Witch, the Word: Personal Implications

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.

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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.

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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.

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4 thoughts on “Witch, the Word: Personal Implications

  1. Robert Mitchell says:

    But you don’t get to say when the revolution is over. You can say it’s over, and it will be, until they drag you out of the hole you’re in and build a fire around your feet.

    The witch is a twilight figure on the edge of town, just transgressive enough to challenge the status quo, just unpredictable enough to be feared, just wise enough to be valuable. You have to give something to the townspeople or they’ll burn down your shack.

    We are The Hermit, and from time to time the cycles must bring us down from the hills before sending us out again. Exile is death, and so is Conformity. The tension, the flux, is the pulse of my beating heart.

    • Rachel Izabella says:

      Robert, in a single post I could not be completely nuanced, could not say everything. If I were asked to take up magical arms by a neighbor, or provide magical help, or were a gang of thieves currently preying on my neighborhood, of course I would take action. But there would be no feeling of obligation on my part: action would be my choice, and not anyone else’s choice. I do get to say when my revolution is over. It is. Would or could anyone else say it for me? No.

      I can’t agree with what you say about being just transgressive enough. I live in the rural south, I’m a polytheist, I’m a sorceress and witch, and I’m a transsexual woman. Though they don’t even know the full extent of my transgression, still from the POV of some of my neighbors I’ve crossed every transgressive perimeter they can imagine. To them I’m not the Hermit, nor the Shaman, I’m the Devil Herself. But even these are peaceful people. Peace is the status quo here, but in part that’s because I’ve seen to it that things remain that way.

      And I can’t agree that exile is death. Exile — my status as an outcast — is in part an internal state, in part external. —Yet I still take walks, still go shopping, still have a few friends, though none from my neighborhood. I go the movies and to concerts and the library. And I have a large family. My internal or felt and experienced exile is complete. Literal external exile, unless I were to become a survivalist and truly live off nothing but the fruits of some wilderness somewhere, is a compromise. Or is it? Because in the world at large, amongst strangers, I must pass as a woman, must not be seen for who I truly am, because I’m a little different. A transsexual woman.

      I walk in exile amidst the world of humankind, and I feel it every moment. Exile is the air I breathe. I guess you’ll either have to take my word for it or disbelieve, the choice is yours.

      I hope there’s no rancor between us, I hope my words weren’t overly harsh. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Rose says:

    This is a most inspiring post, Rachel. Thank you for finding the words to say what I have been searching to say for the past few weeks, for my revolution is also over.

    I am still in a state of exile as well, but not to the degree I once was. Though my exile is for reasons different than yours, exile is what it is. I was once upset with that status and now I welcome it. I do not count my association with family and friends who have proven their worth in my life as proof of my exiled existence for we are all human and require the social contact with others whom we love and trust, but like you, I will not compromise who I am in order to “fit in” with certain smaller communities in my area, or society as a whole.

    You have clearly accepted your Self. Love and respect of Self must be secured prior to the acceptance, love, and respect of others following, but society as a whole is vast, as are various groups within society whom we’d normally expect would accept us as we are but do not seem to follow the tenets they may espouse. This larger form of acceptance and respect for those of us who own our autonomy is a difficult road to travel. We travel it willingly because we are called to do so for various reasons and we do not waver.

    This is Strength personified.

    Brava!

    I may ping back on your post here within a future post of mine. I hope you won’t mind.

    • Rachel Izabella says:

      Rose — Thank you! I appreciate your words so much that words fail me. Feel free to ping back, to reblog, this or anything I’ve written here. Thanks again. —Rachel

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