Podcast 20 – Magical Animals

Podcast 20 – Magical Animals

Today we’re looking at animals and their role in magical practice.  We’ll talk about different species, shapeshifting, and familiars.  In WitchCraft, Laine talks about making Black Cat Oil.  Cory looks at one way to attune with a familiar in SpelledOut.  Don’t forget about the Winter Lore Contest!

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 20

Some of the works we cite are:
Patrick Gainer’s WItches Ghosts & Signs
Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore
Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon
The Foxfire book series
Magical Creatures, from Elizabeth Pepper & Barbara Stacy of The Witch’s Almanac
We mention the Bible, particularly Leviticus 16 (the scapegoat). 16:8 in many translations refers to Azazel (wiki article.  Also, we mention Mark 16: 17-18 (the passage on snake-handling).
We also mention Auntie Greenleaf, whose tale can be found at Americanfolklore.net
You might also be interested in our New World Witchery blog entry on Snakes.
And, of course, we mention Judika Iles’ 5000 Spells again.

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Inciting a Riot
Promo 2 – Borealis Meditations
Promo 3 – RadioLab

4 thoughts on “Podcast 20 – Magical Animals”

  1. First of all, I absolutely loved this episode.
    On the “familiar” note, while I think you guys made a lot of great points, but I don’t think you gave familiars enough credit. While a pet isn’t necessarily a familiar, it certainly can be. I don’t think it’s fair to rule out Dachshunds or Chihuahuas, either. How is a beetle more inherently magical or better suited to be a familiar than a Dachshund? In my opinion all that’s needed is a spiritual and or psychic connection with the animal, breed or species is irrelevant.
    My first (and currently only) familiar was my dog Max. Maxamillion was a hulking beast made of fur and teeth and claws. I loved him dearly. From the second he and I began sharing a house we had a strong connection. He was my pet, but it was more than that. My other dog, Billy, couldn’t care less about my magical workings, but Max was always there to lend an extra boost of energy or guiding nudge in the right direction. I allowed him to stay inside my circle and it felt like he’d been made to be there. I never got around to performing a ritual to make it official, but I did declare him as my familiar.
    He was my pet, and my friend, but he was also my familiar. I didn’t send him out to smother children in their sleep or anything like that, of course. He’d be there to comfort me when I was mad or upset and he’d lend his enthusiasm when I needed to get fired up for an especially taxing bit of magic. We had a deep bond, and when he died I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I still feel his presence very close to me, and that’s a comfort, but I miss him more than I can express.
    I hope this has helped explain a little of what it means to have a familiar. They can be great helpers and invaluable guides.
    Also, on an unrelated note, I think any animal can be magical. Giraffes, for instance. They can walk almost immediately after birth, and despite their gangly bodies and necks they run with enviable grace. They use their necks to reach incredible heights, and are great survivors. So if you feel you need an extra little bit of grace or you need to reach out for something, channeling the spirit of the giraffe can help you a lot. For another example, you can look at manatees. They’re humble creatures, but they exist in two worlds (above and below water) and are loving mothers. I think if you look hard enough you can find something magical in every animal.

    1. Hi Jon! I’m glad you enjoyed the episode.

      You make some *very* good points about all animals having some element of magic to them. Manatees are one of my most favorite animals. 😉 And you are definitely right about the giraffe as well. I think the point I was trying to make got a little lost among our conversation- that some are just inherently more magical than others. But again, you make a very good counterpoint, and I’m glad you posted it. It gives me some more to think about.

      And I’m sorry about Max. He sounds like he was a wonderful dog. It actually makes me curious about one of my dogs, if he’d do well with a magical working of some sort. It’s very interesting to hear about people with familiars, since I’ve not heard much about it.

      As to not giving them certain breeds enough credit, I think the point with the beetle that Cory was trying to make is that anything can be a familiar, if you just look hard enough. I was having a hard time seeing that, so he gave the beetle example. And I completely agree about what makes a familiar- a spiritual bond with an animal. I would add that you also need a physical connection as well, though.

      Anyway, thank you so much again for the constructive criticism. You pointed out some things I need to think about more, and some things I need to be more open about. So, seriously, thanks for comment- we appreciate it! 🙂


  2. Greetings once again!

    Okay guys your timing is a little freaky for this show, for I just finished my thesis for Native American Religions comparing European Shamanism and Native American shamanism. I’ve done so much reading on the subject of shape-shifting this weekend that it isn’t even funny!

    To answer some questions that popped up for you guys:

    Yes, shamans and other practitioners would sometimes wear the skins of the animals they would transform into. While some cultures saw this transformation as one undertaken by the shaman while in ecstatic trance (making it a spiritual change), others believed in the literal physical change.

    One example was a South American Jaguar cult that would wear the pelts of jaguars and would protect the village from the big cats. They would also cleanse warriors and hunters who had slain a jaguar, and it is said that they would even take the form of jaguars as part of a magio-religious ritual. Part of the prerequisite of this group was that you had to be bitten by the beast.

    Now for the purpose of shape-shifting. In shamanic practice, the shaman would take the form of his spirit friends, which were animal spirits for the most part, to gain their power and knowledge to aid them in their healing and journeys to the underworld to save lost or abducted souls. Finding lost souls, which were attributed to be the cause of mental illness, was the job undertaken by the shaman, who unlike a wise person or medicine man, had the ability to sustain an ecstatic trance and travel to the spirit world.

    One interesting tale recounted by Mircea Eliade is of a Germanic shaman who was in trance to try and save the soul of a woman who suddenly fell dead. Without any visible cause, a great wound suddenly materialized in the shaman’s stomach and he fell dead. A second shaman jumped in, and was able to save the woman. When she came to, she recounted what had happened. The first shaman had taken the form of a walrus and was swimming across a lake to get to her, when a spirit struck him with a spear in his stomach.

    That’s really just an example of shape-shifting, though I thought it was interesting to see the repercussions of working in the spirit world.

    Oh and Eliade also spoke a bit on the hobby horse, which was replaced by the broom for witches as they traveled across fields to their sabbats. Odin, seeking the knowledge of Runes, hung himself from the world tree for nine days. The world tree is called Yggdrasil, which translates to “steed of Ygg,” Ygg translating to Odin. So we have the steed of Odin. In myth we have Odin’s steed being Slepnir, the 8 legged horse that Odin and other gods have ridden to the underworld. There’s the correlation here of Odin using the world tree as a means of travel to the underworld, which is reflected in the use of a hobby horse, broom, and a stang as means of reaching the underworld.

    On a side note, the cosmology of the world tree, or cosmic tree, is commonly found in Native America as well as various parts of the world.

    I’ll digress now, but I figured you’d find this interesting. Here are a few of my sources for all this nerdy goodness, and I highly suggest the book by Eliade and Cowan. Hultkrantz’s book is good, but his writing is a little weird.

    Ake Hultkrantz: The Religions of the American Indians: http://www.amazon.com/Religions-American-Indians-Hermeneutics-Studies/dp/0520042395/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1290621695&sr=8-3

    Mircea Eliade: Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy: http://www.amazon.com/Shamanism-Archaic-Techniques-Ecstasy-Bollingen/dp/0691119422/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290621904&sr=1-5

    Tom Cowan: Fire in the Head: http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Head-Shamanism-Celtic-Spirit/dp/0062501747/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290621980&sr=1-4

    Thanks for another great show guys 😀


    1. Hi Odom! Many many thanks for this insightful response!

      I’ve heard and read about the Jaguar cult from other sources as well. I seem to recall there’s a special entheogenic drink associated with that particular group, too, but I can’t remember the name of it. The concept of soul retrieval within the context of shamanic shape-shifting is something I hope to explore more at some point (though it will be a while before I have the time, lol).

      Again, so many thanks to you for this great post! We really appreciate it!

      All the best!

      I’ve read a bit of Eliade, too, and she definitely has a lot to say on shamanism. So thank you for linking to that book and the others! I hope our readers find those links useful!

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