by Alan G. Hefner and James Dilworth
Historically familiars were described as low-ranking demons usually associated with witches and sorcerers mainly for the purpose of performing spells, curses, and other bewitchments. They were for the most part animals: cats, toads, owls, mice, dogs, as well as others. It is suspected an enterprising witch or sorcerer might use an uncommon animal or insect to disguise his activity. This was particularly true during the periods of the Inquisition and witch trials.
Sometimes familiars were called imps and believed to have been bestowed on witches be the Devil. Also it was thought familiars could be inherited from other witches or bought. A witch might have several familiars. The most favorite were cats, especially black ones with their keen independent nature. A cat’s loyalty to his mistress the witch was invaluable and impregnable to an enemy. Great fear of cats as witches’ familiars was one of the reasons for cat massacres that swept throughout medieval Europe.
Many stories of familiars can make interesting reading but those occurring during medieval times are read with suspicion as they maybe part folklore and part Christian hatred toward witches. Most familiars were loved and treated as house pets which many were. A sixteenth-century Essex woman accused of witchcraft had three familiar mice named Littleman, Prettyman, and Daynty. Another had four mice named Prickeare, James, Robyn, and Sparrow. Elizabeth Clark, the first victim of Matthew Hopkins who was England’s great witch hunter in the seventeenth century, had five familiars including unearthly ones including Holt, a kitten; Jamara, a fat legless spaniel; Sack and Sugar, a black rabbit; Newes, a polecat; and Tom, a long-legged grey-houndlike creature with the capability of turning himself into a headless four year old child. There were other familiars too named in trials including Grizel, Greedlight, Peck in the Crown, and Elemauzer. Perhaps the best known familier is Pyewackett, the monicker of the witch’s cat in the movie Bell Book and Candle, a name dating back to Renaissance England. Hopkins said Pyewackett was a name no mortal could invent.
Familiars were claimed to be greatly cherished. Some, it was said, baptized their toads, dressed them in black velvet, put tiny bells on their feet, and made them dance. Familiars were mainly dispatch to people and animals to cause sickness and even death. They fearlessly protected their witches and in returned the witch gave them what they craved, blood. An Irish witch reportedly confessed that she sacrificed red cocks to her familiar. It was said the witches at times allowed their familiars to suckle their own blood either from the fingers or other parts of the body, evidence of this was evidenced by any unnatural marks, called witch’s marks, appearing on the skin and was cause for hanging.
Metamorphosis was involved in various cases too. Agnes Waterhouse, an English woman accused of witchcraft in 1556, had a cat named Satan who it was claimed could change into a dog. Familiars could disappear and appear again. However, the Devil himself appearing in animal form was not considered the same as the appearance of a familiar; it might be asked who was the objective observer who told the difference.
A test for witchcraft was tying the witch up and leaving her in a cell to see if her familiar(s) came to her help. At times even an ant or insect venturing toward her was said to be a familiar. The reverse was claimed too at times. Religion could combat a familiar’s infernal power. A man was not harmed by Waterhouse’ cat because of his religious belief. God always prevailed.
In the Inquisition witches were often accused of having sex with their demonic familiars, and perhaps they did not with the body of the familiar but with the familiar spirit. The familiar spirit usually refers to the animal’s or insect’s psychic ability to assist the witch in her/his magickal task. The witch and familiar were unison in purpose. And, who knows, perhaps at times sex between the witch and familiar occurred physically. As previously mentioned cats were popular familiars and greatly feared and it has been noted this lead to great cat massacres throughout Europe resulting in the Black plague; as the cat populations were destroyed the rodents increased running ramped. Again it is seen the destruction or imbalance of nature causes problems.
In more modern times the concept of a familiar is generally considered to be derived from fetishism because many familiars were said to live in rings, lockets, coins, objects worn by a magician or even bottles and lamps (an example of which is the genie in a lamp from the stories of Aladdin from the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights).
Many famous occultists had familiars, such as the black dog of Cornelius Agrippa, that was thought to be the Devil; Apollonius of Tyana wore a ring that was said to have a familiar; Paracelsus had a spirit in the hilt of his sword that he only took off his body when sleeping and would produce a purse full of gold coins if stuck in the middle of the night and Dr. John Deewas said to have several spirits named Ash, Il, Po and Va attending to his needs.
Many neo-Pagans Witche scontinue in the tradition of having familiars that assist them in magickal activities. These familiars are cats, dogs, snakes, toads, and so on. In that most neo-Pagans do not believe in the Devil they therefore do not believe their familiars are “evil” or “demonic” by nature. They believe their familiar in their animal form possess the psychic ability to help in magickal work. Some claim psychic ability can be introduced into familiars while others do not but recommend that familiars by handle by those attuned to Witches and magicians. Some discourage treating familiars as house pets believing that they volunteer to work and are karmically attached to their witch. It is claimed Witches not having familiars can send psychic “calls” to attract such animals.
The Witch senses the psychic power of the familiar through certain responses and gestures which are similar to the ways ordinary people feel affection toward their pets, only between the Witch and familiar the sense connection is heightened. A familiar sense danger from a person radiating negating energy or vibrations, especially within the magic circle, sends a psychic message which the witch receives immediately. Even ordinary animals are keenly aware of vibrations as one will soon discover when inquiring of zoo keepers concerning times prior to earthquakes. Witches can exert certain responses from familiars too such as in dogs to attack during times of personal danger. In return the witches protect their familiars with their psychic ability too.
As previously mentioned witches have been accused of having sex with their familiars and there is no way to substantiate it. The suspicion remains. The Inquisition never hesitated in trying to prove their accusations of it. This author remembers of reading of a man living with his feminine familiar for over twenty years, others said she held him hostage but he seemed satisfied.
Conventional religious morals are breaking down and more neo-Pagans are accepting sexual relationships with familiars. It may be thought as similar as the relationship between the shamani and his spiritual wife, helping in mystical/magickal work. One would wonder if such behavior is just practiced by neo-Pagans and magicians. The question should be asked is it any more abnormal for a man or woman to live with a familiar than people dying of boredom and loneliness. At least the former are keeping their minds active. This is another way the occult world is influencing the ordinary and breaking the Christian stronghold.
Here seems to rest the crux of the question. Fraternizing with familiars was condemned by Christianity which replaced them with God or saints. Anything displacing the Christian God is sinful although familiar spirits came first. Sexual pleasure has lost the stigma given to it by the Judeo–Christian religion. More people are enjoying sex more, especially neo-Pagans. Sex is seen as a natural act, not just for procreation. Part of this sexual liberation can be attributed to Lilith
who not only represents the goddess of the feminist movement but also goddess of sex outside of marriage, unconventional sex acts such as sex for pleasure, sex as a tool of power over men, sex as a tool of liberation from men, some men thinks this can work vice verse too, abortion rights since she is mythically the first abortionist, birth control since when a man makes love to Lilith his semen is spilled outside of the womb which according to Aleister Crowley a portion of the semen produces Lilith’s demons.
Familiar Spirits. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Familiar>
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen.The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. “familiars.” New York: Facts On File.1989. pp. 121-122
Spence, Lewis Encyclopedia of Occultism 1959 New York University Press
Tyson, Donald. Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits.St. Paul, MN. Llewellyn Publications. 2000 p.44