Sunday, July 25, 2010

Origins of the Word "Witch"

The origin of the English "witch" may be the Indo-European (IE) root word weik, having to deal with magic and/or religion. From weik we get four different derivatives of the word. The first derivative is the word wih-l, which in turn begat the Old English words wigle and wiglera, meaning sorcery and sorcerer respectively. These words are also the root of the word guile. The second derivative is similar in spelling to the first and is the Old Norse wihl, meaning craftiness. The third is wik, meaning holy. From wik comes the Middle High German wich, having the same meaning as its root word, derived itself from the Old High German wihen. The fourth derivative of the word is wikk, meaning magic or sorcery. From this comes the Middle German wikken, meaning to predict. Wikk also begat the Old English wicca and wicce (respectively pronounced wee-cha and wee-chay, roughly, I am no linguist.) These words pertaining to a practice comparable to Seidr, wicca being the masculine variant and wicce the female. From these words is the verb wician, roughly meaning to work sorcery. Wicca then begat the Middle English witche and from this our modern witch.

It should be stated that if one wishes to practice what can truly be called witchcraft it will be a mystical path of Germanic, or at the least IE, origin. This is not to say that it will be of a pure strand of Germanic or IE based paganism, as true traditional craft would vary from locale to locale and pick up many magio/spiritual practices along the way. Nor is modern witchcraft called "wicca" necessarily "witchcraft." This is not to say that modern wicca is not a valid path and religion, but it is wicca, not witchcraft in a traditional sense. Much of modern "witchcraft" and wicca is derived from ceremonial practices, such as those of the Golden Dawn. While this is fine by itself, it was something of the unknown to the practitioners of wicca (Saxon usage,) a Germanic path.

As a final note I will discuss the idea that wicca is a word that means to bend or to shape. This idea has its root in fact, to a point. The Old English word (no doubt derived from the same root as those words discussed above) wican, did, indeed, mean to bend. Related words are the Old Saxon wikan, the Old High German wichan and the Old Norse vikja. All of these words having the meaning to bend.

It may also be noted that the practice of traditional wicca and wicce (Saxon uses here) and Medieval Witchcraft (the origins of the craft in many of the forms that we know it) are derived from Galdr and Seidr (mentioned above) and are the Saxon variants of these. Thus the path of the Helrunar and the Haegtessa are far closer to Traditional Witchcraft than most modern "Craft." "Witchcraft" in it's origin was very much a religion, first and foremost, and it's practitioners were "mystics" and "shamans" in a sense. This should be noted, for folk magic and witchcraft are not one in the same, as believed by many, though the former is practiced by those of the persuasion of the latter. Nor are modern wicca and old craft truly the same, as believed by others. That said, modern traditional witchcraft only bears a passing semblance to what would have passed for craft in times before. And that, as they say, is that.

The Occult Significance of the Crossing Rite

    The Sign of the Cross, the Hammer Sign, the Qabalistic Cross; enigmatic and essential rites within the mystical systems that they originate from.  Often such rites are used to begin a greater rite or petition.  Other times the crossing of the self has been used for protective purposes.  Yet at other times the sign is used as a blessing or to seal power.  While often thought of as a Christian rite, the sign of the cross goes far beyond the overly simplified version that so many are accustomed to: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen,” so often used by these faiths to begin and end prayer.   According to Catholicism the sign of the cross is a blessing and joining of sorts.  The “joining” means the binding of the mystery Holy Trinity with the mystery of the Redemption.  This then encompasses the entire essence of life, through to the end when a soul is joined in eternal life with Christ.  The rite breaks such boundaries in it’s occult usage, as we shall observe in the following analysis.

The Qabalistic Cross
    Perhaps the most common of the occult usages of the Sign of the Cross is that of the Qabalistic Cross, initially used by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.  This variation of the crossing rite is often tied to the Lesser, Greater or Supreme Banishing of the Pentagram Rituals.  In this variation of the crossing rite the practitioner will stand, often facing east, though it is my opinion that this direction may be altered depending upon the rite that it accompanies, if any.  Facing the chosen direction the practitioner will proceed through the following steps:

1. A brilliant light is visualized above the practitioner’s head.  The practitioner reaches up and touches this light with the index finger or the tip of a ritual dagger.  The light is then dragged down to the forehead

2. Touches the forehead and intones “Atah” (Ah-tah, meaning “thou art.”) The hand is then brought down to the center of the breast
3. Touches breast, in the center but near the heart while intoning “Malkuth” (Mahl-kooth, meaning “the kingdom.”) The light is visualized as descending down from the forehead to the feet.  The hand is then moved to the right shoulder.

4. Touches the right shoulder and intones “ve-Geburah” (v’ ge-boo-rah, meaning “the power.”) A point of light is visualized at this spot.   The hand is then moved across to the left shoulder

5. Touches the left shoulder and intones “ve-Gedulah” (v’ ge-doo-lah meaning “the glory.”)  The light is seen as moving from the right shoulder to the left.  It bears mentioning that ve-Gedulah is sometimes interpreted as Chesed or mercy, as opposed to glory.

6.  The hands are then brought together, as if praying, on the breast and the practitioner intones “Le-Olahm, Amen” (Le-oh-lahm, ah-men meaning “forever, unto the ages.”) 

    This technique has it’s roots with the Qabalistic tree of life.  Indeed, each point of this cross has it’s origin within one of the sephirah of the tree of life.  In addition each of these points is directly connected to one of the four classical elements so often invoked in Ceremonial Magick.  The first point Atah or “thou art” is connected to the sephirah Kether or “I am,” and also to the element of air.  It also refers, in this instance, to the spirit or higher genius of man.  The sphere of Malkuth or “the kingdom” is linked to the element of earth.  This point is in reference to the physical body. Ve-Gedulah or “the power” is related to the element of fire.  Ve-Geburah or “glory” (it is important to remember that it may also be “mercy”) is related to the element of water.  These two points are also in reference to the polarities of man’s ego, as well as the light and dark pillars of Solomon’s temple.  We can begin to see all of the polarities apparent in this rite.  All of these polarities become balanced when the hands are brought together upon the breast.

    So, though we may see a similar method to the Christian Sign of the Cross, we begin to see a far deeper ritual.  One great difference to be noted here is the reversal of which shoulder is touched first between the Christian cross and the occult crosses.  This is because the goal of the occultist and witch is to make a connection with “god” thus we might look upon “god.”  This is contrary to the Christian view that God cannot be viewed from the front, and thus our crosses are reversed so that the occultist approaches their “god” from the front while the Christian and non-initiate approaches God from the rear, so as not to look upon the face of God.  This entire philosophy goes far deeper than this involving the Tree of Life as God’s front or backside, but that could be an entire entry in itself, and I do not wish to weigh down this work on the crossing rites with such things.

    This last bit of information should have given away that a great part of the crossing rites is meant to connect one with “god.”  More on this will be revealed soon, but first there is another aspect of this crossing rite that is shared with the Christians.  This may be something that is ready to burst from the mouth of any Catholic or ex-Catholic at this very moment!  You may have noticed that the spheres reflect the occasional last lines of the so-called “Lord’s Prayer.”  “For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory art Yours, now and forever, Amen,” or in the instance of our study “Thou Art the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory (mercy?) forever until the end of time.”  What does all of this mean?  It is a simple invocation and communion to what the magician/witch is reaching up towards in the beginning of the rite, but I shall reveal more on this later.  As for now, there are other such rites to be examined.

The Hammer Sign on the Body

    This is a crossing rite used in certain branches of modern reconstructionist Germanic Heathenry and Asatru.  It is a rite that is  meant to be used as a daily empowerment and blessing, as I had learned it.  It may also be used by the practitioner at the beginning of any ritual.  The core form that I shall display here utilizes a standard theological pattern.  The rite is performed thusly:

1.  Envision a bright ball of light floating about two feet above the head.  The hand is reached up and the light is grasped and pulled toward the forehead.  Touch the forehead and say “Tiw.”  The hand is then brought down to the top of the sternum (or occasionally the mouth)

2. Touch the top of the sternum (mouth) and say “Woden.”  The light is then drawn further down the solar plexus

3. Touch the solar plexus and say “Thunor.”  The light is then drawn to the left shoulder

4. Touch the left shoulder and say “Frey.”  The light is then drawn across to the right shoulder

5. Touch the right shoulder and say “Freya.” 

    The same pattern and, to a degree, the same desired effect can clearly be seen in these two rights.  The obvious difference (outside of the use of Germanic deities in place of the spheres) being that in the Hammer Signing we have the center invoked as the second step in the process, as opposed to being the final step.  The balance occurring in this rite at the crossing point in the end when Frey and Freya, “Lord” and “Lady,” are invoked on the opposite shoulders.  It is simple to see this brother and sister invocation as a the balancing portion of the rite.  A second difference in this rite is that the power drawn from it is meant to be drawn from the deities invoked in the process.  Thirdly, it will be noted that the shoulders are touched in the opposite order in this rite.  But what do the similarities in the rites mean, what is the luminous source envisioned above the practitioner and just what is the true intent of the crossing rite?  These are the questions that I set about to answer and so I shall answer them, in due time.  First let us observe the crossing rite of certain witches.
A Witches Crossing Rite

    The crossing rites that I have come across as used by witches are a different than these others variants in that they are more simplistic in their nature.  In fact the simplicity of the rites often borders that of the modern ley Christian variant that I had listed above.  Indeed, I have often seen these rites, as used by witches, claiming only to offer protection, not a far cry from the Christian symbolism at all.  These often go something like this:

1. Touch the brow and say: “In the name of the Lord”

2. Touch the navel and say: “And of the Lady”

3. Touch the right shoulder “The Darkness”

4. Touch the left shoulder “and Bright”

5. Says: “Wisdom and Power of Fate’s Hand.”

    One can see basic differences in that this crossing has no internal visualizations. This might mean that there is less contact with anything outside of the internal self and that which is specifically invoked in the crossing.  This would, to a degree, defeat the higher working of the crossing rite, as I shall reveal as we progress.  The following sample is one that I utilize in workings of witchcraft and have incorporated into group workings as well. 

1.  A luminescence is envisioned floating above the practitioner’s head.  The practitioner reaches up, preferably with the left hand, to touch this.  The hand is brought down, drawing with it the light, and touches the forehead.  The practitioner says: “In the name of the Master.”  The light is then drawn down to the navel.

2. Touches the navel and says: “and the Dame.”  The pillar of light is envisioned as descending down through the body and into the ground.  The light is then drawn to the left shoulder.

3. Touches the right shoulder and says: “and the Shadow.”  The light is drawn across to the right shoulder.

4. Touches the left shoulder and says: “and Light.” 

5. Says: “Holiness of the Wane and the True.”

    We can see that this variant is much closer to the first two that we have studied.  The rite also tends to serve the same purposes as far as balancing goes.  This rite is most often used at the beginning of, or in prelude to, the drawing of the compass or ring of art.  All of this explanation and we are yet again left to wonder at the basic mystery of this rite.  Yet before answering these questions, I would like to cover a bit on the “lower” uses of the sign of the cross to bless, protect and bind.

A Basic Miscellany of Crossing Gestures and Their Intent
        Let us begin with the now familiar “Hammer Sign.”  The sign of the hammer is used not only in the above right, but is drawn in the air as a sign of invocation.  It is also used as a blessing and protective gesture, in much the same way that a Christian might use the sign of to cross for the same reasons.  This variant often has a shorter “foot” extending from the bottom of the “hammer” than that of the variation which crosses the body.  The cross might be used in a similar manner by practitioners of other occult arts and does have a wide range of uses in the folk tradition.

    Let us take, firstly, the old Irish example of crossing the mouth when yawning as a precaution against evil spirits from entering the mouth and taking possession of the body.

     There is an old Anglo-Saxon charm from the 10th century which was intended to protect a horse from harm (especially that which was brought about by elves) and called for the physical scarring of the sign of the cross upon the body of the animal.  A knife with a yellow horn handle taken from an ox, and inscribed with the words “Blessed Be all the works of the Lord of Lords.”  The horn is shod with three nails and knife taken before the animal in question.  The sign of the cross is then inscribed (cut) into the forehead, spine and as many limbs as can be reached.  The left ear is then pierced.  The horse is then hit upon the back with a “wand.”  All ills, and especially those caused by elves, will be cured and the horse will be protected. 

    According to Bald’s Leechbook mugwort should be picked before sunrise, accompanied by a magical incantation and blessed with the sign of the cross as it is picked.  The plant is self being said to have the magical properties to drive away and protect from evil spirits.

    According to the Anglo-Saxon Land Ceremonies Charm the sign of the cross can be used to hallow, protect and sustain the land that it is drawn over during the rite.  I, myself, continue the practice of this charm, including the use of crossing during it.  I have substituted a triple crossing in place of the single crossings originally found in the rite.  The triple crossing technique is one used by modern witches and, I have found, is typically used to hallow or seal power within an object, place, etc.  Now that I have shared these simple spells, I will explain the greater mystery that I have been putting off in the whole of this analysis. 

The Mysteries of the Crossing Rite
    Now we shall investigate into the meaning behind the crossing rites that we have studied.  We know one of the mysteries already, that of the balancing act of polarized powers within the self, yet there is another balance occurring here as well.  This second balance is four fold.  You will remember when learning about the Qabalistic Cross that each point corresponded to one of the classical elements.  Each element philosophically corresponds to one of the elements of the periodic table.  They can be seen this way:

Air = Oxygen
Water = Hydrogen
Fire = Nitrogen
Earth = Carbon

    Here we see the balance made on a physical level, dealing with our carbon bodies.  From this we begin to understand that we are bringing about three fold balance in the self.  The two-fold balance of the ego/mind/soul  and the four fold elemental balance of the physical body.  You may be saying to yourself, “What is the third balance?” though it may already be clear to you. 

    The third is the balance of spirit.  This of course is not the spirit in the sense that most of the uninitiated would speak of, but rather the higher spirit that all mystics strive for communion with.  I am, of course, speaking of the fetch, holy guardian angel, personal god or higher self, as it has variously been called.  This is the entity whose fate is the reason that you live, though the philosophy of this is best left to a separate work.  The fetch, as I shall refer to it from here on, is the guiding entity that the mystic must connect with to truly begin to understand Fate and the universe.  It is through communion with this entity which all of us are governed by that we might attain inner peace and enlightenment.  It is also through this communion that we might gain true inspiration from the personal Muse. 

    The Master of the Feri tradition of witchcraft, Victor H. Anderson put forth the idea that this entity, which he termed the “personal god” and “overself,” lie in an area floating above the head.  He also stated that through this entity we could get a glimpse of the “cosmic mind” (Fate to the witch.)  This is the entity that watches over and guides us through life.  So, now things begin to become a bit clearer!  The true goal of crossing rites is the balance of mind, body and spirit.  Beyond this balance there is the greater goal of communion with the fetch.  Many magicians seek to find ways to hold communion with this entity, yet the truth is that they are already experiencing a brief communion with it each and every time that they perform their variant of the crossing rite.

    Now that this mystery has been revealed, the reader is armed with an arsenal of crossing rites to aid in the communion with the fetch.  Using the crossing rite in this way can be very effective when combined with a communal (symbolic) feast such as the sacrament of bread and wine if it is offered up directly for communion with the fetch.  In this way I find the Qabalistic Cross technique to be the most effective, as the proper symbolism is already inherent in the words that are intoned.  Do not worry about other symbols in the Qabala, it is only important, for our purposes, that the practitioner understand the words being used within this rite, and understand there depth in relation to the communal variation of the rite.  Once the communion has been made and a working relationship with the fetch is established one can call upon this spirit when performing the crossing rite to extend into the otherworlds and into the universe to retrieve other mysteries and to make contact with other spirit entities.  In conclusion, we can see that the crossing rite, in it’s many forms, is invaluable to the witch, magician and occultist.  And that, as they say, is that.

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Rev. Maurus Fitzgerald, O.F.M. (Ed.) - Catholic Book of Prayers - Catholic Book Publishing Corp.
Dom Robert Le Gall, Abbot of Kergonan (author,) Ian Monk (translator) - Symbols of Catholicism - Barnes & Noble Inc.

Bill Griffiths - Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic - Anglo-Saxon Books

Paul Huson - Mastering Witchcraft - G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Nigel Jackson - Call of the Horned Piper - Capall Bann Publishing
Nigel G. Pearson - Treading the Mill - Capall Bann Publishing

Stephen Pollington - Leechcraft, Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing - Anglo-Saxon Books

Israel Regardie (author,) Chic Cicero and Tabitha Sandra Cicero (authors/editors) - The Middle Pillar
third edition - Llewellyn Publications

Edred Thorsson - A Book of Troth - Llewellyn Publications

Edred Thorsson - The Nine Doors of Midgard - Llewellyn Publications

Lady Wilde - Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions - Sterling Publishing Co.