Cats, owls, rats, and various other creatures have appeared in novels and stories as magical companions. You might even slide spirit animals under this definition, for the sake of fantasy worldbuilding.
In our world, the term comes from the belief that a witch would have a spirit being to aid them. In many cases, the familiar spirit would take the form of an animal.
Familiars can serve many purposes within a story. They may be a magical conduit for your practitioner. A familiar may also be a source of knowledge, or they may work as a spy for their owner. The logistics of these situations will depend on if a familiar is visible to others, or just to their owners.
The acquiring of a familiar can play many different roles in a fantasy world. It may be part of a coming of age ceremony, especially in a culture that values magic users. A familiar might be assigned to a magic user either upon birth, or when the character first begins to use magic, regardless of age.
Familiars can be anything. Just because cats and owls have been the traditional ones doesn’t mean you have to stick to those. Make up a creature (this is fantasy, after all!), or go for something unusual, like a centipede. (Or not, hah!)
- Do magic users (or only some magic users) require familiars in your world? Why?
- What benefits do familiars offer for your magic system? What hindrances?
- Who are familiars visible to? Everyone? Magic users only? Or even only visible to the familiar’s owner?
Rebekah Loper began creating epic worlds and stories as a child and never stopped. She is the author of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding series, and has a fantasy novella published in Beatitudes and Woes: A Speculative Fiction Anthology.
She lives in Tulsa, OK with her husband, dog, two formerly feral cats, a small flock of feathered dragons (…ok, ok, they’re chickens), and an extensive tea collection. When she is not writing, she can be found battling the elements in an effort to create a productive, permaculture urban homestead.