“W” Is For Warlock


W

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.

male witchNow 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”.

Maybe?

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.

winter warlock meme
The Winter Warlock from one of my favorite Christmas specials as a child “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

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.


3 thoughts on ““W” Is For Warlock

  1. Entomological drift. The word witch used to mean an old hag with a great big wart on the end of her nose that was burned at the stake and drowned. Who cares what old words used to mean. It’s like a piece of toilet paper. Blow your nose on it wipe your butt with it wipe the pee off the rim. It’s just toilet paper. We don’t give it 74 different names for the 74 different uses. And if everybody’s all bent over the idea that a dude can whack his penis off and grow some boobs and then he wants to be called they or them or she or it then why can’t a guy call himself a warlock if that’s what he wants? Seems everybody wants to give all of these courtesies and allow people to redefine whatever gender disorder they have but if someone wants to call themselves a warlock oh my God that’s just the worst possible thing you could ever ever do.

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  2. Hi J,

    Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

    I’m not quite sure what your point is, so let me see if I understand you correctly.

    I’ll start with clarifying my points.

    My point is that the origin of the word “Warlock” has a very specific start, and that its use in modern Craft practice has a specific interpretation and both of those are based on the same concept — of being an Oathbreaker.

    My point is that I have no personal issue with someone choosing to claim the word Warlock as a label to define their particular path, but it is incorrect to give it a false origin — it didn’t originate from Vardlokkur. It originates from Waerloga.

    You are correct in pointing out etymological drift — words do sometimes develop and evolve new meanings. But the ORIGIN of a word can never change. It has only one origin.

    My stance is that for those seeking to reclaim it and turn the meaning away from the modern concept of warlock as an oathbreaker against one’s coven, it’s better to keep the meaning as it was originally intended: breaking away from Christian (or the wider Abrahamic religious umbrella) in favor of practicing Paganism: breaking the ‘oath’ to the Christian God.

    The issue is that ‘warlock’ has a history in modern Craft that would be an uphill struggle to fight against if seeking to use this word, as modern Craft says it’s bad and means a coven-betrayer.

    People can label themselves however they choose. We’re agreed on that point. But you can’t simply make up a meaning for a word on your own and decide that’s how you will identify, because that’s just not how language works.

    Your analogy with aligning it to transgender use of pronouns is really just a side track that doesn’t help to clarify what you’re saying. Changing a pronoun that references a person is much more simple and not an example of etymological drift. If Robert (a man) identifies as Roberta (a woman), then that’s simply a change to understanding and communicating this difference in a single individual. It’s not seeking to cause a massive shift in the root understanding of what the word ‘she’ or the word ‘he’ means in our language. The word ‘he’ still refers to someone identifying as a male. The WORD isn’t changing definition. An etymological drift is the changing of a word’s definition over time. For example, five hundred years ago, the discussion we’re having would be called ‘intercourse’. You and I are having intercourse. However, if we were to use that word to define a conversation in the 21st century, it would be completely misinterpreted or wrong. Thus my confusion over your point.

    If etymological drift is going to take place and change the widely-accepted and understood definition of ‘warlock’ as a negative expression meaning a “liar or oathbreaker” into an acceptable term for a male practitioner of the Craft, it’s really going to be a smoother path if my way is taken and it’s correctly identified along the origin of the word.

    “Who cares what old words used to mean?” — Um, Witches and those who practice the magical arts damn well need to care about words and what they mean. How can someone profess to manifest things through their will and cast their energy out into the ether through spoken incantations or through their focused intention if they ‘don’t care what words used to (or currently… apparently) mean’? If a magical person takes this attitude, they’re very foolish.
    So, again, people can’t just take a word that has a massive history (over 1000 years at least) and then try to apply a new definition to it out of personal preference and expect it to become widely accepted. The change in definition from negative association to positive association in the Craft is possible — but realistically, will likely happen with less difficulty if it’s done according to what I stated. 🙂

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