familiars In folklore, low-ranking demons in constant attention to witches for the purpose of carrying out spELLs and bewitchments. Familiars usually assumed animal forms—cats, TOADs, OWLs, mice and dogs were the most common—though virtually any animal or insect could be suspected. In witchcraft trials, if so much as a fly buzzed in the window while a witch was being questioned or tried, it was said to be her familiar. The inquisitors took the Bible to heart: those who had familiars were
"an abomination unto the Lord" (Deut. 23:10-12) and should be "put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them" (Lev. 20:27).
Familiars—also called imps—were said to be given to witches by the DEVIL or bought or inherited from other witches. A witch could have several of them. Cats were the favored forms, especially black ones. The fear that all cats were witches' familiars was one of the reasons for cat massacres that swept through medieval Europe.
Familiars were given names like any household pets, which most of them undoubtedly were. One 16th-century Essex woman accused of witchcraft admitted that she had three familiars in the form of mice: Littleman, Prettyman and Daynty. Another had four mice named Prickeare, James, Robyn and Sparrow. Elizabeth Clark, the first victim of MATTHEW Hopkins, England's great witch-hunter of the 17th century, confessed to having five familiars, including unearthly ones: Holt, a kitten; Jamara, a fat, legless spaniel; Sack and Sugar, a black rabbit; Newes, a polecat; and Vinegar Tom, a long-legged, greyhoundlike creature with an ox's head and broad eyes, which could turn itself into a headless four-year-old child. Other familiars named in trials included Grizel, Greedigut, Peck in the Crown and Elemauzer. Perhaps the best-known familiar name is Pyewackett, the monicker of the witch's cat in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, and a name that dates to Renaissance England. Pyewackett, Hopkins stated, was a name "no mortal could invent."
Witches were said to take great care of their familiars. As Emile Grillot de Givry described in Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy (1931) "they baptized their toads, dressed them in black velvet, put little bells on their paws and made them dance." Familiars were dispatched to bewitch people and animals into sickness and death. They also protected their witches. In return, witches gave them what they craved: BLOOD. ALICE KYTELER of Kilkenny, Ireland, convicted as a witch in 1324, confessed (or perhaps
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