Magickal Musings: Familars, Animal Totems and Spirit Guides (Part 2: How I Became a Crazy Cat Lady)

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Welcome back to the Magickal Musings series! Specifically, the sub-series where I ramble all about the subject of animals in our spiritual path! If you didn’t happen to catch the last one, please check out the first installment, where we break down the difference between familiars, totems, and animal spirit guides.

So, to recap, in the last entry, we decoded the word “familiar” as it was originally defined during the Medieval witch hunting times, as a supposed “demon” that did the evil bidding of a witch… We also shed some light on the difference between the modern definition of familiars and the two popular types of animal connections from the shamanic traditions; animal totems/spirit animals/power animals and animal spirit guides. If you’re not familiar with these definitions, I highly recommend you go back and have a look at the previous article before reading this one.

So what happens when your Animal Totem and Animal Familiar are the Same Species?

Animal totems are generally totally different from domestic familiars. Animal totems/power animals/ spirit animals/ are a species that resonates with your personality, whether you’re friends with a member of that species in everyday life or not. Well, as I mentioned in the previous article, “domestic cat” is my main animal totem, and my personal animal familiars happen to be cats a well. Considering how many crazy cat ladies there are in the world, this is probably no rare thing, but the fact of the matter is that a great deal of people actually resonate with a wild totem animal that they may never come into physical contact with in mundane life… Like how many people’s “power animal” is like a lion or tiger or bear, oh my!

Many of us have a couple of different totem animals. Like, for example, mine (that I know of) are cats, owls, and crows. While they are relatively common animals in my part of the world, I do not know any particular owls or crows personally. However, I find it rather special that my main animal totem also happens to cross over into the realm of animal familars.

*To learn more about what exactly an animal totem or spirit guide is, check out Jordana Van’s awesome Youtube series.

My perspective is interesting because Cat represents both my spirit animal and my familiars. This article is going to be me rambling about my life as a cat lady, but if you’d rather get a more objective view of the Witch and Cat relationship, check out my previous article, 3 Wasy a Cat Can Help Balance Your Spiritual Practice.

As for me, I’ve been a crazy cat lady all my life, but where should I begin?

How I Became a Crazy Cat Lady: The Early Years

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Hi, my name is Afura and I’m addicted to cats… It started at a very early age… My very first memory, in fact was about cats. I’m guessing that my spirit has always been connected to Cat energy, but on a “mundane” psychology level, I know that I became obsessed with cats when at about age one, when my parents brought two cats into our New York City apartment to deal with a mouse problem. These two feline siblings, Panther and Simba, became my best friends, and I was completely heartbroken when they disappeared from my life.

My parents told me that they had run away, and suggested that I sit at the window and call out to them to see if they would hear my voice and return. My first memory is of myself sitting at that window, calling out to cats who would in fact never return, because they had actually been given to a shop owner elsewhere in the neighborhood. You see, I’d turned out to be deathly allergic to cats, and had spent several weeks in the hospital on a respirator. Rather than doing the obviously logical thing and telling me the truth, for some ridiculous reason, my parents decided to tell me that the cats had run away.

They say that your first memory is often a traumatic one, and in my case, it’s true. I don’t even remember having the cats. All I remember is how much I loved them, and the pain of losing them. This incepted a thing in my mind that would lead to me becoming a full blown crazy cat lady…

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From that time onward, I lived with a terrible gaping hole in my heart for any and all cats. When I first learned to draw, I drew all pictures of cat-headed characters. Another key “inception” memory took place when I wouldn’t eat some terrible scrambled eggs my father gave me, and he responded by drawing a picture of a dead cat with flies buzzing around it. He put the drawing next to my plate of rubbery eggs and told me that every time I waste food, a cat somewhere dies of starvation. Needless to say, this did nothing to improve my appetite… In fact, if I recall properly, I could barely eat for days and felt depressed and sick to my stomach. Even at that early age of about three or four, I knew perfectly well that eating something I didn’t like wouldn’t keep a cat alive.

But now, all I could think about was all the starving and mistreated cats in the world, and I felt powerless to do anything to help them.

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 My world was brightened at age seven when my little brother and sister found a stray cat looking for love in our semi-urban Western New York neighborhood, and my mom agreed to let us take care of her as long as she never came inside the house. Feleisha became my best friend, and the very first pet I could really call my own. I don’t know if I was even allergic to cats anymore at that point, but having to adhere to the strict rule of keeping her outdoors, of course there was only so much I could do to care for her. We created a space for her underneath our front porch, and did our best to make her comfortable in the winters with an electric space heater. Every morning I looked forward to stepping outside to find her there to greet me on the porch where I would feed her, pet her, and enjoy her friendly personality. Felisha was kind and gentile toward me, but she was a feisty little creature who could kick some serious butt if another animal threatened her!

Feleisha was the first cat that I actually remembered knowing, and I think it must have occurred to me for the first time then that cats were carnivores. Somehow, despite their sharp fangs and talons, I had previously allowed myself to feel that cats were soft, timid creatures kind of like rabbits… I know now that this is because cats always chose to be kind to me, but observing Feleisha’s wild ways in the ecosystem of the neighborhood taught me that cats are pretty bad-ass.

I discovered that what is truly special about cats is that they have a foot in both worlds. Cuddly companion by day, wild animal by night!

Feleisha taught me another coming-of-age lesson about companions too… When the time comes, they disappear from our lives, leaving mystery in their wake. One day, shortly after the vet told us she had contracted feline leukimia, I came out for our morning porch greeting, and Feleisha wasn’t there. I searched the neighborhood for days before finally having to accept that she was gone. And such was my first brush with Death, taught to me gently by a considerate outdoor cat who was kind enough to spare me the gory details by leaving room to imagine that she had perhaps simply wandered away…

Years went by before another cat would enter my life, but when the time came, they would come in droves! When I was about ten years old, I wrote a poem in my diary about how I felt something was missing in my life without a feline friend. I guess it turned out to be a silent spell that would be fulfilled times three, consequences and all!

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That summer, my mother told me there were stray kittens on our street, and that I could have one! In this new urban neighborhood, there were tons of strays, and an old lady around the corner had been feeding a pregnant 3-legged cat named Hershie. A few weeks after she gave birth under the lady’s porch, my sister and I were supposed to go over and fetch one of the kittens to take home… but knowing that the lady had no intention of keeping them all, and that the others would need homes as well, my sister snatched all three of them…

I will never forget the anger and pain that the Mother cat expressed as she chased my sister halfway down the street to stop her kittens from being taken away. It haunted me for a long time, but I knew they would have a better life with us than they would living on the streets that winter… It was a time of learning a lot of harsh lessons about life, and cats were playing a huge role in that aspect of my development.

 

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The three kittens were an absolute joy to be around! My mom told us they would be outdoor cats like Feleisha had been, but I was older and wiser now, and knew that once the Autumn cold set in, I’d convince my parents to let me bring them inside… But that late summer and early fall on our large porch with the cats remains to be one of my warmest memories! Our neighborhood friend had adopted one of the three kittens, and my sister and I kept the remaining two. We would all sit in a refrigerator box fort with snacks and read stories to the kittens, who were bouncing around everywhere, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed… But, like all serene moments, that time was short.

Right around the time that the weather was really changing toward Winter, my favorite of our two kittens disappeared. I came home from school one day and he was nowhere to be seen. Once again, I searched high and low for the cat, just like I had with Feleisha years prior. He was a small and timid kitten, but he was perfectly healthy and didn’t normally wander far. I knew something must have happened to prevent him coming home, and this time, I felt an overbearing sense of guilt for allowing this to happen again. If it had been up to me, the kittens would not have been allowed outside unattended at that early age, but being a child in my parents home, it was of course not up to me. I took Pumpkin, the remaining of the two kittens inside for the Winter and didn’t care what my parents had to say to object.

001 (4)Well, the following spring, Pumpkin decided she was all grown up, and insisted upon being let outside again. I wanted to be a responsible cat mom and begin taking her for supervised outings, but she had plans of her own. She began to make herself literally unbearable to live with. Little did I know at the time, but this was my first experience of a cat going into heat… One weekend, my family and I went out of town and left a 2nd story window cracked so she would have fresh air… And of course she broke out. She returned, completely exhausted, after a long weekend of springtime partying. She slept for three days straight, and then in the following weeks, her sides began to expand…

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At the ripe young age of one year old, Pumpkin became the “teen mom” of four beautiful kittens. Needless to say, I had matured a lot over that year and a half. In such a short time, I went from being catless to having two cats, to having one cat, to having five cats. And the next hard knock was right around the corner… Of course my parents would not let me just have five cats. We then had the task of finding a suitable home for three of the four kittens. Easier said than done, especially, when I didn’t trust the world to care for any of those kittens as much as I already did. I felt totally responsible for their safety and comfort, and of course, the final word wasn’t up to me.

By the time the kittens were big enough to give away, I was no longer a naive little girl, and was growing into a cynical teenager. Reluctantly, I accepted that a suitable home had arrived for them when my sister brought home the family of a girl from her class. It ended up working out well because they seemed to really be good cat people, and they could take two of the kittens to the same home… Now that we were down to two kittens at our house, I was better able to plead my case for keeping them both.

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You see, my mom and sister had agreed to keep Trinity, the feisty little kitty who thrived on attention. I liked Trinity just fine, but my concern was for Neko, the “runt” of the litter. She was healthy and everything, but she was a small, shy, strange little creature, and funny looking too. She would let only me hold her, and my intuition just told me that I was the only person in the world who was meant to understand and care for that weird little cat… And she and Trinity were such good friends that it just seemed wrong to separate them. In the end, Pumpkin, Trinity, and Neko would be the cats who would go on to become our longest lasting family pets. And weird little Neko (who is not so “little” anymore) is of course my Familiar till this day.

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This moves us into the “modern era” of my life as a crazy cat lady.

I had learned all the tough cat lessons for the first time, and was older and better equipped to take an active role in keeping the animals of our family happy, healthy and safe. We got all three of the cats spayed that year to prevent any more surprises, and developed a stable indoor-outdoor lifestyle for them. This became a lot easier to do when we moved to a quiet suburban neighborhood with a large yard where they were safe to explore nature without the risks of city life. It was such a welcome change to observe my cats being the semi-wild animals that they are without constantly being worried about them. It was then that their true personalities began to blossom.

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 In this new environment, the cats were free to be themselves, and that includes being who they are in nature as well as who they are domestically. This is key.

After all that I’ve been through as the caretaker of *cough ELEVEN different cats over the years (other stories for other times) you’d think I’d be a scared and overprotective cat mom. Been there done that. The fact of the matter is that I was a scared and overprotective cat mom as a teenager.  While I’ve always insisted that cats must be allowed sunshine and fresh air to some extent, I didn’t like the idea of them being out at night, or left unattended. My parents, of course, felt differently, and there were even summers when my father insisted that they stay outdoors exclusively, because he really never liked them in the house in the first place. During those years, any time one of them didn’t come home by night fall, I’d have a panic attack. This got very tiring after a while… It eventually became unsustainable.

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In college, I had no choice but to leave all four (including a very young cat that my sister’s boyfriend had pushed on me that summer) with my family so that I could get my first taste of independence in another town. No animals were allowed in the dorms for the first two years, and I had to trust that my family and pets would be okay without me. Of course, I was gone for less than a month before the little boy cat disappeared. Chad, as we called him, had been the only kitten I’d ever had to feed with a medicine dropper, and I felt very protective over him. He was old enough to be curious and agile when I left for college, but should never have been left unattended outside at that age. I gather that he was left un-watched and my father had scared him away with the sound of the lawn mower, and he was never seen again. When I got the news of this at school, I went into a deep depression, and began to realize that I cannot control everything. I had done everything in my power to keep this kitten safe, and I’d failed. I then decided this would be the last time I’d become depressed and terrified over the come-and-go nature of cats. I simply couldn’t do it anymore, especially with the growing responsibilities of adulthood demanding my energy as well.

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Fortunately, Pumpkin, Neko, and Trinity were very comfortable in my family’s neighborhood, and always returned home, with or without my watchful eye. For my third year of college, I got my first apartment, and was able to talk the landlord into allowing two cats to stay with me. My mother was very fond of Pumpkin, who never really got along well with her daughters in adulthood, so my parents insisted I take Neko and Trinity off their hands. I’ll admit, I kept my cats mostly cooped up during the two years that I lived at that apartment. Occasionally, I would let them hang out on the roof with my friends and I, and sometimes tried taking them for walks on a leash (which they absolutely hated). I lived on a busy street, and I didn’t feel comfortable setting them loose in a strange town, especially when I didn’t have the time to watch them all day, and lived on the 2nd floor with no way of keeping an eye and ear out for them from inside. During these years, I would send them home to my parents house to enjoy the outdoors during the summers.

After college, my cats and I returned to my home town to find that everything had changed. My parents had divorce that year, and my father was left with the house. Without my mother there to plead our case, the cats were forced to live exclusively outdoors and were not even allowed inside the garage in the dead of Winter! It was a completely unreasonable situation, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. In my desperation, I built a wooden cat house and put an electric heater inside it, but that didn’t stop all three of my cats from catching a horrible respiratory infection. I spent my last dollars rushing them to the vet for medication, and that was when I decided enough was enough!

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I brought the cats inside and kept them in my room for a few weeks before moving in with my boyfriend of the time. That was a bittersweet time for us, because my boyfriend, the cats and I got along well, but we still felt very displaced. The landlord there was really nasty, and had a strict no animals rule, so I was forced to go out of my way to hide the fact that they were there. It was always a wild goose chase, and I lived in constant fear that we would be caught. We only intended to stay there for a few months until his lease was up, but just before we were ready to move out, the landlord discovered the cats. She threatened to kill the cats if we didn’t get rid of them right away, and I had nowhere for us to go!

This was another one of those coming of age moments when having my cats helped evolve me into a new level of maturity. At that moment, I decided that never again would I allow us to live in a situation that required us to be apologetic about existing in our space.

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Following that experience, I won’t say our living situations were perfect, but I vowed to only ever enter into leases where animals were allowed, even if that meant the apartment hunt would be more difficult. After spending time in two more apartments, we eventually moved back into what had been my parents house. My father had left to travel, and I moved in and took over the payments. That was a much deserved golden age for living with the cats!

We had the best of both worlds then! The cats were back on their old stomping ground, but they also had the freedom to go in and out of the house as they pleased. I installed a cat flap, and we all enjoyed complete sovereignty. It was such a welcome relief to see my now elderly girls basking in the serenity of nature and having to answer to no one’s rules or expectations… And then my sister sent me Mowgli…

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Mowgli began his life as a wayward ally kitten born in a lot behind my sister’s New York City apartment building. I would have been in for a very rough life had she not brought him inside, but her lifestyle really wasn’t very well suited for a cat. After 5 years of being cooped up inside apartments, and sometimes temporarily fostered by different friends of my sister’s, Mowgli came to stay with his Aunt Fura.

At the time, I was very reluctant to take in yet another cat, but now that I had this seemingly stable living situation that was conducive to cats, my sister insisted this was best for everyone. Of course, the moment I retrieved him from the back warehouse of the airport where he’d been sent in a cage, I immediately fell madly in love with the guy!As his namesake illustrates well, Mowgli is a wild jungle boy, and exudes a strong masculine energy that I’d never known with my female cats.

The process of gaining his trust and introducing him to indoor-outdoor life with other cats was one of the most deeply spiritual experiences of my life! It taught me so much about the way our pets are our mediators between Nature and the “civilized” world.

I could go on and on about that experience, but I’ve already summed that epiphany up nicely in my article, 3 Ways a Cat Can Help Balance Your Spiritual Practice.

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But, as with all things, the light comes with shadow. Pumpkin, who had never gotten along well with other animals, was deeply opposed to Mowgli’s addition to the family, and she took to hissing at him any time he expressed his curiosity about her… Unfortunately, he took this on as a challenge to see just how much he could annoy her, and it quickly escalated into a rivalry. Additionally, less than a year after Mowgli’s arrival, my partner and I separated, and Pumpkin was very disappointed that he wasn’t around anymore. These factors, in combination with the fact that my Mother hadn’t lived with us in years, and the family dog, with whom Pumpkin had also been very close, had passed away, led Pumpkin to be rather unhappy with our family dynamic.

In the summer of 2016, Pumpkin began spending less and less time at home, preferring to spend time in some neighbor’s yard. When she did come home at meal times, she would fight with the other cats and would lash out at me for keeping them around. She began neglecting her litter box in favor of leaving me disgusting little “gifts” around the house to show her disapproval of my lifestyle, and I grew increasingly fed up with the whole thing.

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When Autumn rolled in, Pumpkin disappeared for three weeks, in her old age, I feared she might have passed on. I went through the whole mourning process, only to have her turn up on the doorstep one random sunny afternoon! She looked healthier and happier than I’d seen her in months. She’d gained weight and had a fuller coat, which told me someone had likely taken her in during the cold days of the previous weeks. I welcomed her back inside and gave her a nice meal to show my gratitude for having her home… But no sooner did she return than another fight broke out between herself and the other cats. Once again, she took it out on me by making a horrible mess of the house, and we had a terrible argument. After that last fight, Pumpkin took off again and never returned.

Pumpkin and I had really never seen eye to eye, but we’d loved each other the best we could during our 16 years together. I was hurt that things had turned out that way, but I “let” her leave. Clearly, she’d been offered the opportunity of a better life with another family, and she made the decision to leave her old life with me behind. I still love and miss Pumpkin, but I accept that cats are free spirits, and they sometimes make tough decisions for themselves just like we humans do.

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Shortly after Pumpkin moved out, we lost the house in foreclosure, and the cats and I moved once again. Today, Neko, Trinity, Mowgli and I are back in a city apartment, where we are all doing well. Being on the 2nd floor in a busy part of town, they don’t go in and out as the please here, but we do have a large patio where they enjoy fresh air and sunshine, and get to observe the wildlife in the tree in front of our house. We’re happy here, and enjoy finally living independently from roommates and family members who dictated our lifestyle, but our dream is to some day have our very own yard again where we can commune with nature freely.

Living my life with cats has shaped me into who I am today, and every year I spend with them teaches me new lessons about nature, society, sovereignty, and true companionship. I’m thankful for our experiences together, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful, and I look forward to many more years of raising our quality of life while learning and growing together!

So, thus concludes my cat chronicles thus far! If you’ve made it all the way through that long winded tale, you must be a crazy cat person, indeed! I’d love to hear your cat story in the comments below!

Until next time, brightest blessings to you and your furry friends!

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