This book contains the first comprehensive examination of popular familiar belief in early modern Britain. It provides an in-depth analysis of the correlation between early modern British magic and tribal shamanism, examines the experiential dimension of popular magic and witchcraft in early modern Britain, and explores the links between British fairy beliefs and witch beliefs. In the hundreds of confessions relating to witchcraft and sorcery trials in early modern Britain there are detailed descriptions of intimate working relationships between popular magical practitioners and familiar spirits of either human or animal form. Until recently historians often dismissed these descriptions as elaborate fictions created by judicial interrogators eager to find evidence of stereotypical pacts with the Devil. Although this paradigm is now routinely questioned, and most historians acknowledge that there was a folkloric component to familiar lore in the period, these beliefs, and the experiences reportedly associated with them, remain substantially unexplored. This book examines the folkloric roots of familiar lore from historical, anthropological and comparative religious perspectives. It argues that beliefs about witches' familiars were rooted in beliefs surrounding the use of fairy familiars by beneficent magical practitioners or cunning folk, and corroborates this through a comparative analysis of familiar beliefs found in traditional Native American and Siberian shamanism. The author explores the experiential dimension of familiar lore by drawing parallels between early modern familiar encounters and visionary mysticism as it appears in both tribal shamanism and medieval European contemplative traditions. These perspectives challenge the reductionist view of popular magic in early modern Britain often presented by historians.
"Magic and witchcraft have between them represented one of the most difficult and challenging subjects for modern historians. Emma Wilby's book is a remarkably interesting, timely and novel way of looking at them, and one of the most courageous yet attempted." -- Professor Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol. "Emma Wilby's conclusions and her explanation of how she drew them, laid down here in the commendable modern academic tendency towards plain English that has moved away from the previous generation's overly complex sentence structure, is worth its weight in gold." Ian Read in Runa Magazine, Issue 19, October 2006. "...one of the few books to treat in any detail, and perhaps the only one to treat at length, the topic of the witch's familiar ... these kinds of consideration are very fruitful for understanding much fortean material ... 8/10" -- Fortean Times, July 2006. "This is the definitive study of familiar lore, which should find a place on every Witch's bookshelf." -- Witchcraft and Wicca Magazine, Imbolc/Winter 2007. "...valuably sets the ground for further exploration of the role and character of folk magic within community and tradition and is to be recommeded for that." -- Northern Earth Issue 105. "...a powerful, grounding work for all modern magical practicioners of British magical tradition." -- Pagan Times Australia, Spring 2006. "...fascinating and well-researched. It is a genuine contribution to what is known about cunning folk and lays very solid foundations for future work on the subject. Buy it today!" -- White Dragon, Beltane 2006. "...riveting and downright encouraging review of the magical underpinning of mainstream culture." -- Sacred Hoop, Issue 51, 2006.
Part One: Demon and Fairy Familiars: The Historical Context -- A Harsh and Enchanted World; Cunning Folk and Witches; The Magical Uses of Spirit; Human and Spirit: The Meeting; The Relationship; Renunciation and Pact; Demon and Fairy: The Interface. Part Two: Anthropological Perspectives. The Shaman's Calling; SPirit Worls and High Gods; Part Three -- The Experimental Dimension: Phantasticks and Phantasms; Psychosis or Spirituality?; The Unrecognised Mystics; Greedigut and the Angel Gabriel; The Freedom of Magic; Index.