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A Loaf-Kneader by Any Other Name

You Say “Wicca” and I Say “Witchcraft”!
© 2005 by Lady Isadora

NEWS FLASH (Bluestocking Bombshells Unltd., Dis-Associated Press):

“Wicca” doesn’t really mean Witchcraft, and never did. It only ever meant “male Witch,” or “wizard,” if you will. It wasn’t even pronounced – ick! – “wicka.” “Wiccecraeft,” with an “e” (pronounced “WITCHeh-creft”), containing the feminine generic as root, was the original Old English word.

I've got proof of all this, you know, and I intend to use it. Is my Ms. Know-It-All Aquarius showing? <evil, twinkle-eyed, overgrown-Tinker Bell grin>

By the way, “Wiccecraeft,” as such, wasn’t Celtic. Old English was the Anglo-Saxon tongue, and the Angles and Saxons were definitely Germanic tribes, even if said kick-ass diehards were close (if not exactly kissin’) cousins to the equally fearsome and quarrelsome Celts. In fact, both ethnic heritages, among others, such as the Roman, had a massive impact on the cultural and religious history of the British Isles, and beyond. Furthermore, all things considered about any and all of the preceding, I’d say real old-fashioned Witchcraft in any of their languages was most likely a far cry from some of today’s cautiously PC (dare I say it?) “Wicca Lite” incarnations. Am I being curmudgeonly yet?

Let me clarify. I don’t knock anyone’s being on a well-intentioned positive path. That’s the right path to be on, as far as I’m concerned. I just think some of our folk nowadays get a wee bit too preoccupied with all the sententious sweetness-and-light stuff. Um, are they sure they’re Witches? I mean, love and trust are wonderful things, but why do we have to pretend they’re perfect, even for rhetorical ritual purposes? Many people spend much of their lives on the very real challenge of trying to manifest love and trust to the best of their only-too-human abilities with the people they’re closest to. They aren’t all that likely to encounter or be able to share the “perfect” versions in, say, a networking circle with people they may only have just met. No, I am not advocating sourness-and-dark – certainly not perfect hate and perfect mistrust. Come on, though, my sage and spellbinding sistahs and brothahs. admit it-- who would you in your heart of hearts rather be for an hour if you had half a chance: Glinda the Good, or the Wicked Witch of the West? Voting for the Wizard doesn’t count – there seems to have been some question as to his ability to perform real magic. Anyway, let’s just say I’m not so sure that in the Land of Oz, at least, blondes really always had more fun.

Let’s put it this way: how can any real Witch be a mightily magical artist on the vast canvas of life if she never even ventures to color outside the lines now and again if the situation calls for it? Are some self-described Witches just not admitting to doing that, or do they really see everything on the gorgeously rainbow-adorned horizon in boring old black and white, or even as black vs. white, as they profess? Snore. Such a stultifyingly staid outlook on the part of some of our alleged cauldron cronies can, alas, translate at times into a self-righteousness and rigidity that's almost as scary to me as any fundamentalist Xian diatribe or “Satanic” pseudo-Witch travesty. Life as it looks from here just ain't that cut and dried, though, fellow broomstick buddies, praise Hecate! Hel-lo, but there is a Crone in the Threefold Goddess, or at least there was last time I checked, and her name sure as Hel ain’t Goody Two-Shoes! Please forgive me if I channeled her a bit just now. She never does seem overly concerned when any of us gets all, well, bent out of shape, as it were. Talk about the “wic-” in “Wicce” originally having meant “to bend, shape, or twist” – don’t anybody get her best black-and-orange-stripey knickers in the latter, now!

And let’s get on with the show here, by Holy Hera’s Hallowed Hatbox! I really was trying to be entertaining at the outset, really I was. So to paraphrase without further ado the catchy old 1930s Gershwin song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”:

You say “Wicca” and I say “Witchcraft”!
You say it’s Celtic and I say Germanic!
Wicca! Witchcraft!
Celtic! Germanic!
Let’s call the whole thing off!

Not. As if! We’ve got a really good thing going here with our wonderfully diverse and delicious Craft-- truly something to savor and share, and way better than a bunch of silly old “tomaytoes”/“tomahtoes” or “potaytoes”/“potahtoes” (or for that matter oysters or “ersters” – ergh) which the original song was carrying on so much about. Hmm, come to think of it, since it’s almost lunchtime as I write this, I for one could carry on quite a bit myself about the veggies, at least, in the above-suggested menu. (Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re supposed to be fruit, aren’t they? Never believe it!) Especially the potaaahtoes, and especially fixed au gratin – yum! Even if said tasty taters weren’t really “ancient” Celtic sacred fare, as more than one Neo-Pagan book I’ve seen has rather, um, fancifully claimed. Funny thing, huh, considering the sacred spud was actually introduced into Ireland in the late 16th to early 17th century. Ooops! Oh well... “Eether-eyether, neether-nyether – let’s have some spuds for lunch!,” tum-te-tum... Catchy tune, that. But I digress, natch. “Ain’t we got fun?”

Er, I don’t suppose anybody else had a stray mental image just now of Fred Astaire doing the above-fractured number in a tall black pointy hat, partnering some bewitching old beldame’s besom with gusto in lieu of the mysteriously absent Ginger Rogers (probably just out on a midnight ride, cackle cackle...). What, you mean you didn't just see dapper ole Fred in your third eye, fandangoing up a storm (literally, heh heh) with big square buckles on his pointy-toed tap shoes, whilst the old bat herself (as opposed to the besom, or Ginger Rogers) amiably sat the thing out, cackling contentedly over her cronish cauldron in some cobwebby corner? Well, hey, it was just a thought...

Sorry, I can’t help the wisecracks sometimes, honest. I’m half-New Yorker. It’s in my blood, or at least half of it. As to the topic I was starting to address at the beginning of this meandering musing, I semi-humbly confess: I know whereof I write. I actually studied Old English back in my Lost Wild Youth, along with a lot of other languages, ancient and modern. To those of you already yawning into your long black Witchy sleeves and thinking “BO-ring,” what can I say? I’m far from being Ye Compleate Eggeheade. (A little pidgin OE there, folks!) I soon discovered in aforementioned L.W.Y. that I really could be wild with the wildest, and still be a devout etymology freak, among other distinctly bluestockinged pastimes. Yes!!!!!

Now, there’s nothing particularly arcane about Old English, make of its own peculiarly idiosyncratic linguistical twistings and turnings what one will. Every tongue’s got some of those, heh heh. And even if one doesn’t want to study the language in depth, or at all, reliable information about its well-established vocabulary is readily available to any diligent researcher who wants to spend minimal time looking into the matter. So, I have to admit, blame me for typically Aquarian insufferability who will, that after all these years, I still find it really disconcerting to see and hear modern Neo-Pagan Witchcraft continue to be referred to as “Wicca” in virtually every context. Am I missing something here?

To wit(ch): The Student’s Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon by Henry Sweet (Oxford University Press, 1896, 1973). OK, OK, so the book’s reprint date dates me. Hey, if you weren’t alive yet during the ’60s and ’70s, or were too young to remember the part you were alive during, I feel sorry for you. By Holy Hera’s High Heels, I still miss those fabled and fabulous psychedelic days of yore – and happy hippie that I was, I never even dropped acid! One could get high on the times themselves, no foolin’. But no matter what your age, if you’re so stubbornly skeptical about all this that you’ve decided not to trust this particular edition of the dictionary, by all means, choose another one. There are other reference works on Anglo-Saxon out there, believe me. Go ahead, just see if you can top the Oxford University Press! I triple-triple-dare ya!

Look out below, O ye of little faith-- here be, if not dragons, some authentically Witchy Old English words, as listed and defined on page 205 of the above-named tome:

wicca m.wizard
wiccaraed = divination [hmm... note masculine stem]
wicce f. witch
wiccecraeft, wiccedom = witchcraft [ahem... note feminine stem]
wiccian = use witchcraft [pronounced WITCHan]

See, it says so, right there: Wiccecraeft. Wiccecraeft, Wiccecraeft, Wiccecraeft. Even Wiccedom, just for variation. (We’re entitled to capitalize ’em nowadays, say I.) And not that those enterprising Anglo-Saxons stopped there. In fact, they had a few more words in use for the Craft of Witches: Wiccung, Wiccungcraeft, and Wiccungdom, just for good measure. Let’s capitalize those now too. Seems they didn’t want to miss a nuance! Kinda makes you wonder just how much Witchcraft there was goin’ down back then, doesn’t it?

But back to the present. It wouldn’t be so bad if so many of us didn’t keep repeating by rote, in so very many books, articles, websites, workshops, speeches, and personal conversations, not only the misnomer “Wicca” itself, but more especially the tired old fiction, fantasy, and/or flub that it was the bonafide ancient word for Witchcraft. Cringe. Why aren’t more of us doing the research to support our claims? Do we think it somehow “impolite” to engage in basic fact-checking on our own, and to insist on fundamental accuracy in the works of others in our ranks? Why aren’t more of us concerned with our scholarly credibility in the eyes of the world? Not that every Witch who has ever called Witchcraft “Wicca” has no scholarly credibility. That is by no means the case. Some may just not feel like rocking the boat about this issue, and/or may use “Wicca” at-large from habit, for convenience, or for whatever other reason(s) according to their own lights. Still, I urge them to ponder, or ponder anew, what some of the consequences have been.

As if the “Wicca” thing weren’t enough on its own, a certain book appeared several years ago on the Neo-Pagan market claiming that “Witta” was the old Irish form of the word, and that there was a bonafide Irish Witch tradition by that name. Only problem is, there’s no letter “w” in the Irish Gaelic alphabet! This can’t have been error on the author’s part. She simply made the whole thing up. I wonder why she thought she could get away with it?

And how did all this “Wicca” stuff even get started, anyway? I’ve never seen a theory put forth about it, so I’ll offer my own. I think it came out of the fact that the olden-days plural for both “Wicce” and “Wicca” was “Wiccan.” (That’s also the correct adjective form, at least, as in “Wiccan music,” so the resultant single-person noun, as in “I’m a Wiccan,” actually does work.) Through the years, Witches were therefore naturally referred to as “the Wiccan,” though we would now add a modernizing “s” and say “Wiccans.” Eventually “the Wiccan” as a group reference got shortened to “the Wicca,” a term we can see in some decades-old Gardnerian contexts – still obviously intended to mean Witches in the plural, but getting a bit too close to morphing into a plain old single “male Witch” for feminine comfort, or at least, my own. Take a wild guess what happened from there. “Suddenly” it became not only the name of the religion, but allegedly always had been. Wrong!

I don’t claim to be the only Witch living who’s figured all this out. But since disseminating information about the etymological truth of the matter has been a personal crusade of mine since the ’70s, it often does seem as if I’m the one and only lonely member of the stalwartly stubborn Society for the Prevention of Witchcraft Being Called “Wicca.” (OK, well, my daughter wisely joined too when a wee babe in arms, ha ha.) And I know, I know: language changes and evolves. The passage of time often does legitimize an originally incorrect usage. To this extent, one might say there is indeed some rationale for those who wish to continue to call Witchcraft “Wicca” if they so choose. Especially considering that the usage has now become so widespread, even cherished, as to be perhaps irrevocable, barring some Mother Earth-shaking Act of Goddess. But still... to be perfectly honest (as the Crone in me bids me do, however uncomfortably forthright this may be for some sensibilities), I keep thinking: why would any bonafide Witch want to keep using a name for his or her religion that is, at face value, by whatever means it came about, the equivalent of calling Christianity “Male Christian,” or Islam “Male Muslim” – and awkwardly mispronounced, to boot?

Speaking of boots, maybe I need even taller ones. Sorry, but I guess my blue stockings are showing, after all! <wee Witchy wink>


Of “mixed” British Isles and Scandinavian ancestry, the descendant of Saxon warriors; medieval English knights and land-owners; Welsh poets and schoolteachers; the Stewart, Macduff, and Fletcher clans of Scotland; and an endearing assortment of stalwart Danish Vikings and stubborn Danish farmers, Isadora has been an avid enthusiast for her own ancestral languages and many others for most of her life. While at university, she was inducted into Delta Phi Alpha, the National German Honor Society, having won a number of academic awards in that language, including two from the German government. Isadora specializes in the studious pursuit of the Celtic and Germanic branches of the Indo-European language family tree.

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