To start, what is a tutelar?
The Oxford dictionary defines a tutelary spirit or deity as ‘serving as a protector, guardian, or patron’. Wikipedia further expands this definition to include totems as a type of tutelary.
I prefer not to use the term ‘totem’-the reasons for this are elaborate enough that it would be best to keep them for another post.
In the past I have used tutelar and also totem, in the form it’s most commonly used in modern pagan circles, as almost interchangeable. As I delve further into committing my personal practice to writing, it has become apparent that an expansion of this terminology is needed.
The types of relationships one may create within a magical context vary quite significantly; tutelary alone could easily become confusing and vague.
On top of this, many deities have strong associations with non-human animals; if one works closely with both deities and animals, it can be difficult to untangle which direction the signal is coming from.
I have created a set of terms to categorize types of animal tutelars and their associations; That of Regent, Agent and Individual.
In the following explanation, I will be using the domestic cat as an example.
A deity-like figure that represents the gestalt of all cats, the parent of all cats, the archetypal essence of what it is to be a cat; the quintessential cat-ness. A nonphysical being, but one that in this case, currently does have living physical counterparts (Regents of extinct taxa would not, but are still relevant).
If I were to meditate with the goal of entering a trance state and communing with an archetypal being that identifies itself as Domestic Cat, this would be the Domestic Cat Regent.
A single cat entity. May be a living cat, a spirit housed in remains of a once living cat, or the incorporeal spirit of a cat.
The feral cat skull I have on my mantle was untrusting of humans in life, and remains so in death. The spirit housed in this skull is generally uncommunicative, and is another example of a Cat Individual.
An individual as above, that is acting on behalf of another being, such as a deity or a tutelary regent.
Once, while meditating in my bedroom, I attempted to contact Bast using a small statue of Her image, but I wasn’t able to make a connection.
My cat-son had been sprawled on my bed behind me, and we had been mutually ignoring each other as he didn’t usually involve himself in my magical practice.
This time however, Bast decided to use him as a vessel for communicating with me.
‘Why use a statue when there is a real live cat right here?’ She had chided me affectionately.
In this instance my cat-son was operating in the capacity of agent, albeit for Bast rather than Cat Regent-in this instance, the human equivalent could be deemed to be aspecting or possession.
In my previous post, I described how a living individual domestic cat had acted as a messenger for Lilith. This cat was also acting as an agent.
If I wished to communicate with Cat Regent, I may set up my feral cat skull on my altar to act as an agent.
If Eurasian Lynx Regent was keen to communicate with me, it may use this skull as an Agent. Note-I have had American Badger Regent send me messages through a raccoon skull, so the species don’t necessarily need to be closely related-however if one were attempting to make contact rather than receive, a closer connection may be more viable.
I chose these terms as they are reasonably self-explanatory with context; How would this play out in conversation for example? Someone, upon learning that I work primarily with nonhuman animal energies, may ask me ‘what is your spirit animal?’
I would answer ‘I’ve been working a lot with coyotes lately, but Ringtail Possum Regent has been looking after me for many years.’
This would be referring to the many individual coyotes I work with, but the more abstract nature of my relationship with Ringtail Possum.
If anyone has any thoughts on this method for labeling and classifying types of interactions with animistic spirits, I’d love to hear them.