Etymological Notes

inguistic clues must be treated cautiously, since words are slippery, slithery things. Often the ft uS^S same word will be used for different concepts that are not always closely connected, and most languages have concepts that are referred to by several different words, depending upon the emphasis desired. Even within a single tongue, both the spellings and the meanings of words change drastically with time. New words are invented and old ones forgotten; war and trade bring in slang and loan words that can replace venerable and respected terms. In addition, whenever possible we must consider the social and cultural environment in which a given word was used, a difficult task when most of the relevant data has been lost or destroyed.

We must also remember that ancient peoples did not know that linguists of later centuries would be trying to fit their word usage into nice, neat theories, so then as now they invented their own explanations for word origins, a process known to academics as "folk etymology." Since things can often become what they are called, we may observe the truth of the classic phrase that, "ontology recapitulates philology."

Thus, this discussion is a great deal shorter than I had originally planned, as all my major sources on the topic start contradicting one another as soon as they go back more than ten centuries ago.

English, German, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Welsh, and several other tongues are all members of what linguists call the Western branch of the "Indo-European" languages. That branch, in turn, is one of several outgrowths of an original postulated mother tongue called "Proto-Indo-European" (PIE). By comparing variations of a word, not just within a given language, but among and between its sister tongues as well, it is often possible to trace back its linguistic development from an original (postulated) PIE root. Such roots are usually printed with an asterisk preceding them to indicate postulated forms, as in *weg- or *wy-.

Many of the Germanic wic- roots that grew into wicce 'witch' may have come from a PIE root *wy-, referring to willows and elms. This source word then began to be used to refer to the literal and metaphorical characteristics of those trees, the sorts of things made from them, and the techniques, such as twisting, weaving, etc., used to make those things (see Proto-Indo-European Trees, by Paul Freidrich).

What words were used during the Dark Ages, Middle Ages and Renaissance to translate wicce, wicca, and wiccacraeft into other European languages and vice versa?

The Greeks used the term pharmakos (source of our Modern English words pharmacist, pharmacy, etc.) based on the word pharmakon 'drug, poison, spell.' This is the etymological source of American preacher Billy Graham's (in)famous statement, "The word witchcraft comes from the same word as drug and I think that proves something." It certainly would, if the Anglo-Saxons had spoken Greek.

However, the Greek use of pharmakos for both "poisoner" and "spell-caster" apparently supplied the excuse for Bible translators many centuries later to translate the Hebrew word kasgah 'poisoner' as "witch" in Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." This deliberate mistranslation was designed to curry favor with the witch-phobic King James, for whom the translators of the King James Version made it a point to insert the English word "witch" into every possible verse concerning magical or divinatory activities in competition with the approved religious rulers.

Later the Greeks used magissa, the feminine of mago 'magician,' (from the Persian priesthood called the Magi) to translate wicce. Latin authors and translators used saga, from sagire, 'to perceive keenly,'

praesagire, 'to presage, or foretell,' as well as striga, 'a vampiric night owl,' maga, 'a female magician,' and venefica, 'a female poisoner or magician,' etc. The Italians used strega, and the Romanians used striga, both derivations from the Latin. The Italians also used maliarda, 'an evil charmer' and fat-tuchiera, from the Latin fatum 'fate.' The French used magicienne/ magicien 'a female/male magician' and sorciere/sorcier 'a female/male sorcerer.'

The latter is usually explained as coming from the Latin sortilegus, meaning one who does divination or magic by casting of lots (small sticks or stones with special meanings) but may come from sourcier, meaning 'a water-well finder' or 'water diviner.' Germans, Danes, and others used words that translate as "magician," "wonderworker" "spell singer," "diviner," or "knowledgeable one," all usually in the female form.

While some of these terms may have been positive or neutral in their original connotations, many were always negative and only these hostile interpretations seem to have been remembered into the Middle Ages.

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