The Old English words wicca (masculine gender) and wicce (feminine) — pronounced WITCH-ah and WITCH-eh — come from Proto-Germanic *wīkkja-. *wīk- is from Proto-Indo-European *weik-, verb root, to bend, twist, distort. The -j- (pronounced like “y” is in English) in *wīkkja- is a causative affix, and the word is a noun. Hence the word pair wicca, wicce meant literally and originally “one who twists, bends, distorts”.
Wicca/wicce emphatically does not have the same root as Old Icelandic vitki, as many claim, which has an exact Old English cognate in witega, meaning wiseman. Wicca/wicce ≠ witega.
So a witch, etymologically, is a man or a woman who bends, twists or distorts. But what exactly did and do witches bend, twist or distort?
I think the answer is found in this fact. —Not even once in all of Old and Middle English literature is the word witch used in a positive sense. Witches are always described as evildoers. Of course we have no literary evidence written from the point of view of the witches. But what’s important here is that everyone who wrote anything “fit to print” back in those days (yes, I know the printing press wasn’t invented yet) agreed that witches were evildoers. That was mundane society’s consensus. This leads me to believe that what witches bent, twisted and distorted was the very fabric of mundane society. Witches were breakers of some implicit social contract with mundane humans. Basically, witches had done wrong, witches had gone too far. A witch wrung society’s expectations the way we wring water out of a dishcloth. Consequently a witch was, from the POV of his or her society, entirely beyond the pale of society.
Then I think of my blog title: The Way of the Transgressor is Hard. The full Biblical citation is from Proverbs 13:15: Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard (King James Version). Hebrew verse and aphorisms are usually based on either repetition or opposition. It’s clear in this verse that good understanding and the transgressor are at odds, from the POV of the writer of Proverbs.
In Latin, the literal meaning of transgressor is one who has gone beyond, one who has gone too far. In the verse from Proverbs transgressor means one who has strayed too far from good understanding — i.e., good understanding of God’s law and of God’s rules for Jewish society, which have always been perhaps the heart of Judaism. A transgressor, like a witch, has gone beyond the pale.
I called my blog The Way of the Transgressor is Hard with this in mind. My very identity as a transsexual woman is a transgression of societal norms. My vocation as a sorceress — or should I say witch? — is a transgression of societal beliefs, and the things I can do are a transgression of consensus reality. I did not realize at the time that semantically there is very little difference between the word transgressor and the word witch. As a two or threefold transgressor and a practitioner of sorcery I am, simply put, also a witch.
Now I recall my post Conflicted Over Apocalyptic Witchcraft. About that, in an email conversation a friend wrote to me:
You are cast out and you know it, every time you set foot in a church you know it, every time a spirit of the wild places visits you know it. If that is rebellion then that word means something different to me I guess. Your rebellion is over, Rachel, hence the exile. Apocalypse over. Apocalypse back then…
If what lay beyond the confines of the establishment we have escaped is only war with it then we have not escaped. Being at war with the establishment was the whole reason for the rebellion in the first place, if all that waits us beyond the conflict that incited our rebellion is more conflict then what have we actually accomplished with our choices?…
I think on some level that may be your conflict with Apocalyptic Witchcraft. There is a truth about autonomy and exile somewhere in Lilith—
The remainder will remain private.
I had thought all these thoughts but I hadn’t put them together, I hadn’t correlated my data. I inwardly cannot accept the war and rebellion of Apocalyptic Witchcraft because my own war and my own rebellion are complete. What comes after a rebellion waged to its completion? Not more rebellion. Yet I remain a transgressor in society’s eyes. But that’s because I’ve crossed over (transgressed) into a world of autonomy and exile. Autonomy … being beyond the pale of societal norms and even of consensus reality. Exile … being beyond the pale of society itself.
I am a transgressor. In so being, I have become the witch.
But remember, as I must remember and never forget, these words: autonomy … exile… In my choices of rebellion, I have chosen the road of autonomy and exile. I did not know it, I did not put it together before, but now, to me, autonomy and exile are of supreme value.
I will not join any manner of society — no coven, no witch cult, no African Traditional religion — I will not participate except in the most informal and casual of societies. To belong to a society is to be owned by a society. I have fought hard and cleverly for my autonomy, and I will not be owned. To belong to a society is to be received back into a society’s arms, to abandon exile, and I will not abandon my exile.
To be defined means to be contained by certain limitations. Definition is limitation, limitation is contrary to autonomy and exile.
I am a sorceress and I have become the witch — but I will not be defined. I’ll remain beyond the pale.