I have three cats and they regularly walk through my altar space; which means I regularly have to reset some of my idols. Generally, not the Bastet figurine, make of that what you will. So far I’ve been lucky because at least my cats haven’t set themselves on fire (yet!) like a few of my friends have experienced. From accidents with candles, to offerings ending up in Rover’s belly, living a magical lifestyle with pets can be difficult.
Many practitioners keep pets. Companion animals are a common part of the modern world so it’s no surprise that people who practice magick may also have dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, and other assorted friends. For some people their pet’s interactions with their magick is accidental, like my cats and my altar, but for others it’s more intentional.
Whether you practice magick with your pet or not, here are some things to consider.
Is my cat my familiar?
Witches and cats go hand in hand thanks to the proliferation of mythology and folk tale which have bound them together. While this may be pet we most often think of as magical, many people claim their pets, such as dogs, birds, or reptiles, are in fact more than just a companion animal, but a creature that is integral to their magical life. But is this connection legitimate or just myth?
The term familiar is generally used to refer to a spirit or animal that supports a practitioner in their magick work, including anything from spell work and ritual, to trips to the astral plane, or just some added comfort during meditation.
Many people have pets that also act as familiars or guides for them in their practice. The first step to figuring this out is really to review your specific practice (you may need to do some research). Does it include familiars or guides of that nature? If it does, then what animals qualify for that role? Your practice may have strict guidelines on what can and can’t be your familiar. For example, you may love your iguana, but can they be your familiar?
If you are following your own path, outline what familiar or guide means to you when it comes to your animal. Question why you would feel that way about the animal and what benefit it serves in your practice.
This is not to say that I am discounting the idea that someone’s pet is their familiar or their guide, only to say that it is not an automatic relationship. But if you are Pagan, a witch, or otherwise spiritual, that doesn’t mean that a pet is automatically anything more than a pet.
Is your practice safe for Fluffy?
Part of the reason why so many people assume their pets are familiars is because your pet is likely constantly with you. Cats and dogs follow you around. Reptiles are more than happy to stay draped around your neck while you go about household chores. Smaller caged pets are often kept in common spaces for companionship. Which means that when you practice, you need to keep an eye out for what is and isn’t safe.
Candles and open flame are always a concern, and although you may not want to keep your pets out of your worship space for your own reasons, you must watch them around fire. They will knock over candles and catch their tails on fire. This may seem oddly specific but I’ve had two friends that this exact thing has happened to. The cats, their tails were wrecked for a few weeks and my friends nearly had a heart attack. This obvious threat isn’t the only the thing to look out for.
Many spirits and deities are specific as to what plants and foods to offer them. Unfortunately, many plants and some foods are very harmful to our pets. For example, dogs can’t eat grapes1 and lilies are toxic to cats.2 It is important, when you are planning your offerings, to ensure that you are placing things that if your pet were to get into them, would not harm them. To be safe, look up the item and your animal type on a resource like PetMd.com. This small step can save you a lot of heartbreak later.
Another benefit of this is that if the standard offering is not suitable because of your pet, you can take that opportunity to learn more about your gods for a deeper practice as you search for alternatives.
Also some animals, like birds and smaller rodent friends, can be sensitive to certain incense or the ash from burning them, as well as candles. It’s important to keep a healthy environment for those pets that cannot freely leave a room when the smoke gets to be too much for them, or who might be effected by the chemicals released when burning candles. Consider using electric candles on your altars, containing any incense burning in one room and making sure it is not too heavy a smoke, or trying out a room spray to cleanse and scent a space. While these aren’t guaranteed to protect your pets, they are healthier alternatives that might be a better choice.
Protection spells, charms, and work for pets
Your pet can’t ask you or give you the okay to do magick work for them, which makes some people a little wary of it, since the animal cannot consent to the act. I tend to think that it’s perfectly alright to work magick for your pets in the same way you would do so to protect and help members of your household.
Although it’s true that they can’t give you the yes or no, a simple spell for their health and safety is fine to perform. Just make sure you are not using your magick in a harmful way that will ultimately make them unhappy, and be thoughtful in considering how to do the working. Like us, they are bodies in need of respect and autonomy.
Another way to use magick for your pets is to attach charms for protection to their collars or have custom made collars with spells, sigils, or runes written right into them. It is important to make sure that your additions do not interfere with the collar itself. A cat’s collar should still be breakaway, and a dog’s collar should still have space to hold registrations and vaccination tags.
For small animals, you can place protective symbols on the outside of their tanks or underside of their cages. You can hang charms and other things near them but it would be a good idea to make sure that they stay out of reach as small animals like rats and birds may see them as toys, which is not safe for your pets.
As long as your efforts allow the animal to continue about their normal lives and doesn’t put them in harm’s way, there’s no issue with working magick for them.
Working magick with your pet
Some people may wonder about performing spells and rituals with their pet, especially if they see that animal as their familiar or an integral part of their practice, or if they have a pet who just won’t leave their feet. This is possible to do, but it will take patience and time.
As stated before, pets often follow us around, but that doesn’t mean they are really involved with our practice. If you do want to work with them. it’s important to focus on the safety of the animal. Do not feed them things that are harmful. Be careful with oils or herbs as the pet’s skin may be sensitive to them.
Lastly, do not force your pet to participate. If an animal is not cooperating with a ritual or spell you are trying to perform, respect that and ether find an alternative way to work the magick or try again later.
Some people have pets that just won’t leave them alone. As I have mentioned, I have three cats and they follow me like dogs! Always underneath me. If you too have this situation, you have to make some choices.
If your practice is “pet friendly,” then there’s generally no issue with doing your work with them in the room. For example, my practice is very safe for my pets. My candles aren’t lit for long periods and my offerings are pet friendly.
If you have pets that will just not leave you be and a practice that is not safe for them, then you’ll have to employ some tricks. The easy solution is to put them in another room or crate during your practice time. Some animals do better with this than others and the noise they make can be distracting.
For better results you can train them with treats and rewards until they get used to the idea of being away from you during your practice time. It is stressful for our pets to be away from us when they know we’re there! Providing them with something to distract them (a favourite toy) or make them feel secure (a t-shirt that smells like you) will help them get used to the idea of being away from you, even if you’re just in the next room.
This will take some time for them learn so don’t give up after a few days. Give them a few weeks to settle into the new system.
Magical or not, pets are love
Whether or not you work with your pets and your magick or if you think that they hold a special place in your practice, our pets are a part of our lives and homes and we must remember to keep them safe while we are practicing. Doing a little more research into your tools and planning your space can go a long way into making sure that your animal, regardless of type, stays safe, healthy, and happy.