Methods of obtaining Familiars

There seem to have been four methods of obtaining familiars: 1, by gift from the Devil; 2, by gift from a fellow-witch: 3, by inheritance; 4, by magical ceremonies. Of these, Nos. 2 and 3 appear to be confined to the domestic familiar, consequently they are found chiefly in the eastern counties of England.

1. The gift of the Devil was sometimes a divining familiar, sometimes a domestic familiar, commonly presented at the admission ceremony. As the divining familiar it represented the Devil himself, and the 'responses' received to questions were believed to come from him. As the essential point of this class of familiar was that it should be a species of animals and not one special animal, the devil merely appointed to the witch what species she should observe in divining. The domestic familiar, being a small animal, could be actually given into the hands of the witch, with instructions for its feeding and for the method of using it. It was sometimes, but not always, identified with the devil, and was usually

called an 'imp',[1] perhaps with the idea of a small or miniature Devill like the Marionette of Silvain Nevillon. It acted as the 'Devil's substitute when he himself was not present, and was endowed with some, though not all, of his power; for this reason the witch often had more than one familiar, each to serve a single purpose. In 1645 at Ipswich Mother Lakeland confessed that after she had signed the covenant with the Devil, 'he furnished her with three Imps, two little Dogs and a Mole.'[2] In the same year, Rebecca Jones, an Essex witch,

'saith, that as slice was going to St Osyth to sell her masters butter, a man met with her, being in a ragged sute, and having such great eyes, that this examinant was much afraid of him; who came to this examinant and gave her three things like to moules, having foure feet a piece, but without tayles, and of a black colour, and bid this examinant nurse the said three things, untill he did desire them againe; And the said man told this examinant, that those three things which he gave her, would avenge her on her enemies, and bid her murther some, but not too many, and he would forgive her; and then went away from this examinant.'[3]

In 1646 the Huntingdonshire witch, Joane Wallis, said that Blackman 'told her he would send one Grissell and Greedigut to her, that shall do any thing for her. And after Blackman was departed from her, within three or four dayes, Grissell and Greedigut came to her, in the shapes of dogges.'[4] Another witch of the same Coven, Elizabeth Weed, confessed that 'there did appeare unto her three Spirits, one in the likenesse of a young man or boy, and the other two of two Puppies, the one white and the other black.'[5]

2. The gift from a fellow-witch was -always a domestic familiar, as to the Devil alone belonged the power of appointing a divining familiar; therefore this method of obtaining a familiar is found only in the eastern counties and other places where the domestic or sucking familiar is recorded. In 1556 Elizabeth Francis, whose evidence was corroborated by Mother

[1. Imp = A slip, sapling, scion; hence applied to persons with the meaning child, lad, boy.

2. Lawes against Witches, p. 7.

Waterhouse, said that 'she came to one mother Waterhouse her neighbour, she brought her this cat in her apron and taught her as she was instructed by her grandmother Eue, telling her that she must cal him Sathan and geue him of her bloude and bread and milke as before. Mother Waterhouse said, she receyued this cat of this Frances wife in the order as is before sayde.'[1] In 1566 John Walsh, the Dorset witch, 'being demaunded whether he had euer any Familiar or no: he sayth that he had one of his sayde mayster. He being demaunded howe long he had the vse of the Familiar: He sayd one yeare by his sayd maister's life, and iiii yeres after his death.'[2] An Essex witch in 1588 had three familiars, 'one like a cat, which she called Lightfoot. This Lightfoote, she said, one mother Barlie, of W., solde her aboue sixteene yeares ago, for an ouen cake, and told her the Cat would do her good seruice, if she woulde, she might send her of her errand.'[3] At Orleans in 1614 Gentil le Clerc said that he had seen Nevillon's familiar, and that Nevillon 'luy a dit vne douzaine de fois, que s'il vouloit il luy en feroit auoir vne'.[4] Elizabeth Clarke in Essex in 1645 said she 'had three impes from her mother, which were of a broune colour, and two from old beldam Weste. The said Anne Weste seemed much to pitie this examinant for her lamenesse (having but one leg) and her poverty; And said to this examinant, That there was wayes and meanes for her to live much better then now shee did: And said, that shee would send to this examinant a thing like a little kitlyn, which would fetch home some victualls for this examinant; and that it should doe her no hurt.'[5] The Huntingdonshire witch, Francis Moore, in 1646, 'saith that about eight yeares since she received a little blacke puppy from one Margaret Simson of great Catworth. The Examinate further saith, that the said Margaret told her, that she must keep that dogge all her life time; and if she cursed any Cattell, and set the same dog upon them, they should presently dye. And the said Examinate further saith, that about the

2. Examination of John Walsh. His master was Sir Robert Draiton.

3. Giffard, p. C., see Percy Soc., viii. De Lancre, L'Incredulite p. 803.

same time one goodwife Weed gave her a white Cat, telling her, that if she would deny God, and affirme the same by her bloud, then whomsoever she cursed and sent that Cat unto, they should dye shortly after.'[1]

3. The profession of the witch-religion being hereditary, it is not uncommon to find that the familiar descended from mother to daughter. This, like the familiar given by one witch to another, was the domestic familiar. It was sometimes presented during the mother's lifetime or was left as a legacy at her death. Elizabeth Francis in 1556 stated that 'she learned this arte of witchcraft at the age of xii yeres of hyr grandmother whose nam mother Eue of Hatfyelde Peuerell, disseased. Item when shee taughte it her, she counseiled her to renounce GOD and his worde and to geue of her bloudde to Sathan (as she termed it) whyche she delyuered her in the lykenesse of a whyte spotted Catte.'[2] In 1582 Ales Hunt of St. Osyth confessed to having two spirits, and 'saith, that her sister (named Margerie Sammon) hath also two spirites like Toades, the one called Tom, and the other Robbyn: And saith further, her sayde Syster and shee had the sayd spyrites of their Mother, Mother Barnes.'[3] In 1597 the Derbyshire witch, Alse Gooderidge, stated that 'the Diuell appeared to me in lykenesse of a little partie-colored dog red and white, and I called him Minny. She saide she had her familiar of her mother.'[4] The Essex witches, tried in 1645, also inherited familiars from their mothers. Anne Cooper confessed 'that she the said Anne offered to give unto her daughter Sarah

Cooper an impe in the likenes of a gray kite (i. e. kit, or cat), to suck on the said Sarah. Susan Cock saith, that about three or four yeeres since, one Margery Stoakes, this examinants mother, lying upon her death-bed, and this examinant comming to visit her, shee the said Margery desired this examinant privately to give entertainment to two of her imps, and withall told this examinant, they would do this examinant good; And this examinant saith, that the same night her said mother dyed, the said two imps came to her

2. Witches at Chelmsford, p. 24. Philobiblon Soc., viii.

accordingly, and sucked on her body. Anne Cate saith, That she hath four familiars, which shee had from her mother, about two and twenty yeeres since.'[1] In 1667 at Liverpool, 'Margaret Loy, being arraigned for a witch, confessed she was one; and when she was asked how long she had so been, replied, Since the death of her mother, who died thirty years ago; and at her decease she had nothing to leave her, and this widow Bridge, that were sisters, but her two spirits; and named them, the eldest spirit to this widow, and the other spirit to her the said Margaret Loy.'[2] This inheritance of a familiar may be compared with the Lapp custom: 'The Laplanders bequeath their Demons as part of their inheritance, which is the reason that one family excels another in this magical art.'[3]

4. The method of obtaining a familiar by means of magical words or actions is clearly described in two modern examples:

'Sometime in the beginning of the last century, two old dames attended the morning service at Llandaewi Brefi Church, and partook of the Holy Communion; but instead of eating the sacred bread like other communicants, they kept it in their mouths and went out. Then they walked round the Church outside nine times, and at the ninth time the Evil One came out from the Church wall in the form of a frog, to whom they gave the bread from their mouths, and by doing this wicked thing they were supposed to be selling themselves to Satan and become witches. There was an old man in North Pembrokeshire, who used to say that he obtained the power of bewitching in the following manner: The bread of his first Communion he pocketed. He made pretence at eating it first of all, and then put it in his pocket. When he went out from the service there was a dog meeting him by the gate, to which he gave the bread, thus selling his soul to the Devil. Ever after, he possessed the power to bewitch.'[4]

On the analogy of these two examples, I suggest that in the accounts of familiars offering themselves to the witch, there was, previous to such appearance, some formula of words or some magical action which are not recorded. The animal,

2. Moore Rental, Chetham Society, xii, p. 59.

3. Scheffer, quoting Tornaeus.

4. Davies, p. 231. For a similar practice in modern England, see Transactions ofthe Devonshire Association. (1874), p. 201.]

which first appeared after such words or actions, would be considered as the Devil, as in the two cases quoted above. Such an explanation accounts for the statements of some of the witches that on the appearance of the animal they at once renounced the Christian religion and vowed obedience to the new God. It is noticeable that in many cases the accused acknowledged that, before the appearance of the animal, they had been 'banning and cursing', in other words, calling on the Devil; the appearance of the animal, after such summons, produced neither surprise nor alarm, and in fact seems to have been regarded as the effect of their words.

In 1556 Joan Waterhouse, the eighteen-year-old daughter of the witch Mother Waterhouse, of Hatfield Peveril, being angry with another girl, 'shee goinge home dydde as she had seene her mother doe, callynge Sathan, whiche came to her (as she sayd) in the lykenes of a great dogge'.[1] At Aberdeen in 1597 Agnes Wobster said that the Devil appeared 'in the liknes of a lamb, quhom thow callis thy God, and bletit on the, and thaireftir spak to the'.[2] James Device, one of the chief of the Lancashire witches in 1613, confessed 'that vpon Sheare Thursday was two yeares, his Grand-Mother Elizabeth Sothernes, alias Dembdike, did bid him this Examinate goe to the Church to receiue the Communion (the next day after being Good Friday) and then not to eate the Bread the Minister gaue him, but to bring it and deliuer it to such a thing as should meet him in his way homewards: Notwithstanding her perswasions, this Examinate did eate the Bread; and so in his comming homeward some fortie roodes off the said Church, there met him a thing in the shape of a Hare, who spoke vnto this Examinate, and asked him whether hee had brought the Bread.'[3] In 1621 Elizabeth Sawyer, the witch of Edmonton, said that 'the first time that the Diuell came vnto me was, when I was cursing, swearing, and blaspheming'.[4] The evidence of the Huntingdonshire witches, John Winnick and Ellen Shepheard, in 1646 (see above p. 219), and of Dorothy Ellis of Cambridgeshire in 1647, also show that the animal

[1. Witches at Chelmsford, p. 34. Philobiblon Soc., viii.

4. Goodcole, Wonderfull Discoverie, p. C.]

which appeared to the witch after an access of emotion was at once acknowledged as God and accepted as the familiar. Mary Osgood of Andover in 1692 'confesses that about II years ago, when she was in a melancholy state and condition, she used to walk abroad in her orchard; and upon a certain time, she saw the appearance of a cat, at the end of the house, which yet she thought was a real cat. However, at that time, it diverted her from praying to God, and instead thereof she prayed to the devil.[1]

The familiars in human form were human beings usually of the sex opposite to that of the witch. As these familiars, were generally called 'Devils' it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from the Grand-master;[2] but the evidence, taken as a whole, suggests that at certain parts of the ritual every individual of the company was known as a Devil. This suggestion is borne out in the modern survival of an ancient dance in the Basses-Pyrénées, where the dancers to this day are called Satans.[3]

Lady Alice Kyteler, in 1324, was accused that the Devil came to her 'quandoque in specie cujusdam aethiopis cum duobus sociis'.[4] In 1598 the Lyons witches, Thievenne Paget and Antoine Tornier, speak of 'leurs Demons' as distinct from the great Devil, and the evidence of all the other witches shows that 'il y a encor des Demons, qui assistent à ces danses'.[5] De Lancre says that there was more than one Devil: the great one, who was called Maitre Leonard, and a little one called Maître Jean Mullin. It was this smaller Devil who held the meetings in the absence of the Chief:

'en la place du Grâd maistre, il n'y auoit qu'vn petit Diable ou Demon qui n'auoit point de cornes, lequel ne contentoit pas la compagnie comme son maistre. Qu'elles n'auoient tant de confiance en toute la trouppe des mauuais Anges qu'en celuy seul qu'ils auoient accoustumé d'adorer & seruir. A table on se sied selon sa qualité, ayant chacun son Demon assis auprès, & parfois vis à vis. Et quand ils ont mangé, chaque Demon pre{n}d sa disciple par la main, & danse auec elle.'[6]

2. Nos sorciers tiennent la plus-part de ces Demons pour leurs Dieux.' De Lancre, Tableau, p. 23.

In 1618 Joan Willimott of Leicester confessed 'that shee hath a Spirit which shee calleth Pretty, which was giuen vnto her by William Berry, whom she serued three yeares; the Spirit stood vpon the ground in the shape and forme of a Woman, which Spirit did aske of her her Soule, which shee then promised vnto it, being willed thereunto by her Master'.[1] In 1633, Margaret Johnson, the Lancashire witch, stated that besides theire particular familiars or spirits, there was one greate or grand devill, or spirit, more eminent than the rest. Shee allsoe saith, yt if a witch have but one marke, shee hath but one spirit; if two, then two spirits; if three, yet but two spirits. Shee alsoe saith, that men witches usually have women spirits, and women witches men spirits.'[2] In 1649 at St. Albans a man witch had 'two familiars, the one in the form of a dog, which he called George, and the other in the likeness of a woman, called Jezebell'.[3] In 1662 at Auldearne Issobell Gowdie confessed

'ther is threttein persones in ilk Coeven; and ilk on of vs has an Sprit to wait wpon ws, quhan ve pleas to call wpon him. I remember not all the Spritis names; bot thair is on called Swein, quhilk waitis wpon the said Margret Wilson in Aulderne; he is still [always] clothed in grass-grein. The nixt Sprit is called Rorie, who waitis wpon Bessie Wilsone, in Aulderne; he is still clothed in yallow. The third Sprit is called The Roring Lyon, who waitis wpon Issobell Nicoll, in Lochlow, and he is still clothed in sea-grein. The fowrth Spirit is called Mak Hector, qwho waitis wpon Jean Martein, dawghter to the said Margret Wilson; he is a yowng-lyk Devill, clothed still in grass-grein . . . The nam of the fyft Sprit is Robert the Rule, and he still clothed in sadd-dun, and seimis to be a Comander of the rest of the Spritis; and he waittis wpon Margret Brodie, in Aulderne. The name of the saxt Sprit is called Thieff of Hell, Wait wpon Hir Selfe; and he waitis also on the said Bessie Wilson. The name of the sevinth Sprit is called The Read Reiver; and he is my owin Spirit, that waittis on my selfe, and is still clothed in blak. The aucht Spirit is called Robert the Jackis, still clothed in dune, and seimes to be aiged. He is ane glaiked gowked Spirit. The nynth Spirit is called Laing. The tenth

[1. Wonderfull Discoverie of Margaret and Phillip Flower, E 3.

Spirit is named Thomas a Fearie, &c.[1] Ther wilbe many vther Divellis, waiting wpon our Maister Divell; bot he is bigger and mor awfull than the rest of the Divellis, and they all reverence him. I will ken them all, on by on, from vtheris quhan they appeir lyk a man.'

In a later confession Issobell gave the names more fully. 'The names of owr Divellis that waited wpon ws, ar thes. First, Robert, the Jakis; Sanderis, the Read Reaver; Thomas. the Fearie; Swein, the roaring Lion; Thieffe of Hell, wait wpon hir self; Makhectour; Robert, the Rule; Hendrie Laing; and Rorie.'[2] In Connecticut in 1662 'Robert Sterne testifieth as followeth: I saw this woman goodwife Seager in ye woods wth three more women and with them I saw two black creatures like two Indians but taller. I saw the women dance round these black creatures and whiles I looked upon them one of the women G. Greensmith said looke who is yonder and then they ran away up the hill. I stood still and ye black things came towards mee and then I turned to come away.'[3]

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