This is a bit of unusual edition of my It’s All in the Origins series but I was doing some research into the concept of familiars and thought it was all too interesting not to dedicate a whole post just to familiar folklore and fiction. If you are unfamiliar (pun intended lol), familiars are most often said to be demons that took the form of a creature, whether an animal or some kind of monster, to assist a witch with their evil dealings.
During the European witch craze, the presence of familiars was used as a means of identifying witches in England and Scotland. This was mostly because James I had mentioned familiars in his book on witchcraft, Daemonologie, and Matthew Hopkins, the self-titled ‘Witchfinder General’ of England, ran with the idea in his investigations. As it was believed that familiars were gifts from the Devil and would suckle from those they served, Hopkins would examine the bodies of suspected witches for a “witch’s teat”, a form of witch’s mark that the familiar would drink their blood from.
However, not all familiars, or those they lived alongside, were thought to be evil. Some cunning folk of the time were also known to keep familiars that aided them in their good magic. There is a suggestion that in the case of cunning folk, the familiars were fairies rather than demons.
Boy: A Real-Life Familiar?
Onto one of the most famous cases of a familiar now. Boy was the white hunting poodle of Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Prince Rupert is best known for fighting on the side of the Royalists in the English Civil War and, apparently, so did Boy. The dog was said to accompany Rupert during battles and he soon became a mascot for the Royalist cause. This led to Parliamentarian propaganda claiming that Rupert dabbled in witchcraft and Boy was his familiar. Some even claimed that Boy was the Devil in disguise. A much more bizarre suggestion was that Boy was a “Lapland Lady” reincarnate. However, the strange stories about Boy don’t stop there as he was said to have magical abilities. These ranged from shapeshifting to being able to locate hidden treasure to being able to catch a bullet in his mouth. Ultimately, Boy was to die in battle but his story certainly takes the idea of “man’s best friend” to a spooky new level.
Familiars still pop up in fantasy fiction all the time today. From Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s cat Salem to Lyra’s Daemon in His Dark Materials, the familiars are usually presented in a much cuter light, perhaps owing to the fact that so many own pets these days. I’ve had quite a few pets in life, including several dogs, and I have to say there is something about the bond between human and pet that is so unique and quite special. Even though you don’t speak the same language, you develop a weird understanding that allows you to communicate and it’s not hard to see why those unfamiliar with this bond themselves could see it as almost magical, and, just maybe it is in a way. I know I wouldn’t trade my familiar, Rebel the labradoodle, for the world!
3 thoughts on “Blogtober Day 27: It’s All in the Origins: Familiars”
This post really makes me want to get a black cat. 😂
I would love a black cat! I would have to name it Thackery Binx after the cat in Hocus Pocus though lol