familiar


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familiar

1. a supernatural spirit often assuming animal form, supposed to attend and aid a witch, wizard, etc.
2. a person, attached to the household of the pope or a bishop, who renders service in return for support
3. History an officer of the Inquisition who arrested accused persons

Familiar

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

An attendant spirit that usually took the form of an animal or bird. During the persecutions it was believed that every witch had a familiar—a servant provided by the Devil to work the witch's mischief. The owner would feed his or her familiar by giving a drop of blood, sometimes from a supernumerary teat. Such a teat would be searched for when a person was accused of witchcraft. Any similar protuberance, mole, or papilla of any sort was considered damning evidence. Matthew Hopkins made familiars a major issue in his hunting of witches and had every accused searched for the supernumerary teat and for the devil's mark.

King James's Witchcraft Act of 1604 specified that it was a felony to "consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil and wicked spirit." Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) states that demons could take animal form and be kept as pets by witches, who fed them milk and blood. Richard Bernard, in his Guide to Grand Jurymen (1627), said that witches "have ordinarily a familiar, or spirit, in the shape of a man, woman, boy, dog, cat, foal, fowl, hare, rat, toad, etc. And to these spirits they give names."

The very act of having a pet, especially one to which the owner spoke kind words, was in itself a sign of a witch and familiar, according to the accusers of the Middle Ages. Sometimes the mere fact that an animal—even one not belonging to the accused—had been seen running toward the supposed witch was enough to indicate that it might be the familiar.

According to the evidence of the 1692 Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, both Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn had familiars. Sarah Good's was a cat and a yellow bird; the bird sucked her "between the forefinger and long finger upon the right hand." Sarah Osburn had a thing with "wings and two legs and a head like a woman," according to the children accusers. Also at Salem, young Dorcas Good,

Sarah's five-year-old daughter, claimed to have a familiar. She said it was a snake. When asked where it sucked, she pointed to her forefinger, where the examiners observed "a deep red spot, about the bigness of a flea bite."

In Finnish, Lapp, and Norwegian folklore, familiars frequently take the form of flies, while Malay witches have owls and badgers. In European belief, cats are the most common, along with dogs, rabbits, and toads. The cat (and sometimes the hare) is often referred to as a malkin or malking.

In 1324 Dame Alice Kyteler, of Kilkenny, Ireland, was accused of having a familiar in the form of a cat, although it sometimes appeared as a shaggy dog and sometimes as a black man. She called it Robin Artison. Dame Alice attributed all her wealth to the workings of this familiar.

Many times a witch would give or bequeath his or her familiar to another. Elizabeth Francis, one of the Chelmsford witches of 1566, claimed to have received her white spotted cat familiar, named Sathan, from her grandmother. In turn, Elizabeth passed it on to her sister, Agnes Waterhouse.

Ursula Kemp, one of the witches of St. Osyth in 1582, had four familiars: a toad named Pygine, a lamb named Tyffin, a gray cat named Tyttey, and a black cat named Jack. The frontispiece to Matthew Hopkins's Discovery of Witches (1647) shows the "Witch Finder General" together with two witches and an assortment of their familiars. They bear such names as Pyewacket, Ilemauzar, Sacke and Sugar, Jarmara, Vinegar Tom, Pecke in the Crowne, Newes, and Griezzell Greedigutt.

References in classic literature ?
A little boy--the Colonel's grandchild, and the only human being that ever dared to be familiar with him--now made his way among the guests, and ran towards the seated figure; then pausing halfway, he began to shriek with terror.
He began to think it was conscious of him, as his loom was, and he would on no account have exchanged those coins, which had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces.
Then I stopped the machine, and saw about me again the old familiar laboratory, my tools, my appliances just as I had left them.
Yet I miss the room that used to be so familiar to me.
Now, it must be owned that, at his first glimpse of the countenance which was bowing and smiling from the barouche, Ernest did fancy that there was a resemblance between it and the old familiar face upon the mountainside.
The physician with his theory, rather obtained from than corrected by experiments on the human constitution; the pious, self- denying, laborious, and ill-paid missionary; the half-educated, litigious, envious, and disreputable lawyer, with his counterpoise, a brother of the profession, of better origin and of better character; the shiftless, bargaining, discontented seller of his “betterments;” the plausible carpenter, and most of the others, are more familiar to all who have ever dwelt in a new country.
In Bleak House I have purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of familiar things.
At that moment it struck me that there was something familiar about the house over the way.
Now that I have seen many of them again and the rest are familiar to me in reproductions, I am astonished that at first sight I was bitterly disappointed.
Even the little bugs of the black book were familiar friends, though their arrangement meant nothing to him; but these bugs were new and unheard of.
No, friend," said a pleasant and, as it seemed to Prince Andrew, a familiar voice, "what I say is that if it were possible to know what is beyond death, none of us would be afraid of it.
In this way I came into living contact with literature again, and the daydreams began once more over the familiar cases of type.