By Sheila Connolly. Are you familiar with the term “familiar”? (Sorry—I couldn’t resist the pun.)

Wikipedia says that it’s a medieval folk belief that they were supernatural entities that assisted witches in practicing magic. They could appear in different forms, often as animals. If they were evil they were labeled demons; if good, fairies. If you remember the James Stewart-Kim Novak movie Bell, Book and Candle (1958, and based on a Broadway play), you might recall that the Kim Novak character, who was a witch, had a familiar, a Siamese cat named Pyewacket. (As it happens, Pyewacket was one of the familiar spirits of a witch detected by the witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins in March 1644 in the town of Manningtree, Essex, England.)

But I digress. In the course of clearing out generations of accumulated stuff from my house in preparation for selling it, I have come to realize that my daughter (an only child) and I managed to collect a frightening number of stuffed animals, and I have a feeling they serve that familiar purpose.

And this is just a few!
I didn’t have many stuffed animals as a child. My grandmother kept a stuffed doggie (with an internal music box that played “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?”) at her New York apartment, to keep me company when I stayed overnight with her. The first time I stayed at a friend’s house for the night, when I was seven, I “borrowed” a stuffed koala bear, which I still have (I apologize, Nina!). And those are the only ones I really remember—if there were more, they are long gone.

I started going through the attic of my house, and I kept finding stuffed animals. In trunks. In boxes. In bags. In dresser drawers. It became a running joke—every time I opened something else, there would be more stuffed animals. I won’t pretend that they were all my daughter’s—plenty of others were collected by adult me. The most recent are an octopus I bought at the gift shop of the National Gallery in Washington DC, and a spotted pig. I’m afraid to count them. (My daughter’s first was a panda, a gift from her aunt, which was larger than she was for a long time. Yes, Panda emerged from a plastic bag just this week and is now keeping me company on the couch.

Since there is much to clear out of the house, I let my daughter take our three live cats back to her home in Chicago. Since we’ve had cats for decades, I miss them, but I couldn’t see trying to move all the things from the house while keeping track of three indoor cats.

And then I found myself talking to the stuffed animals. I’m surrounded by them, on chairs, on tables, on the floor—just about any surface. They’re peaceful, there are no litter boxes to clean out, they don’t make any messes or shed fur, and they seem quite sympathetic. (In case you’re wondering, they don’t answer back.)

Why do I and plenty of other humans keep stuffed animals? I like to think they’re passive familiars. With my cats gone I realized how soothing to me it is to stroke a sleepy cat (and at times I had all three sleeping on me at the same time). It’s not quite as satisfying to stroke an inanimate creature, but it helps. Will I keep them all out in the open, once I know where I’ll be settling? Probably not all of them, but definitely some.

But which ones? I have stuffed cows, sheep, bunnies, a ferret, a raccoon, and a Welsh dragon with baby dragon, and that’s just the start. Oh, and a vulture I bought in Salem, MA, who sits on my newel post and acts as a gargoyle to defend the house. I talk to him a lot.

What about you? Do you have familiar creatures? Old or new? Do you talk to them? If you have live pets, how do they react to them?

11 Thoughts

  1. My hubby maintains that I keep a stuffed dragon in the car just so folks will know he’s married, lol. I have reluctantly donated many of my “familiars” over the years so they can find new folks to comfort but I still have quite a few perching around the house!

  2. I had a few stuffed animals as a kid, but no where near that collection. And they were all smooth and easily washable so they didn’t trap dust thanks to family allergies. But I loved them.

  3. I still have Topsy, my Dalmation stuffed dog from my childhood. All his spots are long gone and he’s had surgery more than once, but the underside of his ears is still silky smooth – stroking them was my “blankie” when I was little. And I have a blue whale with baby I acquired as an adult. I’m glad you’re going to keep a few of yours! But I don’t talk to mine – our two elderly living cats get enough of that.

  4. I still have the stuffed spaniel my mom brought me one time when I was sick, possibly after I had my tonsils out. His name is Happy. He and a few other small stuffed animals, including a Garfield, have to live tucked between books on my highest shelves. It has not gone well when any of our cats, past or present, could reach them.

  5. The Hubby made me cull my collection of stuffed animals years ago – but I refused to let go of my dog Henry. Like Edith’s Topsy, his eyes and nose are long gone, but I have memories of loving them off as a child. I also distinctly remember my mother trying to sell him at a yard sale for a quarter, me prying him out of the arms of the small boy who wanted to buy him, and pawning the kid off with three other stuffed animals for the same price. 🙂

    I still have stuffed bears, enough to fit on the floating shelves in my bedroom. Since they aren’t at an accessible level and don’t squeak I think they’re safe. Otherwise they’d be disemboweled. Koda’s kina rough on his toys.

  6. There are lots of stuffed animals packed away in bins in our house but I don’t have any out. Love this post, Sheila. Lots to think about.

  7. When my children were small we had many stuffed animals about the house. Once they grew older the quantities whittled down to only the most cherished. But in the autumn we got a puppy and it turns out he adores stuffed animals so the house is littered with them again. I suppose you could say my familiar has his own familiars!

  8. I have stuffed animals tucked around different places in the house. The oldest is a small teddy bear (at least 65) that is hard and scratchy as they were way back then, but he lives on our bed. Most are very small and live on shelves, but a few are bigger and all have special meaning. And they all have names! And, yes, I talk to some of them. So far, none have talked back, but I keep an open mind about that! 🙂

  9. Our Snickerdoodle (14 year old chihuahua) is our furbaby. He gets talked to a lot and since he’s now hard of hearing the talk is louder now. 🙂 He is a family member so naturally he goes on vacation with us. In fact, we plan our trips around where he can go and stay which makes it very interesting at times.

    I, also, have this thing for stuffed toys. I had them as a kid and guess I’m still a kid at heart. When we downsized, I had the same problem as you are having now – what to take and what to turn lose of. Did I tell you hubby bought me a 6 ft. extremely soft and cuddly purple bear? I managed to keep him. 🙂 I had an old cowhide bottom rocker of my grandparents that I couldn’t “bear” to turn lose of but yet I would rather no one sit in it if that makes sense. In our new home, which we built around two 1853 large stone fireplaces, the rocker fits in perfectly close by the fireplace in our bedroom. So now the big purple bear sits proudly in the rocker enjoying a book by the fireplace. Sadly a lot of the stuffed toys and a lot of other “stuff” had to go. I’m determined to limit my stuff toy buying but I’m always thrilled with a little one has a birthday because then I have a chance to buy a new one and share the love the of the stuffies!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  10. We also have three cats who get their fair share of attention. I did have a familiar cat – Hutch. He was my muse and I miss him. As for stuffed animals, I had few as a child that held meaning and lots that were won at Palisades Amusement Park. As an adult I mentioned to a co-worker that I had never had a teddy bear. Guest what they got me for Christmas – this little bear is much loved and sits in a place of honor on my bookshelf.

    Stuffed animals acquired as an adult are all in commemoration or acknowledgement of something, good and bad. I wonder if that makes them more precious?

  11. I have a brass turkle(tortoise) about the size of an old-fashion silver dollar that I use as a doorstop to let some daylight into the living room when the weather is cooperative.

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