Familiar Spirits

Things that go bump in the night

Or squeak. Or clatter. “Familiar Spirits” is a rather broad label, covering the assortment of magical beings which are native to this world, or at least spend most of their time here. Not demons, and not angels, and with few records of spirits possessing powers greater than the least of the heavenly hosts, spirits pose something of a problem when it comes to defining what they are.

Inventors often refer to them as energy; witches as “familiars” or “spirits”; the churches as either lesser demons playing tricks or servants of the defeated pagan gods. In fairy tales they are elves, pixies, nymphs, dryads and the like.


Some spirits are insubstantial and invisible until either they choose to make themselves seen or are revealed by a charm. Air elementals are particularly notable for this, indistinguishable from the clouds until they decide otherwise. Others, like dryads, can be solid to the touch if they want to, or simply one with the trees. With the spirits of animals it is less certain what they are, as they may be the animal, an invisible spirit the happens to have attached itself to the animal or just a spirit taking on the form of an animal. Though many people are certain they know which of these is the case, the fact that they are relatively evenly spread does not really help justify their claims.


All spirits seem to speak the language of the area they dwell in, though some speak in a manner which would have been more normal several hundred years ago, which has lead to a few misunderstandings.

Dealing with Spirits

Spirits generally have their own goals, usually related to what they are the spirit of - a dryad will want to protect her tree and the forest it is in, a household spirit will want to ensure things run smoothly in the house. They can be bargained with, something which forms a major part of witchcraft, but in theory anyone can do it. Offerings to the household spirits of milk or honey might ensure its favour.

In general there are usually two parts to a bargain. First the attention of a suitable spirit must be attracted, then a bargain struck for whatever service is desired. Often a gift is used to attract the spirit - nice incense might attract a spirit of air, or some dung around the base of her tree a dryad. Nothing particularly valuable is required, just enough to suggest that you will keep your side of a bargain, and that it is worth it for the spirit to listen to you. Experienced witches may find this unnecessary if the spirits know of them by reputation.

Then a bargain is struck. The spirit is limited in what it can do - the spirit of a cat could watch people and report on what they did, a dryad catch a certain person if they wandered too close to her tree - as well as what it will do - a dryad could blight her tree but never would. The service asked for in return will usually be something that will further the interests of the spirit - a dryad wanting woodcutters to stay away from her tree, for example.

These pacts are not normally binding, however a witch can make them so with each party declaring what will happen to them if they break their word.

Sample Spirits

The Spirit of Albion

Sometimes a lion, sometimes a man in the garb of a crusader, the Spirit of Albion is the most powerful spirit recorded, and certainly the only one to have entered the public consciousness. Those who fought in the Civil Wars speak of seeing a golden lion where the fighting was fiercest, leading the Royalist charge.

Some say the spirit is that of the land itself, others Richard the Lionheart, still others all the monarchs who have ever ruled England. This has resulted in a certain reluctance to speak ill of dead Kings and Queens…just in case.

Cain’s College, Oxford

Students of Cain’s College lack some of the passion for the vandalisation of their College in amusing ways that the students of other colleges show. Popular gossip has it that one of the first students was greeted after climbing down from the chapel spire (now crowned with a chamber pot) by an animated suit of armour with a rather large pike and humourless expression (as much as a helmet can be said to have one). It was only after he had removed the chamber pot and carefully cleaned all the gargoyles that doors stopped slamming (and locking) on him at inopportune moments.

familiar_spirits.txt · Last modified: 2007/09/30 19:18 by cara