The History of Familiars
For centuries, it seems that fabled witches were always accompanied by black cats. Today, many people just accept this combination as readily as they accept the pairing of peanut butter and jelly. But where did it begin? Why do we see pictures of old crones and their feline friends in celebration of Halloween? To understand these creepy companions, we must look hundreds of years to the past.
The term “familiars” comes from the Latin word “familiaris,” which means a “household servant.” Familiars are mentioned and condemned in the Bible (Leviticus, 20:27), referring to the spirit guides of sorcerers and necromancers. These creatures are often small animals, such as cats, dogs, toads, snakes, hares, mice, bats, birds (like owls or ravens), or even ferrets. Black cats and dogs were most widely accepted as popular familiars, particularly cats because of their secretive nature, alert eyes, and ability to seemingly disappear into the darkness.
These animal companions were assumed to have a link between the physical and spiritual worlds. They were assistants to the witches and while contemporary religions would paint them as demons, they were something more akin to “guardian angels” for those who practiced magick. In fact, many modern pagans still seek out familiars as companions on their spiritual journey. Familiars are often portrayed as intelligent, mischievous, and capable of spying for their witchy friends.
So as the wind whips around you this autumn, take a look around. If you see an animal who looks out of place, you may just be in the presence of a familiar.