In my newest novel, Unreal City, the protagonist’s whole life is changed by a familiar spirit, whom she comes to call Felix.
What exactly is a familiar spirit though? They are a spiritual entity, generally taking the form of an animal, that supposedly help witches or cunning folk to perform magic. They’re somewhere between demons and fairies. The black cat, bat, owl, spider, or other spooky critters that you’ll commonly see accompanying witches or plastered on the sides of buildings at Halloween all get their roots from the concept of a familiar spirit. They are companions to a witch, bonded deeply with them. Traditionally, a familiar will appear abruptly to a witch or magical practitioner. From here they would meet the creature and enter into a pact with it. Another key trait of the familiar spirit was that it didn’t enter into the relationship for nothing. They require payment, most often food.
This was the concept I based my familiar spirits from Unreal City off of. However, there’s one little fun fact about my familiars that people who read the book rarely guess. My set of twelve familiars and their owners are all based off of the signs of the zodiac.
Leo – The Lion is represented by Felix himself! I wanted to make the protagonist’s familiar a black cat, which is the traditional and most recognizable familiar spirit. So since he was feline, Felix became Leo.
Virgo – The little girl Blanche and her butterfly both represent the sign of Virgo the virgin. Blanche is a child who has experienced an accident that caused her to fall into a coma from which she will never wake. Because of this, she dreams endlessly in Unreal City. She will remain forever childlike and innocent, embodying the ‘Virgin’ from the zodiac. The butterfly is a symbol of innocence. The name ‘Blanche’ also means white in French, further following with the symbol of purity.
Libra – Aodh, Angus’s peculiar companion, is the familiar representing Libra. He takes the form of many things, but he always has the twin flames on either side of him. These two lights are the scales of Libra, balancing him on either side. The name Aodh means fire and is the name of the Celtic god of the sun, which is why the scales have become flames.
Scorpio – Poe’s familiar takes the guise of a vicious scorpion, an obvious reference to the sign.
Sagittarius – Though he only makes two very brief appearances, the man who rides the kelpie horse through Unreal City is the sign of Sagittarius. He and his horse-like familiar are never separate, giving him the suggestion of a centaur.
Capricorn – The man with the garden of diving bells, Ranjit, has this familiar. I described it as a goat with a dolphin-like back end and tail that swims through his underwater realm. This is the goat-fish of Capricorn.
Aquarius – This is Antler-Man (or Elk, if you’ve read the end!) Without giving away too much, the jug that he carries, the water that drips from his mouth, and what he does to his victims all start to make sense now, right?
Pisces – Masami’s twin jellyfish Izanami and Izanagi, named for the two gods that created Japan in myth. Pisces, the twin fish, are connected, as are these two.
Aries – Stella’s ram represents Aries. She is from Louisiana, where Mardi Gras is a very influential celebration. This holiday and the unique aesthetic of it went into how her ram appears. I also named it Mardi, which is French for Tuesday. Tuesday is the day which is ruled by the planet Mars. Mars is also the planet that rules the sign Aries. This also makes it a pun on Mardi Gras.
Taurus – The bull-shaped familiar that Sarah meets toward the end. He belongs to the man who sits on the cliff in the eternal sunset.
Gemini – Gemini is portrayed by Arthur’s familiar Grimoire. Being a man so obsessed with reading and knowledge, he familiar is naturally a book. The book has a face on the front and back cover, representing the twins of Gemini. A ‘Grimoire’ is a book of magic spells and arcane knowledge.
Cancer – This is the monstrous crab that chases Jezebel, the woman with the Mexican village for a garden. She refers to it as ‘El Basero’ the Spanish word for ‘Ferryman’ because she only knows it as the creature that ferries her across realities to Unreal City.
So there you have it! Which familiar spirit corresponds to your zodiac sign?
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