I don’t usually make a habit of perusing recommended reading lists in the back of books, but after reading Lupa’s New Paths to Animal Totems: Three Alternative Approaches to Creating Your Own Totemism, I found myself hungry for more books on working with non-human animals in a spiritual context, and this book was at the top of the list.
Did I find it useful? No. Would I have found it useful ten years ago? Most likely. Did I find it interesting as a “curiosity”, a book I would read just because I was curious, or for the “historical value”, expecting that I probably wouldn’t get anything out of it? Yes.
Does that mean it’s worth your time? I would say no, definitely not.
The Once Unknown Familiar is a book about working with animal powers on an inner level (so, more psychological/archetypal than as literal spirits) that, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing (says the hard polytheist). The exercises in the book are geared towards finding what the author calls “The Familiar Self” our “animal natures”.
Or, if you want to get snarky about it, this is a book about finding one’s fylgia for eclectic Wiccans.
The one thing I can’t help but find hilarious about this book (besides the obligatory chapter wherein bad history is treated as fact) is the fact that, for all the author goes on about this being a book that focuses on “Northern European” cultures, there’s still the same old tired Wiccanesque dualism that says the sun is male/masculine and the moon is female/feminine, because no Northern cultures EVER had a male moon and a female sun.
Then again, this is a book aimed at Witches (most likely of the eclectic variety) so the gender essentialism isn’t surprising, nor all the talk of Native American woo, because everyone knows Native peoples are so much more super speshul than us spiritually bankrupt white people, right?
There’s even a section where he talks about using your familiar self to help diagnose and treat illnesses, because if you trust anyone with your health, it should be the person who tells me “this one book told me I can use my invisible animal friend to help you out!” gods forbid I actually seek the help of a qualified medical professional. (P.S. One of the questions is “Is the patient’s illness due to “soul loss”? How the fuck are they supposed to know what that even is? At LEAST he didn’t try to give instructions on how to fix that issue.)
So is there anything worthwhile in this book? I suppose the journal questions are okay, but they’re nothing you can’t find in better books. The “herbal blends” for different animals are a neat idea, too bad he doesn’t give us any information as to where they came from (and, TBH, wouldn’t it be better to just make your own blends, from plants that you personally associate with the animal?) and the “animal powers list” wherein each animal is given a paragraph of text describing the personality of someone with that Familiar self, which includes such gems as “Unicorns prefer the company of women”, Bat people are “highly sexual in their personal dealings” or Wolf people have “a tendency towards gluttony” (and all dinosaurs are lumped under the “Dinosaur” familiar self, and there’s no Snake personality even though Cobra is on another list).
I guess….the book’s good for a few chuckles? At the very least, I might have found it very useful five years ago when I was in my “generic Wiccanesque Paganism” phase, but not now.
In sum, this book isn’t very useful, it will sit on my shelf with my other “occult” books as a curiosity, nothing more, nothing less. There are much, much, MUCH better books out there than this book. There’s nothing you can find in this book that wasn’t covered in better books or are things that you can do yourself, using your own associations.