When Your Pet is More Than A Pet – Familiars and Avatars
Author: Bronwen Forbes
As a prologue to this, you need to know that Herne has been my patron God since I was nine years old. You don’t need to know, but you’ll probably figure out by reading this (if you haven’t already) that sometimes I’m a little slow to notice the obvious.
A few months after adopting my red and white beagle mix Herman, I was trying to sleep in one Saturday morning when I began to idly wonder, “There are so many Goddesses with dogs as part of their symbolism. I wonder what Gods are associated with dogs, too?” And then it hit me like a two-by-four to the forehead. Herne, Lord of the Wild Hunt, is very much associated with dogs, especially red and white hunting dogs, than you very much. (I warned you I’m a little slow sometimes) .
Needless to say, sleep was no longer an option. I sat up and looked at Herman (who had spent the night, as he usually did, asnooze at my side) who was already staring at me with a definite, “took you long enough to figure it out” expression.
And just like that, I not only had a familiar, I had an avatar.
I’m defining “avatar” here not as a recent hit movie or a small picture that represents you on various blogs or discussion boards, but as the earthly representative of a deity. And for the love of me, I hadn’t a clue what to do with mine.
Four months later, we adopted a German Shepherd mix named Katie – and lo and behold, she was also what my husband likes to call a “God-touched” dog. But unlike Herman who was also my familiar (notice the past tense; I still miss him) , Katie let us know pretty quickly that she had no interest whatsoever in being my husband’s familiar, but would happily attend her Goddess Nehelennia’s tasks of safe travel, healing and commerce. Period.
Since acquiring Herman and Katie in 2001, I’ve alao gotten the clue what to do, not just for my special dogs, but for anyone else who may wake up one morning and see deity shining through the eyes of their pet.
First and foremost, and I know this sounds obvious, you have to keep treating your pet like a, well, pet. Your animal companion is your spiritual and or magickal support (familiar) or a little bit of deity (avatar) but he still needs proper food and water, adequate shelter, regular veterinary checkups, exercise, training, vaccinations, etc. After all, it’s not like the Gods can or will take care of your pet for you.
But once the regular, responsible pet ownership duties are taken care of with your familiar or avatar, there are still some things you need to think about to keep your relationship with your animal companion – and your deity – as smooth and fulfilling as possible.
1. Remember that, despite her spiritual role in your life, your pet is still going to act like an animal. Herman used to drive me crazy with this. He was a daily reminder of my relationship with my patron deity, helped me work through some serious ritual issues, was a whiz at helping new students ground and center simply by sitting in their laps during ritual – and he was also a master escape artist. He could climb or dig under any chain link fence, and did so on a pretty regular basis.
Katie, a born healer, is also a big dog and an unrepentant counter-surfer. I can’t begin to count how many times I packed my lunch, left the kitchen to get dressed for work, and came back to find my lunch bag and food containers in Katie’s crate and my ex-lunch in her stomach. She may be God-touched, but she’s still a dog!
2. Give your familiar and/or avatar full autonomy regarding ritual attendance. This includes personal workings, small group rituals, festivals, and rites of passage. Shortly after my Saturday morning revelation about Herman, my husband and I took him with us to visit my parents for the weekend. While we were there, I helped my parents bury the ashes of our old family cat in the side yard garden – an understandably emotional activity. Herman was in the back yard, separated from me by a picket fence. He could see me through the fence, but couldn’t get to me. As my father dug a hole for the ashes, Herman went nuts, for want of a better word. Instead of pursuing squirrels (his usual pastime in my parents’ backyard) , he was throwing himself against the fence and barking frantically, trying to get to me. I should have stepped over the fence, opened the gate, and allowed Herman to join the small ritual. After all, he only wanted to do his job.
There have also been instance and rituals where Herman or Katie did *not* want to attend a particular ritual, and we quickly learned to “listen” to their opinions – rather like knowing that it doesn’t feel right to take a certain tarot deck with you when you go do readings at a community event. We learned this lesson the hard way when we took Katie to a ritual she clearly didn’t want to go to and she had a seizure.
3. Give your pet enough down time. Just as you can’t be in ritual 24/7, it’s unrealistic to expect your pet to be “on, ” i.e. actively acting as a divine representative or helping you with your spiritual work all the time. Don’t bug him to help you if he clearly doesn’t feel like it – the fact that he’s asleep or ignoring you are clear signs that he “doesn’t feel like it.”
If you find yourself needing extra protein, water or sleep after a working or ritual, offer some to your familiar or avatar as well.
If you have a pet that also enhances your spiritual practice or connection with your deity, you have been given a gift beyond price. Very few animals, at least in my experience, can do this, and if you get one or even two in a lifetime, you have truly been blessed. It’s also not something you can actively look for; it’s like love (actually it *is* love) – the more you try to find that special animal, the less likely you are to succeed.
Be patient. If and when you’re ready, the right animal will come.