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

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 Euphemisms and the Detritus of Life ...

Faith-based is what you say when you don't have the courage (or honesty) to say “religious.”

Plant-based is what you say when you don't have the courage (or honesty) to say “vegan.”

Earth-based is what you say when you don't have the courage (or honesty) to say “pagan.”

Are you seeing the trend here?

Of course, one understands the reasoning. The Bush 2 administration didn't want to admit that they were directly giving taxpayer dollars to religious (in virtually every case, conservative Christian) organizations. Vegans have a—let's be honest here—all-too-often well-deserved reputation for entitlement and self-righteousness. And sometimes, as we all know, everything sounds fine until you use the P-word.

(Besides, calling the modern paganisms “Earth-based” is aspirational at best; in most cases it's just plain untrue. I'm sorry, there's nothing “Earth-based” about Something Out of Books from Long Ago and Far Away.)

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Euphemism.

Me, I'm a word-guy. The trajectory of my entire linguistic career has been towards a language of clarity, precision, and honesty. Euphemism strikes me, instead, as the preserve of the dishonest, the craven, and the demagogic.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 Red Deer stag belling photo WP06062

At first hearing, many old witch-songs may not sound witchy at all, at all. Therein lies the magic.

To the cowan eye, the medieval Irish poem You of the Sweet-Tongued Cry may seem a simple nature poem, hymning the beauties of autumn and the rut.

The witch, though, sees both this, and more.

 

You of the Sweet-Tongued Cry

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 Darrin Stephens Comics - Comic Vine

“What's a Darrin?” Seriously?

(Gods, what do they teach them in Witch School these days?)

It's an old Witch word. (I can't believe you've never heard it before.) It means a non-witch married to a witch.

Yes, it is an interesting word, isn't it? Got that witchy, kind of mysterious sound to it. Nobody knows where it comes from, or what it meant originally. Probably it's Anglo-Saxon, or maybe from some Celtic language, like pretty much the rest of Craft vocabulary.

(A friend of mine who's an Anglo-Saxonist suggested maybe déor-wine, “deer-friend”—that's deer-the-animal; witches, as you know, have always been a People of the Deer—but, really, who knows?)

Well, those are our roots, after all, Saxon and Celt: we've been a mixed people from the very beginning. Always have been, still are, always will be, I guess, though we've expanded the gene-pool some since those days. Hey, we're the witches: we'll take anybody, if they're our kind of folks.

My guess is, the word probably goes back to ancient times. You know witches: we've always been a clannish sort—that's clan-with-a-C, not a K: when witches wear hoods, they're not usually white ones—and in the old days there were some pretty strong strictures against marrying outside of the tribe. So it would make sense that there would be a term for someone who'd married in.

Interesting thing is, a Darrin's children are full Tribe of Witches by birth. There are no half-witches: you're either in or you're not. The old people used to joke about the "Old Blood”: one drop is enough, and all that. Usually, of course, they'd cackle as they said this.

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 Fossil Fly (Diptera) With Eggs In Baltic Amber (#207478) For Sale -  FossilEra.com

Litha or Lithe?

 

Back in the 80s, many Wiccans started calling the Summer Sunstead Litha. In a sense, they've got history on their side.

(That's LEE-thuh, with the “soft” th of leather, not the “hard” th of think, though I've also heard LITH-uh, with a "short" i and "hard" th.)*

In the old Anglo-Saxon calendar, June was known as ærra Líða, “before Litha” and July aeftera Líða, “after Litha”. (J. R. R. Tolkien, a proud Hwiccan** lad himself, modernizes these as Forelithe and Aerlithe, but I'll get back to that.) What comes between June and July? Well, given a little wiggle room, and the fact that the Anglo-Saxons reckoned by moons, not by calendar months, it seems fair to assign the word Litha to the summer solstice.

(In the same calendar, December and January were aerra Geol—Foreyule—and aeftera Geol—Aeryule—respectively.)

What the word originally meant, and why it should be assigned to this particular season of the year, is another matter altogether.

 

Unclear Origins

 

As an adjective, OE líðe meant “gentle, soft, calm, mild.” I suppose one could read this meteorologically, though personally, I find this (if you'll pardon my earthiness) a pretty limpdick explanation. As a verb—líðan—it means “to go, travel, sail.” Bede of Jarrow mocks up a reading here, claiming that the calm seas of solstice-tide usher in the sailing season. Sorry, sounds contrived to me.

I think that the most solid conclusion to draw here—considering the fact that, folk derivations aside, we don't know where the word “Yule” came from either—would be that Litha's etymology remains unclear.

Still, considering that Midwinter has a folksy by-name of its own—Yule—it's somehow satisfying that Midsummer should have one as well.

(For what it's worth, my own linguist's intuition here is that both Yule and Lithe derive from some solstice-celebrating pre-Germanic cultural substratum, and that neither word has a convincing Germanic derivation precisely because they're non-Germanic in origin. Perhaps time and future research will tell.)

 

The Lure of the Exotic

 

It certainly wouldn't be the first Old English word to be adopted lock, stock, and barrel into the Modern Witch vocabulary, Wicca and Eostre being two other prime examples. I strongly suspect that many Wiccans actually like the sense of mystery and exoticism that such archaic forms impart. Still, to my ear, there's something affected, something inauthentic, about using such words in everyday speech.

As a name for the Summer Yule, Líða didn't survive into modern times. If it had, though, and had undergone all the usual sound-changes through the course of the last 1000 years, we can say exactly what it would have sounded like today: Lithe (rhymes with blithe).

 

Shire-Reckoning

 

In fact, that's exactly what J. R. R. Tolkien does call it in Lord of the Rings.

The Shire-year of the hobbits features two extended periods of celebration: Yule and Lithe, with the (summer) sunstead itself being known specifically as Midyear's Day. Both holidays are characterized by extended festal periods, known respectively as the Yuledays and the Lithedays.

Though Tolkien himself doesn't use it, I think we can feel justified in coining, by analogy with Yuletide, the term Lithetide: the period of extended celebration between the astronomical solstice and Old Midsummer's Day, what we now celebrate as the Fourth of July. Lithe's thirteen days thus parallel those of Yule.

 

A Craft of Now

 

Well, lots of Wiccans apparently like feeling exotic. (Who doesn't like to feel special?) If you want to live in a museum—or, worse, on Renn Fest grounds—year-round, that's up to you.

Me, though, I'm with the hobbits here. I'm all for a Craft that we live and do everyday, not just when we're in circle.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 Wedding Besom Jumping Broom  in your choice of Natural image 1

 

I have a sacred word to teach you.

At a Jewish wedding, when the groom (or whoever) stomps the glass, everyone shouts: Mazel tov!

At a pagan wedding, when the couple jumps the broom everyone shouts: Hurrahya!

Hoo-RYE-yuh, it's pronounced—rye like the grain—and better it be if you rrroll the R. It's an old Witch word, an exclamation of joy. It's one of that odd class of words called vocables, words that connote but do not denote. It doesn't really “mean” anything, but through such words we enter into that archaic, pre-verbal state of mind that characterizes animal calls, infant sounds, and cultic cries such as Euoi!

The rubrics of the Rites of Handfasting don't specify a call as people jump the broom—the broom that represents, inter alia, the threshold of the new life into which the couple are entering together—but Hurrahya! is what you shout as someones leaps a bonfire, so it makes a deal of sense for handfasting as well. Hey, what's good for the witch is good for the warlock.

As to where the word comes from: Reply hazy, try again later. This amateur linguist's guess would be that it's related to hurrah, another common vocable used by cowan and pagan alike. Hurrahya, though, is the Witches-only version.

In my role as wise old sage (i.e. bullshitter) I should probably be telling you that Hurrahya was originally some ancient god-name. (With that explosive hur- at the beginning, and the nice open -ya at the end, I'll leave it to you to guess Who.) Well, you can believe that if you want to. When, at the handfasting later today, I pass along just that story, I plan to be wearing a wry twist of the lips as I do so. Caveat credente: let the believer beware.

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 Killing a Grizzly the Old-Fashioned Way: With a Longbow and a Stone-Point  Arrowhead

Dear Boss Warlock:

Help! I've been a witch for 25 years but, come December, what with all the presents, trees, and parties, I keep hearing the C-word slip out of my mouth when what I really mean is "Yule". The other night, one of my students actually corrected me. It's humiliating. What can I do to exorcise this foul demon?

Retrogressive in Raleigh

 

Dear Retro:

I hear your pain. Verbal precision is one of the truest arrows in the witch's quiver.

Here in the US, the C-word is so pervasive that to eliminate it requires an act of will, if not one of magic. Fortunately, you're a witch, so you've got plenty of both.

After all, what's the witch's most important tool? (If you're thinking “athame,” think again.)

As pagans, of course, we're so often out of synch with the overculture that, come Yule, it's easy to stop swimming and just let ourselves drift along on the current for a while. But, in fact, despite the overlap of season and a certain amount of iconography, our Yule and theirs are really two very different holidays. (I mean, really, just look at the names: Yule and C-day. One is taut, muscular, sexy; the other slack, hissy, frumpy.) It's vital here always to remember that Yule came first. That's historic fact. Yule isn't our C-day; C-day is their Yule.

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The advantage of any given language is that, in it, you will always be able to draw distinctions that you couldn't make in any other language.”

(Deer Stands Up, 1996)

 

OK class, take out your Witch-English dictionaries, please.

Now: I want everyone on this side of the room to look up Lede: L-E-D-E, lede.

On this side, Thede: T-H-E-D-E, thede.

Ready? Go.

Got it? Good. Rowan, would you give us the definition of lede, please?

OK, everybody got that? “A tribe, a people, a nation.”

Fritha, have you got a definition for “thede” for us?

Good. “A tribe, a people, a nation.” Two words, same definition. Now, we know that, in any given language, there are no true synonyms; all synonyms are only partially synonymous. There's always a shade of difference between the two: otherwise, why have two words?

So what's the difference here? How is a thede different from a lede?

Well, let's take a specific example. Robin, what's our thede?

Right: we're Witches, of the Tribe of Witches.

Ash, what's our lede, then?

Pagan, yes. We're Witch by thede, Pagan by lede. So “thede” is a sub-group of “lede.” Both are peoples, categories of being, but one term is more inclusive than the other. In any given lede, there will always be many different thedes.

Siffrith? Oh, good question. Did everybody hear that? If in any given language there are no true synonyms, then what's the distinction between “thede” and “tribe”?

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