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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

familiar A demon, usually assuming the form of a cat, dog, spider, pig, rat, rabbit, or toad, that acts as companion and assistant to a witch or magician. Trials of witches often included a pet as codefendant, and these animals were just as often executed along with the condemned human. A silly concept cannot be made sillier by expanding it; the quality of silliness is totally saturating and all-encompassing.
      Oliver Cromwell, accused by the British Royalists of being a wizard, was said by them to have a familiar named Grimoald. Agrippa's familiar was a black dog named Monsieur, and Simon Magus had a similar companion. It was said that these familiars could be kept in a hollow ring worn by the magician and released upon command. Apollonius of Tyana wore several such rings, and Paracelsus (Bombastus) carried about his familiar in the hilt of his sword:

      Bombastus kept a devil's bird
      Shut in the pommel of his sword,
      That taught him all the cunning pranks
      Of past and future mountebanks.
      —— Hudibras, Samuel Butler

      The Malaysians say that their magicians each have an hereditary spirit/familiar inherited from generation to generation. In Egyptian demonology, a familiar known as a “karina” is assigned to each child at birth.
      In medieval times, ventriloquism was explained by assuming the existence of a familiar——known as a “kobold”——accompanying the performer. There are better explanations available.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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