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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Yeah, I'm a warlock.

You got a problem with that?

“Witch,” though a gender-neutral term, is female first. So it's convenient to have a term that specifies: male of the species.


Interestingly, it's a Scots word in origin. (In Sassenach they say warlowe.) Maybe they had more problems with male witches North of the Border.

That's not surprising. Throughout the Norse culture sphere, the majority of witches have always been men. Most executed witches in Scandinavia were male.

No, I'm not a wizard, but that's a class difference. Wizards are gentry. Warlockry is for us yeomen.

Some Wiccans are allergic to the term. Since the number of men in Wicca has been waning away for years, maybe it's moot. But in Old Craft—where men still constitute a numerical majority—most of us are fine with “warlock.”

And no one denies that it's a word of power.

Some object on the grounds that it means “oath-breaker.”

Well, they're wrong.

Oh, it used to mean “oath-breaker”: Old English wærlóga < wær, “faith, pledge,” + lóga, “liar.”

But that was 1000 years ago. Since then, it's meant...well, male witch.

And I'm sorry, but if you choose to call yourself a witch, you don't get to whine about “negative connotations.”

Warlockry is men's magic. If you ask me what that means, I'll tell you that men's magic differs from women's in the same way that men differ from women.*

To say that it's essentially dick-magic would be reductionist, but it's also true insofar as—as Uncle Gerald observed more than 60 years ago—magic power arises from the libido.

The Craft is like the clap: sexually transmitted.

And, as they say, What's good for the witch is good for the warlock.



*The standard joke is:

Q: Can a woman be a warlock?

A: Sure. So long as she has a functioning penis and testicles, no problem.




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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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Monday, 27 February 2017

    Personally I like the word warlock. I read once; possible in the Oxford English Dictionary, that warlock has been used for male witches since the 1600's. So I say own the name, own the power. Perhaps there would be more men in Wicca if more male Wiccans called themselves warlocks.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 27 February 2017

    The Father of the contemporary Old Craft movement, Robert Cochrane, used to say that there were Three Crafts: Men's Craft, Women's Craft and Men's-and-Women's Craft. Of these, he held, the first two had been lost.

    Lost, maybe, I would contend: but not beyond recovery.

  • Mab Nahash
    Mab Nahash Thursday, 02 March 2017

    I get that the meaning has changed in general parlance, but for those of us who take oaths as part of our practice of witchcraft, the oathbreaking etymology is actually fairly problematic. Words do have power. My immediate corner of the wiccan world has several times more men than women, and my larger tradition seems to be moving toward balance, so I am not at all ready to cede the term witch to the Z Budapests. I have also used "warlockry" as a casual term for magic that gains power through violating taboos or going against natural order. Is there another term to make that distinction?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 03 March 2017

    Mab, you've made my day. I'm delighted to hear about the gender imbalance in your neck of the woods. (Around here, it's still the other way around.) I can remember (it was at the very beginning of my career, admittedly) when men still outnumbered women in the Craft. That such fluctuations should be a matter of periodicity seems to me (if it's true) to be a hopeful sign. A religion without women--or men--is simply not sustainable.
    I very much like your use of warlocky to mean a widdershins way of working (and there's the term I would use): the "Way of the Crawfish," some would call it. (Crawfish swim backwards.)
    And, let's admit it, there's power to widdershins work. Friction makes heat.

  • Mike W
    Mike W Friday, 03 March 2017

    Yes, I think that warlock is a great word for a male witch. For the view of a Feri Trad elder on this use see Perhaps if the general Christian culture at one time was calling someone a warlock they were calling them an oath breaker as someone who broke their oath to the christian church and practiced the old ways. They would hardly have used the term negatively to refer to someone who broke their oath to the Old Ways as that is what they would have wanted.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 04 March 2017

    My contention would be that even back in pagan days, the witches and our ways were already outsiders, and that our worships didn't always fall within the parameters of the other cultuses.

    So, if we're talking raising power by the Backwards Way, in a society in which people took oaths seriously (unlike contemporary American society), breaking an oath would generate a good deal of frictional power. Yikes.

    As would (to expand on Mab's line of thought) men doing women's magic and women doing men's.

    Gods; so much to know. I've been doing this for 50 years and I still feel like a beginner.

  • Mike W
    Mike W Sunday, 05 March 2017

    I agree with you Steve that the Witches/Warlocks were outsiders to the majority religions as sanctioned by society or the state. We'll find our own Gnosis thank you! Maybe equivalent to the thinking behind the paths of Aghora or Left Hand Tantra in Eastern religions.

    Did you know, talking about outsiders, that the author of Bell, Book and Candle, John Van Druten, was gay. Many have seen in his story of Witches and Warlocks as outsiders who have their own bars and stores as a subtle nod to the similar lives and outsider status of both gays and witches. Gillian Holroyd's warlock brother Nicky, played by Jack Lemmon in the movie, is said to use witchcraft for his love life, but he is never shown with a woman partner/girlfriend! (Nicholas - good name for a warlock).

    I do think myself that the time has come for more study into the reclamation of the term Warlock. Since we are seeing more conversations on this topic it must mean that men who are witches, or of the old ways, are feeling a connection here. Some further posts to look at: Warlock as used in some Scottish poetic writing as possibly referring to enchantment ;
    another view on what the oath-breaking means in trad craft

    Your blog got me out of the cave to make comments, something that I usually do not do. Thank you for your very interesting and researched posts, M

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