The original draft of Familiar Unto Me looked at basic ideas and practices, but didn't explore the history, cultures, mythologies, and folklore related to those practices. When I decided to explore those things it led to a lot of opportunities for interesting research and presenting interesting information and conclusions.
The book is kind of like three, almost four, books in one. The first part discusses familiars more generally. It presents some options from a traditional witchcraft and grimoire perspectives for acquiring familiars and how to work with them.
Part two dives into folklore, history, and mythology in depth. It works to look at ideas that existed in Northern European myth and folklore that present a worldview in which the idea of a familiar spirit could exist. Then it looks at how these ideas relate to practical work.
Part three discusses how a magical lodge obtained and worked with a familiar spirit. This becomes the back drop for looking at how familiar spirits and spirit possession fit into building living traditions of spirit work. It also lets us look at the place of these kinds of traditional spirit work in Victorian revival magical systems, and presents practical methods drawn from those systems for traditional spirit work.
The text covers a very complete range of material and addresses working from various approaches to magical work.
The original draft mentioned figures like Isobel Gowdie and Andro Mann. When I was editing, I was surprised how little I talked about them. This contributed to my decision to explore more folklore and history; I wanted to lean into their stories a bit. There were a lot of other figures and ideas to talk about as far as evidence of early modern beliefs surrounding the witch's familiar goes, some of them were more germane. But, Gowdie is one of the main figures people think of regarding historical accounts of familiars.
When I was considering possible cover motifs, Gowdie again sprang to mind. As the cover came together, it became suggestive of an idea that I really liked.
The lowest layer of the cover is an image from Edmund Spenser's 16th century text, The Faerie Queene. It depicts a beautiful woman with a spear, in a strong and commanding stance amid the trees and long grasses. A man, who appear nervous, looks on as he hides behind a tree.
A middle layer is formed from the text of Gowdie's confession as recorded in Pitcairn. The text describes the familiar imps and the nicknames the witches in the Aulderne coven had received.
Arising from Gowdie's words about witches and faery imps is the image of a strong commanding magical woman.
This seemed like an interesting and powerful composition.
Gowdie's confessions are popular because they have so much detail. They are elaborate confessions, spanning four instances, in which she describes not only what the witches accomplished but the details of their spirit interactions and magical techniques.
Some people look at Gowdie as a hero for witches. Her coven stole from the wealthy, killed nobles who abused the people, and provided a means of power for people who were otherwise poor and downtrodden. She has become a Scottish Folk-version of Aradia in the minds of many modern witches.
For others, she is a tragic example: a young woman we know nearly nothing about, except that she was taken into custody on the accusation of witchcraft. She may have been tortured, she may have been killed; the details of her experience aren't clear and so those elements are uncertain. What stands out most to those who don't like the idea of Gowdie being treated as a powerful witch figure, is that we don't know what motivated her confession. Was she a clever person spinning up magistrates who she knew would convict her regardless of what she said? Was she a delusional person who, driven by suggestibility, imagined vivid hallucinations that fit the desires of her accusers and led her to confess to things which damned her?
We don't, and can't, really know. Critics seem at odds with taking Gowdie's account as being a partially accurate description of her experience, but that is also a possibility.
I think it's important to consider the struggle Gowdie, and others like her, probably encountered. It's valuable to consider that their confessions may have been fabrications caused by a variety of motivations. There is value in considering the possibility of delusions, although a surprising number of people would have been subject to the same delusions, in that case. There is also a value in considering the possibility that these people were witches or magicians and that their confessions reflect their reality as seen through the blurred and dirty lens of a court stenographer's biases.
The cover art reflects that.
Our powerful magical woman both arises from and is obscured by the words which are present. The words reflect the plight of being caught by witch finders because they are sourced from a trial transcript, but the words, themselves, describe the wondrous visionary experience of these witches. The words are obscured, illustrating the fact that trial evidence simultaneously reveals and obfuscates elements of early modern popular magic and witchcraft. Taken together, there is a struggle between the words, the image, and the presentation itself, as each strive to become the central element defining the visual composition. That struggle is like our inability to determine the actual nature of these experiences, even as they draw us in and cause us to look deeply at them to ascertain what they can reveal. Ultimately, through the various pieces, regardless of what the reality was, we are able to see hints that cause us to imagine a woman of power and resistance, birthed from faery magic. We imagine Gowdie as someone who is fit to stand in the presence of the Faery Queen, and whose soul might have descended into the sidhe and barrows to become a magical equal with their powerful residents.
When I think about the cover art, this is what I think about...and I find it exciting. Between those covers, stories, folklore, myths, and history describe a world of exciting magic and spirit experiences sandwiched between descriptions of how we can be part of those same experiences. Hopefully, for those who desire it, this book will help them descend into the world of faeries, imps, and demon companions, and arise as someone able to work magic with their aid, and learn from their knowledge, until they too are competent to dine with the Faery Queen and the Witches Devil as welcome guests, empowered with the tools to navigate such spaces.
Follow on Facebook for more announcements, and info on the release of Familiar Unto Me: Witches Sorcerers and Their Spirit Companions, as well as blog posts and other items of interest! The book will be out sometime around the middle of this month, possibly a little earlier. The paperback may be as early as February 12th on Amazon with a hardback edition about a week later, and on Barnes and Noble the paperback and hardback are scheduled for approximately February 20th.