Warlock: The Other 'W-Word'
Article ID: 8551
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,449
Times Read: 11,831
Author: RuneWolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: July 3rd. 2004
Times Viewed: 11,831
I have recently taken to referring to myself as a Warlock. At midnight on the Summer Solstice, in a solitary seaside ritual, I made it "official."
Now why in the world would I want to do such a boneheaded thing as that?
Well, I have a few reasons:
Aside from these admittedly shallow and self-serving reasons, I have other motives for this change. Allow me to ramble a bit...
- Because I want to.
- Because I can.
- Because it will probably irritate and scandalize the kind of people I enjoy irritating and scandalizing.
- Because it makes me feel "SPEH-shul!" (And yes, that's The Church Lady you hear...)
We are told by many modern Witches, particularly those involved with the various flavors of Feminist Wicca and Witchcraft, that we are "reclaiming the power and positive meaning of the word 'Witch' after centuries of patriarchal oppression and denigration." Cool - I am completely down with that.
So why not do the same for "Warlock?"
We have all heard the explanation that a "male Witch" must never be referred to as a Warlock because the word means "oath-breaker" or "traitor" or some such. However, this is from the same folks who insist that we must ignore any dictionary or encyclopedia entries that give a less-than-favorable definition for the word "Witch." Why can't this logic be applied to "Warlock?" Many entries indicate that the primary definition of "Warlock" is, indeed, a "male Witch" or sorcerer. Only the secondary or archaic definitions - if they are present at all - have anything to do with oath-breaking.
In addition, there are several excellent arguments currently at large on the Internet regarding possible alternate etymologies of the word that trace it back to an Old Norse term for enchanter or sorcerer, "vard-lokkur." This alternate origin for the word "Warlock," and hence the rightful priority of its positive meaning, is becoming more accepted - or at least more publicized - within our Internet community, to judge from even a cursory Google search.
In the final analysis, I myself lack the academic horsepower and other resources to verify conclusively for myself the veracity of such claims to the ultimate origins of "Warlock." I must therefore admit that I am committing what I myself consider one of the most heinous crimes of "Pop Wicca," and I am taking something that I have read at face value because it happens to agree with what I choose to believe.
But I will take this heinous act one step further, and suggest yet another - and perhaps more outlandish - alternate etymology for "Warlock."
In The Call of the Horned Piper, Nigel Jackson makes a connection between the Craft and the so-called "lycanthropic cults" that occurred in various Mediterranean, Eurasian and European cultures. A somewhat obscure example of such a cult was the ulfhednar, the "wolf-coats" of the Viking Norse, a cult of Odhinnic warriors who were said to shape-shift into wolves or werewolves when the battle-frenzy came upon them, gaining supernatural strength, ferocity and immunity to normal weapons. These warriors were very much the "wolf version" of the more well-know berserkers; "berserker" meaning "bear-shirt." Werewolfism was a common, often hereditary, condition in the Norse Sagas, and it was not uncommon for Sagic heroes to be referred to as "shape-strong," the most common "shapes" being that of the bear and the wolf. "Faring forth" is a modern term for the Norse practice of projecting the fylgia or fetch (often referred to as the animal-fetch) out of the body/soul complex to achieve some end. Amongst warriors who practiced faring forth, the animal-fetch often fared forth in the form of a wolf. It is said that those who were sensitive to such things could detect such a fetch roaming about, and indeed discern the personality behind the animal-form, leading to a sort of visual mosaic of so-and-so "walking abroad as a wolf."
Faring forth in such a manner would have been an elementary skill of the "vard-lokkur" or enchanter, but I have also noted that, in Old Icelandic (very similar to Old Norse), we have the words "vargr" (wolf) and "lik" (physical body). Whilst I am certainly no linguist or etymologist, it seems possible, given the Norse penchant for compound words, that "vargr-lik" or "wolf-body" could have been a valid combination and perhaps a term for those who fared forth in "wolf bodies." Again, with nothing but intuition to back it up, it seems no great stretch to me to derive "Warlock" from "vargr-lik," given the manner in which spellings and pronunciations mutate over the years. I would be very interested to hear from anyone out there who has the academic background to comment on this possibility.
While it is no great recommendation, there was clearly a link in the collective mind of the Inquisition between werewolfism and Witchcraft; at the very least they were considered to be equally repugnant crimes, deriving from the same interaction with "diabolic forces" (which is all the pedigree they need in my book!). And it is beyond doubt that many Witches today practice some form of "shamanic journeying" or faring forth, whether in wolf-form or some other, in much the same way as the "vargr-liks" might have. So whether a historic precedent exists for a link between the Way of the Wolf and the Way of the Witch, our modern community seems to have embraced it.
Matthew Sandow speculates that what we think of as Witchcraft might originally have involved both Male and Female Mysteries, and that much of what we think of as "Wicca" today descends predominantly from the Female Mysteries. The Male Mysteries, on the other hand, would have had more to do with hunting and warfare, and that the "War" in "Warlock" refers to just that - the Way of the Warrior and the arts of "battle-magic," as exemplified by the ulfhednar and berserkers. This only further enthralls me, as I consider myself to practice a "Warrior" Tradition of the Craft, and have long felt the need for a specific term for "Warrior Witch." Given the possible history of the word, "Warlock" seems to fit that bill quite nicely.
Not to mention my long-standing association with the Spirit of the Wolf...
"Warlock" also has a somewhat darker connotation than the now-popular definition of "Witch," and that applies to me as well. The whole issue of what constitutes "Dark Paganism" has been addressed by better writers than I, and whilst I won't rehash any of it here, if you tend to dismiss Dark Paganism as an aberration, I suggest that you do a little research. After all, that's one of the first suggestions we make to Christians who try to inflict their stereotypes and misconceptions on us.
And finally, I have to admit to a little rebelliousness in choosing to be known as a Warlock. In many ways it's just my way of saying, "Go ahead - tell me I can't." My personal definition of "Warlock" could be summed up as "Male Witch - With Attitude." It has its own, in-your-face kind of mystique that I find endearing.
Many years ago, my Wiccan teacher gave me some good advice, and that was to use anything in the practice of my Craft that helped me to "feel Witchier." Ironically, "Warlock" does that for me.
Location: Reston, Virginia
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