I don't claim to be an expert on familiars or even really and truly understand what they are. I just know I had one, and it was a relationship unlike any other. And now it's over. My familiar was a dog. And while I should probably be writing something educational or profound, instead, I'm going to be writing an ode to my dog. My familiar.
Although I've been a Pagan most of my life, I only got to experience a relationship with a familiar once. Oh we had guardians, spirit guardians on the Astral plane and a family guardian cat that keeps reincarnating into our lives (and haunting us in between). But a familiar? That was something I never really believed in. It was either metaphorical, or something made up for witch hunt evidence.
I got my dog on impulse. I was thinking about getting a dog as we had just moved into a new house after living in apartments all of our lives and my children were eager to get a dog, but I was not in a hurry. Providence brought us to him and we had to bring him home.
It was also obvious that he was very tuned into me emotionally. When I became upset he would bark and howl and jump all around like a maniac. If someone I didn't like was around, he would be aggressive toward them, no matter how hard I tried to pretend. Even if I was only temporarily annoyed with someone, Griffin knew and behaved accordingly and was friendly to them later.
He was about two years old when someone referred to him as my familiar. I didn't think much of it. It was just one of those things that people say to Pagans, you know. I soon realized it was true, but the physical evidence scared me just a little and I didn't share it with anyone for fear of being, well, fluffy.
Griffin really enjoyed being part of my magical working. He always sat at attention in the Circle and I could feel his energy alongside mine. He was never disruptive, and always helpful. My spells have always worked, and they continued to work. I have also always experienced rebound, but that stopped after Griffin started joining me. It was sometime before I realized that he was internalizing it. He began to get sicker and sicker. When I ran afoul of another witch and he made it very clear that he was cursing me, I saw no effects, but Griffin got sicker. He no longer slept at night, his coat became dull, he had trouble walking and his skin was extremely itchy and often covered with sores. He also became more irritable and snappy the more uncomfortable he got.
Although I've done dozens of successful healing spells for other people and their pets, there was nothing I could do for him. I spent thousands of dollars on vet bills, tests and medications. In the end, we couldn't help him and had to put him to sleep.
Griffin did not fight his death and he did not suffer. In fact, those last few moments were the first in a long time that he was calm and not trying to get an itch or moaning in pain. He also has not been back since his death. Having experienced a lot of post-mortem visitations in my life, I found this odd and somewhat painful. Oh I still expect to hear him bark as I approach the door and I still expect to feel his fur on my toes when I stretch out on the couch and my eyes still naturally fall to his nap spot but he is not there even in spirit. I feel a sense of guilt when I take a walk or go for a ride in the car and he's not with me. I feel a whole lot of guilt associated with Griffin.
Griffin changed my life. He is the reason I became a dog trainer. His issues required so many specialists that I soon felt I needed to share what I had learned to help others. He inspired my mother to get her dogs and they inspired her to become involved with various canine related social and charity organizations, which inspired me right back. Griffin loved me in a way that I have never been loved by anyone. He was always there for me with comfort, affection or a bit of clowning to cheer me up.
When he died, I was devastated and, without him, I didn't know how to cheer up. I didn't talk to anyone about it, because it was too painful. The loss of him coupled with the guilt that I couldn't help him was too overpowering to put into words. I considered quitting my job as a dog trainer, but my boss wouldn't hear of it. He informed me that I had a class to teach and it was either go or be that person who lets other people show up and be left standing. I can't even consider at this point getting another dog - aside from the fact that I have a new baby and can barely keep up with the housework as it is - the idea of bringing another dog into this house, one who isn't Griffin, one who I might love and screw up just as much and have to watch die someday, is just too much. But I do know that one day I will get another dog, and he may be my familiar. But at least this time I'll know it when I see it and I can take the necessary steps to protect him as well as truly enjoy the relationship for what it is.
Well, this whole thing is getting me all emotional, so I'll just end with a brief eulogy. Griffin was a good dog, for the most part, and he was so much more than that to me. He was a friend and a partner. He enjoyed sitting by the bonfire, snuffling around in snow, pestering geese, french fries, and long naps at the end of the couch. And also the accordion, apparently. His life was brief, only 7 1/2 years, but it deeply impacted ours. And though everyone I know says I gave him the best life he could possibly have had given his issues, I still wish I could have given him better.