A spirit that maintains regular contact with a person, sometimes acting in service or guardianship, or providing information and instruction. The term familiar is from the Latin term familiaris, meaning “of a household or domestic.”
   Familiars can be either good or evil in nature, and they vary significantly in intelligence and powers. They assume many shapes, such as elementals, animals, birds and insects, and even spirit lovers. The shapes assumed reflect the nature of the spirit, who may be intent on deceit. Personal familiars sometimes attach themselves to a family bloodline and serve generations. They can possess people and animals and are capable of acting independently of the people with whom they associate.
   Familiars are summoned via magical ritual, given, appointed, traded, bought, and sold, or they appear of their own volition. They can be housed in bottles and rings. They have been part of shamanic and SORCERY traditions around the world.
   Early Beliefs about Familiars
   The Greeks and Romans believed in familiars called DAIMONEs, which occupied homes, buildings, and other places and attached themselves to people. Such spirits provided advice and guidance, performed tasks, acted as servants, and did guard duty. Socrates said daimones whispered in his ear to warn him of danger and misfortune. Plotinus also was said to have a familiar, who appeared when summoned and obeyed him and was superior to lowerranking spirits such as the genii, guardians of places. Other early beliefs about familiars cross over into the lore of FAIRIES, elves, brownies, gnomes, and trolls. Spirits that work in mines and guard hidden treasures are sometimes called familiars. The DJINN summoned by King SOLOMON to build his Temple of Jerusalem are comparable to familiars.
   Familiars in Magic and Witchcraft Familiars can be conjured magically for a variety of purposes. In esoteric lore, they are the constant attendants and servants of magicians, wizards, spell casters, and healers. Low familiars are inanimate objects, such as magical books that mysteriously appear. The English magician John Dee acquired a scrying (divining) crystal inhabited by a familiar spirit, which he and his assistant, Edward Kelley, used to communicate with angels and spirits. High familiars assume plant, animal, and human shape. Some familiars assume whatever shape is needed for their purposes. Dee had another familiar, Madimi, who appeared as either a young girl or an adult. She even appeared naked when dealing with a sexual matter.
   According to tradition, familiars can be magically locked in bottles, rings, and stones and sometimes sold as CHARMs for success in gambling, love, and business. In witchcraft lore, familiars are low-ranking DEMONs or IMPs given by the DEVIL to those who commit to PACTs with him. Or witches inherited familiars from other witches. Demonic familiars were said by witch hunters to serve witches in all ways, even sexually. They carried out spells and bewitchments. Most witch familiars were believed to be in animal form; some were spirits kept in bottles and flasks. Even FAIRIES were said to be familiars. A witch could have multiple familiars. Cats, especially black, were the favored forms. The fear that all cats were witches’ familiars led to cat massacres in Europe. The witch hunter Pierre de Lancre said the highestranking witches have familiars in the shape of horned frogs that sit on their left shoulder and are invisible to everyone but other witches. Some witches had familiars in human form.
   Other common witches’ familiars were dogs, toads, mice, ferrets, weasels, birds, wasps, bees, moths, hedgehogs, rabbits, and farm animals, as well as monstrous hybrid creatures. For example, the accused English witch Elizabeth Clark (17th century) confessed to having five familiars, including Vinegar Tom, a creature that looked like a greyhound with an ox’s head and could shape shift into a headless child.
   Familiars all supposedly had grotesque names that gave away their true demonic identities. Elizabeth Francis, an accused witch in the Chelmsford, England, trials of 1556, had a white spotted cat named Sathan. Other names recorded at witch trials were Verd-Joli, Verdelet, Ilemanzar, Greedigut, Jezebel, Abrahel, Grissell, Martinet, Blackman, and Pyewackett.
   Witches who were arrested and imprisoned were watched secretly to see whether their familiars came to their aid. Even a fly, ant, or cockroach that went toward a witch was called a familiar. Guards had to watch carefully that familiars—believed to be assassins dispatched by the Devil—did not kill an accused witch before she could be tried.
   Witches were said to take great care of their familiars, suckling them with their own BLOOD through “witch’s marks,” small teats, discolorations, and welts upon their bodies.
   Having a familiar was sufficient to condemn a witch to death. In England, the Witchcraft Act of 1604 made it a felony to “consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil and wicked spirit to or for any intent or purpose.”
   In contrast to the familiars of the witch trials, the literary MEPHISTOPHELES is an elegant familiar, usually assuming the form of a tall man in black who attends his victim, FAUST, in order to subvert his soul. Faust also was accompanied by a black dog familiar. Many modern Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans have familiars as magical helpers. Many are animals (often cats) whose psychic attunement makes them ideal partners in magic. Some Witches turn pets into familiars, and others send out “calls” on the psychic planes to draw in the right animal. Others create familiars from astral thought forms.
   Familiars attend rituals and protect against negative spirits. They are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power and are welcome partners inside the magic circle for the raising of power, the casting of spells, scrying, spirit contact, and other magical work. They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it be an unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic. Familiars are given psychic protection by their witches.
   Sexual Familiars
   Spirits enjoy human sexual intercourse, either by drawing energy from people engaged in it or by assuming or possessing a human form in order to participate in sex directly. Depending on the nature of a familiar, it enjoys the higher spiritual nature of sex or the lustful physical nature of it. A familiar might try to influence a sexual encounter by prolonging it as long as possible. It usually presses on top of a person or lies alongside him or her. A person feels a sexual encounter with a familiar as intense waves of physical pleasure. Familiars can engage in sex by possessing a person’s body and generating internal sensations of pleasure, by possessing a person’s human lover to manipulate his or her hands and body, and by causing erotic dreams.
   The low, demonic types of spirit sexual encounters are with an INCUBUS (male demon) or SUCCUBUS (female demon). During the witch hysteria, witches were said to copulate with demon lovers, and demons masquerading as seductive humans attacked sleeping people at night and raped them.
   Problems with Familiars
   Frequent contact with familiars can result in nightmares, physical injuries caused by familiars, and also OBSESSION, in which a person sees, hears, and feels an influencing spirit, and POSSESSION, in which the familiar completely takes over a person.
   Also, spirits do not always distinguish between truth and falsehood, and so discernment must be applied to whatever information they impart. Familiars can manifest as voices in the head that cause compulsive, aberrant behavior, including self-inflicted wounds, suicide, and violence toward others. Excessive and draining contact with them can create mental, emotional, and physical strain and breakdown.
   Familiars that create problems can be banished by ending all engagement with them or, if necessary, by ritual banishment.
   - Calmet, Dom Augustin. The Phantom World: Concerning Apparitions and Vampires. Ware, England: Wordsworth Editions in association with the Folklore Society, 2001.
   - Summers, Montague. The History of Witchcraft and Demonology. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1926.
   - Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
   - Tyson, Donald. Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches and Magicians. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn, 2004.
   - Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. 1973. Reprint, Custer, Wash.: Phoenix, 1986.

Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. . 2009.

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