A familiar, or an imp, is an attendant subordinate demon in the form of an animal. Such creatures drew nourishment by suckling from devil’s marks, a witch’s breasts, or insensitive parts on a witch.
Familiars behaved in ways that no natural pet was believed to. They ran errands, brought messages, and aided in devil worship.
The following are some of the creatures believed to have been used by witches as familiars: cats, dogs, toads, wolves, bees, bats, blackbirds, owls, spiders, flies, chickens.
Among all living animals, toads were the most popular of all familiars. They were said to be the preferred animal shape of Satan and his demons.
They were also used to prepare magic potions and are present in most of the witch rituals including sabbats.
Toads were also believed to have a precious stone in their heads. This stone was considered both a talisman for obtaining happiness and a means to detect poison. If the stone became hot, poison was nearby.
The breath of a toad was believed to infect a person wherever it touched. Another common superstition existed stating those whom a toad regarded fixedly would be sized by spasms, palpitations, swoons, and convulsions.
Toads as demons
Sometimes the devil would appear to witches as a toad. In these instances, witches would kiss the toad’s mouth in an act of homage. A toad was recognizable as a demon if he carried two tiny horns borne on his forehead.
Many witches baptized their toads, dressed them in black velvet, put little bells on their paws, and made them dance.
“Jeannette d’Abadie, a witch of the Basses-Pyrénées (France)… declared that she saw brought to the Sabbat a number of toads dressed some in black, some in scarlet velvet, with little bells attached to their coats.”
“An accused Cathar, a woman named Bilia, “admitted to having a familiar toad to which she fed meat, bread, and cheese, and out of whose feces, together with human body hair, whe made a powder from which she confected the potions drunk at the synagog.”
At various times, and in different cultures, the cat has been regarded as holy or as a diabolical beast, as a bringer of good fortune or as an omen of evil.
The witchcraft of the Middle Ages turned the black cat into a creature that changed shape and helped perform rituals and spells for the witch.
If a black cat walks towards you, it brings good fortune, but if it walks away, it takes the good luck with it.
Mothers should always keep cats away from babies because they are said “suck the breath” of the child.
Ravens are known around the world as shapeshifters and humans are often changed into ravens by an enemy’s curse.
They are prophets, spell-casters, and messengers of the gods. Gods and goddesses of war and thunder such as Badb and Odin have ravens as their attributes. They are early emblems of the Danes and the Vikings.
The beautiful song of the blackbird makes it a symbol of temptations, especially sexual ones.
The devil once took on the shape of a blackbird and flew into St. Benedict’s face, thereby causing the saint to be troubled by an intense desire for a beautiful girl he had once seen. In order to save himself, St. Benedict tore off his clothes and jumped into a thorn bush.
This painful act is said to have freed him from sexual temptations for the rest of his life.