In 2001, archaeologists working on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus found something unexpected, tucked away in a grave site that contained a human skeleton, primitive jewelry and other funerary artifacts was something else, a cat. Of course, cats are never unexpected when it comes to history, most people are aware of just how important cats were to the ancient Egyptians, placing them firmly in the realm of the deep past from the feline goddess Bastet to the seemingly endless discovery of mummified cats in places like Sekara.
We know just how important cats were to the Egyptians. But the cat from Cyprus was certainly unexpected to the team who uncovered it because it predated the oldest known Egyptian cat artwork by over 4000 years. And it's also important to note that cats aren't native to the island of Cyprus. They were brought there by humans. And yes, we could go back and forth on whether or not this particular cat was buried as a sacrifice or simply the act of someone taking their pet with them into the afterlife.
Regardless, finding one inside a human grave speaks to a certain level of personal connection that is both surprising for its era and completely understandable to you and I today. We love our pets, the animals we welcome into our lives have a way of becoming part of our family. Some people dress them up like children, while others rely on their help to overcome physical challenges. It's weird to think about, but in a lot of ways, our pets make us more human, more complete, but not to.
Every animal companion has been viewed as friendly. And if you dig through the past long enough, you're bound to uncover a surprising fact for one short chapter of human history. Animals were seen as something more. Some, it seems, were servants of the devil. I'm Erin Manque, and this is Laura. One moment it wasn't there, and the next it was in 15, 63, England's Queen Elizabeth, the first issued a statute against witchcraft. It was called an act against conjuration enchantments and witchcraft, making its contents and purpose pretty hard to miss.
Then 40 years later, her successor, King James, the first passed a new edition of that law called an Act against Conjuration Witchcraft and dealing with evil and wicked spirits. By the title alone, we can see that something new had been added in the concept of familiar spirits. At the basic level, familiar spirits were supernatural creatures that provided assistance to those who practiced magic, they could be good or bad, animal or human, inform and frequently witnessed or never seen.
And at some point in the 40 years between those two versions of England's witchcraft laws, they just sort of appeared like magic. Obviously, there are hints of them in earlier folklore. And we've discussed a number of those stories on this show before. The Legends of the Black Dog, the hounds of the Wild Hunt, the guardian hounds of the underworld, the bones of the concept were always there. But in the late 1400's, they took on a life of their own.
Experts in folklore agree that there are three common traits shared by almost all familiars. First, they take on a form that engenders trust, like an animal or a human. To call this a familiar shape would be a bit too on the nose. But I hope you see the underlying meaning these supernatural beings or spirits would take on a familiar guise to interact with people. Second, familiars could be seen by anyone, not just the person benefiting from their help.
They weren't invisible hidden helpers. These were out in the open plain as day, so much so that they were usually dismissed as just animals. And third, familiars give powers to people. These spirits would enhance the abilities of those who practiced witchcraft and protect them from harm. In a lot of ways, they were sort of like a living, breathing, magical charm. And having them in your service meant that you were more powerful than you were without them.
And we have got to stop for a moment and talk about their names because they have to be one of my favorite bits of English folklore of all time. And thanks to trial records, a ton of them have been saved. Some are pretty plain like Russell the Great Cats or done Scott the dog and some just sound weird like elements or Mac Hektor. But others are downright comical. We've got Griselle and Greedy Guts and makeshift the weasel. There's pine jackets and Rori and swine.
There was even a toad called lunch and a crow called Picken. Honestly, they sound more like mascots for major American sports teams than magical spirits. But they're right there in the historical record, which you can't help but love a little. The folklore about familiars is deep and sadly, I won't be able to cover all of it today. There are stories of how to summon them, how to bond with them and how to care for them. Most of the stories, though, focus on familiars that enter a person's life and alter it in some way, usually by giving magical powers or assistance with difficult tasks.
And early on, familiar spirits weren't necessarily good or evil in the way that we might understand morality today, they just were part of that is due to how comfortable the Catholic Church was early on with magical remedies. Part and parcel of the Christian faith was belief in the healing powers of dead saints and holy relics. And the exorcism of demonic spirits was a pretty public way of declaring the supernatural world to be fact and not fiction. Over time, though, those stories fractured, some spoke of good familiars, the animals that helped the local Cuneen folk perform their job of healing the sick and helping the lost, sometimes referred to as white magic.
The work of the cunning folk was largely beneficial to everyone around them, but that changed over time. One person we have to blame for that evolution is Matthew Hopkins, the self professed Witchfinder General. When he published his book The Discovery of Witches in 1947, he popularized stories of evil familiars who did the bidding of the criminal witches he hunted and executed. He wrote about all sorts of animals from dogs and cats to rabbits and birds that actively harmed innocent people upon the order of the witches who control them, he included eyewitness accounts of familiars that appeared during his interrogations.
They made it clear that the devil could take on any shape he wished. Today, we can look back with a mixture of fascination and laughter at these fantastical tales, but of course to the people of that era, these were just stories. They were evidence of a larger, darker world, one that was just as obvious and accepted back then as science is to us today. And because of that, they influenced all manner of social and political values and did so for decades, which sadly led to real and painful human tragedy.
Every witch hunter needs leverage, some sort of physical evidence or a story that was so wild that it must be true and few were better at finding that than Scotland's King James the sixth. As a quick reminder, James the sixth was known for a few memorable things. He was the king of England during the infamous gunpowder plot that involved Guy Fawkes. He was the King James responsible for the creation of the King James Bible, and he personally wrote a book about demons and necromancy called Demonology.
It was a book that combined political and theological ideas into a single guide, and it inspired future witch hunters in their work. In fact, Matthew Hopkins, the most prolific of them all, used demonology as one of his main guides. And central to much of their work was the search for familias. King James himself got involved in a witch trial in 1990 in the Scottish town of North. He stepped in and helped torture the accused witches until they confessed.
Many of those confessions involve stories of familiars, including a woman named Agnes Sampson, who revealed that she worked with a magical dog named LVA. And the real world consequences of this search for familiars was the death of many innocent people. Two decades earlier, one of the very first accused witches in Scotland's history appeared on the records in the southwestern corner of the country. That's where a woman named Bessie Dunlop worked as a cattle driver, along with caring for her husband and her children.
In 1572 Bessie was experiencing the worst of life. Her husband had become deathly ill. She lost one of her few cows and her newborn child was sick as well. And it was in that moment of chaos and despair that she claims she met her own familiar Thomas Reid. Now, her familiar wasn't an animal, but it was also far from human, according to Betsy Thomas, Reed was an old man with a long gray beard, and he claimed to come from the land of the fairies, although she resisted his help at first, she eventually gave in and learned much from Thomas.
Just like most familiar is in English history, this familiar provided Bessey with the core benefits we discussed earlier, he gave her the power to find lost objects, to heal the sick and to see into the future, all of which probably sounded like wonderful news to a woman who was living through a storm of illness and loss. Soon enough, she leaned into her newfound powers. Over the years that followed, Bessie's reputation grew, and with that fame also came jealousy.
So it shouldn't surprise us that others in the community began to attack her, accusing her of evil deeds. And at the center of it all was the claim that she served the devil through her familiar Thomas Reed. In the end, Bessie Dunlap was tried and found guilty on November 8th of 1576, as punishment she was taken to Castle Hill and Edinburgh, where she was strangled to death, and then her body was burned to ash, all because of familias.
And finally, which familiars can even be found in the most famous trial of all Salem. The story of the Salem trials in 1892 are sort of like a gemstone. You can hold them up to the lights and rotate. Its seen one new facet after another. And when you look at it from a certain angle, you can see familiars all over it. At the core of the events are the accusations and claims made by a group of young girls, accusations that led to the arrest of innocent people.
And when those cases went to trial, the court proceeded in a very unusual way. Today, we rely on physical evidence and hard facts. But in Salem in 1692, they also allowed something called spectral evidence. In other words, sightings of a purely spiritual nature were admissible in court. One victim, Sarah Goode, was accused of workin g with three birds and that these birds hurt the children and afflicted persons. Tituba, the enslaved woman who worked for the village minister, was accused of also having a bird as well as a dog in her service.
And another victim was accused of working with a creature that had two legs, wings and the head of a woman. These accusations of involvement with Familias had real painful consequences, leading to the deaths of more than 25 people. Today the events in Salem have become practically synonymous with the concept of a witch hunt, whether or not people remember the actual reasons why. By the end of the 1400's, the idea of familias was deeply embedded in the minds of people all across the island of Great Britain.
But looking back, one of the most popular familias in English history arrived exactly when you'd expect when fear and anxiety had driven a wedge between two sides of a fierce political battle. And in the centre of that struggle between good and evil was the perfect mascot for the fight, the demonic pet. Of a hated nobleman. The young man named Rupert was born into a fairy tale just a month before his birth in December of 16 19, his parents were crowned the king and queen of Bohemia, making him a prince from his very first breath.
But there was trouble brewing outside the walls of the palace. It was a time when Europe was being ripped apart by conflict between Catholics and those who broke away from Rome in protest, the Protestants and Rupert's parents soon found themselves on the losing end of a battle with Catholic Spain, and the family was forced to flee to the Netherlands. In 16, 32 Ruperts father died, leaving the family without support, and while his mother, Elizabeth, tried reaching out to her brother, King Charles, the first of England for support, Rupert moved on to what would become his career, the military.
Soon enough, he was known far and wide as a skilled and ruthless soldier.
And that early military career eventually led him to England, but that's not all that followed him. It seems that from a very early age, Rupert's nickname had been Robert the Devil, a hint at a historical figure named Robert Duke of Normandy who was said to have been fathered by Satan himself. And this occult connection would follow Ruperts over to England. It turns out that King Charles had his own military conflict brewing. He was king, but there was a growing group of people in England known as the parliamentarians who wanted to do away with the monarchy.
And his nephew, Rupert's a seasoned cavalry officer, was a needed ally . But when Rupert arrived in August of 1642, he brought one more thing , his dog.
The dog was described as a large white dog of great beauty that Rupert had named Boy. It went everywhere with him, even following him on to the battlefields of Europe. So naturally, Boy came with him to England and quickly became part of the gossip on both sides of the English Civil War. Now, it's easy to think of war as something only fought on the battlefield, but the English civil war, like most conflicts throughout history, was also fought through rumor and propaganda.
Back then, one of the biggest weapons of war was the printing press. And as the conflict carried on, pamphlets were printed on both sides, telling stories meant to frighten their enemy. So what were Ruperts enemies so afraid of? Well, the pamphlets started out attacking him by claiming that he massacred innocent victims, killing every man, woman and child, an animal he came across. It was a lie. But that's what propaganda is most of the time.
Deception meant to sway minds toward a particular view. But as the rumors spread, they also grew one of the next round of pamphlets to be printed by the parliamentarians declared Rupert to be a witch. They didn't explicitly say it, of course, but the hints were there and readers drew the desired conclusions, declaring him to be in league with the devil. There were more pamphlets to come to, Rupert was a coward. They said he dressed others in his armor and hid behind his troops, they said, and oddly contradictory, he was also the devil and couldn't be struck by a single bullet, no matter how many were fired at him.
But then the enemy started to come for boy. Boy, they claimed was Ruperts familiar, it was an evil spirits in the shape of a large white dog and just like its master, it couldn't be hit with the bullets of the enemy. One witness said that he watched as soldiers attempted to stab the dog with their daggers and their blades simply slid off its fur as if it were wearing armor. Boy could also turn invisible, making the dog even more deadly, it could predict the future.
It spoke multiple languages and was able to lead its master to lost objects or hidden enemy encampments. Boy could even change shape if needed, making it the ultimate devil for all the parliamentarians to fear. And honestly, because Rupert's actually did ride into battle with boy at his side, I think it's easy to see how those stories came to life. So many young men marched off to war and never returned. And yet this dog walked away unscathed each and every time it had to be magic.
On November 22nd of 1842, a man on Prince Rupert side of the war decided to draft up some even more spectacular fantasies about the dog. This man, John Cleveland, hoped to slip it to the parliamentarian's and claim that it was true and then watch the lies spread. Because if the loyalists could cause their enemy to become more and more afraid, that only worked to their advantage and work it did. The pamphlet created massive fear of the dog name boy.
Soon enough, more pamphlets were flowing from printing presses all around England, focusing entirely on that evil dog. The beast was impossible to kill, they claimed, and sometimes took the form of a man so it could spy on them. If there was one true enemy of the anti monarchy forces. It's fair to say that, boy, was it. It was a plan designed to strike the heart of the enemy with the blade of fear. And it did that.
But it also did two other things. First, boy, the familiar became a mascot, in a sense, to the royalist forces, making it an incredibly valuable symbol. And second, because of that value, it hatched a new plan in the minds of the parliamentarians, one that would go down in legend or its unusual and lofty goal. The dog named Boy had to die.
Everything evolves, given enough time, scientists can see that development in various species of animals and whether that transition has taken centuries or millennia, the result is always fascinating.
Landscapes evolve and so do our cities. And the same can be said for ideas. In its earliest sense, the concept of a familiar spirit was something people noticed rather than named, it was clear that animals had a place in the folk magic of different cultures. Oftentimes they were part of the cure, just like local plants might have been. In 16 04, for example, a cunning woman named Catherine Thompson was convicted of using magic, a crime she apparently put a live duck in a patient's mouth and then muttered some incantations.
Others, like her, used frogs or spiders as curative items to be eaten. But that combination of magic practitioners and living creatures was always there. Sometimes an animal was seen as the new destination of an illness that cunning folk promised to remove from a sick person. One woman in Scotland was said to have taken the labor pains from a birthing mother and cast them onto a dog which ran away and was never seen again. In some instances, the animal who received the pain or illness was said to have died on the spot.
Clearly, animals and magic have been linked in the minds of the public for a very long time. So is it really surprising that it eventually worked its way into politics? I have a feeling that because Prince Rupert was the enemy of the parliamentarians and an outside one at that, it wouldn't have mattered what kind of animal he brought with him. Boy, the dog was simply a familiar because of its connection to Rupert. Eventually, though, they were able to overcome their fear of the prince and his dog on July 2nd of 16 44, nearly two years after arriving in England.
Rupert finally felt the sting of defeat at Marston more just outside of the English city of York.
All the success he had enjoyed during his time fighting for the king came to an end that day and the parliamentarians were victorious. Perhaps sensing a shift in the tides of war, Rupert was said to have left his loyal companion boy, the dog, back at camp during the battle there, one would assume the dog would be safe from harm, whether or not it was a servant of the devil. But assumption never make something true, does it? The reports on the final moments of boy's life are scarce, but what we do know is that it managed to break free from its bindings and camp and rush out onto the battlefield in search of Rupert.
That was where a soldier aimed his muskets and managed to put the animal down. A short while later, the battle was over and the royalists were on the losing side, perhaps because their magical mascot was no longer there to help them, within two years, the first English civil war was over and Prince Rupert of the Rhine was banished from England. Oh, and one last detail, it said that one of the many propaganda pamphlets that circulated had put forward the idea that the only way to kill a shapeshifter was to use an enchanted musket loaded with magical ammunition.
It's thought that the soldier who killed the boy was only able to do so because he had followed those specific instructions.
And his magical ammunition, the classic, almost stereotypical weapon of choice for so many monster hunters throughout history. The silver bullet. Familiars have been at the center of far too many tragic stories over the centuries, and while we've explored those roots and a number of powerful examples today, we've only scratched the surface. In fact, I have one less story to share, and it's a tale of just how far people will go to get rid of the things they fear.
Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about it.
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So what purpose waits for you? Sign up for the great courses plus and find out today. Visit my special Eurail the Great Courses plus dotcom lore and you'll get a full month of unlimited access for free. Don't miss out on this. Trust me again. That's the great courses. Plus Dotcom Iglauer. Elizabeth was old and blind and had been around longer than most in town. That was why everyone knew her and probably why everyone feared her. For over 50 years, rumors had rippled through their little corner of Lancashire in the northwest of England.
Rumors of dark magic, rumors of witchcraft, rumors of curses and afflictions. That's probably why folks referred to her by the nickname Old Dumb Dyke, which was slang for demon woman. And yet Elizabeth was left alone. It was a tenuous peace, but it all unraveled because of some pins. Her granddaughter, Alison, had stopped a peddler on the road to buy some pins, a man named John Law, but John refused to sell them to her.
Maybe she didn't have enough money with her. Pins were notoriously expensive back then, but the most likely reason was because pins were often used in local folk magic. And John Law won in no part in that.
A short time after their encounter, John Law suffered a stroke in the age when people searched every shadow for the reason behind the tragedy. They found that reason in Alison. Clearly, she was upset at being refused the pins and had cursed him. After all, she was the granddaughter of a legendary witch. Soon enough, Alison was called to appear before the local magistrate, Roger Norwell, to respond to this accusation, but she didn't come alone. Her mother also named Elizabeth and her brother James accompanied her.
And together the family answered questions.
Alison, though, confessed to cursing the peddler, but then she took it further.
She might belong to a family of witches, but there was another family, a rival family that couldn't be ignored. And the matriarch of that clan was another elderly blind woman with an unusual nickname. Old Shattuck's an old Shattuck's had killed her father with witchcraft, all because he refused to pay her an annual protection fee. What followed was a long and complicated trial where both families were accused of murder. By some accounts, at least 10 victims were identified, all killed by the evil powers of the various family members.
And it was during this trial process that stories of familiars began to appear.
One of the accused, Alyson's nine year old sister, Janet, claimed that her mother had worked for years with a familiar that took the shape of a large brown dog named Ball. She said that ball would do anything her mother asked, including kill people. One of the most detailed confessions, though, came from old Shattuck's herself, the matriarch of the Whitall family.
She told her examiners about meeting her own familiar 15 years earlier, a creature she described as a thing like a Christian man and how it asked her for her soul in return for power.
This familiar, which she called fancy, would come to her whenever she called and do her bidding, and that included assassinating people who wronged her names that were on the list of 10 murder victims. But as a price for all that help, Fancy had taken away most of her eyesight. An old dam dike whose granddaughter, Allison, had started it all, confessed to having one of her own spirit helpers, hers was a black cat named Tibey, although it sometimes appeared in the shape of a rabbit or a doe.
And this familiar would bring her food and drink whenever she wanted.
Oh, and of course, it killed people for her. When all was said and done, at least 11 people were put on trial for accusations of witchcraft, and although one was acquitted and set free, nine others were sentenced to death by hanging, including Alison, her mother and her brother and rival matriarch, old Shattuck's. They took their final breaths on August 20th of 16 12. The only victim to slip the noose was old them dyke, but she didn't walk free.
Her death came before her scheduled execution date, passing away in her jail cell due to a mixture of illness, poor conditions and old age. And the irony shouldn't be lost on any of us, no matter how blind the authorities were to it at the time, a woman they locked up for claiming to have the constant support from her familiar died on their watch because she wasn't cared for only through her death could hold them dich, prove her innocence. And that's the most tragic lesson of all.
This episode of law was written and produced by me, Aaron Manque, with research by Ali Steed and music by Chad Lawson, law is much more than just the podcast, though. There's a book series available in bookstores and online and two seasons of the television show on Amazon Prime video. Check them both out if you want more law in your life. I also make an executive produce a whole bunch of other podcasts, all of which I think you'd enjoy.
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