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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in language of witchcraft

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
How Do You Say 'Sabbat' in Witch?

“Sabbat,” of course, is an imported word: from Hebrew, via Latin.

If it seems peculiar that the name for a gathering of witches should ultimately derive from the vocabulary of Judaism, bear in mind that an alternate name for the witch's sabbat was once the “synagogue of Satan.” To the witch-hunting eye, all non-Christians look alike.

(Aunt Margaret's derivation from medieval French s'ébattre, “to frolic, disport oneself” is a delightful jeu d'esprit, but not to be taken seriously as etymology.)

So, if we were looking for a natively English word for what would later be called the witch's sabbat, what would it be?

Well, in Scandinavia, at the rise of the Great Persecution, before the international term “sabbat” caught on, a meeting of witches was known as a witch-thing.

This, of course, is not thing as in “whatchamacallit,” but thing as in the Norse term althing, “meeting, assembly.”

Among Germanic-speaking populations in early medieval times, every area had a local thing, or folk-moot, which met periodically (often quarterly) to deal with regional business, while the tribe as a whole held its general assembly annually. This was known known as the all-thing.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
On the Brilliance of 'Blessed Be'

“'Blessed Be': that's what the Satanists say to each other,” said my friend Blaine.

It was the early 70s. Blaine and I were both in high school. Clearly, he'd seen some TV special about contemporary witchcraft which he hadn't completely understood and, just as clearly, something about the saying had caught his fancy.

“Seems like a strange thing for Satanists to be saying,” I said.

I was making a point while trying not to seem to be making a point. I already knew a thing or two on the subject, quite enough to know that it most certainly was not Satanists who were saying “Blessed Be” to one another.

It was also enough to be abundantly clear to me which side of the Hedge I stood on myself.

 

Blessed Be. (That's three syllables now, not two.) It's a blessing; it's a spell. It means many things: Hello, Good-bye, Amen. It means: I'm one, and you're one too. It means: I acknowledge you as an equal. It means: We belong to the same tribe.

It's also an allusion to deep myth and liturgy. Blessed be the feet which have brought thee in these ways, says the Horned to the Lady in the Underworld, as he tenderly kisses said feet. This story, of course, is the mythic charter for initiation, as well as for the act of liturgical adoration, the Fivefold Kiss. (“What is the Five that is Eight?” is a kind of Wiccan koan.) Blessed Be: a world of meaning in two simple words.

(When I once met the Goddess in the middle of a flowering summer meadow—but that's a tale for another night—my knowledge of this rite gave me a fitting liturgical response to a theretofore—in my experience, anyway—unprecedented situation.)

After decades in the Craft, I'll admit that “Blessed Be” had, for the most part, donned something of an invisibility cloak for me: it's so ubiquitous that I'd almost stopped consciously seeing and hearing it. “BB!” friends often write, at the end of letters or e-mails, or sometimes even say: an intimate gesture, yet by that very intimacy rendered even more mysterious and in-the-know.

Anyone who knows magic knows that this is precisely the situation in which words have their most powerful effect: when they operate largely, if not wholly, on the unconscious level.

Not all religions have their own greetings, but the Craft—insofar, at any rate, as one may consider the Craft a religion—is one of them, and it's a brilliant stroke. The phrase seems innocuous, even benevolent, as, indeed, it is.

But don't be fooled.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Flowers in Amber

The ancestors are still speaking.

One of our very greatest inheritances from the forefathers and mothers is language. If we listen closely, we can hear their voices today.

2500 years ago, the ancestors bound their thought together with alliteration, what we may think of as initial rhyme. Many of these phrases—hundreds, if not thousands, of years old—are with us still.

 

Might and main. “Might” is physical strength; “main” (OE megn) is non-physical (psychic, spiritual) strength—“soul-strength,” one might say. To do something with all one's might and main means to use all one's available resources. Those seeking a word for “energy” that doesn't reek of patchouli may wish to consider “main.”

Kith and kin. It's interesting how frequently these inherited alliterative phrases refer to a totality. “Kith and kin” means “everyone”: both those that you're related to (kin), and those that you know (kith). Preserved like a flower in amber, the ancient word for “know personally” also survives in “uncouth,” originally meaning “unknown.”

Bed and board. Tables take up a lot of room. In the houses and halls of the ancients, where interior space was at a premium, at mealtimes it was customary to set up trestles and boards to eat from. Hence, board, pars pro toto, came to be short for “table.” (“Table” is a French word. The Normans, of course, were the aristos; they could afford to have tables sitting around, uselessly taking up room. Every word's a story.)

Bed and board,” then, means home: where you sleep and eat.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Thank you for the House and Home paragraph. I have a house but it is not yet home. I have often caught myself saying "I want to

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
What Do You Say When a Witch Dies?

What do you say when a witch dies?

Well, witchhood is a kind of tribal affiliation.

Those who have no tribe often find it difficult to understand the depth of the sense of belonging that comes with tribal identity. Those that do, know that, naturally, when you die, you don't want to come back just anywhere; you want to come back to your people, to those that you love.

Uncle Gerald got it absolutely right when he says in Witchcraft Today (140) that our hope beyond death is for rebirth among our own.

Once a witch, always a witch, they say. Not even death takes that away.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Well now it's odd. Today at work an idea popped into my head of a group of witches at a funeral all dressed up in black robes and
  • Helga Hedgewalker
    Helga Hedgewalker says #
    I think it's true. I have many times in this life met people who became important future coven-mates and just KNEW they were impor
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I'll note with amusement that in the WT passage cited above, the witches tell Gardner that to be reborn among one's own is a rewar
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    From what I've read in books on past life regression we do have a tendency to reincarnate in groups. Apparently a lot of American

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Gods Are My Co-Workers

150,000 years of pagan history, and it took the so-called 20th century to reduce the gods to the level of co-workers.

“I work with [Name of Deity].”

How many times have you heard this expression?

Note who's the active agent. Note the nature of the partnership. Note the implied equivalence.

The ancestors would never have used the phrase “work with” to describe their relationship with their gods. They might have worshiped a particular god. They might have offered to a certain goddess. They might have made their prayers to said gods.

But—for the most part—modern pagans are afraid of worship. (Why? Another day, another post.) Mostly we don't offer to our gods. We're not particularly strong on prayer, either. I.e. we have rejected the spiritual technology of the ancestors.

So much the worse for us.

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  • tehomet
    tehomet says #
    "Note who's the active agent. Note the nature of the partnership. Note the implied equivalence." Hear, hear!
  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    Well said, Greybeard, the negative associations with "that other religion" were all a big part of my points. I also agree with y
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    I don't much like the terms "pray" or "praying." Praying for God(ess) to do something is a lot like acknowledging we don't have
  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    Times change, Steve. People change, spirituality changes and, again, people have every right to define their spiritual relationshi
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I can't hear Sappho saying, "I work with Aphrodite." I can't hear Erik the Red saying: "I work with Thor." As a primary descriptor

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Darrins, Marindas, and Coven-Spouses

The non-witch husband of a witch is, of course, a darrin; everybody knows that.

Call it a Classical reference.

But what do you call a witch or pagan who is partnered with the member of a coven, but is not him- or herself a member of the same coven?

My friend and colleague Magenta Griffith raised this interesting question at a recent Full Moon. Hey, we're a youthful religion, and we're still getting our terminological ducks (so to speak) in a row.

For my coven, this is a particularly pertinent question, since we've got several such folks who regularly attend our holiday events—in some cases, for decades—but who do not themselves “belong” to the coven. (Our unofficial “No couples” policy has served us well over the course of the last 37-going-on-38 years; it's certainly at least one reason why, as a coven, we've managed to last so long.)

Well, taking darrin as a paradigm, are there any examples in the “literature” (I use the term loosely) of one witch married to another who doesn't belong to the same coven?

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I've always liked "consort": I have a fondness for that peculiar group of words in English (there are about 100 or so) that mean o
  • Jan Erickson
    Jan Erickson says #
    I prefer witch's consort... Blessings! Jan
What Do You Shout While Leaping a Bonfire?

Most languages have a certain number of words-without-meaning called vocables, words that are all connotation, no denotation.

Hurrah would be one such, along with its variants: hooray, etc. Any native speaker of English can tell you about hurrah. It's a cheer, signifying enthusiasm, but it doesn't really denote anything.

So how do you say “hurrah” in Witch?

No, don't huzza at me. (Huzza is the Elizabethan ancestor of modern hurrah, derivation unknown.) I'm sorry: huzza stinks of Renn Fest. It's affected, hopelessly attainted, and there's simply nothing to be done about it. Next.

Open your Books of Shadows, please. Kindly turn to the Bagabi lacha bachabe chant. Read down to the very end. There.

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