As you may know from my social media, I’ve kept ferrets as pets for years now. It started because I didn’t have the time to give to a dog. Ferrets sleep somewhere between 16-20 hours a day depending. When they are not asleep they are adventurous, playful little menaces who will steal your shit and your heart.
Ferrets are the domesticated members from the Mustelidae family which includes weasels, otters, stoats, skunks and badgers the closest wild relative being the polecat. Ferrets with ‘fitchie’ markings are still mistaken for polecats often (They are not. Please don’t argue with me). Introduced to the UK by the Romans they have been used to protect grain stores, homes and used for hunting rabbits for thousands of years (evidence suggests as early as 450 B.C) but they also have a long standing history with witches.
During the witchcraze, simply owning a ferret could have you tried and executed (I mean, so did absolutely anything else) some cases elude to witches familiars being impish white ferrets or even the devil himself appearing as one. They were favoured pets of women as they deterred vermin, are pretty self sufficient, easy to carry with you, somewhat trainable and rather sweet but of course none of that mattered in those days. Never mind the fact that many cultures before and after worked and lived with them if you had a companionship with an animal (or had pockets, a birth mark, intelligence, red hair, wanted to be treated as an equal, the list is endless) that was enough for the witch hunters.
As a familiar or animal guide (I don’t use the term ‘spirit guide’ as it is a culturally appropriated term) Ferrets bring a sense of duality; on the one hand they are stealthy, vicious, survivalists able to seek out and take whatever they need (some of the stashes I have found over the years are truly impressive), clever sly and tenacious not to mention savage killing machines. On the other hand they are playful, caring, loving little homebodies who want to nest and nurture; Something I can relate to. They are prepared for hardship and ever vigilant but also enjoy life at every opportunity. Ferrets have a sense of fluidity and are masters at overcoming obstacles literally and figuratively, they can dislocate almost everything in their bodies and squeeze through anything they can get their head through.
Hekate and Ferrets
I’ve been working with Hekate for a while now. I was being called to her for a long time but didn’t feel ready for Deity work until more recently. One of the things to do when you feel called to work with an ancient being is to do some research of their stories. The more I learnt about her, the more sure I was and the connection with ferrets/polecats is no different. Often the protector of the downtrodden, Hekate has a thing about growth from suffering and transformation through darkness and hardship. She is the queen of witches and patron of women, particularly those who have suffered injustice. I can totally see the connection between polecats and her, as well as the traits already mentioned around growth, protection, overcoming obstacles and adversity, she also dances in the entourage of Dionysus showing she also loves to play and celebrate when the time is right, hopefully a bit more gracefully than the ‘weasel war dance’. Not that she gives a fuck.
It is known that ferrets are one of her sacred animals. This is attributed to two different stories so settle in Darlings and I’ll share them both.
The Transformation Of Galanthis
The first story centres around the birth of Heracles. We know Zeus was a nightmare for impregnating mortal women despite his wife Hera’s wrath. It baffles me that in these stories she is always punishing the women rather than her husband. That classic patriarchal bullshit of pitting women against each other rather than an actual rapist, seeing as these stories were written down by men, It is possible that they have been twisted to suit that narrative along with others (hint, this is how I feel about the second story). Ranting aside, on with the story.
According to Greek mythology: There were once two maidens Galanthis (or Galinthias) and Alkmene (or Alcmena). These women had been friends a long time, had been playmates as children and were great companions, enough so that Galanthis was present during Alkmene’s labour.
Alkmene, wife of Amphitryon had been tricked into laying with Zeus when he disguised himself as her husband and got into her bed; impregnating her with the demi-god Heracles. Later, when her real husband returned she lay with him and they conceived Iphicles. She carried the two as twins although Iphicles is said to have been born the day after his blessed brother, which is why he doesn’t appear in this story (side note: the Twins in the Gemini star sign are these two).
Hera knew of Zeus’ infidelity (of course) and in her rage petitioned The Fates and the Eileithyia (Goddesses of childbirth) to punish poor, mortal Alkmene. They held her in her pain and prevented her from giving birth to Heracles. They did so by holding themselves seated with hands clasped, intent on driving her mad or worse. Our girl Galanthis couldn’t bear to see her friend in such agony so she stepped in.
Brave Galanthis rushed up to these powerful beings and exclaimed “By the power and blessings of Zeus, Alkmene had given birth to a boy!”. The Eileithyia and The Fates were astonished, in Their surprise, They got up and unclasped Their hands to check. Hera was going to be pissed off! This break in Their concentration ceased Their work and Alkmene was able to finally (and quickly, I assume) birth Heracles. Her friend was saved, and went on to bring forth Iphicles and later, a Daughter, Laonome.
The Fates and Eileithyia were furious that a mere mortal woman had outsmarted them; and as is the way of Greek Deities, they took vengeance. Galanthis had her womanly parts taken from her and was transformed into a Polecat; Cursed to live in nooks and crannies and undergo a grotesque form of mating and giving birth. The Ancient Greeks believed Polecats mated through the ears and gave birth through the mouth. Obviously this is not the case. They do hold the scruff of the neck, it’s very squeaky and sometimes violent and they do like to carry their Kits around in their mouth and move them about. I mean, what did they think dogs and cats were doing? We can laugh but this was an age of epic stories and poetic theories, science was still this mysterious thing. How long was it before anyone got round to studying the habits of a Polecat?
So, Alkmene was ok and went on to be remembered as the mother of a Demi-God and Galanthis now a small mammal as reward for her love and courage. The other Deities went about their business, Zeus continuing to conceive Demi gods by force and Hera continuing to punish them. Hekate however took pity on Galanthis. Being a goddess of transformation and growth through suffering as well as a patron of women and childbirth, she took the polecat on as an animal sacred to her. The attributes of the Polecat are rather like her own, as were the actions of Galanthis; putting the needs of her friend before the risk to herself, being a true friend to another woman. The sacrifice she made getting some recognition and reward.
Many people these days still don’t know a lot about these creatures. I get comments about them being stinky and bitey. These people won’t ever feel the trust and love of these tiny, loving predators. Yes, if they wanted to they could bite through my finger and eat it. They can crunch through bone with incredible force but they don’t, they groom my eyebrows and try to stash my husband by pulling him gently by his ear. I feel like this reflects Hekate herself. Strong, fierce capable of viciousness when required, misunderstood, to be treated with respect and reverence but equally loveable, protective and kind to those who love her.
Gale The Witch
The second origin story of Ferrets is a lot less…palatable. Told by the Roman author and teacher Aelian, it speaks of a witch named Gale who was ‘extremely incontinent’. We think of incontinence in the modern way, referring to the inability to control urination or bowel movements but it can also mean the inability to hold back ones temper, or desires. Aelian also says that Gale was afflicted with ‘afflicted with abnormal sexual desires’, whatever the fuck that means. the Greeks weren’t exactly prudish perhaps Aelian was but he doesn’t go into specifics. Perhaps she was gay and unashamed or just openly sexual. My theory is the former, we know the Greeks partook in same sex relationships, several of the Goddesses shunned men including Athena and Artemis and preferred the company of other Women (I touch on this in the story of the Bay Tree). As these stories have been written and told (and re-told) by men throughout centuries, the freedom around woman openly loving each other seems to have been twisted into ‘virginity’ (a male construct that implies purity), removed completely or told as something to be ashamed of. Also, there is evidence to suggest that the stories of Female Deities coming into power has been twisted to put men in a more favourable light; Hekate (who predates Zeus), Persephone (who predates Hades) and Medusa (a story for another day perhaps but it is resurfacing among women) being good examples.
Aaaanyway, according to Aelian, Hekate was disgusted by Gale and turned her into ‘this evil creature’. Again, the idea of ferrets being dirty and evil coming from the idea that they mated and birthed in such an obscure way. That is it, a very short telling ” there once was brazen, saucy witch who was turned into a dirty polecat by the Queen of Witches herself’…it just doesn’t seem right to me. Speaking bluntly, it feels like this story was offered up to discredit Galanthis’ heroism in the first tale, that she dared to deceive the Gods for love of another woman. Woman to Woman love is a powerful thing not just romantically but in friendship. Something that can be perceived as a threat by some men, which is why we have been pitted against one another and lead to believe we are in competition (this is fast becoming another patriarchal rant isn’t it) when in truth we are most powerful when we support one another; something Hekate stands for often. The term ‘Witch’ itself was has been used as a slur on and off for centuries to describe women such as Galanthis who have confidence in themselves, love for others and courage to stand up to oppressors. Or Gale as some sort of sexual degenerate, perhaps this is why the second narrative was offered. Who knows, this is just my theory knowing Hekate and knowing Ferrets.
So there you are Darlings, two very different stories; one of friendship, moxie, and reward the other of shame, disgust and punishment. Reward and punishment are both within Hekate’s remit. You know which one I lean towards. What are your thoughts?
I have really enjoyed writing this piece, I hope you have enjoyed reading it. Also, if you ever want to see more of my carpet sharks (a.k.a furry noodles, stretched kitties or cat snakes), I am very happy to oblige 😊
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Peace out witches ✌
Love Kate (and Westley and Mim) xxx