What a Witch’s Familiar Is – and Isn’t

What a Witch’s Familiar Is – and Isn’t

If you observe any massive witchcraft teams on social media, you’ve most likely seen a pic of an lovely pet or kitten with some model of: “Here’s my new familiar! I just picked him up from the animal shelter today and I’m looking for some witchy names!”

Sorry to burst your cauldron bubble, however (virtually definitely) your new furry, finned, or feathered good friend is not a familiar. It’s a pet.

What is a Witch’s Familiar?

Traditionally, familiars have been described as sort of demon in animal type – showing both as peculiar animals or uncommon beasts. They can assume any type, however are regularly depicted in historic texts as cats, canines, toads, reptiles, or bugs. Alternately, they are often “monsters” which might be bizarre, fantastical mash-ups of assorted creatures.

from “A Treatise on Witchcraft” Sibley, 1621 – William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

What do Witches’ Familiars Do?

Witches make use of familiars within the apply of witchcraft. The function of the Familiar to serve – and even shield – their witch and help in spellcasting and different magic workings. We can think about that the familiar’s day-to-day would possibly embody fetching elements for spells, appearing as a lookout, or spying on others for data. Whatever the witch makes use of the familiar for, it’s a symbiotic relationship – fairly than a pet/grasp scenario – as we’ll see within the Care and Feeding of Familiars part under. Lore tells us that working with a familiar got here with a worth… it’s a reward with strings connected.

How to Get a Familiar

Though adopting a homeless pet from an animal shelter is admirable, it’s not how a witch would go about getting a familiar. Traditional lore says that a familiar is usually “gifted” to a witch by one other witch or by the satan himself.

The satan with a serpent and canine

There are accounts of familiars being ritually introduced by the satan or being handed down from one era to the subsequent. Other tales have the familiar simply “appearing” to a witch in a time of want. Of course, any witch value her salt would assume there’s a catch when a magical being manifests from the ether. For one, there’s the maintenance…

The Care and Feeding of Familiars

Just such as you gained’t discover your familiar on the animal shelter, you gained’t discover its meals on the pet retailer. Kibble simply gained’t do for these little demons. They’re out for blood… yours.

A witch caring for her acquainted spirits 1579

Witches have been believed to feed their familiars by permitting the creatures to suck blood from the witch’s finger or the notorious “witch’s teat.” The teat might be any nipple-like bump wherever on the witch’s physique – together with moles or warts.

Sounds fairly handy, proper? Not so quick. The mythology that sprung up across the witch’s teat additionally armed witch hunters through the witch trials. A girls accused of witchcraft was typically stripped bare whereas a group of skilled inquisitors (males) examined each inch of her physique for “devil’s marks” that might cement her “guilt.”

Matthew Hopkins, Witch Finder General. From a broadside revealed by Hopkins earlier than 1650

The lore surrounding witches, familiars, and their odd feeding habits very doubtless grew in direct relation to the witch trials (i.e. discovering an option to convict and persecute accused witches). Pointing to a mole on a particular person’s physique and claiming that its objective was to suckle that witch’s family demon made the inquisitors’ job a lot simpler.

Not solely have been accused witches believed to feed blood to their familiars from these specialised nipples, the witch hunters believed that the satan additionally loved a sip when he’d go to within the night time for intercourse together with his servant. The offspring that resulted from these demonic trysts would additionally drink blood from the teat.

Familiar or Pet? When a Cat is Just a Cat

My major objective right here is to elucidate the distinction between the familiars of conventional lore and a domesticated pet. Its writing was prompted by some fellow witches expressing their frustration over the confusion. It’s meant to be an excessive-stage view of the legend and on no account exhaustive… I imply we didn’t even discuss imps and fairies!

etching of a cat from a sixteenth century pamphlet on witchcraft – British Library

So, simply to be clear, your retailer-purchased pet – irrespective of how aesthetically “witchy” it could be – is not a familiar. It doesn’t make you a dangerous particular person for those who didn’t have sufficient data prior to now to grasp the distinction. Just know that for those who purchased a black kitten as an adjunct for some costume-up model of witchcraft, and insist on calling it a familiar, you’re going to get some pushback from practitioners and historians.

witch & acquainted from a sixteenth century pamphlet on witchcraft – British Library

References: conventional texts, encyclopedia entries, and the wiki. Thanks to the British Library archive for digitizing Witchcraft pamphlet: A Rehearsal both Strange and True, 1579

What do You Want to Learn?

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Source link . Rewritten article. Originally written by Holly

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