Recently, one of my sisters has started to complain about me. Or rather resumed complaining about me. One of the complaints that my sister has about me is that I seem to care more about animals than I do human beings. She especially does not like it when I point out that animals have not invented nuclear bombs, credit ratings, and the IRS, therefore they are more worthy of my respect. She does not see the humor of that logic. But I must admit that I often have more empathy for animals than I have for some human beings. (There are some humans I really enjoy the company of, and there are the other ones that I just want to whack with a stick.)
In the records of the witch hunts, one often encounters the claim that witches have familiar spirits, often in the shape of an animal. Honestly, most of the people harmed during the witch hunts were Christian, and a high percentage of them seemed to be property owning unmarried women. And many of them seemed to have been crazy cat ladies. A good number of animals and their owners seemed to have been tortured and killed by the Christians in their quest to rid the world of the devil and to line their pockets with other people’s property.
And yes, I am on the side of the accused witches, be they pagan or Christian.
Scanning the literature concerning primitive religious beliefs, and the early days of religion, there seems to be a lot of respect given to our animal brethren. In shamanism, often a shaman would channel the power of an animal, such as a bear. The shaman often had that power because they survived an attack by such an animal—the logic being that if you survived a traumatic attack by a hostile animal, then you must have some power over that type of animal.
Fortunately, the modern pagan does not need to go to such extremes to be able to access the power of an animal. But it still can be dramatic to gain such a familiar spirit. For instance, my wife used to have nightmares about spiders. It took her a long time to come to terms with the spirit of the spider. Today, spiders are perfectly safe at my house. Proof of this can be found in the fact that I did not freak out a few minutes ago when I found a spider crawling on my coffee cup.
Correction—the idea that spiders are perfectly safe at my house is not completely true. The familiar animals that I work with the most—cats—tend to eat them if they venture into reach. There have been many of a time that I have watched one of the cats hunting and then eating one of the spiders. There is probably a lesson there about the spirit of one entity absorbing the life force of another entity…we probably do not want to think about it too hard.
So how did I start working with cats? At first, I started by adopting one. Well, actually two. Well, really four of them. I wanted one cat, and my friends (who were moving) insisted that I take the other one also. I agreed. Turned out that one of the cats was pregnant. I became an instant kitty daddy. A few years later, when my wife and I brought a house, we were surprised that it came complete with its own feral cat colony.
I like to think that I earned the right to have cats as one of my totem animals by serving as a caretaker to them. After all, we trapped, fixed, and released the members of the feral colony, and continue to feed and watch over them to this day. And Bast, the Egyptian goddess of cats seems to agree with my logic.
So instead of having to survive vicious animal attacks, the modern pagan seems to have gone the route of the medieval witch, gaining the companionship of animal spirits by caring and living with animals. And I imagine quite a few of them like their animal companions better than some of the humans that they know. Heavens knows that I like my cats better than I like my sister at the moment—that probably also makes her upset. I wonder if she would like a big box of spiders.