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Ray: I think this cat is a familiar!

Winston: You know this cat?
The Real Ghostbusters, "Kitty-Cornered"

A familiar is a creature that has been magically bound to a person in a master-and-servant type of relationship. The actual type of familiar varies greatly; it is typically a small animal (such as a witch's cat) but can be anything, including demons or even human beings! Similarly, the type of bond can vary: in some cases it is nothing more than the ability to understand what the familiar says (if it speaks) while in others the familiar is the source of the character's powers. But there must be a specific bond; just having a magical creature as a companion doesn't count. The "master" need not be a sorcerer, either -- many stories have a normal person gain a familiar by accident, often resulting in trouble.

This is based on the medieval belief that The Devil granted demon servants (in animal form) to witches as part of their pacts. The idea has since evolved greatly in Fantasy fiction, and even some Science Fiction settings have similar concepts (telepathic pets, for example). Compare Bond Creature, Empathy Pet, Mons, Right-Hand-Cat. The familiar usually acts as an Animal Eye Spy to their master.

Not to be confused with the term "familiar" meaning "something known" though sometimes the similarity is used as the source of an Incredibly Lame Pun. It's even worse in Spanish, where "familiar" can also mean "blood relative" (this is also the case in English, though it's more uncommon).

See also Sapient Steed. Because All Witches Have Cats, cats are the most common variant for female magic users. In Japanese mythology, a similar creature is called a shikigami; see Onmyodo for details.

Examples of Familiar include:


Anime & Manga

  • The talking cats (Luna, Artemis, and Diana) in Sailor Moon may count.
    • To a lesser extent, Rei Hino's twin crows, Phobos and Deimos. In the manga, they have the ability to transform into Sailor Senshi themselves.
    • Also, Zirconia's familiar, Zircon.
  • In Gash Bell, the "mamodos" needed human partners in order to use their spells.
  • Chamo in Mahou Sensei Negima It's kind of a subversion, as they really don't seem to have a special bond, but Negi officially makes Chamo his familiar so the latter has a valid excuse for staying at Mahora.
    • While animal familiars seem to exist, as Chamo suggested becoming Negi's familiar himself, humans are more often than not the familiars of mages. The pactio system specifically is stated to be exactly this -- a master/servant relationship magically connected by the ritual. And while there are tons of people shown to be involved in a pactio, almost nobody has been shown with an animal familiar.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Arf, the Lieze twins, Linith, and Zafira, serve Fate, Gil Graham, Precia and Hayate, respectively. Zafira says he is a "guardian beast" rather than a familiar, but Arf retorts that it's the same thing. (Yuuno plays a somewhat similar role to a familiar for Nanoha in the first season, and is occasionally taken for one; in reality, he's a shapeshifting mage.)
  • The "Shadow Dragons" in Narutaru.
  • The Servants in Fate/stay night and Fate/hollow ataraxia were called as such in-universe, but they're way too powerful to be considered as such. Tohsaka can also make familiars in the shape of animals by using crystals. Caster also has a number of dragon tooth bone golems.
  • The main character (and title character) is a familiar in Zero no Tsukaima. The title translates to "Zero's Familiar".
  • In Kekkaishi, the eponymous practitioners summon familiars called "landlords" to aid them in perfecting their abilities. These are basically dog spirits that wear collars to limit their powers.
    • An actual Landlord formed by a Kekkaishi looks a lot different. Masamori's is a black carp, and Yoshimori's is... something. Possibly a lot of things.
  • Keroberos of Cardcaptor Sakura.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! subverts and plays the trope fairly straight with its monsters depending on what part of the series you're looking at. The bare basics of the card game implies the player is the master and any mon they summon act as a temporary familiar, although some players don't add any attachment to any particular monster to such an extent and the ones that do don't necessarily add any benefits to the monster in question. In the Pharoah's Memory arc where the monsters and their summoners originated from to make the modern day card game, however, it is played much more straight where the summoners can summon any ka (monster) they can access in exchange for the monster tapping into their master's ba (life energy), but every person also has a primary ka that serves as the embodiment of their soul and is not only much stronger than other kas the summoner can use, but whose well-being also affects the health of the summoner directly. Yu-Gi-Oh GX also references this by having some duelists share such a strong bond with a particular monster that they become their spirit partners and thus can communicate with their partner from time to time. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's also shares this with certain duelists, particularly ones with powerful dragons (such as Luna with the Ancient Fairy Dragon or Yusei with the Stardust Dragon).
    • Occasionally, some cards are seen making independent choices. In the first series, the very first duel between Yugi and Kaiba, has the later attempt to cheat by putting the Blue Eyes he stole from Yugi's grandpa on the top of his deck, then drawing and summoning it instantly. The dragon immediately self destructs, allowing Yugi to call it back to his own side with Raise Dead (Monster Reborn).
  • Watanuki's familiar is the fox, Mugetsu, in XxxHolic.
  • Tamer-Type Exorcists in Blue Exorcist are able to summon them, Rin has Blackie (A Giant Black Cat), Izumo has two Byakko (Spirit Foxes), Mephisto has Ukobach (The Torchfire Demon) and his Phoenix/Umbrella hybrid, Igor has many, MANY Nausea Fuel inducing-ones, and Shiemi has Nii (A Plant Demon).
  • While the "mon" or humanoid creatures used for fighting in Control are called Assets as part of the series' interest in the financial world, it's pretty easy to see them as Familiars, given that the people using them have made a Deal with the Devil, and some of the Assets even look like demons.
  • In Naruto, Suigetsu, upon seeing Manda the giant demon snake, says "So this is Orochimaru's Familiar..."
  • In Saint Beast, Pearl is a squirrel/mouse-like creature created out of Pandora's bones who keeps him company and acts as a guarantor of Pandora's loyalty. If Pandora goes away from the shrine Zeus keeps Pearl and can harm it if Pandora tries defying him, rebounding on Pandora.


Card Games

  • The Charmers in Yu-Gi-Oh Card Game may count. In their artwork, small monsters can be seen alongside human spellcasters.
    • They definitely count, if the closely-related Familiar-Possessed archetype is anything to go by.


Comics

  • The minor DC Comics villain Klarion the Witch Boy has a cat familiar called Teekl. He can transform it into a humanoid form to use him/her as extra muscle.
  • In one issue of Beasts of Burden a coven of witches each with a cat familiar moved into town. While most of them were killed along with the witches, Dympha survived and sought revenge on the others, then joined them. She retains some magical capabilities without the witch.


Fan Works

  • In the Baldur's Gate fanfic A Tale of Two Mages, an additional rule is established: when a mage casts the Find Familiar spell, the familiar is chosen as the creature maximally "compatible" to the mage in a certain radius. (There's a mention of some poor girl who got her own tapeworm as a familiar...) It just so happens that two wizards -- Neutral Good Nalia and Lawful Evil Edwin -- cast the spell simultaneously while being in a fairly close proximity... and both become familiars to each other. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Sauramud Advice Column for Young Wizardlings, some poor wizard asks for advice about the giant slug which he got as a familiar. Sauramud decisively states:

 "In answer to your question, a giant slug is NO GOOD AT ALL as a familiar -- in fact MOST familiars are no good as a familiar."

  • In Hogwarts Retold, most characters can use their patronus as Familiars, Nathan has Leafy-Sea Dragons, Eddie has Squirrels, Elizabeth has Robins, Fang Lei has Tigers, Marc has Chameleons and Rean has Wolverines.


Films -- Animation


Films -- Live-Action

Literature

  • In Steven Brust's Dragaera stories, familiars are one of the few things that witches can receive through magic that sorcerers cannot. Vlad Taltos used witchcraft to obtain Loiosh a jhereg with human level intelligence. He later gains another jhereg familiar. Lazlo, another human witch, also gains two familiars, a dog and a cat that can change into a Big Badass Wolf and a Dzur.
  • In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged has an otak familiar.
  • Greymalkin, Paddock and Harpier, the familiars of the witches in Macbeth.
  • The daemons in His Dark Materials.
  • Played with in the Discworld series. Nanny Ogg has a cat, but he's just a pet; Magrat has tried various animals, but none of them lasted for long; Granny Weatherwax has avoided getting a familiar, for fear it would be too familiar. Mrs Gogol's black cockerel Legba, in Witches Abroad, would be the straightest example, except that she privately admits that he's just for show.
  • In The Hollows novels, people using ley-line magic can use animal familiars to help them in handling the energy of the line safely. This is somewhat hard on the familiar as an accident in handling the energy will hurt the familiar instead of its master.
    • Demons use sentient beings such as humans, elves, witches or even other demons for their familiars. This is considered to be a Fate Worse Than Death and is often a result of making a Deal with the Devil. Demonic familiars are slaves to their masters and suffer physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Even worse, the Black Magic used by the demons creates harmful "smut" that can pollute their aura, but the demons transfer this to their familiar instead.
  • Discussed briefly in Fate/Zero. Most Magi use familiars, which leave a magical trail so they can be detected. However, Kiritsugu also uses normal cameras attached to bats as they do not leave a presence nor can a camera be tricked with magic like the brain of a familiar.
  • In The Dresden Files, Mouse Harry is Harry's Mouse's canine human Familiar.
  • Harry Potter: The only pets allowed at Hogwarts are animals traditionally thought of as familiars (owl, cat, rat or toad). They don't appear to have any special magical connection to their owners, though.
    • Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes, is a familiar in the more traditional sense.
    • Voldemort's snake, Nagini, though she is also a horcrux.
    • Strangely, the animal that most closely matches the traditional role of a familiar is Filch's cat, Mrs. Norris. This loathsome creature prowls the school grounds for troublemakers, and apparently has the ability to summon Filch to her location when she finds them. This is odd, as Filch is a squib, and lacks the magical talent to create such a bond.
  • Haplo's dog in the Death Gate Cycle is somewhere between a familiar and a Soul Jar, being Haplo's soul given independent form. There's probably some deep philosophical meaning behind the fact that Haplo's soul will run off and pilfer sausages if Haplo neglects it, but the books don't go into that.
  • In Kraken, the wizards of London regularly use familiars to accomplish magical tasks. At least, they do as long as the familiars don't go on strike. The Union of Magicked Assistants is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Naturally, the titular witch in the H.P. Lovecraft novel Dreams in the Witch House has a disturbing one, the human-faced, mean-spirited rat Brown Jenkins.
  • In The Stormlight Archive the windspren actually an honorspren Syl is a familiar of sorts to Kaladin, she gains sentience from their bond and he gets surgebinding powers..
  • In Faction Paradox, the prototype sapient timeships adopt the forms of animals rather than humanoids, bond with their pilots in the standard timeship manner, and are referred to as familiars.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series, Tarma and Kethry end up with a unique version of this. Kethry cast a spell to summon a familiar, but when Warrl responded to the call, he chose to become Tarma's familiar instead, much to Kethry's chagrined amusement.
  • In Septimus Heap, dragons are familars to their Imprintors (i.e hatchers), as is the case with Septimus and Spit Fyre.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere an Autumn Tale, Catarina was given Cerebus -- though he has only one head.
  • In Enchanted Forest Chronicles Morwen has a large number of cats, all her familiars. This is frowned upon by more traditional witches because not only is one cat more traditional, but none of her cats are black. The cats can communicate with her and she can channel their energy for spells.


Live Action Television


Myths & Religion


Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons allowed wizards to acquire a familiar by using a spell. Most were animals, but there was a small chance you could get a weak monster.
    • Third edition made this a class feature of wizards and sorcerers. Any member of either class with 100 gold and 24 hours could summon a familiar.
    • Fourth edition changed it to a feat that any arcane class can take. The list includes small animals, weak monsters, and... Things. By fourth edition familiars are not real animals, but solid "spirits" that can die and be brought back as many times as you like.
  • Pathfinder, being based on the 3rd edition of D&D, also has rules for familiars, though they are now optional for wizards and sorcerers in the core rules (wizards get an "arcane bond" that can either be a familiar or an object, such as a magic amulet, weapon, or wand, and only one type of sorcerer gets this same ability). However, witches (a Pathfinder-specific class) MUST have a familiar, which acts as a link to the mysterious patrons that grant witches their power.
  • Warhammer 40000. Cherubim are vat-grown infants who have mechanical wings and propulsion devices installed, as well as bio-programming to make them intelligent enough to take orders. Controlled through their master's Mind Impulse Unit, Cherubim are used to help carry equipment, ferry messages, sing devotional hymns, spy on their master's enemies, or just flutter around and be decorative symbols of purity. Unless they go feral, that is -- their bio-programming is partially derived from pigs and other animals, so there's a small chance a Cherub will flip out and start lunging at throats. Yes, it's not enough that they're lobotomized clone-babies, they may also kill you.
    • Other types of Familiars in 40K include Servo Skulls (skulls of particularly loyal seravnts of the Imperium fitted with an antigravity generator and a machine spirit so that they can continue to serve even in death) and Psyber Eagles or Ravens (cybernetically modified birds that share a psychic link with the owner). Chaos gets daemonic Familiars, mutated creatures and the likes. Eldar psykers are sometimes accomanied by Gryxes, which are catlike creatures that are sensitive to psychic energy, but it's not quite clear whether they're Familiars or just pets.
    • Given that the Eldar Farseers are in many ways likened to witches (In fact, that's what the Imperium calls them) the "witches cat" ought to be a familiar.
  • Mage: The Awakening features Familiars for the title mages, creatures that are actually manifested spirits capable of using Numina (spirit powers) at will. Those with a good knowledge of the Spirit Arcanum even have the ability to summon temporary familiars at will.
    • Changeling: The Lost likewise has Hedge Beasts, animals touched by the strange magic of the Hedge. They're capable of human speech, smarter than the average animal and have the ability to use Contracts.
  • In Rifts, when a magician tries to summon a demon, they fail to maintain control over it, and control actually reverses the relationship, making the summoner the familiar of the demon.


Video Games

  • The "Manas" in the Atelier Series and Mana Khemia Alchemists of Al Revis, where the main character is one.
  • Erasmus, the Eccentric Mentor of the Quest for Glory series of games, has a talking rat as his familiar.
    • Considering that Fenrus is himself a wizard of comparable power and skill, it's worth noting that he claims Erasmus is in fact his Familiar.
      • Zazara from the first game has an imp as a familiar called Diabolus. It seems that in the Quest For Glory world the familiar somehow tunes in with your personality..
  • Baldur's Gate (mostly) follows the second edition AD&D rules, but makes the familiar summoning a lot more forgiving. Which familiar gets summoned is determined by the mage's alignment: for example, a fairy dragon for Chaotic Good, an imp for Lawful Evil, etc. Familiar gives the mage a hit points bonus plus some other small benefits; but if it is killed, the mage loses one point of constitution permanently.
  • While its engine and gameplay are based on D&D 3.0, Neverwinter Nights diverts from the source in a number of ways, familiars being one of them. Perhaps to make gameplay easier, a wizard or sorcerer PC's familiars are largely combat-oriented (save for one which works as a replacement rogue). They're still animals or weak monsters... but this game lets a wizard have a frickin' panther. Or a hellhound. (For the record, the sequel doesn't do this.) You do get a familiar but it can't do much, it is however hilarious to see the grumpy, snarky wizard Sand summon his adorable cat familiar.
  • Beastmasters in Final Fantasy XI can summon familiars as a replacement pet. Unlike charmable pets, they will never turn against their master. (They may spontaniously vanish after 30 minutes or so, but what can you do?) Summoners can call forth elemental spirits(Elementals), and Avatars (Classic FF summons).
  • Yukari from the Touhou games has a familiar called Ran, who in turn has a familiar called Chen. Apparently, Yukari is so powerful that her familiar can have a familiar of its own. The benefit of being a familiar is that, in return for being a servant, the creature in question shares its master's powers.
    • Note that the actual word used is shikigami.
  • Len from Tsukihime and Melty Blood is a familiar.
  • Familiars play a fairly important role in Kingdom of Loathing, and certain familiars are vital to complete some of the higher-level quests. This being KOL, they are somewhat stranger than in other fictions (Sabre-Toothed Lime, Blood-Faced Volleyball, Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot, etc.). They have several possible functions, such as restoring your HP and/or MP, damaging your opponent with physical and/or elemental attacks, weakening and/or disrupting your opponent during a fight, increasing the amount of items and/or meat and/or stats you get when you win a fight, or any combination of these. Black Cats deserve special mention, because they create bad luck for the player: they reduce the amount of items and stats you're awarded after winning a fight, they regularly strip you of beneficial status effects and drain your MP, and they usually prevent you from using skills, spells, or items in combat. Basically, they do everything short of attacking you directly. However, using them exclusively can let you permanently unlock Bad Moon, a special harder-than-hardcore difficulty level.
    • Additionally, pastamancers have a variety of pasta-based entities that they can establish contracts with and summon in combat up to ten times a day, which are probably closer to traditional familiars.
  • In World of Warcraft there's a minipet called Kirin Tor Familiar. It looks like a small mana elemental. Some NPC mages have familiars, such as cats, dragonhawks or servants. Warlock's demons could be considered Familiars, especially if you spec demonology when they provide various beneficial effects for the master.
    • Frost mages' water elemental might also fit this, as well as the Death Knight's ghoul.
  • Galenth Dysley of Final Fantasy XIII has an owl familiar named Mernva, who is often seen with him when he appears. She is actually an extension of his power and he uses her to transform into his true form, Barthandelus. Not only that, she is capable of turning into an airship, as well.
  • Azure Dreams allows you to have a variety of familiars.
  • Several games in the Castlevania series allow you to have familiars, including Circle of the Moon, Symphony of the Night, and Curse of Darkness (in which they played an important role).
  • Djinn in the Golden Sun games act mostly like familiars, enhancing or changing the abilities of their Adept master and granting Summon Magic. There's also a Mons aspect to the Djinn; catching them all enables the most customization, the best summons, and access to the last Bonus Dungeon in The Lost Age.
  • Riviera the Promised Land has Rose the cat, who is referred to be this for the protagonist, Ein.
  • Familiars are the back-bone of the Shin Megami Tensei series, being a Mon series. Generally Demons are obtained by contracting and negotiating with the demon itself instead of being summoned (thought this does tends to happen often enough in the games), and one can combine 2 or more demons with each other to produce a third one. Another difference with the more traditional familiars is that they tend to be stored on computers, and what binds demons to the summoner will is not a spell, but rather a computer program.


Web Comics

  • Yamara's friend Fea has "Poopsie" Ralph the toad. "Poopsie" has nightmare.
  • Errant Story: Meji has Ellis, a winged talking cat. While he's referred to as a familiar, he was apparently bought from a pet store and has little to no magical significance. He's also sarcastic and abrasive to everybody and especially Meji.
  • Technomages in The Cyantian Chronicles have familiars that were formerly animals but had their consciousness transferred into cybernetic bodies after their deaths and are used as power sources by their masters.
  • In Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius has Blackwing. In the beginning Blackwing only appeared when V remembered that he could be useful. In fact, Blackwing didn't even have a name until Haley gave him one. Later on, Blackwing pretty much tells off V for treating him this way. Lately, though, Blackwing has been hanging out in plain view, and V is treating him like an equal. Unfortunately the rest of the group think he is an illusion and V has a screw loose.
    • Recently, Blackwing got his own Evil Counterpart in the Linear Guild in the form of Qarr the Imp, who's been assigned to be the familiar to Zz'dtri.
  • In Homestuck, familiars are a recurring theme, with John recruiting a salamander NPC and calling it Casey, then accidentally trading pets with Rose when he takes her cat. Rose then proceeds to get a small team of familiars, which she mainly uses for inventory space. The bunnyKind Strife Specibi causes the Uber Bunny to instantly align itself with John in the same vein as a familiar.
  • In Our Little Adventure, Angelika has a rat familiar named Norveg.
  • In Wizard School, Graham's familiar is a talking goat, Goatsie.


Web Original


Western Animation

  • An episode of The Real Ghostbusters had the team finding a witch's cat and making the pun mentioned above.
  • Napoleon, Lilian's cat familiar in WITCH.
  • Young Justice in the episode "Denial", Dr. Fate and Klarion the Witch Boy are battling:

 Klarion: To think Dr.Fate would hurt a poor, defendless pussy cat!

Dr.Fate: You and I both knows that creature is not a cat.

  • Appa in Avatar: The Last Airbender would appear just to be a Loyal Animal Companion to Aang, although that it has been hinted that he's more than this, and that all Avatars have an 'animal spirit guide' to help them in their life. Roku, Aang's predecessor had Fang the dragon, and his successor Korra has Naga the Polar-Bear-Dog. They have the ability for their spirits to communicate with the next Avatar after death, and they appear to be able to share dreams.
  • Spike the baby dragon seems to be this to the protagonist Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, as Twilight hatched Spike as her entry exam to a gifted magic school and he's been her "number one assistant" ever since. There's no magic bond between them, he's just a Hypercompetent Sidekick.
  • Sabrina The Teenaged Witch The Animated Series. Like the live action series, the younger Sabrina and her family own a wise-talking black cat who was once a powerful wizard. A few episodes had her dealing with an witch-hating enemy whose familiar was a magic sniffing anteater. In the spin-off, "Sabrina's Secret Life", Sabrina's Alpha Bitch witch rival, Cassandra, owns a white rabbit who may also have once been human.
  • The villain, Mozenrath, from Aladdin The Animated Series is almost always accompanied by his loyal (if constantly bullied) flying eel familar, Xerxes, who happens to speak in a faint Peter Lorre impression.
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