Witch (etymology)

Witch (etymology)

The etymology of the word witch traces back to the Old English language with the German and Indo-European languages as possible older sources.

Germanic etymology

The word "witch" derives from the Old English nouns "" IPA|/ˈwitʧɑ/ (masc.) "sorcerer, wizard" and "wicce" IPA|/ˈwitʧe/ (fem.) "sorceress, witch". The verb "wiccian" has a cognate in Middle Low German "wicken" (attested from the 13th century, besides "wichelen"). Otherwise, no Germanic cognates outside English are attested.

The exact etymology of "wicce" is problematic.

*The OED states that the noun is "apparently" (derived from "wiccian"), but for the verb merely states that it is "of obscure origin".
*Grimm, "Deutsches Wörterbuch" connect the "Ingvaeonic word" "*wikkōn" with Gothic "weihs" "sacred" (PIE "*weik-" "to separate, to divide", probably via early Germanic practices of cleromancy such as those reported by Tacitus, [Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde IV, p. 506.] but also consider "*weik-" "to curve, bend" (which became "wicken" "hop, dance") and "*weg'h-" "to move" (in a sense of "to make mysterious gestures"). Barbara G. Walker gives prominence to this origin, which she believes refers to the witch's ability to bend and shape the threads of reality. [Walker, Barbara G. (1983). "The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets".]
*The Online Etymology Dictionary states a "possible connection to Gothic ' "holy" and Germanic ' "consecrate," and writes, "the priests of a suppressed religion naturally become magicians to its successors or opponents." [ [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=witch Online Etymology Dictionary: "witch"] ]
*R. Lühr [R. Lühr, "Expressivität und Lautgesetz im Germanischen", Heidelberg (1988), p. 354] connects "wigol" "prophetic, mantic", "wīglian" "to practice divination" (Middle Low German "wichelen" "bewitch", "wicker" "soothsayer") and suggests Proto-Germanic "*wigōn", geminated (c.f. Verschärfung) to "*wikkōn". The basic form would then be the feminine, "wicce" < "*wikkæ" < "*wikkōn" with palatalization due to the preceding "i" and the following "*æ" < "*ōn" in early Ingvaeonic. The palatal "-cc-" IPA|/ʧ/ in "wicca" would then be analogous to the feminine.
*An alternative possibility is to derive the palatal IPA|/ʧ/ directly from the verb "wiccian" < "*wikkija". [OED, s.v. "witch"] Lühr conversely favours derivation of this verb from the noun.
*The American Heritage Dictionary connects PIE "*weg'-" "rouse" (English "wake"), and offers the Proto-Germanic reconstruction *"wikkjaz" "one who wakes the dead". ["The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language" 4th Edition, online (2000): [http://www.bartleby.com/61/0/W0190000.html witch] and [http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE553.html *weg-] . Accessed 3 May 2006.]

other suggestions for the underlying root are untenable or widely rejected:
* Grimm reject a connection with "*wek-" "speak", suggested by P. Lessiak (ZfDA 53, 1912).
*Walter William Skeat ["Principles of English Etymology" (2 series, 1887 and 1891)] derived the word from PIE "*weid-", Old English "wita" "wise man, wizard" and "witan" "to know", considering it a corruption of an earlier "*witga". No Old English spelling with "-t-" is known, and this etymology is not accepted today [but see [http://www.draeconin.com/database/witchetymology.htm Draeconin's etymology page.] (accessed 2 May 2007)] .
*Robert Graves in his 1948 "The White Goddess", in discussing the willow which was sacred to the Greek goddess Hecate, connects the word to a root "*wei-" which connotes bending or pliance [ whence English "weak"; Grimm s.v. "Weide"] , by saying: "Its connection with witches is so strong in Northern Europe, that the words 'witch' and 'wicked' are derived from the same ancient word for willow, which also yields 'wicker'." This confounds English and Scandinavian evidence, since the "weak" root in English has no connection with willows, and Old Norse has no word for "witch" cognate to the English. ["wicker" an East Scandinavian loan, entering the English language in the 14th century. The English cognate of the root yields "withy", and the "willow" word in all old Germanic languages has the dental (ON "víðir"). The "wicker" word is in fact from the "*weik-" root employed for "hop, dance" etymology considered by Grimm, irrespective of willows. See Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. witch n2, witch, wych n3. (Online edition, accessed 5/9/07)]

Old English

Old English also had "hægtesse" "witch, fury", whence Modern English "hag", of uncertain origin, but cognate to German "Hexe", possibly from a "*haga-tusjon-" "fence-wight" or similar. Other Old English synonyms of "wicca" and "wicce" include "gealdricge", "scinlæce", "hellrúne".

The Old English plural form for both the masculine and feminine nouns was "wiccan" (= "witches") and "wiccecræft" was "witchcraft". The earliest recorded use of the word is in the "Laws of Ælfred" which date to circa 890: ["Oxford English Dictionary" Online, 2nd Edition (1989).] [Bosworth, Joseph & T. Northcote Toller. (1998) "An Anglo-Saxon dictionary, based on the manuscript collections of the late Joseph Bosworth; edited and enlarged by T. Northcote Toller." Oxford: Oxford University Press (reprint of 1898 edition). ISBN 0-19-863101-4] [ [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=witch Online Etymology Dictionary - "witch"] ] :Tha faemnan, the gewuniath onfon gealdorcraeftigan and scinlaecan and wiccan, ne laet thu tha libban.:Women who are accustomed to receiving enchanters and sorceresses and witches, do not let them live!In the homilies of the Old English grammarian Ælfric, dating to the late 10th century we find::Ne sceal se cristena befrinan tha fulan wiccan be his gesundfulnysse.:A Christian should not consult foul witches concerning his prosperity.In both these examples "wiccan" is the plural noun, not an adjective. The adjective "fulan" (foul) can mean "physically unclean" as well as "morally or spiritually unclean" or "wicked".

In Old English glossaries the words "wicce" and "wicca" are used to gloss such Latin terms as "hariolus", "conjector", and "pythonyssa", all of which mean 'diviner', 'soothsayer', which suggests a possible role of fortune-teller for the witch in Anglo-Saxon times.The word "wicca" is associated with animistic healing rites in Halitgar's Latin Penitential where it is stated that:"Some men are so blind that they bring their offering to earth-fast stone and also to trees and to wellsprings, as the witches teach, and are unwilling to understand how stupidly they do or how that dead stone or that dumb tree might help them or give forth health when they themselves are never able to stir from their place."The phrase "swa wiccan tæcaþ" ("as the witches teach") seems to be an addition to Halitgar's original, added by an 11th century Old English translator.cite book|author = Petterson, David C|title = Hostile Witnesses: Rescuing the History of Witchcraft from the Writings of Scholars and Churchmen|publisher = David C. Petterson|location = PO Box 62266, St. Louis Pk, MN 55426|]
Anglo-Saxon times.

From Old to Modern English

The Middle English word "wicche" did not differentiate between masculine and feminine, however the masculine meaning became less common in Standard English, being replaced by words like 'wizard' and 'warlock'. The modern spelling "witch" with the medial 't' first appears in the 16th century. In current colloquial English "witch" is almost exclusively applied to women, and the OED has "now only dialectal" for the masculine noun, although some Wiccans and other Neopagans apply it equally to men and women.

Figurative use to refer to a bewitching young girl begins in the 18th century [Samuel Richardson, "Pamela; or virtue rewarded" (1739–40) has: "Mrs. Jervis, said he, take the little witch from me"] , while "wiche" as a contemptuous term for an old woman is attested since the 15th century. "A witch of Endor" (alluding to bibleverse|1|Samuel|28:7|KJV) as a fanciful term for a medium appears in 19th century literature.

Modern "Wicca"

The modern term "Wica" (pronounced IPA|/ˈwɪ.kə/ (OED), with spelling later standardised to "Wicca") first appears in the writings of Gerald Gardner. [cite book | last = Gardner | first = Gerald | title = Witchcraft Today | year = 1954] [cite book | last = Gardner | first = Gerald | title = The Meaning of 'Witchcraft'| year = 1959] He used the word as a mass noun referring to the adherents of his tradition of witchcraft, rather than the religion itself. The religion he referred to as 'witchcraft', never 'Wicca'.

Gardner himself claimed he learned the term from existing members of the group who initiated him into witchcraft in 1939::"I realised I had stumbled on something interesting; but I was half-initiated before the word "Wica" which they used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed." [Gerald Gardner, "The Meaning of Witchcraft" 11 (London: Acquarian, 1959)] [J. L. Bracelin "Gerald Gardner: Witch" 151 (1960; reprinted Thame, Oxford: I-H-O Books, 1999)]

The word does not appear in the rituals commonly used nowadays in Gardnerian covens, which were composed by 1959. [cite book |last=Heselton |first=Philip |authorlink=Philip Heselton |year=2000 |title=Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival |location=Chieveley, Berkshire |publisher=Capall Bann page number]

Following Gardner a few other early books about Gardner's witchcraft tradition also used the term, with the same spelling and meaning as Gardner. For example, Patricia and Arnold Crother in "The Witches Speak" (1959): [Patricia and Arnold Crother, "The Witches Speak" 39 (Douglas, I.o. M: Athol Publications, 1965)] : [T] he Red Queen told Alice that she made words mean what wanted them to mean. She might very well have been talking about witchcraft, for today it is used to describe anything that one wishes to use it for. From the simple meaning "the craft of the Wica," it is used in connection with Black Magic, Satanism, Black Masses...Also Raymond Buckland in "Witchcraft - the Religion" (1966): [Raymond Buckland "Witchcraft - the Religion" 20 (Brentwood, NY: The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, 1966)] :Today more and more people are turning to the Wica, finding the answer to their religious needs.

The spelling "Wicca" is now used almost exclusively, Seax-Wica being the only major use of the four-letter spelling. The first appearance of the spelling "Wicca" is in June John's 1969 book "King of the Witches: The World of Alex Sanders". [June Johns, "King of the Witches: The World of Alex Sanders", (London, Peter Davies, 1969)]

The word's first appearance within the title of a book was in "Wicca: The Ancient Way" published in 1981. [Janus Mithras, Nuit Hilaria, Mer Amun, "Wicca: The Ancient Way", (Toronto, Canada: Isis Urania, 1981)]

The earliest evidence of the common adjectival form "Wiccan", also used as a noun, dates from the 1970s. [Stewart Farrar, "What Witches Do: The Modern Coven Revealed", (Peter Davies, 1971), vi. 87]


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