Familiars are spirits which help witches with their magic. The term has morphed in common usage to mean any beloved pet owned by any person. In the strict magical sense of the word, this is incorrect.
A familiar can be an incarnate spirit or an embodied one, as long as the familiar is dedicated to the witch or magician. It does not have to be an animal and can be a plant or a stone. It is never a person. The magical relationship between a witch is a conscious one, actively employed.
There is a strong psychic bond between a witch and her familiar, and the familiar may help a witch with divination. It may magically carry out a witch’s bidding. It may carry messages to otherworldly realms. If you don’t do divination, cast spells, or communicate with the dead, you don’t have a witch’s familiar. That would be like saying you have a barber when you never cut your hair.
It is possible to have more than one familiar, but in practice that is difficult, and many witches move sequentially from one familiar to the next. Having a familiar takes a lot energy. Maintaining any close relationship takes energy. In addition, there is the energy expended keeping the familiar in check. An effective familiar will try to steal your power, so be attentive.
Photo: Jana M. Cisar/US Fish & Wildlife