Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Guest Author: Juliet Blackwell + Giveaway

Juliet Blackwell, author of A Cast-Off Coven, has been kind enough to stop by Reading with Tequila to tell us about witches' familiars?

Witches’ Familiars

Thanks, Jennifer, for having me as a guest on Reading with Tequila! But I’ve got just one question – how did you know I was such a fan of tequila?

I guess we all need inspiration from time to time…even witches.

If you’re a really lucky witch, your inspiration might also be your beloved pet. Traditionally, a witch’s familiar is a companion animal thought to enhance and support a witch’s magical powers. Because animals are considered closer to other spiritual realms than are humans, it is believed familiars can assist their witches in communicating with spirits on other planes.

A black cat is the typical image that pops into one’s mind when thinking of a witch’s familiar. But felines aren’t the only candidates: pigs, toads, birds, dogs, and even mythical creatures such as unicorns are also common. Interestingly, the concept of companion animals assisting their magical masters is not unique to Europe: in Mexico and Central America, the concept of the nagual (pronounced na-wall) remains powerful. The nagual is like an animal alter ego, and is most often nocturnal: the owl, the toad, the coyote. Some believe that when one dreams, one’s nagual is traipsing about on adventures.

The protagonist of my Witchcraft Mystery Series, Lily Ivory, is a lonely, misfit witch who, upon arriving in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, realizes she has finally found a place where she feels at home. Her whole life, Lily has been such a loner that she did not even have a familiar. Within weeks of opening her vintage clothing shop, Aunt Cora’s Closet, Lily is visited by a powerful – and gorgeous—male witch named Aidan, who brings her a present: Oscar.

The familiar Aidan foists upon Lily is no cat. Instead, Oscar is a talkative, ever-hungry, shape-shifting critter of indeterminate origins:

I whirled around to find a misshapen creature perched, gargoyle-like, atop an antique walnut jewelry display case. He was small and bent, with a muscular body and scaly skin, a large head, a snout-like nose and mouth, and outsized ears like a bat’s. His fingers were long and human-like, surprisingly graceful, but his enormous feet had three toes and long talons. His voice was deep and gravelly.
“I’m your new familiar,” it said.
“I’m afraid not,” I said. “I’m a solo act. I don’t need a familiar.”
“You’re a witch, aintcha? Ya gotta have a familiar.”
“Says who?”
“It’s in the handbook.”
“There is no handbook. Besides, I’m allergic to cats.”
“I’m no cat.”
“So I’ve noticed. But I’m probably allergic to…creatures such as yourself, too. Besides, I can’t have a goblin in the shop.”
“I’m not exactly a goblin.”
“Gnome, then.”
“Not really a gnome, either….”
“Whatever you are, you’ll scare away customers.”
“Howzabout a pig?”
“A pig?”
With a sudden twist of his scrawny shoulders, he transformed himself into a miniature Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
(Interesting factoid: after I had decided to name Lily’s fictional familiar “Oscar”, my elderly dog passed away and a neighbor’s green-eyed black cat decided to adopt me, wooing me with his feline ways while I tried to write. The wily critter’s name? “Oscar”.)

When I first told my editor that I wanted Lily’s familiar to be a creature capable of shape-shifting into a miniature potbellied pig, rather than a traditional cat, she thought I was nuts. But she relented after I gave her a little history of familiars.

Pigs have been identified as powerful witches’ companions all over the world. They’re smart, live close to homes in traditional villages, and “go wild” easily even if raised in captivity. Also, pigs “root” in the earth, turning over dirt, rocks, and sod to find their treasures in the fertile soil. According to Judika Illes’ Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, root-working is an ancient form of magic associated with great botanical knowledge: “The term ‘root-worker’…implies power and knowledge and a special relationship with Earth and her protective spirits…once upon a time, it was not considered safe to disturb the Earth, unless one knew proper rituals and had received permission to dig.”

Lily Ivory is gifted in the use of earth magic: she brews potions, specializes in the magical and healing powers of botanicals, and often buries her charms until they mature. Oscar’s mere presence helps Lily with the fluidity of her spells, to maintain her intention, and to slip through the spiritual portals to reach her guardian spirit. Besides, in his talkative goblin-like form, he’s also a great sounding board, companion, and comic relief.

Oscar’s so much fun, in fact, it makes this author rather wistful, wishing I had a familiar of my own….but then again, the neighbor’s cat would like to remind me that I do have an awfully cute Oscar at hand.

About the Author

Juliet Blackwell is the pseudonym for a mystery author who, as Hailey Lind (together with her sister), wrote the Art Lover’s Mystery Series--including the Agatha-nominated Feint of Art and the IMBA bestsellers Shooting Gallery and Brush with Death. Juliet’s Witchcraft Mystery series, featuring natural witch Lily Ivory and her shape-shifting familiar, Oscar, began with Secondhand Spirits, July 2009; A Cast-off Coven will be released June 1, 2010. If Walls Could Talk, the first in the Haunted Home Renovation series, will be released December, 2010.

A former anthropologist, social worker, and historic home renovator, Juliet has worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France, and is now a painter in Oakland, California. She was two-time president of Northern California Sisters in Crime.

Juliet loves getting mail! Find her at, or join her on Twitter, @julietblackwell, and Facebook fan pages for Juliet Blackwell and Hailey Lind

About the Book

Lily Ivory is not your average witch. She runs a vintage clothing store called Aunt Cora's Closet and has the magical ability to sense vibrations of the past from clothing and jewelry. When students are spooked at the San Francisco School for the Arts, Lily is called in to search for paranormal activity. She finds a dead body and a closet full of old clothes with some very bad vibes. 

Reading with Tequila's review of the first Witchcraft Mystery, Secondhand Spirits


Juliet has generously offered to give one luck reader a SIGNED copy of Secondhand Spirits AND A Cast-Off Coven.

To enter, leave a comment for Juliet with the animal you would want as a familiar. Be sure to leave your email address in case you win!
Deadline for entry is Tuesday, June 1st at 11:59pm EST. US and Canada only.


  1. If I could pick anything as a familiar I would love a monkey like Abbu from Aladdin who would be my best friend.


  2. oh, I so want to read these books!

    I think a Phoenix would be a great familiar.

    angela.donner (a)t

  3. I would choose a raccoon :)

    robin [at] intensewhisper [dot] com

  4. I would choose a horse :)

    lisa.2713 at gmail dot com

  5. A opposum (but it would have to be trained not to bite me!) Thanks for the great interview and giveaway!

  6. Well, being a dog person I would have to go with some type of dog. Especially as a familiar I would have to go with the big dog. While I am partial to labs, I think a husky would be an even better choice living in a colder state. Maybe even an ice breathing winter wolf. Hey, we are talking familiars here! ;)


  7. I would choose an owl -- anna82(at)verizon(dot)net

    Looking forward to the new book. Lily adventures is just what I need for summer reading!

  8. rofl I'll probably be the only one but I'd like a python for a familiar. Yep that's a snake lol.

  9. shoot forgot my email
    scrtsbpal at yahoo dot com

  10. A cat.
    I really liked the "cat" in The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes + I got psychic cat in the supernatural pets quiz... yup... maybe too traditional but definitely a cat.

  11. I think a ferret would be cool. they are little, and can get into anything, so they could help you spy on things or people if you'd needed to. And they love to cuddle around your neck!

  12. No animal could be a better familiar than a dog - a large, shaggy, slobbery dog. The books sound like great fun.

  13. A dog (:

  14. Juliet, I introduced a friend of mine to Secondhand Spirits, and he immediately renamed the series the "Oscar" books. So that tells you a bit about how he perceived the familiar in the story. I guess I'm a traditionalist, I'd still want a cat for a familiar. I have a Siamese who acts human...he'd be a perfect familiar.

  15. Shoot, forgot my email, but it's linked: phenomshel at gmail dot com.

  16. I'm loving all these comments! Thanks for all the ideas -- I *never* would have thought of an opossum! An ice-breathing wolf, on the other hand...or a python...hmm ;-)
    Dogs and cats, of course, always rank high. i think many of us would love to have our pet become our familiar.
    Owls are powerful animals, too. I love the idea of a nocturnal familiar that would be alert while I'm sleeping.
    Oh, and Nichol, did you know that Kat Richardson (who writes the Greywalker series) says there are ferret ghosts living with her on her boat?
    Shel, thanks for passing on Secondhand Spirits to your friend. I have several friends who refer to them as the "Oscar books" as well! He's just a popular guy, I guess ;-)Poor Lily gets overlooked for her familiar!

  17. Hi, I'd have to pick a Cat ort maybe a wild cat. I just happen to have a lot of cats and love them so much!

  18. Even though it's traditional, I'd want a cat since they are my favorite animals. However, I do have a problem - I'm horribly allergic to them. I guess I wouldn't make a very good witch.

  19. Darn, forgot my email:

    jen at delux dot com

  20. I'd pick dog too. I love dogs. So it would have to be that.

  21. I like Gargoyles. I think they can be cute and scary at the same time. However, I have the penulitmate black kitty Luna. I call her loony cuz she drives me nuts!! Meow

  22. Not to be boring, but I would choose a cat :)

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Hmm... I think for a traditional animal I'd have to go with a burmese mountain dog (how awesome would a huge, hairy, slobby animal be?) or for nontraditional a raccoon. I like the idea of an animal that sees well at night and since I'm pretty blind when the lights are out, it would be a good compromise.

    That's pretty funny at Kat Richardson and the ferret ghosts. As long as they don't smell as bad as most ferrets do, I think I'd prefer the ghost.

    Fun interview!

    ruthann at cygnature dot com

  25. Since I am a cat person (have 3) I would have to say a cat as my familiar. Thanks for the opportunity to enter.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  26. It would have to be a cat. I love my cats so much! Right now I only have two black cats but I would love to get a few more.
    mittens0831 at aol dot com

  27. Awesome! Thanks so much for the opportunity!
    I would want to be familiar with a cat... they are sly, and super cute!
    Love, Hannah
    xoxosweeet at yahoo dot com

  28. wicked thanks, hmm i'd love a mongoose fierce enough to fight deadly animals and wriggly enough to get in small places and spy for me. i always loved the mongoose from kiplings story rikki tikki tavi.

    contessabitch (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk

  29. I'd love my familiar to be a chipmunk. I could scurry around and be cute and also get all the info you need.
    Love & Hugs,

  30. know its kinda been overdone but prefer to think of it as a classic choice....a cat...certainly a cat familiar

    wheresmyrain at yahoo dot com

  31. I'd pick a wolf as my familiar.

    forwhlz at gmail dot com

  32. I adore squirrels and chipmunks. I picked up baby chipmunks when I was camping in California as a kid. They are such perfect tiny little creatures! On the other hand... I love the lizards that run around here in Florida that have a slightly curly q tail. I've always wanted one but never actually done it because I couldn't bear to keep them locked in a tank! Plus my five cats would be very bad for him!

    kdevitt2007 AT

  33. i would want a cat - boring, i know, but i love cats...

    k_sunshine1977 at yahoo dot com

  34. I would have to have a chihuahua for my familiar. I love chihuahuas. But my hubby already has the black cat for his familiar.

    jellybelly82158 at gmail dot com

  35. I would want a turtle as a familiar. I am obsessed with turtles.

  36. I'd love to have a domesticated rat. I have dogs, and one of them is my familiar :-) I grew up w/pet rats. They're incredibly bright, inquisitive, affectionate and are very sympathetic towards people. They also have the advantage of being small, fast, sleek, secretive and can go unobserved when so inclined. Yes, a smart, fast, cute little rat!

    maureencorps at yahoo

  37. It would totally be a cat type. Maybe one of those toygers. A tiger and a cat, and make it be white with black stripes. Yup thats it.

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  38. This book sounds like a great read! And if I had to pick a familiar--it would have to be my little dog Harley! She is the cutest dog ever!!

    bunnymom1970 at aol dot com

  39. Looks like a really good book. I think I would choose a ferret. I think they are really cute.


  40. I am torn between a cat and a fox. A cat, because, they can go places that no one notices them. They are quite intelligent, and when they like you, they really do want to please you.
    On the other hand a fox, is clever, protective and smart.I guess I have to be selfish and have 2 familiars. I would really like to read your book, it sounds quite good.

  41. The story sounds interesting, I would like to read it. I think I would choose a cat as a familiar, my cat, in fact :)


  42. Though Lily's familiar talks, most seem not to, so I would pick a parrot or myna bird because with the enchantment of being a familiar perhaps it could talk pretty well and be a great friend!.

  43. Not very exciting, but I'd like a black cat. I think they make wonderful familiars.

    seriousreader at live dot com

  44. What a great interview and book! Thanks for the chance to win. I think a cardinal would make a good and hardy familiar.

  45. Seriously, you all are great! Such inventive answers! And there's certainly nothing wrong with a traditional black cat -- there's a reason they're a perennial favorite. As Oscar-the-cat would say, a little smoked ham and you've got a friend for life.

  46. Traditionalist that i am, i going with the cat also. But a calico instead of a black cat.

    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

  47. If I could choose any animal for a familiar I think I'd want a wallaby. They're so cute and energetic.


  48. If I could choose ant familiar I would choose a cat(serious cat lover!) or a beautiful Owl(always so fascinating!). I would soooo love a chance to read this book, I just know I would LOVE it=)
    Thanks so very much Juliet!
    Luvdaylilies at bellsouth dot net

  49. an owl!
    throuthehaze at gmail dot com

  50. I think I would choose a Lab, I love dogs what can I say :)

    thehistorychic @ gmail . com

  51. The idea of a familiar is extremely interesting! I'm a fan of Shiba Inus, the dogs that look like foxes.

  52. I would choose a black cat, similar to Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch!

    klozinak35 @ gmail . com