Working With Familiars and Totem Animals

Last weekend, I had the amazing good fortune of going to Costa Rica to visit family.  Naturally, a trip to San Jose is not complete without an excursion into the rainforest.

While wandering through the Central American jungle, we got a chance to see an animal refuge near La Poz where they provide safe haven to animals that have been kept illegally by private owners.  This experience made me think of our human relationship with animals, and how that fits in with spiritual life.

First, let’s talk about the difference between totem animals and familiars.  They mean different things to different people, but as a general rule:

Totem Animals are often associated with American Indian traditions, but they are, in fact, a universal archetype found in many religions and cultures around the world.  A totem animal is a kind of animal that you find especially relatable, or with which you share certain pronounced traits.  This animal symbolizes something inherent about you.  To give you some obvious examples, a shy person might relate to a turtle, an aggressive person might find kinship with a bull, a person who prefers living at night might feel a strong connection to bats or other nocturnal creatures.

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Familiars are specific animals with which you have a personal, almost human relationship.  Pets are commonly regarded as familiars, but maybe your familiar is a bird that comes back every year to nest in your yard.  Wherever you find them, familiars are creatures you share some level of mutual communication with.  This is mine:

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Muffin is my first real experience as an adult pet owner.  We hit it off right away.  I feel silly telling you this, but I swear she understands what I’m saying even though she doesn’t speak my language.  There is a definite emotional connection between us.  Maybe you have a similar relationship with an animal.  If you do, you may want to take the opportunity to work with your familiar as a practitioner.

Here’s a quick ritual to connect to the animal(s) in your life.

You will need:

*something edible for your familiar
*a bowl of water
*a bowl of salt
*a black candle
*protection oil, available here
*a cedar smudge stick, available here

During the dark moon, gather your ingredients in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.

Carve a protection symbol into your candle.

Anoint with the protection oil.

Place your edible in front of the candle.

Sprinkle a little salt around it, and then water.

Light the smudge stick and smudge it.

Allow the candle to burn down.

Feed the edible to your familiar to protect her when she is away from you.

Enjoy!

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