Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Guest post: Something Familiar - by Mark Cassell
It’s common knowledge that for a companion, witches favour the cat. Known as their familiar, this small domestic animal – supposedly possessed by a low-ranking demon – is given to them as a gift by the Devil. Not just a companion, but as helper and advisor, and also used to perform malicious errands of the black arts.
The familiar, or imp as it was often referred to in the 16th and 17th centuries, is almost exclusive to England and surrounding islands and is a strong contribution to the theory of witchcraft.
Historical records indicate that cats of all colours have been associated with witchcraft; these days, the stereotypical witch’s cat is of course entirely black. As such, it’s claimed that if there is as little as one white hair on its body then the creature’s magical potency is reduced.
Today in rescue centres we see an abundance of black cats, where common superstitious misconceptions have led to them being abandoned, believed to bring bad luck. When actually, should one cross your path it brings good luck (whereas a white one is unlucky).
In addition to this, should one stray into your home, you must embrace it for this brings good fortune.
I once owned a black cat called Leo. After I found his body over a mile away from home, I made certain he’d live on in my debut novel, The Shadow Fabric (2014).
I named the main character after the little guy.
As the most commonly associated animal companion of the witch, the cat is known to be a favourite disguise of the Devil. In addition, it’s said that witches often took on feline shapes themselves, although throughout the centuries such familiars were equally as likely to be a crow, a toad, or any other common – yet small – animal. It was understood, however, that a witch could take the form of a cat nine times, reinforcing the popular belief that a cat has nine lives.
I guess my Leo already had his eight other lives before he was brought home from the rescue centre…
Throughout the witchcraft trials of the 16th and 17th century there was a common test by which one could determine whether a cat was indeed a witch in disguise: place the animal in a vessel of holy water. If the cat attempted to escape, undoubtedly it was a witch.
Rarely was it to the creature’s advantage when it came to witchcraft, and during the month of May when the spirits of the dead were considered to be exceptionally active, any cat born was soon drowned; it was said that they would be useless in hunting.
Cat-familiars were known to be of considerable age, having served numerous witches; inherited by one from another. In 1566, Elizabeth Francis, one of the Chelmsford Witches, claimed to have been given Sathan – a white spotted cat – by her grandmother. Following her ‘ownership’, and having sealed a succession of deals in the black arts (paying the small animal in blood by pricking her finger for each deed), after 15 years she had then passed it on to another witch.
Ursula Kempe, an accused witch during the trial of the Saint Osyth Witches in 1582, confessed to owning two familiars in the shape of cats, named Titty and Jack. Both of which she allegedly sent out on evil errands, and they were rewarded by sucking blood from her left thigh. She had another two familiars alongside the pair: a toad called Pigin and a lamb called Tyffin.
When writing Hell Cat of the Holt (2017), a standalone novella in the Shadow Fabric mythos, I chose to include domestic cats alongside the black cat of legend that surrounds the village in which it’s set. The emotions of Anne, the main character who searches for her missing cat, were too easy for me to write given that Leo was missing for two weeks before I found his body.
Although my Hell Cat story doesn’t contain witches or imps or any other familiar, it does feature ghosts, a sneaky demon, and a black cat much bigger than any you’d wish to meet. Atop that, the characters get tangled up in something way beyond anything history has ever given us…
Hell Cat of the Holt - a novella in the Shadow Fabric mythos is available from Amazon UK : http://amzn.to/2ruB1ux US : http://amzn.to/2rJvqO5
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK where he often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, dark fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines. His best-selling debut novel The Shadow Fabric was closely followed by the popular short story collection Sinister Stitches and are both only a fraction of an expanding mythos of demons, devices, and deceit.
Mark’s 2017 release Hell Cat of the Holt further explores the Shadow Fabric mythos with ghosts and black cat legends.
The dystopian sci-fi short story collection Chaos Halo 1.0: Alpha Beta Gamma Kill is in association with Future Chronicles Photography where he works closely with their models and cosplayers.
For one of Mark’s FREE stories visit www.markcassell.com