Since the beginning of humanity, people have knelt before images of Gods and Goddesses, have had their spiritual needs administered to by Priests and Priestesses, and have been under the political rule of Lords, Ladies, or Kings and Queens. There was a general semblance of order, regardless of how primitive and seemingly uncivilized the populations were. Even in the most remote places on earth, clans, tribes, or groups of indigenous peoples had a structure of leadership, a religious or spiritual guide, and a pantheon of deities. Nearly everyone fit into a hierarchy at some level; except the witches, of course. Witches were always on the outside looking in. Mostly women and a few men walked the thin line between the worlds; practicing their craft deep in the forest or high atop a mountain and far from prying eyes. These individuals kept their distance from the masses for many reasons, with self-preservation being the most common. Witches were misunderstood thousands of years ago and continue to be misunderstood today.
Women dominate the world of witchery; it’s no secret and no one would challenge the claim. Long ago, before the days of modern medicine or hospitals, it was women who took on the role of healers, midwives, and experts in natural medicine. Many, including myself believe that women have a deeper relationship with nature as compared to men. They feel the birth-life-death cycle much more than men do as they are bringers of life; carrying children in their sacred wombs. The plants and the Fae are not threatened and less fearful about speaking to women. It’s difficult to explain why, but the natural elements seem to want to please them. And beyond all of their abilities to connect with the natural world, women have an esoteric beauty to their entire existence; they can be quite mysterious, exquisitely cryptic, and leave those around them unable to grasp their completeness. While the ancient men were off fighting or raiding, women were teaching their daughters and granddaughters the medicine of the forest. Occasionally one of those young girls would demonstrate amazing and powerful gifts and she would cross over to take the path of the witch. She would embark on an infinite journey of energy, power, magick, and mystery; secluded but not alone.
Once every so often, a young man would have been drawn to the calling of the forest plants and the energies of the earth. These men weren’t effeminate or problematic by any measurement. Some men felt themselves being pulled by the trees to embark on the journey of the Druid, which they did, however the numbers drawn to witchery were significantly smaller. Most male witches were born into witch families and developed their craft surrounded by powerful female witches of all ages and skill levels. It must be noted that there are no hereditary witches; everyone must make their own choice to follow the calling. The men who were lucky enough to have matured surrounded by female witches likely saw the path much clearer than those who attempted it alone. And over time, those few remained but a few, in proportion to the females.
Which Name Is It? Witch or Warlock?
Witches and witchcraft have been around for as long as human beings have; those who practiced might not have been called witches in ancient times, but they certainly weren’t called warlocks. The term can only be traced back to around the year 1000 A.D. and it had a very specific meaning, which we’ll see more of momentarily. What can be said it that regardless of their biological sex, witches were called witches, and witchcraft was witchcraft, regardless of who practiced it. Today, most male witches prefer to be called a witch. What they don’t like to be called, unless they are a member of a few dark magic sects, is to be called a warlock.
As a practicing male witch, I’ve been called many things, including warlock, devil worshiper, and worse. I personally don’t care for the word warlock, even though it has been glossed over by modern society to make it appear “cool.” In reality, the term is highly offensive toward men and women who follow the white or light path and I’d like to set the record straight. By studying pagan history, we can see how Christianity and Christian agents of change attempted to erase the entire notion of witches, witchcraft, and all remnants of what they deemed as pagan beliefs. One of the ways they were successful was to label, divide, and create suspicion within communities. They knew who the non-Christian spiritual leaders were and what their methods were. All they had to do was to demonize both in order to destroy the ancient beliefs or to drive the leaders away. One of the ways they attacked male witches was to call them warlocks; a derogatory term which would raise suspicion and create fear in a community. The worst part is that the crimes of the past are still embedded in the world we live in today. Mainstream on-line resources such as Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster define Warlock as “a man who professes or is supposed to practice magic or sorcery; a male witch” or “a man practicing the black arts.” Both are incorrect descriptions and fail to present any researched study on the origin of the word and it’s use over time.
Origin and Interpretation of the Word Warlock
Research has shown us that there are many old forms of the word warlock. Each one can shed some light on how the word and its meaning evolved over time. The most commonly accepted etymology for warlock comes from the Old English. The word wǣrloga meant many things at the time, including oath-breaker, traitor, liar, deceiver, enemy, and even devil (wǣr ‘promise, compact, or agreement’ + loga ‘deceiver’). The former portion of the word can be traced back to Proto-Germanic ‘wera” which meant truth, vow, or promise and the latter portion from leogan which meant “to lie.” The original and primary usage of the word was to label an “oath-breaker,” but with a special application to cannibals, giants, and the devil. The word evolved over time and by the 1300’s was used to refer to “someone in league with the devil.” In the mid-1500’s Scottish records showed the word to mean, “a cunning man.” Later in the same century, the meaning was expanded to add the male part. The spelling was later changed to add the –ck at the end in 1680. A derivation from the Old Norse varð-lokkur, “caller of spirits”, has also been suggested as a possible source for the original meaning.
This brief traipse through historical word origins clearly demonstrate that in modern English, the term has nothing to do with the word’s original meaning. There is no talk of traitorous action nor that of breaking any solemn oath in the Webster’s Dictionary. There are no references to cunning liars and nary a devil in sight. The beliefs are largely based on a Hollywood viewpoint where the visual look takes precedence over anything else. A simple internet search for images results in hundreds of bad asses with lightning bolts, swords, and other accessories meant to make them look dangerous, evil, and foreboding. This is what is supposed to pass for a modern day warlock and it’s about as wrong as possible. In fact, it’s so corny that it likely insults those men who do consider themselves warlocks. If it wasn’t for the rise of Wicca in the 1960’s, the word may have simply faded into history. Yet, it was during that period that the term resurfaced as a way to label those who followed the dark or left hand path likely to elevate light side practitioners or simply to differentiate the two.
Our Old Nemesis – Christianity
In nearly every conversation about witchcraft, and witch persecution, the narrative always ends up in the same place. For a moment, we turn to our attention to the usual suspect; Christianity. But, as a slight disclaimer to anything negative, I’d like to state that the Christians aren’t totally to blame for the demise of the old ways. Many of our ancestors allowed themselves to be coerced into abandoning their roots for a false God which they would never truly embrace. They willingly chose to surrender or trade their connection to Mother Earth and the freedoms they enjoyed in all aspects of their lives. In return they were given a massive rule book called the Bible, which came complete with restriction after restriction after restriction. Their festivals and practices were hijacked and re-purposed by the church, but only to placate them in the short run. Eventually all references to the old ways were dropped and the church simply erased the connections. Sexuality and promiscuity were demonized and punished. Nakedness was blanket with a banner of shame; no pun intended. Herbal medicine was regulated to the back seat and Christian prayer was elevated as the way to cure illness or disease. And that was just the beginning.
As Christianity became a larger part of everyday life in ancient Europe, the church took certain liberties to ensure how Christianity was viewed. The church needed it to be seen as something better than anything else and so to help matters, they labeled everything other than Christianity as pagan; along with a supporting message that paganism was evil. Imagine if everything you knew, everything your grandparents knew, and everything in your history was suddenly considered illegal and immoral. Friends were pitted against friends to divide and conquer. Weaker people were used and exploited to reveal those practicing in secret and trust became a lost commodity. The Christians were ruthless and relentless and twisted their thumbscrews of torture tighter and tighter until backs were broken and lives destroyed. Everyone soon knew that torture and imprisonment lay in store for anyone, man or woman, who refused the church.
While attempting to convert pagans, the church singled out those women and men who were considered witches. Remember that in this period, hearsay was just as good as hard evidence and the definition of a witch or practicing witchcraft was anything the Inquisitor wanted it to be. Anyone who spoke out against Christianity in any way was considered a heretic and lumped in with the lot. The “cunning men” of Scotland were considered subversive and against the teachings of the church. The Inquisitors deemed them to be evil and in league with the devil, at least by their definition. They were witches regardless of reality. This seems very logical and quite similar to how the term pagan was assigned as a term to identify those who went against the church. There was no middle ground and people were forced to take a side.
White Versus Dark
We’ve seen several possibilities on where the word warlock originated and how it morphed over time. Also, it’s clear that not everyone has the same opinion on how the word became associated with male witches. One tale, actually a myth, was a claim that the word warlock originated from within the witch community. The story said that during the witch trials, some witches betrayed their covens. They were supposedly branded with the term warlock forever after. Not hard to see that with so few male witches, the numbers just didn’t add up. For that notion to be true, it would mean that all male witches were betrayers.
For the discussion to come full-circle, we must examine the last 50 years of modern history. Some male witches are trying to reclaim the term warlock, but in a positive light. These are mostly right hand or light-siders. Some students of witchcraft have suggested that this is a movement by men to shift the belief away from the divine feminine, but that’s an entirely different investigation.
The men in many sects of modern day Satanism proudly call themselves warlocks. It’s a powerful word with ample shock value, which seems to fit into their practice quite well. Satanism can refer to many different beliefs including those who worship the Christian Devil, occultists, Luciferians, members of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and several others. These left-hand path practitioners are often at odds with right-hand practitioners who often claim the high ground when it comes to magick working and connection with the earth.
In short, my advice to anyone practicing any of the magickal arts or adhering to the ancient practices would be this: Call yourself whatever you want to be known as; whether that be witch, warlock, or something different. My path is light and I prefer to be called witch and I do take offense to the term warlock as mentioned. Regardless of which side you practice or support, it’s important that all of us in the pagan community remember our history; not just the parts that closely connect to our practices. Remember that our ancestors, whether light or dark, left or right, were persecuted for their beliefs. They were tortured and put to death for having a connection with the soil, the stones, the trees, and the plants. Some were punished because they refused to capitulate. Others were stripped of their livelihoods and their families destroyed by invaders carrying crosses and wearing robes. We cannot allow infighting to weaken the community. Stay true to yourself and never forget the past.
Links to Other Noteworthy Articles
- Elementals – They Live Among Us - April 9, 2021
- Full Worm Moon, 2021 – Embracing the Seasonal Shift - March 23, 2021
- Ostara Ritual – Blessing the Elements of Springtime - March 11, 2021