Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Should We Scrap the Word 'Magic'?

It's fascinating to note that the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce, the original Tribe of Witches, had no word for 'magic.'

Instead, they had numerous words denoting different kinds of magic. At this remove of time, we can often no longer distinguish clearly between them

Bealcræft, 'bale-craft': magic intended to harm.

Drýcræft, 'druid (?)-craft': Possibly, druid magic. Specifically what kind of magic the Anglo-Saxons believed the druids to have practiced, we no longer know.

Dwimorcræft: 'dwimmer-craft': Necromancy (?)

Dwolcræft, 'dwele-craft': Apparently, magic intended to mislead or cause confusion.

Galdorcræft, 'galder-craft': Sung magic.

Heagorún, 'hedge-rune': Boundary magic?

Lybcræft: Magic using herbs or drugs.

Rúncræft, 'rune-craft': Rune-magic.

Scinncræft, 'shine-craft': Glamor, magic causing illusion.

Spellcræft, 'spell-craft': Word magic, story-magic.

Wicce-cræft, 'witchcraft': Witch magic (whatever that means).

I might add that the same situation also obtains in Old Norse and Biblical Hebrew, the only other ancient languages of which I have sufficient command to be able to form an opinion.

What is most interesting to observe here is the fact that apparently the ancestors did not perceive these different kinds of what we would today call 'magic' as belonging to the same category.

Our contemporary use of the word 'magic' dates only from the Renaissance. It effectively lumps together things that the ancestors saw as being different.

In short, 'magic' is a category invented by people who no longer believed in magic.

In light of this, it is perhaps worth asking: Does the word 'magic' actually retain any usefulness to us today?

Perhaps, like the similarly-problematic concept 'Nature,' 'magic' is best viewed as a term of convenience, but not a term of art.




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Tagged in: Hwicce
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Critter
    Critter Monday, 06 March 2017

    It's definitely worth considering! I'm already partial to the word spellcraft.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 06 March 2017

    Me too, Critter.
    Amazing word, 'spellcraft.' 1400 years, and it's still pronounced the same, and means the same thing.

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Monday, 06 March 2017

    I, too, have always used the word spellcraft, together with the word ethical. As always, thanks for this.

  • Karena
    Karena Tuesday, 07 March 2017

    I'm not so sure. Although the word encompasses a number of experiences and intents, & isn't terribly specific, I think it might still be important, especially in an increasingly "scientific" and secular world, in that it expresses something other, something...not so cold, not so hard, not so homogenized, in our society. It's something else again. Magic is multi-shaded, like the word love.

    I'm also partial to words like "aviatrix", though. ;)

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 07 March 2017

    "Parthenogenetrix" is one of my own favorites.

  • Karena
    Karena Tuesday, 07 March 2017

    I curtsy in your direction- parthenogenetrix is lovely! :) And so much less rare than one would be led to believe, LOL!

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