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What is a Familiar?

What is a Familiar?

Pets have been a part of nearly every human culture since ancient times. However, there is one particular type of pet which is almost always associated with the supernatural or the paranormal. Today, they are simply known as familiars. The first known documentation of the term familiars is found in a text from the 13th century.

In Latin, the word talamasca refers to an “animal mask,” and was a name which was used synonymously with witches and shamans. Traditionally thought to be a demon or benevolent spirit trapped within an animal form, the concept of a familiar is intriguing even today. Still used in modern times by practitioners of the religion known as Wicca, the familiar is thought to aid in and increase the power of spell casting. Animal lovers and fans of folklore and the supernatural alike are fascinated by the idea of an animal being inhabited by an otherworldly being and/or possessing strange, unexplainable and miraculous powers.

Featured in countless media portrayals, the familiar can be a companion as well as an assistant. The duty of the familiar is to serve its respective human master as well as guarding them from harm and warning them when harm is near. Essentially, familiars are the supernatural watch dogs in the world of witchcraft and sorcery. Most commonly, they take the form of cats, goats, hares, spiders, crows, toads, bees and geese, but really any type of animal can be categorized as a familiar under the right circumstances.

Oftentimes, the animal in which a person or character choses as their familiar reveals an important facet of their personality, whether it is a cat, bird, wolf, etc. It is fun to think about which animal you would choose to have as your own, if you were in such a position. Is there an animal you are particularly drawn to or feel a strong kinship with? Most likely, this would be the animal that would aid you in your conjuring and mystical undertakings.

Familiars are occasionally depicted as talking animals in the media, as a way for the audience to understand the innate connection and communication between the familiar and its human master. Bear in mind that historically speaking, familiars did not possess the power of speech.

Here are some well-known examples of familiars in film, print and theater productions:

+ Harry Potter Series (multiple fiction novels and films)
Character: Harry Potter | Familiar: Hedwig (snowy owl)

Character: Ron Weasley | Familiar: Scabbers (common rat) |

Character: Hermione Granger | Familiar: Crookshanks (cat)

+ Sabrina the Teenage Witch (television sitcom series)
Character: Sabrina | Familiar: Salem (black cat)

+ Bewitched (television sitcom series)
Character: Samantha | Familiar: Samantha regularly turned herself into her own familiar, by transforming into the form of a cat, by the same name.

+ Macbeth (play, book and movie)
Characters: The 3 witches | Familiars: a cat, a hedgehog and an owl

+ Bell, Book and Candle (film)
Character: Gillian Holroyd | Familiar: Pyewacket (Siamese cat)

+ Wicked (book, musical play)
Character: Glinda | Familiar: Doctor Dillamond (goat)

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