A familiar is a shape-shifted spirit, usually in the form of an animal, who assists a magical practitioner in the performance of spell-casting and Rituals. The familiar is found in magical traditions around the world.
Familiars are acquired in init iat ion or the attainment of a certain level of magical skill. They may keep one form or may have the ability to shapeshift into different animal forms. They serve only the persons to whom they are bonded. A practitioner can have multiple familiars, each with its own function and specialty.
Familiars offers advantages of being able to do things and go places that humans cannot, but animals can. They are dispatched on magical errands, such as to deliver bewitchments.
In Western lore, the familiar gained unfortunate notoriety as a supposedly evil, Demonic entity during the anti- witch hysteria that began in the Middle Ages. Witches were said to use their cats, a common household resident, as well as dogs, toads, farm animals, and wild creatures to carry out their alleged evil intents.
The Malleus Maleficarum, the Dominican inquisitors’ handbook written in Germany in 1486, offers no instructions concerning familiars in the interrogation and trial of witches, but it does acknowledge that an animal familiar “always works with her [the witch] in everything.” The familiar hysteria was greater in England and Scotland than in Europe. 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 witch trials, animals alleged to be familiars were cited as evidence against accused witches and sometimes were even put on trial and executed. Familiars were less significant in witch trials in the American colonies.
In contemporary magical practices, familiars have a special psychic attunement and rapport that makes them valuable participants in raising power, setting and clearing space, spell-casting, scrying, healing, and other rituals and magical activities.