AskDefine | Define familiar

Dictionary Definition

familiar adj
1 well known or easily recognized; "a familiar figure"; "familiar songs"; "familiar guests" [ant: unfamiliar]
2 within normal everyday experience; common and ordinary; not strange; "familiar ordinary objects found in every home"; "a familiar everyday scene"; "a familiar excuse"; "a day like any other filled with familiar duties and experiences" [ant: strange]
3 (usually followed by `with') well informed about or knowing thoroughly; "conversant with business trends"; "familiar with the complex machinery"; "he was familiar with those roads" [syn: conversant(p), familiar(p)]
4 having mutual interests or affections; of established friendship; "on familiar terms"; "pretending she is on an intimate footing with those she slanders" [syn: intimate]


1 a person attached to the household of a high official (as a pope or bishop) who renders service in return for support
2 a person who is frequently in the company of another; "drinking companions"; "comrades in arms" [syn: companion, comrade, fellow, associate]
3 a spirit (usually in animal form) that acts as an assistant to a witch or wizard [syn: familiar spirit]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /fʌˈmɪliɜr/, /fV"mIli3r/


  1. Known to one.
    There’s a familiar face.
  2. Acquainted.
    I'm not familiar with this system.
  3. Intimate or friendly.
    We are not on familiar terms.
  4. Inappropriately intimate or friendly.
    Don’t be familiar with me, boy!

Derived terms


known to one
  • Dutch: bekend
  • Finnish: tuttu
  • French: familier
  • Greek: οικείος, γνωστός, γνώριμος, φιλικός
  • Italian: familiare
  • Kurdish: nas, niyas
  • Russian: знакомый
intimate or friendly
  • Dutch: vertrouwd
  • Finnish: läheinen
  • French: familier
  • Greek: οικείος (oikeíos) , φιλικός (filikós)
  • Italian: familiare
  • Kurdish: nêz, nêzîk
inappropriately intimate or friendly


  1. An attendant spirit often in animal form.
    The witch’s familiar was a black cat.


attendant spirit



  1. of family
  2. close, familiar
  3. daily, plain

Extensive Definition

In early modern English superstition, a familiar spirit, imp, 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 were imagined to serve their owners as domestic servants, farmhands, spies, and companions, in addition to helping bewitch enemies. These spirits were also said to inspire artists and writers (compare Muse).
Familiars are considered an identifying characteristic of early modern English witchcraft, and serve as one feature setting it apart from continental or New World witchcrafts.

Familiars in European and British mythology

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

Types of familiar spirits

The most common species identified as familiars are:
Less common species include:
In later cases, familiars moved to more ethereal forms, often taking the shape of a "black man" (some claim a relation to shadow people) thought to be representative of Satan.
Familiars are generally animals. They usually have some magical power or are simply there to advance the story. Dangerous familiars are in the forms of weasels, puppies, and toads. Familiars were also animals or birds that sucked witch's blood.
On the eastern side of England, in places such as Suffolk, familiars were said to be more common. Eastern familiars were cats, ferrets, mice, moles, toads, and dogs. Familiars sucked blood, but were known to eat bread & raw meat and drink milk.
Each familiar grants special abilities to the chosen ones they visit. The first visit often occurs during childhood (between 4 and 6 years old). Each familiar has a special power inherent to it and it is often difficult to know and learn the powers they offer as a gift.
Black cats were popular familiars as they were believed to be shape shifters, as a result of which witches could transform into them by saying a spell and travel about doing evil things unnoticed. According to sources witches took exceedingly good care of their cats for this reason. It was even rumored that they fed them the blood of babies, so as to keep the cat youthful and agile. As the cat was a form of its witch owner, it was believed that by harming a cat you were directly harming its witch. Many also believed that the devil regularly took the form of a black cat. Because of this, on holy days such as Easter, black cats were routinely hunted down and burned.

Historiography on the Witch's Familiar

The scholarship on the witch's familiar has changed and improved in depth and respectability since it was covered in the demonological contexts of early modern Europe. The study of the witch's familiar has evolved from an obscure topic in folkloric journals to popular books and journals that incorporate a historical discipline with multi-disciplinary approaches like anthropology, study of early modern Europe, and women’s studies. James Sharpe, in his article on the witch’s familiar 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 sparked the imagination of the scholars who would, in the decades to come, write descriptive volumes on witches and their familiars.
One example of the growth and development of familiar scholarship can be found in the scholarly publication Folklore, which has consistently contributed articles on superstition from England and early modern Europe. In the first decades of the 1900s, the witch's familiar was only superficially mentioned as "niggets", which were "creepy-crawly things that witches kept all over them".
Margaret Murray, the mother of familiar scholarship, has taken what was a field comprised, at best, of gossip and hearsay into a legitimate branch of study in early-modern Europe. Her work delved into the variation of the familiar found in witchcraft practices. Many of the sources she relied on were 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, Murray published The Witch Cult in Western Europe, a book that was quite remarkable in the depth and analysis of the culture and folklore that surrounded witchcraft and the theories concerning the witch-cult. Its information concerning the witch's familiar comes from the witchcraft trials in Essex in the 1500s and 1600s. Margaret A. Murray made megalithic contributions to the corpus of scholarship on the witch's familiar and has continued to be cited in recent scholarship, a testament to the timelessness of her work.
There has not been a contribution to familiar scholarship in eighty years which has equaled Murray's work. Although recent scholarship has been made multi-disciplinary with integrations of feminist-historian and world-historian approaches. One of the major pieces to come from this Atlantic Trend is Deborah Willis' Malevolent Nurture: Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England. In her chapter [Un]neighborly Nurture, she links the witch's relationship with the familiar as a bizarre and misplaced corruption of motherhood and maternal power.
Although the concept of the witch's familiar has remained unchanged in eighty years, recent applications of historical methods have definitely improved and contributed to the depth of familiar scholarship.

Witch trials

The most evidence of familiars comes from the English and Scottish period during the 16th century and the 17th century. The court system that tried witches was known as the Essex witchcraft trials. The Essex trial of Agnes Sampson of Nether Keith in 1590 displays proof of a divinatory familiar. This evidence shows Sampson being tried for high treason and the court wants to prosecute Sampson for attempting to use witchcraft on King James VI. The court documents Sampson for stating familiar spirits came when she called it and resolved her doubtful matter. Another evidence of a familiar appearing in an Essex trial is that of Hellen Clark tried in 1645. This court documented Hellen and she stated that the devil appeared as a familiar in the form of a dog.
The English courts reflect a strong relationship between the witch and the familiar.

Prince Rupert's dog

During the English Civil War, the Royalist general Prince Rupert was in the habit of taking his large poodle dog named Boye, into battle with him. Throughout the war the dog was greatly feared among the Parliamentarian forces and credited with supernatural powers, evidently considered a kind of familiar. At the end of the war the dog was shot, allegedly with a silver bullet.

Familiars in modern fantasy

In many modern fantasy stories, a magician's familiar is a magical creature.
The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman features dæmons, which fulfill several of the roles and traits of the traditional concept of familiar spirits.
In the television series Twin Peaks, Killer Bob, a malevolent spirit entity, was said to be the familiar of another, more powerful entity named Mike; although Bob sometimes appeared in the form of an owl, he most often took the form of a long haired human man.

Familiars in art, music and literature

  • Familiars were mentioned in Shakespeare's Macbeth, wherein the witches called their familiars.
  • Loiosh, in Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series, is a familiar.
  • In the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, djinns and other demons are summoned and serve as a passive manifestation of a magician's power, which is derived solely from the demon's presence rather than from any true arcane skills.
  • Familiars have appeared in several fantasy role playing systems, most notably as the companions of wizards and sorcerers in recent versions of Dungeons & Dragons.
  • In vampire fiction (Salem's Lot, Blade, etc.), familiars are humans who were promised immortality by a vampire lord in exchange for services of some kind.
  • In the Disney Animated series Aladdin, the villain Mozenrath has an eel familiar named Xerxes.
  • In The WB television series Charmed, the star characters possessed a familiar for the first half of the series named Kit the Cat, who was a white Siamese with blue eyes.
  • In the film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Elvira possessed a familiar named Algonquin, or "Gonk" for short, who took the shape of dogs and mice.
  • In the manga series Sugar Sugar Rune two familiars come as a mouse and frog.
  • In the Sailor Moon metaseries, the main characters possess familiars, in the form of cats, named Luna, Artemis and Diana.
  • In the first of the Earthsea books, the wizard Ged is accompanied by a mute, mink-like creature called an "otak", which is fiercely loyal and perpetually faithful to him. There are references to several other familiars, including ravens and boars.
  • In the Harry Potter series there are a number of characters possessing beloved pets similar to familiars, though the term is never used. Note that the three pets students are allowed to have in school are an owl, a rat, or a cat, three common types of familiars.
  • The DC Comics character Klarion the Witch Boy has an orange cat familiar named Teekl, as does the character Morgana whose black cat was named Frimost.
  • In the Philip Pullman book series His Dark Materials, dæmons are similar to familiars, though only the witches of the story use them as such.
  • In the animated television ReBoot, the character Hexadecimal had a "verminous" familiar named Scuzzy.
  • The Marvel Comics character Satana had a familiar named Exiter who died while trying to save his mistress.
  • In the British comedy programme The Mighty Boosh, Bollo, who is the "oldest ape in captivity" is the Shaman Naboo the Enigma's familiar.
  • In Riviera: The Promised Land, a Game Boy Advance game, the main character Ein has a familiar named Rose (who looks like an ordinary black house cat).
  • The PlayStation game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night features several familiars that can be unlocked to aid the player.
  • In another PlayStation game, Azure Dreams, the basis of the gameplay is centered around recovering monster eggs that become the hero's familiar when hatched.
  • In the computer game GODS, a familiar is an unlockable bird of prey that follows the protagonist attacking enemies.
  • In the browser-based MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing, familiars are like pets that can be obtained to assist a player in various ways, from healing to attacking to increasing item drop rates.
  • In the Karin (anime), Karin's sister Anju controls a horde of bat familiars that watch over Karin throughout the day. She is also accompanied by many doll familiars, most notably "Boogie" whom she often carries around with her.
  • In Rob Schrab's "Twigger's Holiday", Twigger has a humanoid familiar named Josh who often barks like a dog. Twigger's girlfriend Michelle also has a humanoid familiar who meows like a cat.
  • The plot of the Japanese visual novel Fate/stay night, tells the story of a war between magicians and their "servants", heroic spirits which can be rendered as familiars.
  • In the Japanese anime Zero no Tsukaima, all of the 2nd year students must summon their own familiar. The heroine's familiar turned out to be a human.
  • In Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Sabrina Spellman had a black cat named Salem, though he was in fact a warlock changed into a cat as punishment for attempting world domination.
  • Familiar is the name used for a common, bat-like monster in Ragnarok Online. They can be summoned by the MVP Boss, Dracula.
  • In the game Warhammer 40,000, space marine librarians, chaos sorcerers, and inquisitors can choose familiars as equipment.
  • A dog and cat prowl a dark alley, pausing to inspect a corpse, in the opening sequence of the 1986 horror/mystery film Angel Heart, foreshadowing the appearance of the sinister Louis Cyphre and his attorney.
  • Masaki Andoh from the Super Robot Wars game series has two cat familiar spirits, a female black cat named Kuro and a male white cat named Shiro. They also help him in combat, piloting Cybuster's Hi-Familiar remote weapons.
  • In the book "The Bridge" by Iain M. Banks the familiar lives atop the barbarian's back and helps him in a few ways, ranging from spells to advice.
  • Alucard from Hellsing has Cerberus-like shadow dogs for familiars, and has the ability to summon familiars of the victims of his killings.
  • The Elf Wizard Vaarsuvius, from the popular webcomic The Order of the Stick, has his/her own familiar, a black raven.
  • In H.P. Lovecraft's The Dreams in the Witch House, an old witch named Kesiah Mason has a familiar named Brown Jenkin, a hideous ratlike creature with a human face.
  • In the Manga/Anime Negima! the main character Negi Springfield has a white ermine named Albert Chamomile commonly called "Chamo" as his familiar.
  • In the play Bell, Book, and Candle, by John Van Druten, as well as in the film adaptation, the main character Gillian Holroyd has a familiar in the form of a cat named Pyewacket. A cat of the same name appears as a familiar in sixteenth-century literature describing witchcraft.
  • Mythological familiars were also portrayed as antagonists in the TV series Dark Angel, starring Jessica Alba.
  • In Miyazaki's animated film Kiki's Delivery Service, Kiki is a young witch in training who owns a black cat named Jiji. Jiji is a small, somewhat pessimistic cat whose thoughts Kiki (and therefore the film's viewer) can understand unless Kiki's magic fades. He is used mostly as a plot device and a figure of comic relief.
  • In the anime series Paranoia Agent, a plush doll of the character Maromi comes to life and advises its creator Tsukiko Sagi much as a familiar would.
  • In the short story, "Puddle Head", which is no longer in print, the main protagonist, Joshua, has a familiar named "Reed Bones" given to him as a gift from his deceased father.
  • In the anime D.N. Angel, With (or Wiz in the English version) is Dark's familiar, in the form of a dog and rabbit cross-breed.
  • In the Strategy RPG game series Summon Night familiars are summoned.
  • In Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy, Mogget is the Abhorsen's Familiar.
  • In Matty (composed by Johnny Mulhearn), Christy Moore sings about the eponymous farmer meeting his "dark familiar" before he dies. (alternative lyrics)
  • In Jim Butcher's novel series "The Dresden Files", White Council member Injun Joe (also known as "Joseph Listens-to-Wind") possesses a raccoon familiar named Little Brother.
  • The MMORPG Runescape features a wide variety of Familiars in the skill called 'Summoning'.
  • In the SciFi channel original miniseries Tin Man (a re-imagining of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), the sorceress Azkadellia has a number of familiars in the form of winged monkeys called "mobats".
  • In the television series Double Dragon, the warrior Daj is given a young dragon to raise as his constant companion.
  • In Alison Croggon's fantasy series, called Pellinor, the character Hem rescues a white crow from his xenophobic flock. This crow, named Irc, becomes Hem's sidekick and is instrumental in fulfilling the quest on which Hem and his sister Maerad have embarked.
  • In an Anime series Ghost Hunt, familiars are mentioned on several occasions. Namely, character Koujo Lin has 5 familiars, which protect him. He donates them to Kazuya Shibuya in one of the last episodes, to keep Kazuya from being possessed by evil fox spirit.

See also


familiar in Spanish: Familiar (espíritu)
familiar in Italian: Famiglio
familiar in Japanese: 使い魔
familiar in Polish: Chowaniec
familiar in Russian: Фамильяр
familiar in Finnish: Apuolento

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bohemian, abreast, accepted, accustomed, acquaintance, acquainted, acquainted with, advocate, affable, alter ego, amicable, amigo, ancestral spirits, angel, arrogant, attendant godling, au courant, au fait, audacious, average, aware, back-number, backer, banal, best friend, bewhiskered, bold, boon, bosom friend, bromidic, brother, buddy-buddy, bumptious, casual, casual acquaintance, chatty, chummy, close, close acquaintance, close friend, cognizant, cold, colloquial, comfortable, common, commonly known, commonplace, confidant, confidante, confidential, conformable, conscious, consuetudinary, control, contumelious, conventional, conversant, conversant with, conversational, cool, cordial, corny, cozy, current, customary, cut-and-dried, daemon, degage, demon, disdainful, disrespectful, easy, easygoing, established, everyday, fade, fairy godmother, familiar spirit, familiar with, favorer, fellow, fellow creature, fellowman, folksy, forward, free, free and easy, frequent, fresh, friend, friendly, fusty, generally accepted, genial, genius, genius domus, genius loci, good angel, good genius, gracious, guardian, guardian angel, guardian spirit, guide, habitual, hackney, hackneyed, hand and glove, hand-in-hand, haymish, homely, homey, household, household gods, hubristic, impertinent, impudent, informal, informed, informed of, inseparable, inseparable friend, insolent, insulting, intimate, intrusive, invisible helper, irregular, lares and penates, lares compitales, lares familiaris, lares permarini, lares praestites, lares viales, loose, lover, manes, mate, mindful, ministering angel, moth-eaten, musty, natural, near, neighbor, neighborly, no stranger to, nonstandard, normal, normative, notorious, numen, obtaining, obtrusive, offhand, offhanded, officious, old hat, ordinary, other self, overpresumptuous, overweening, palsy-walsy, partisan, penates, pickup, plain, platitudinous, popular, predominating, prescribed, prescriptive, presuming, presumptuous, prevailing, prevalent, privy to, procacious, prosaic, proverbial, public, pushy, received, regular, regulation, relaxed, repository, routine, set, simple, snug, sociable, social, special providence, spoken, square, stale, standard, stereotyped, stock, substandard, supporter, sympathizer, talked-about, talked-of, tete-a-tete, thick, thick as thieves, threadbare, time-honored, timeworn, totem, traditional, trite, truistic, tutelar god, tutelary, unaffected, unassuming, unceremonious, unconstrained, unconventional, uneducated, universal, universally admitted, universally recognized, unliterary, unofficial, unoriginal, unreserved, unrestrained, unstudied, up, up on, uppish, uppity, usual, vernacular, versed, warmed-over, well-kenned, well-known, well-recognized, well-understood, well-wisher, well-worn, widely known, widespread, wonted, worn, worn thin
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1