plowing the innkeeper's field, the plowshare caught in a rock on the ground; the handles flew up into the air and pierced the young man's eyes. He was blinded for life (Lehane 114-115).


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