Because Facebook has all but destroyed its former Facebook “notes,” I have done my best to compile everything about this issue into this post. Some of it is repetitive since it has been compiled from multiple posts, but I will endeavor to make it more succinct as time allows.
In the Spring of 2011, I put this contest up for irresponsible members of the Pagan and Witch communities continue to insist that the word Warlock refers to those who betray their coven and continue to berate me for calling myself by that title. So far, this note has been up for over two years and nobody has provided me source material proving that this use of the term existed prior to 1950, so I am confused as to why the Pagan community continues to use this erroneous terminology.
This contest still stands and I have long since upped the till to $10,000. Be the first person to provide me source material prior to the 1951 Witchcraft revival in which the word Warlock was used as a title to describe a Witch who betrayed his, her (or their) coven, rather than simply a label of their gender or an oath-breaker in general and I will give you $10,000.
If you read the Oxford English Dictionary [OED] etymology of Warlock, there is simply nothing to suggest the word being a title for someone who betrayed their coven of Witches. Any general association with the breaking of oaths would have to be taken into historical context of a Christianized Scotland. Going only so far back as 1023 CE, and also being associated with being a devil or being in league with the devil, the oaths broken would have been broken to the church. In this regard, I am an oathbreaker, breaking the oaths of the first commandment. Reading the Malleus Malificarum—The witch hunter’s guide, you see a mindset by which women are referred to as prone to Witchcraft, more susceptible. That was indicative of the terrible sexism of the time. So, for a man to practice Witchcraft would have been considered a far more grievous sin.
[insert OED reference when found]
That said, while OED will not yet accept Vardlokkur as a possible source, it is older than 1023, with the story of the “Warlock Song” contained within the Saga of Erik the Red (Circa 950 – 1003 CE). With so much of the credible historical research on magic emerging after 1963, in fact, in the last two decades really, we have a lot of knowledge that we didn’t have then. Icelandic/English dictionaries dating as early as the 1800’s define Warlock as the English equivalent of the Nordic Vardlokkur (or spirit summoning song). Historian Stephen A. Mitchell in his 2011 book, “Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages,” continues this trend. Oxford English Dictionary is an aggregate of scholarship, but is not necessarily the last word. If it were, it would never change. Either way, whatever the etymology, the OED defines Warlock now as “a man who practices witchcraft; a sorcerer.”
As Isaac Bonewits long pointed out, the word Witch was an insult thrown by the Church in the same way that the word “pagan” essentially began as the Roman version of the term “White trash.” We have reclaimed these words in spite of their negative associations. Starhawk noted in The Spiral Dance that even with all its negative connotations, women should see the word Witch as a way of reclaiming women’s power and that men should see it as a way of finding the divine feminine within. Nobody seems to question that, so I have to wonder what kind of agenda is driving this resentment. Perhaps the same one that kept transgendered females out of a circle at Pantheacon. Frankly, in 1963, Gardnerian Wicca was quite homophobic.
I don’t mind people disagreeing with my use of the words. What I resent is those accusing me of not doing my homework when, essentially, they haven’t done their homework. The bibliography of my book reads like an anthology of the ancient world. There are painfully few books on the modern Witchcraft revival among the bunch. Anyone who says that the word represents a traitor to the coven is taking it from modern Wicca books and, frankly, this isn’t homework. Not any that any serious academic would accept as a source, anyway. The very Gardnerian Book of Shadows that most who know it are oathbound not to reveal, I have read, without oath taken, and it says nothing negative about the word Warlock at all. In fact, some versions of the text actually use the word as a form of binding of the initiate to gain the sight. So there is no evidence anywhere that this word represents a traitor to the Craft only traitor to the Church, which I am gladly, and I agree with the Nordic scholars (and most Witchcraft is likely descended from both the Nordic and Celtic people anyway) that Vardlokkur is the original root anyway.
With this in mind, I prefer to put my money where my mouth is. I am offering $10,000 to the first person who can find me source material prior to 1950 that designates the word Warlock as someone who betrays a coven to the Witch hunters, or betrays a coven at all. I’m that interested in the source material for this prior to the Wiccan revival that I’m willing to pay for it.
So everyone has gleefully tittered over their own words excited at what they believe to be their overwhelming knowledge on the subject, but does anyone actually want the cash? Trust me, we can talk business now. I’ve got the cash if you’ve got the stash.
- Source must be prior to 1950.
- Source must use the word Warlock to refer to a person as such because he or she betrayed their coven. In other words, that must clearly be why the person was called a Warlock. A poor Christian who is accused of being a Warlock and then, under torture, “betrays” other Witches (essentially calling out other poor Christians) wouldn’t count because that person was called a Warlock for his gender before he caved under torture. That, and when women named the names of other “witches,” they weren’t suddenly called warlocks. The evidence must be someone who is deemed a warlock as a result of he or she calling out the names of other Witches. I understand that the word has connotations of Oathbreaker in the Oxford English Dictionary, but this refers to period of Christianized Scotland and seems to have nothing to do with betraying Covens. Dig deeper than that! 🙂
- You must provide the Source, page number and, if it is not available on Google books, you must provide an actual typed actual citation so I can see if I need to obtain the book somewhere.
- Current “oral tradition” and “my grandmother told me,” if either are without written sources prior to 1950, are disallowed, obviously.
- “Covenant” does not equal a “coven.” (Yes, people have actually tried that and I weep for the world)
- This contest shall be dissolved after the first person brings me evidence that meets the criteria above. The first person to bring it to me wins the $10,000 and only the first person.
Some Pagans out there were so determined to discredit this note that they said I set up impossible rules. Impossible? Hardly. Be the first person to provide me source material prior to 1950 in which the word Warlock was used as a title to describe those who betrayed their covens, rather than simply a label of their gender or oath-breaker in general and I will give you $10,000. It is that simple. Since nobody has been able to do this for the years I’ve had this contest up, I am inclined to believe it does not exist. Since it probable doesn’t exist, I wish the Pagan community would stop reprinting it as fact and do its own
I also found it amusing that some tried to rationalize their disagreement with my note by saying that there are no modern Witchcraft books claiming that a Warlock is someone who betrays a coven, even though they almost certainly know that what they are saying is false and designed to throw people off the scent of truth that I’ve explored here. I will provide a list of sources that do say this below.
Still others insist that this note is discredited because either a) the word Warlock existed prior to 1950 (where did I say it didn’t? LOL) or b) I must know that the oathbreaker designation once existed for the word (where did I say it didn’t? LOL). Clearly, they are only cursorily reading this.
The source must really be the word “Warlock,” as a title given because the man or woman betrayed other Witches. There are stories of both warlocks and Witches calling out names under torture, but the Warlocks were called warlocks before such betrayal and the Witches continued to be referred to as Witches after their betrayal, proving that the labels were designation purely of gender. There are many books that use this term and they should back it up!
And I the Read it and Weep Department …
A number of folks I’ve seen on Pagan message threads have said I was making a straw man argument and that nobody in the Craft has ever said that a Warlock is a traitor to a Coven or other Witches specifically. Here they are folks, MANY sources. Each of the following books refers to a Warlock as a traitor to a coven. Now that I am an actual initiate, I am shocked that some of these sources are from initiates.
“A warlock is an “oath-breaker” or a traitor to witches.”13 Lessons for Pleasing the Divine: A Witch’s Primer
“Warlock – a term coined in the Burning Times. It was used to denote a traitor to the Craft, or one who had betrayed the followers of the Old Religion”The Coven Leader’s Handbook: 13 Lessons in Gardnerian And Alexandrian Wicca
“The term warlock is used by most Witches only to mean a traitor or oathbreaker—especially one who has betrayed the coven to those who intend harm”How to Become a Witch
By Amber K.
“[Warlock…] was a term applied during the burning times to one who turned in his fellow Witches to the authorities.”Wicca for Life: The Way of the Craft — From Birth to Summerland
By Raymond Buckland
“[…] denoting a traitor to the Craft, meaning oath breaker, or betrayer of the faith”Gardner Tradition: Spells, Rituals and Sabbats
Robin B. May
“… some Witches teach that this word refers to a Witch who was expelled from a coven, presumably for misconduct of some sort.”When Someone you Love is Wiccan
By Carl McColmanz
“However, the word “warlock” comes from waerloga, an Old English word that means “oath breaker.” Consequently, in modern Wicca, a warlock is someone who has broken an oath or betrayed the Craft in some manner.”The Encyclopedia of Superstitions
By Richard Webster
Since I’ve had to take everything from a jumble of Facebook notes and compile it here rather quickly, it’s a bit of a mess but it’s all here except for the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology listing for the word.
Reference: Warlocks, Valkyries, and Varlets by Stephen A. Mitchell, Professor of Scandinavian and Folklore, Harvard University
My own book and links on the subject that represent my research might be helpful before proceeding:
In the saga of Erik the Red, we find one of the most dramatic examples of the Seidr—the Norse form of Witchcraft. The Witch Thorbjorg was a seeress who was often invited to winter feasts so that she might share her visions of the future with guests. Thorkell, a chief farmer in a region of Greenland where famine had struck, calls Thorbjorg to one of his feasts to hear her foresight of just when that famine might end. She arrives in a strapped blue cloak bedecked with stones, calfskin shoes and gloves, and carries a staff bound with brass and adorned with stones. Around her waist hangs a pouch in which her many magics were stored. Thorbjorg stays the night and, the next day, as she prepares to perform her Witchcrafts to answer the questions put to her by the chief farmer and his guests, she asks for a woman to perform a song of spirit-summoning called the varðlokur, also known as the Warlock song or warding song. A Christian woman who knew the song from the magical teachings of her foster mother comes forth and sings the varðlokur so beautifully that the spirits of the dead emerged. Thorbjorg divines the future from these spirits, among them several that the Witch says normally stay away but were enthralled by the sheer beauty of the singer’s performance. She imparts to the guests that the famine would end by the springtime and that all would be well with the crops. This story not only shows a significant tie between Witches and the dead but has provided a strong but much-debated possible source for the word “Warlock” and has influenced why I use that word to describe myself.(The Witches’ Book of the Dead, Warlock Press, 2021, p 8-9)
Thoughts on the word Warlock as Oathbreaker or Liar
IF the word Warlock follows the Scottish etymology at all, the idea of liar, breaker of faith, oath-breaker, would have referred to the most grievous sin that a man could commit back then, turning his back on the Church. Do we need anymore proof of this than the fact that a number of male practitioners in Scotland still use the word Warlock to describe themselves today. I’ve had a few of them email me over the years. Clearly, they don’t mind turning their back on the Church but I find most American Witches have not quite broken those bonds yet and the vast majority I’ve met still very much carry a lot of Christian baggage.
I am addressing this to all those tossing around the use of the word Warlock as “liar” or “oath-breaker.” I exclude from the previous those who say Warlock is specifically a “traitor to the coven” since I’ve already addressed those individuals with an offer of $1,000 for proof of that fallacy that they are clearly unable to obtain.
Also, if you follow the Oxford English Dictionary—and I have, the word, if Scottish, evolved over a number of years and meant many things.
[insert OED reference when found]
A friend once said to me, “etymologists agree that the word “tradition” meant “to hand over, deliver, surrender” and was a doublet for treason or betrayal. Treason, furthermore, comes through the Anglo-French deriving from the Latin “traditionem”. If we can’t use Warlock because many etymologists trace it through a complex path back to Oath Breaker, then we certainly shouldn’t be using “tradition” which definitively meant betrayal and treason! It seems like hypocrisy to me.” So, every Wiccan using the word tradition to describe their path yet rails on about the word Warlock being traitor is a complete hypocrite. Ignorance of scholarship is not an excuse. If you’re practicing Witchcraft, you should know the power of your words.
And, as for those who say that Witch has no gender, Oxford posits the origins of Witch to be “Old English wicca (masculine), wicce (feminine), wiccian (verb);” (and, for the record, that’s pronounced Witcha and Witche). Thus, the word had both male and female gender from its very origins:
You may have noticed that I avoid the word “Wicca” in this book. The word Witch comes from the Old English roots “wicca” and “wicce,” and were pronounced with the palatal consonant /tʃ/ (like the “ch” sound in “chip”) and would have sounded like Witch-ah [wɪttʃɑ] and Witch-eh [wɪttʃe], respectively, not the more commonly mispronounced “wick-ah.” Also important is the fact that the roots “wicca” and “wicce” are not actually two words. Unlike Modern English, Old English was a gendered language and so “wicca” and “wicce” were gendered variations of the same word. If you remove those variations, you simply get the word “Witch!” Hence, continuing to use the word “Wicca” with a k sound doesn’t make any sense. While it has been said that Wicca with a k is an old word for Witch, the truth is that Witch is the old word for Witch! Our ways are called Witchcraft and Witchcraft is the very source of the pastiche of practices that are now called Wicca with a k—a word that has gone on to be applied to many derivative Pagan religions, pseudo-spiritual therapy encounter groups, and donut social gatherings. However, Witchcraft is the authentic core of our priesthood, and our traditions continue to thrive in spite of the many bastardizations that come from the misuse of the word Wicca. Therefore, I am punishing that word by not using it.
To truly begin your own journey towards initiation into Witchcraft, we must first define what Witchcraft is and where it comes from. We will explore the lives and legacies of the major players of the modern Witchcraft revival. And, I’ll help you to understand the deep roots of the ancient magical priesthood you are endeavoring to explore.(Initiation Into Witchcraft by Brian Cain, Warlock Press, 2019, page 2)
As a side note, the first definition of Oxford for Witch is “a woman thought to have evil magic powers. Witches are popularly depicted as wearing a black cloak and pointed hat, and flying on a broomstick.” The sub-definition of “a follower or practitioner of modern witchcraft” clearly designates that this is a modern phenomenon. While I personally believe that Witch originates from positive words, there is not much proof for this and certainly wouldn’t try to win a thousand dollars from someone trying to prove it. 😉
And, with all that being said, Nordic scholars are questioning whether the word even comes from that at at all and rather believe it comes from the word Vardlokkur, a word meaning “song of spirit summoning.” Oxford English Dictionary does not accept this for its rarity but I think, given the word Witch having its own origins in the Germanic linguistic group and the consistent (though ignored by many modern “Wickerns” … and yes, I’m comparing the average status of their intellect to that of furniture) association of Witches and the dead make a word referring to spirit summoner make more sense.
And, finally, here’s something to bake your noodle. How do we know for sure that the word Vardlokkur wasn’t actually the origin of the Scottish “waerloga.” Perhaps these men were called traitors to the Christian faith precisely because they were summoning the dead.
And yes, this note had a somewhat dismissive tone. If you’re going to define your life by spewing rhetoric and opinions without facts or research, then I will address you accordingly as the amateur you are. Nobody ever said I had to suffer fools in order to be a public figure and I certainly don’t intend to. 🙂
The Word Warlock
Here is a rework of an item I posted to the Salem News message boards about the word Warlock.
To speak to the idea that a “warlock is one who has betrayed a coven,” there is simply no primary source material for this in either Witchcraft or Wicca. For much of its history, the word was associated with male Witches and was considered as pejorative as “Witch” was. Oddly, though, noted Wiccan Starhawk says that even with all its negative connotations, women should see the word Witch as a way of reclaiming women’s power and that men should see it as a way of finding the divine feminine within. I do have to wonder why this interesting rule of hers does not also apply to the divine masculine, but that is probably a debate for another day.
The people writing in the days when the word Warlock meant “oathbreaker” were largely associated with the church. The oaths they were considered to be breaking were to the church. If you consider the fact that the Malleus Malificarum, or “Witches Hammer,” the guidebook used by Witch hunters to try and execute those innocents, considered women to be lesser than men, this all makes sense in context. According to the Malleus, women were expected to be more prone to the supposed sin of Witchcraft, so, while they were punished, people were less surprised. For a man to do this, considered by Biblical wisdom to be the head of the household, it was thought to be a far more grievous sin. Hence, they would be far more vilified. In this regard, I willingly consider myself in contrast to the Church’s will in this matter because I have most definitely renounced their falsehoods.
Paul Huson, in his infamous book, Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks and Covens–which is probably the best book on the subject ever put out there, uses the word Warlock throughout and has people say the Our Father backwards. If that’s not breaking the oaths of the Church, I don’t now what is. Oh, and I have this book at HEX. ;-D
The word Wicca (originally pronounced “Witcha”) was an anglo-saxon word, not Celtic (Scottish being Celtic), a Germanic rather than a Gaelic language group, perhaps suggesting more Germanic roots for European Witchcraft than Celtic (Sorry, Enya! LOL). Another Germanic group, the Norse, had a term for the “spirit song” used to summon spirits known as the “Vardlokkur”. While Oxford won’t accept it due to few references, it certainly jives more with what we have in early literary history about Witches being necromancers, such as Circe, the Woman of Endor, Medea, Erictho, Canidia, and countless others. Recently translated Hungarian Witch trial records show that the relationship between Witches and the spirits of the dead continued even into far later periods.
To me, the Warlock is neither a Satanist nor an oathbreaker, but rather a brand of sorcerer who protects his people from harm. While the word is certainly shrouded in mystery, it is no moreso than the word Witch. It’s a shame that Starhawk’s argument, referenced above, applies only to women. Seems like a bit of reverse-discrimination to me. But for adherents of so obviously a recent path as “Wicca” (with the ‘k’ sound, versus ‘tch’) to be so concerned with what is ancient amuses me greatly, especially when the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, the book that essentially kicked off the entire modern revival, uses the term “Warlock” to refer to a binding ritual. Now, I’ve made no Gardnerian oaths so I’m not “Warlocking” that (*snickersnort*). This material has been published for decades by Lady Sheba, Aiden Kelly, Janet and Steward Farrar, and more. So if the founding pillars of modern Wicca do not use this word in the pejorative, why do the post-1970’s generations have such a problem with it? They don’t know the modern history of their faith anymore than they do the ancient.
There’s one reason I like this word more than any other though. It’s downright sexy. 😀
So, some have followed my use of the word “Warlock” lately. I believe, in spite of Oxford English Dictionary’s refusal to accept it for not enough references, that the Norse Vardlokkur is the origin of the word. Stephen A. Mitchell, in his brand new book,
Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages
, refers to the Vardlokkur as “The Warlock Song” and an English/Icelandic dictionary refers to warlock and vardlokkur as related.
Still, many still source the Scottish “Waerloga,” or oathbreaker. But let’s not forget: how long did the dictionaries bash Witches as a negative until we forced many of them to revisit THAT word? Many dictionaries still posit Witch as a negative word, worse even than Warlock, so the hypocrisy of some in this debate is simply breathtaking, and not in a good way.
Still, let’s say for the sake of argument that they’re right? In what context is oathbreaker used? Is it betrayer of the coven like this or that Wicca 101 book says? Um. No. There’s no source material for this and Reverend Don Lewis’s videos do not count as source material (and yes, someone actually posted his youtube video as “source material.” LOL). Is it a betrayer of “one’s own kind?” Nope. No source material for that either.
A visit to an etymological dictionary online offers this:
Old English wærloga “traitor, liar, enemy, devil,” from wær “faith, fidelity; a compact, agreement, covenant,” from Proto-Germanic *wera- (source also of Old High German wara“truth,” Old Norse varar “solemn promise, vow”), from PIE root *were-o- “true, trustworthy.” Second element is an agent noun related to leogan “to lie” (see lie (v.1); and compare Old English wordloga “deceiver, liar”).
Original primary sense seems to have been “oath-breaker;” given special application to the devil (c. 1000), but also used of giants and cannibals. Meaning “one in league with the devil” is recorded from c. 1300. Ending in -ck (1680s) and meaning “male equivalent of a witch” (1560s) are from Scottish.https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=warlock
It’s not Oxford but it’s the best out there that’s publicly available.
So let’s read between the lines here. “give n special application to the devil,” and “one in league with the devil.” What does this say? If any oaths were broken, they were made in honor of the devil, thus they were broken not to the “coven” or “one’s own kind,” but to the CHURCH, to the First Commandment. We Witches violate the first commandment every day, and I do so proudly!
So, whether Warlock is Waerloga or Vardlokkur, it matters little to me. I still like the word. I broke my oaths to the Christian God gladly, and I summon the spirits every day. Take your pick. I’m still a Warlock, baby, and I was born this way. 😉