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

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Motherless

Who you callin' 'cowan'?”

 

In Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin's “Masters of Solitude” novels*, the Witches—they call themselves “Coven” or “Circle”—have a derisory term for cowans/non-pagans: they call them Motherless.

(Quickie alternate-historical recap: the Chinese invade the US; the US collapses; then, for reasons never made clear, the Chinese withdraw. The East Coast, which has become a single sprawling megalopolis, literally walls itself off in incestuous techno-isolation and lets the Interior stew in its own atavistic juices. Out of this cauldron of ferment arises Circle, a tribal Witch culture that has bred for psychic/telepathic ability.)

Now, this makes sense. As pagans, we're the Mother's People, the First People. We've continued to love and to honor Her all along, even when others have forgotten Her.

Hence “Motherless.” It's a brilliant example of how things look from Inside. The term has a whole passel of implications, all of them apt. Those without a mother have no one to care for them. Those without a mother have no one to teach them the right ways of doing things. Those without a mother can grow up emotionally stunted and uncaring. (Just or not, those are the stereotypes.)

Not all non-pagans are Motherless, of course. The Goddess loves all Her children, even those who have turned their backs on Her. In Her mighty ruth (the old Hwicce/Witch word for mercy; tellingly, the term survives mostly in its opposite, ruthless), She shows Herself to them in ways that they too can understand. Hindus have goddesses; Buddhists too, though they may or may not call them that. Not all Christians are Motherless: consider Mary, Goddess of the Christians. (Let them play their semantic shell-games if they wish; pagans know a goddess when we see one.)

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
What the Eff Is a 'God-Form'?

Sorry, come again: I didn't quite catch that last.

“God-form”?

Sorry, my Cowan's a little rusty. “God-form”?

Do you mean an image: a statue, or something, that bears a god's presence? No? Do you mean a god?

Not quite? How is a “god-form” different from a god, then? Do you mean a hypostasis?

But it's something that you assume, right?

You assume it, but it's not a god. If it's not a god, how is it different from a god? If it's a god, why don't you just say “god”?

Well, what you're describing sure sounds like a god to me. Or at least a god's shadow: something cast over you when you're overshadowed.

Is that right?

Oh, oh, now I get it: it's like “orientate.” It's what you say when you mean “orient” but want to sound Impressive.

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Ye Gods!

“Ye gods!” I hear myself say. “That's terrible!”

A neighbor had been telling me about a stabbing that had just taken place on the block. Such is life in urban America.

What she thought of my involuntary expostulation, I don't know. Probably nothing. If it registered at all, she probably thought I was just being precious.

But I wasn't, really. “Ye gods” has become my oath-of-choice.

The nice thing about “Ye gods” is that—unlike most pagan oaths—it's remained in current English usage for the past 400 years or so, so it doesn't have the “trying too hard” quality that mars modern pagan oaths of the “By Thor's hairy balls!” variety.

How that came to be so makes an interesting story. Back in Shakespeare's time, new anti-blasphemy legislation made it legally punishable to use the name of the Christian god(s) on stage. Playwrights responded by using the names of pagan gods instead. (That's when “by Jove!” entered the English lexicon.) Ah, the good old Renaissance: when the old paganisms saved Christian Europe from itself.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, When I'm around my friends, I'll usually say, "Gods!" When I'm alone and confronting some greater or lesser unpleasan

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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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

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