Warlock

Regarding the origin of the term "Warlock", I offer the following. As you would know this title has frequently been identified with a male witch. More recently many have disputed this due to its possible reference to a "liar" or "betrayer of trust", an oath-breaker. Others choose to dismiss it because of the inclusion of "war" in the name.

Doreen Valiente in her book, An ABC of Witchcraft (pub. Hales 1973, re-printed with corrections, 1984) states that the term has Scottish origins, but doesn't enlarge upon this at all. More interestingly, Nigel Pennick in his, Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition (pub. Aquarian 1989) has the following to say:
The Scots dialect word Warlock, meaning a cunning man or male white witch, is rarely used today except pejoratively. Because dictionary definitions have given it meanings like "liar", it has fallen from use, but it is clear that in reality it relates to the power to shut in or enclose, i.e. a person with the capability of making binding spells. This is found in the Norse tale Eir¡ks Saga Rauda. The story is set in Greenland, some years after the Christian religion was imposed. A V"lva (wise woman) conducting a ceremony asks the assembly that a song called Vardlokkur should be sung to enable the continuation of the ceremony. No-one knows it, except a girl on a visit from Iceland. She is Christian, but has been taught it by her nurse. Reluctant at first to sing the Vardlokkur, knowing it to be Pagan, eventually she is cajoled into singing, and the ceremony is completed without interference. The power of the warlock, then, is to ward off evil spirits and to lock or bind them up.

Along similar lines, the following appeared in Vol IX No. 5 (#49) of the Pagana occult magazine:
Warlock may come from the hypothetical (unattested) Old English waer-loga, "oath-breaker", or it may come from the (fully-attested) Old Norse Vard-lokkur, "caller of spirits".

Generally when looking at the origins of the words "warlock" and "witch" (along with others), the Anglo-Saxon and Old English often need to be traced to the Nordic languages. This makes sense when it is realized that the Celts of Central Europe originated from the northern tribes, before their culture mixed with that of the Mediterranean lands and the aboriginal races of what is now Britain. It is well-known that due to difficult access of the remote northern areas (i.e., for the Romans), the Nordic/Saxon cultures retained a greater degree of purity within their customs and language, so this may also be a contributing factor.

I also found the translation of "binder" for warlock of interest, as this would seem to relate directly to the term's usage within the Alexandrian Book of Shadows, here being used as a reference to both the action and the role of that person who does the binding of the applicant during the initiation rite.

From John, South Australia:
I am happy to provide some information on the origin and development of the word "Warlock" as requested in Web of Wyrd No. 3. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (1989), the word "Warlock" is derived from the Old English Waerloga which, in turn, is a compound of two words: waer (truth, agreement) and loga (liar, deceiver), from the verb leogan (to lie). Waer is cognate with the Old High German wƒra (truth), the Old Norse v rar (vow) and the Latin verus (true). Leogan is cognate with the modern German lgen (to lie). Hence the original meaning of waerloga is "oathbreaker" — a serious crime in early times.

The earliest recorded use of waerloga dates from about C.E. 900 — although it was probably in common usage well before that time. In Middle English it becomes warloghe. The modern form with the "ck" ending dates from about the 16th century. According to the English Dialect Dictionary (1905) there are a number of different meanings of "warlock":

  1. A wizard or magician — hence warlock-breef (a wizard's spell); warlock-fecket (a magick jacket); warlockin (an imp), and warlock-knowe (a meeting place of wizards). These words are mainly of Scottish origin — however the use of the word warlock to mean "wizard" is widespread from the earliest times. Why? Presumably because the Christians regarded any practitioner of the Old Religion as a "liar" or "deceiver" — in this sense, warlock is a derogatory term.
  2. A method of tightening a rope or chain which binds the load on a wagon — hence warlock't (entangled) and warlock-knot (a hard knot in timber). This is predominantly a Lancashire, Cheshire and Somerset dialect. The method of binding is to wind the rope or chain loosely, and then insert a lever which is twisted until the desired tightness is achieved. In this sense, presumably it is a waer lock — a true lock; one that will not come loose. This is, of course, the meaning used in the Book of Shadows.
  3. The common mustard (Sinapis nigra) or — possibly — the wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) — a Suffolk dialect. This rather obscure meaning of warlock is presumably a corruption of the country name charlock by which the field mustard (Sinapis arvensis) is also known — not, incidentally, Sinapis nigra, or black mustard — the dictionary is in error here. Similarly, the wild radish also goes by the country name, jointed-podded charlock.

From Bridgit, Western Australia:
I put the question of warlocks to the Cauldron (a regular meeting of High Priestesses in the Perth area). The general feeling was: Scottish male witch, taken over by Hollywood/science fantasy. Irrelevant, haven't met any! One bright spark suggested that we ask the blokes! I'll pass on any further thoughts/research to you.

Warlock Revisited

by Matthew Sandow
This discussion about Warlocks developed out of a question that has been interesting me for considerable time; namely, why do we as men call ourselves Witches? I have always thought that a Witch was most definitely a woman, and whilst I am sufficiently sure of my sex to use the term Witch, I felt that it somehow didn't quite fit. However when I first started to ask whether the term Warlock was more accurate, and for that matter appropriate to the religion, I encountered some very interesting reactions. These ranged from:

  • The term means oath breaker or traitor;
  • There is no such person as a warlock. They never existed, or if they did, then they don't now;
  • They are all satanists, and evil.

Generally people felt that the word was inappropriate, and the use of it would bring Witches into disrepute. I have always been able to sense which way the winds blow, so with all this in mind I firmly set off in the opposite direction. One of the first things I did was to re-read the section so often quoted to me from the book Eight Sabbats for Witches by Stewart Farrar:
"But ‘warlock', in the sense of ‘a male witch’, is Scottish Late Middle English and entirely derogatory; its root means ‘traitor, enemy, devil’; and if the very few modern male witches who call themselves warlocks realized its origin, they would join the majority and share the title ‘witch’ with their sisters." (Introduction, note 6)

That all looked pretty definite and damning, and is the source of most of the correspondence I received. My second piece of research concerned tribal and primitive societies and their social structure. This was very illuminating, because the most common factor in the way societies were run was the principle of elders.

The chief was almost always a hereditary position handed down from father to son or grandfather to grandson. He was the ultimate leader of the clan or tribe and its survival was his direct responsibility. The second principle force was the priest/witchdoctor/shaman, who was the spiritual focus of the tribe. It may or may not be a hereditary position, but was generally regarded as being in direct contact with the gods. He had enormous say in the running of the tribe. The moving of the tribe required favorable signs, and the interpretation of these was the direct province of this person. If the signs were misread the tribe could miss the migration of game, or be struck with unfavorable weather. It was a great responsibility and the welfare of the tribe depended on it.

The third principle was the war lord, whose role was the protection and preservation of the clan and its property. This position was never a right of hereditary succession, but rather one hard fought for. The war lord was almost invariably the best and most capable warrior. He led the fight for food and raids against enemies.

Between these three the clan was run, and run extraordinarily efficiently. The duties of each were clearly defined and the roles of each respected by all. That this was the case in primitive societies is clear, but consider the situation of modern man where the roles are still retained in different guises. The chief is the Prime Minister/King/President, whose role is the general welfare of the country/nation. The priest has not changed much except in dogma, and he still reads the portends of good and evil to the population. The war lord is charge of the police and the army.

It was only in the rare cases of one taking over the position of another that balance was lost. History is full of examples of war lords seizing power with terrible results, as society splits over loyalties to one or other lord, and any reference to a modern theocracy shows the limitations of religion and government.

In more primitive times usurping of a role was rare, because of role acceptance, and the social security of being within that role. Any departure from the sociably acceptable was to lead to being outlawed or simply banished. Yet some did accept banishment or voluntarily left for various reasons. Tribal legends abound of the shaman or the warrior who left the security of the tribe to live in the wilderness where they developed new techniques and philosophies. But as importantly, they developed their magical abilities to the point of becoming superhuman, and would come back to the tribe in times of great need as Heroes.

The next thing I thought about was how we as a modern society see primitive cultures. Consider how fiction and faction portray the tribe. I remember reading the tales of the white hunter amongst the savages in Africa/America. The chief and our good clean hero become friends (usually because the hero saves the chiefs son/daughter at great personal risk) and everything would be rosy except for the evil witchdoctor lurking in the background, or the vengeful dumped warrior of the same saved daughter. These are always spiteful and evil characters and as such we feel the justification when the hero kills them and leads the now saved tribe into the modern world. Modern medicine will replace the witchdoctor and white men with guns will replace the warrior, as the tribe is put onto the reservation for its own good.

The wise women of the tribes who had been the herbalists and healers, the mid wives and seers, became the Witches, and the shamans and war lords became Warlocks. Each preserved and developed their own knowledge, but also each preserved the gods and the religion of the old ways. By living apart from the tribe they were able to survive, but the act of living apart also separated them as a member of the society. Where they had always been regarded with respect they were now respected with also with fear, and this fear was certainly used by the Witches and Warlocks in their own defense.

All this brings us back full circle, namely to the Warlock and our definition of him. As has been correctly pointed out, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the Warlock as a traitor or oath breaker, and this is certainly true in two ways:

  1. The term is Old English, and derives from about 600 CE, which is when the monks were writing the books we now use as reference. There are no prizes for guessing why these Pagan terms were less than endearing. Any one who would not accept the new and true faith of Christianity was evil and dangerous. By equating those who did not accept the faith with evil, the new lords had the enemy firmly sighted. The old gods became the new devils, and the followers of the old ways were heretics and worshipers of demons. To follow the old ways was dangerous and guarded with secrecy. The Witches and Warlocks became separate from the general population, and followed their own paths.
  2. Again as has been correctly pointed out, the breaking of an oath was of extreme importance at a time when a man's word was his bond. The making of an oath was done with great care and consideration. When faced with the annihilation of his tribe by the conquerors, the Chief has historically taken the option of surrender to preserve the clan or tribe. An oath taken by the clan leader for the surrender and saving of his people would only be broken in great reverence by the younger men of the tribe. Thus the term oath breaker would be one of respect amongst the tribe, as these men left to fight against their conquerors. An example of this is Chochise who surrendered to the US Cavalry so that the women and children would be saved, but allowed the young warriors to leave under the leadership of his most able follower, Geronimo.

However, what most people ignore (or are simply unaware of) is that the definition of oath breaker is not the only reference to the Warlock, and indeed the Complete Oxford Dictionary has considerably more information.

"This seems to have been the original sense of the present word, but the special application to the Devil (either as a rebel, or a deceiver) was already in OE the leading sense. The applications to sorcerers, with especial reference to the power of assuming inhuman shapes, and to monsters (esp. serpents), appear to be developments, partly due to Scriptural language, of the sense "devil".

"The modern forms with final -(c)k are of obscure origin, for they appear first in Sc. of the 16th c., and owe their spread to Sc. writers, and so cannot represent, as has been assumed, a Southern sound-substitution of (k) for the -ch (x) of some of the rarer North and Sc. forms. From the first they have been used in the sense "wizard". Some other word, lost or not discovered, has perh. influenced both form and sense." (OED 1991)

Thus in the 10th century the monks had connected the Warlock to those who worshiped the Old Gods (devils), and who refused to accept the Christian God, or did so in a superficial manner (deceitful). They had indeed been recognized as rebels. What is also recognized is that the word was already old in the 10th century but its original meaning is lost, or at least waiting to be rediscovered.

We cannot now discover what the original meaning was, but we can perhaps get closer to the truth by looking at the "obscure " references. Several people who have contacted me in reference to this article mentioned that there are many references which do not seem to make any sense. One of these is the association with the word Charlock which applies to various field weeds, and especially to species of the genus Sinapis, Mustard. Mustard is a very common weed and is obviously associated with the Sun (hot taste, small yellow flowers). It is also a very good blood purifier and its use as a compress to relieve congestion of the lungs would have been very handy in cold, misty climates such as Northern European Winter and Melbourne in Summer.

Another reference is in connection to binding or securing. To warlock (or warlocke) was to secure (a horse) as with a fetter lock. It is also used in reference to securing a load onto a cart. In rural South Australia where I grew up, bales of wool are loaded onto a semi-trailer and secured with a length of rope, in the very simple but effective manner of running a loop of rope around the entire load, then tightening it with a windlass of two short poles set at cross angles to each other. The rope is looped over the end of one pole and twisted around it with the other. We call this a Spanish Windlass at home, but it is obviously the same method with a different name.

A Warlock is also used to mean a cairn or pile of stones (in Scandinavian regions) which apparently served as beacons (lighthouses) or as markers of territory. Another use of the term meant that a man "warlocked" was magically immune to wounds inflicted by certain weapons (commonly iron), which developed into the idea of being Warlocked. Lastly the term meant "to bar against hostile invasion". So a war locked nation was one which was protected (by Warlocks) against invasion, rather than being embroiled in a war inside its territory.

It must be acknowledged that much of my research has shown that the Warlock was a warrior whose lifestyle was frequently violent and short. It is easy to either glorify his acts of valor, or accuse him of being a thug, reveling in bloodshed. What is more difficult is to recognize the middle path between extremes, and recognize that in the "Good Old Days" life was extraordinary difficult and frequently short; that violence was a way of life and death. Men and Women had very different roles to those of today, and indeed that may be good reason in itself to repudiate the idea of the Warlock. But I believe that in those days men and women were more secure in their roles. Women ran the household and indeed frequently were the owners of the land. Women probably had more power and control over their lives than they do now.

Since Christianity women have lost their land, their rights, their magic and their voice. Even today women have not regained what was previously theirs by right. Men were put into the position of controlling the land and all it contained. Remember the land given to the Christian Church was frequently given by the women, and that the Abbeys were often run by women. Only after the restructure of the Church did women lose all this to become the subjugated nuns to the religion they helped set up. The ones who did keep what was theirs became the Witches, and continued to heal, teach and act as midwives in the more isolated areas. As is happening in Nicaragua at the moment, the Witches were attacked for fulfilling the role which was theirs. In 20th century Nicaragua Witches are being taxed, ridiculed and outlawed because of the power and prestige they hold in the community (and because they are cheaper and more effective than the "modern" doctors!).

We must recognize that the Witch and the Warlock are very old terms which have been tampered with by people with a vested interest in doing so. History is always written by the victor, but we have the opportunity to question and change peoples' attitudes towards us. We are Witches, and should not change our name because of outsiders' opinions. We have all — Witch and non-Witch alike — been subjected to 1,000 years or so of negative influence. Now we have learnt the reality of Witchcraft, and take pride in it. If we refuse to acknowledge the name Witch, we accept that what has been written is true. The same holds for Warlock; just as there are some very dubious people misusing the words Witchcraft and Witch, so there are also people debasing the word Warlock. A Warlock is not some plonker doing ritual sacrifice and Satanic worship any more than is a Witch. Rather he is some one trying very hard to come to terms with his own inherent powers as a man. By denying him this right we deny all of the Craft their rights to worship the gods in balance.

The important thing to me personally about this whole issue of Warlocks can be summed up as:

  1. Whatever the word and its origin, the reality is how we use it now. Many words have changed their meanings over the years to become something totally different from the original.
  2. Warlocks did exist.
  3. Warlocks are not Satanists or figments of Hollywood any more than are Witches.
  4. Being a Warlock is a legitimate title for a male Witch.
  5. Witches and Warlocks are traditionally outside of general society and each have their own special brands of magic, neither being inherently good or evil.

For Witches to denigrate Warlocks as evil or deluded is very dangerously like using the same dogma that is trotted out by the fundamentalists. No-one can afford to point fingers or throw stones at each other.

And lastly for those who like pigeon holing people: I am proud to be an initiated Wiccan; a Priest of the religion; a Pagan; a Witch; and very much also a Warlock.

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