Ever since I started actively practicing Witchcraft, there has been a push to reclaim the word Witch from being a dark, evil, scary woman bent on hurting others, eating children, blighting crops — all the things she’s been accused of since time immemorial right up into modern day fairy tales and movies. We don’t eat children, of course, nor do we do most of the things the old stories say.
Those were things multiple groups on the outside of society — whatever society was in power at the time — were accused of. Romans accused Christians of these things, Christians accused Jews and heretics of these things, and later on, people accused Witches of these things.
Now there’s a movement to reclaim the word Warlock for male Witches.
I disagree with this, but not for the reasons most magical folk would think of.
In modern Craft practice, a Warlock is identified as an Oath Breaker. To an outstanding majority of Witches, the word Warlock is insulting and derogatory. A male Witch is a Witch. Typically it’s those outside of the Craft who use the term Warlock to describe a male Witch, not Witches themselves. A Warlock is often specifically a Witch who has broken their oaths of initiation and practice in a coven.
Being identified as a Warlock is a very bad thing.
But, if male Witches prefer to use this label, I think they should at least understand what they’re getting into.
The wish to “reclaim” the word are centered on thinking that the word Warlock comes from an old Norse word Vardlokkur. It does not.
And to further confound things, there’s a rumor going around that the word has origins in Scottish Gaelic.
Except… That’s not where the word comes from. The word is neither Norse or Scottish Gaelic in origin.
Wǣrloga is the origin of the word Warlock in Old English. Scholars and linguists have been arguing this false Scottish origin since it became a popular term for coven-betraying Witches in the mid-20th century.
Wǣr means “covenant” and lēogan means “to deny”. Thus, an Oath Breaker.
From its application to The Devil, who as the angel Lucifer broke his covenant with God, the word was transferred in Middle English to a word meaning a person in league with the Devil, i.e. a sorcerer (or male witch), one who broke their covenant with God. This is because, during that time, EVERYONE was Christian. It was expected that you were baptized as an infant and if you didn’t go to church, you would be ostracized by your entire community.
The word Warlock was mostly used in the Scottish Witchcraft Trials and that’s why it is incorrectly identified as a Scottish word in origin.
Or that connection may have come from it being put into popular use by Sir Walter Scott.
You know… “Scott put it out there”, translates to “Scottish in origin”.
Using it as a term to describe a Witch in violation of coven oaths is a new thing from the 20th century and has nothing to do with the trials. I say this in response to incorrect rumors saying the word originated to mean this. It did not. 20th-century Witches adopted this term to mean ‘betrayer of coven oaths’. Prior to this time, it was a word purely in use by ecclesiastical authorities and judges for accusing Witches of being in league with the Devil.
The etymology connecting the Old Norse Vardlokkur to Warlock is wrong.
Vardlokkur means ‘spirit singer’, one who sings songs to ward off evil spirits during a religious ceremony. This comes from the Eddas of Norse mythology.
Why would the trials of 17th century Europe, predominantly the trials in Great Britain, call a person a Warlock if this were the meaning they intended? Why use an Old Norse word that meant something basically helpful and positive, when in their language, it meant what the authorities meant–someone against God?
If people want to use it or “reclaim” it, fine. But you don’t get to create a new or false history for it.
It means Oath Breaker, always has and always will. The only thing that will change will be WHICH oath you identify with breaking.
So own Warlock as someone who broke away from the Christian faith (breaking that oath or covenant with the Christian God) to embrace a magical path, because that’s what it IS, and call it good.