Many modern witches have animal familiars, usually cats, which are their magical helpers. Some also have dogs, birds, snakes or toads.

Witches do not believe the familiars are “demons” or spirits in animal form but simply animals whose psychic attunement makes them ideal partners in magic.

Some Witches say it is possible to endow pets with magical powers and turn them into familiars, though others don’t believe it should be done.

Still others believe familiars are never pets, and should not be treated as such, but are animals who volunteer to work as familiars and are karmically attracted to Witches.

Witches who do not have familiars send out psychic “calls” to draw in the right animal.

Familiars reputedly are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power.

They are welcome partners inside the magic circle for the raising of power, the casting of spells, scrying, spirit contact and other magical work.

They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it be an unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic.

Familiars are given psychic protection by their Witches.

Some Witches also use the term familiar to describe thought-forms created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane.

Familiars in sorcery and shamanism. Sorcerers and shamans around the world have helpers in the form of spirits.

Dispatching them on errands to harm or kill is called sending.

The physical shape of a familiar varies.

New Guinea sorcerers rely on snakes and crocodiles, while in Malaya, the familiar is usually an owl or badger passed down from generation to generation.

In Africa, the wild creatures of the bush are said to be witches’ familiars.

For the Lugbara, they are the toad.

The Zulus’ familiars are said to be corpses dug up and reanimated with magic; they are sent out on night errands to scare travelers with their shrieking and pranks.

The Ndembu of Zambia believes that evil men create spirit familiars out of the blood of their victims and send them out to kill others.

The Pondo witches, also of Africa, are women who are said to have sex with their light-colored spirit familiars.

In shamanism, a novice shaman acquires his familiar, or totem, spirits, usually manifested in animal, reptile or bird, shapes, when he completes his initiation.

He may send them out to do battle in his place, but if they die, so does the shaman. Familiars usually stay with their shaman until death, then disappear.

Among certain Eskimos, the familiar is embodied in an artificial seal, not a live animal.