VICTORIAN PHANTOM HUNTERS 

PARANORMAL RESEARCH AND INVESTIGATIONS

                           FAMILIAR SPIRITS

The word familiar is from the Latin familiaris, meaning a "household servant," and is intended to express the idea that sorcerers had spirits as their servants ready to obey their commands. Those attempting to contact the dead, even to this day, usually have some sort of spirit guide who communicates with them. These are familiar spirits.

A familiar spirit or familiar (from Middle English familiar, related to family) is an animal-shaped spirit who serves for witchery, a demon, or other magician-related subjects.

Familiars serve their owners as domestic servants, farmhands, spies, and companions, and may help bewitch enemies. Familiars are also said to inspire artists and writers (see Tutelary spirit, Power Animal and compare Muse)

Familiars are considered an identifying characteristic of early modern English witchcraft, and serve as one feature setting it apart from European witchcraft; although we find legends of "Familiar creatures" in other parts of the world.

Familiars in European mythology

Familiars are most common in western European mythology, with some scholars arguing that familiars are only present in the traditions of Great Britain and France. In these areas three categories of familiars are believed to exist:

  • human familiars, throughout Western Europe
  • divinatory animals, Great Britain and France
  • maleficent animals, only in Greece

Historiography on the Witch's Familiar

Recent scholarship on familiars exhibits the depth and respectability absent from earlier demonological approaches. The study of familiars has grown from an academic topic in folkloric journals to a general topic in popular books and journals incorporating anthropology, history, women’s studies and other disciplines. James Sharpe, in The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: the Western Tradition, states: "Folklorists began their investigations in the 19th Century [and] found that familiars figured prominently in ideas about witchcraft."

In the 1800s, folklorists fired the imagination of scholars who would, in decades to come, write descriptive volumes on witches and familiars. Examples of the growth and development of familiar scholarship are found in Folklore, which consistently contributes articles on traditional beliefs in England and early modern Europe.

In the first decades of the 1900s, familiars are identified as "niggets", which are "creepy-crawly things that witches kept all over them".

Margaret Murray delves into variations of the familiar found in witchcraft practices. Many of the sources she employs are trial records and demonological texts from early to modern England. These include the 1556 Essex Witchcraft Trials of the Witches of Hatfield Perevil, the 1582 Trial of the Witches of St. Osyth, and the 1645 Essex Trials with Matthew Hopkins acting as a Witch-finder. In 1921, MurrayThe Witch Cult in Western Europe.. Her information concerning familiars comes from witchcraft trials in Essex in the 1500s and 1600s. published

Recent scholarship is multi-disciplinary, integrating feminist-historical and world-historical approaches. Deborah Willis' Malevolent Nurture: Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England links the witch's attributed relationship with the familiar to a bizarre and misplaced corruption of motherhood and maternal power.

In Catholicism

In his book Hostage to the Devil, Jesuit, exorcist and Catholic polemicist Malachi Martin describes a possession case in which a familiar spirit is involved. Martin's account reveals that familiar spirits are considered both real and demonic by the Church. The only difference in church dogma between familiars and demons is the specific ways in which a familiar is believed to possess an individual. In contrast to demons, familiars are not believed to possess the body. They rather possess the personality, the soul, the human affective relations and the psychological processes of a person, but the familiar spirit maintains a distinct personality. Martin also asserts that the familiar spirit entices the human spirit by appearing friendly and comforting when things go wrong, thus developing a progressive dependence on the spirit and the diminishing reliance of one's individuality.

Witch trials

Most data regarding familiars comes from the transcripts of English and Scottish 'witch' trials held during the 16th-17th centuries. The court system that labeled and tried witches was known as the Essex. The Essex trial of Agnes Sampson of Nether Keith in 1590 presents prosecution testimony regarding a divinatory familiar. This case is fundamentally political, trying Sampson for high treason, and accusing Sampson for employing witchcraft against King James VI. The prosecution asserts Sampson called familiar spirits and resolved her doubtful matter. Another Essex trial is that of Hellen Clark tried in 1645, in which Hellen was compelled to state that The Devil appeared as a 'familiar' in the form of a dog.

The English court cases reflect a strong relationship between state accusations of witchcraft against those who practiced ancient indigenous traditions, including the familiar animal/spirit.

In some cases familiars replace children in the favour of their mothers.

Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27; and Deuteronomy 18:9-14 refer to “mediums and familiar spirits” and forbids being involved with them, as they are an abomination to the Lord. The medium was one who acted as a “go-between” to supposedly contact or communicate with the dead, but in reality they were contacting demons who convinced the mediums that they were “familiar” and could be trusted and believed. The practices associated with mediums and familiar spirits were banned in Israel, and the punishment for practicing such things was death.

To this day, familiar spirits (demons) are under the control of their master, Satan. They influence people to spread lies and deceit in order to thwart the kingdom of God. Knowingly opening oneself to the work of demons is an evil thing: "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in [a] fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD" (Deuteronomy 18:10-12a).

Some avenues through which demons, a.k.a. "familiar spirits," can gain entrance into a person's life are divination, transcendental meditation, visualization, necromancy, witchcraft, drugs, and alcohol. These are all activities that believers are exhorted, commanded even, to avoid. Instead, we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, with love, with joy, and with the fullness of life that comes from Jesus Christ. We are also to be on guard, "for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).

 

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