NPR: The Songs Of Women Accused Of Witchcraft: New Recording From Ghana : Goats and Soda

Reginald Scot, in his Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), was first to use the words “familiar” and “imp” in this restricted sense, although “familiar spirit” had appeared in print 20 years earlier. In America, cotton Mather was the first to mention “imps sucking persons.” The 2 venomous toads which sucked the breasts of Fair Rosamond, while Queen Eleanor and 4 witches held her captive, apart from being fable, are not examples of 20th century familiars.  In elizabeth’s statue of 1563 , familiars were not mentioned; but by 1604 it had become a felony “to consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil and wicked spirit.”  Between these dates, the theory of familiars had developed; the witch trials are all crammed with reports of imps, apparently reckoned as the counterparts of guardian angels.  Since the familiar was always some creature found in a house or farm, there was never a witch without her imp. And if she had no cat, the judges usually discovered a bee or fly or mouse to be the Devil’s emissary to her. As a result of this assumption, every common animal became suspect as potentially evil.  In Giffords Dialogue (1593), the farmer says:

When I go but into my closes [gardens], I am afraid, for I see now and then a hare, which my conscience giveth me is a witch, or some witch’s spirit-she stareth so upon me. And sometime I see an ugly weasel run through my yard, and there is a foul great cat sometimes in my barn, which I have no liking unto.

Ursula Kempe’s confession in A True and Just Record of the St. Osyth Witch Trials in 1582 set the pattern for a familiar.

She had 4 spirits, whereof 2 of them were hes, and the other 2 were shes: the 2 he spirits were to punish and kill unto death, and the 2 shes were to punish with lameness and other diseases of bodily harm… One he, like a gray cat, is called Titey; the second, like a black car, is called Jack; one she, like a black toad, is called Pigin; and the other like a black lamb is called Tyffin.

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NPR: The Songs Of Women Accused Of Witchcraft: New Recording From Ghana : Goats and Soda.