Welcome to my first Blog Post on Pagan World! I’m glad to be here and I hope you are, too. I’ve been watching the Pagan community grow since the dawn of the internet and I am always happy to see changes for the better.
Since the days of secret Pagan chat rooms on AOL and Compuserve, our community has made some monumental strides. That’s something pretty stellar, in all honesty. But, there are still some things we need to do. And I would like to start by saying most people do not even see how terminology from ages past still affect us, negatively so, to this very day.
There’s one term I learned about early on in my Path. It’s a word people still use with derision and venom. But they don’t understand it’s actual history and it’s true meaning at all, else they wouldn’t be so casual about insisting it’s a derogatory slur.
No, I’m not talking about the term “fluffy bunny” (although, that’s one that needs to get revamped as well, mainly because it’s absolutely stupid). The term I would like to enlighten people about is “Warlock”.
I would like to say “for some reason people think this is a derogatory word”… But sadly, the reason is darker than most people even realize. The word Warlock was bastardized during the Inquisition and the stigma of it is still raining down upon us to this very day.
The most common response I get to saying that last line is “what what?!” So, let me explain. I may even bring a few people around to reason on this.
You see, there was a time most of us are familiar with called The Burning Times, AKA the Inquisition. During this time, two men, namely Heinrich Kramer (aka Henricus Institoris), assisted by Jacob Sprenger (although the main bulk of it is attributed to Kramer) devised a dastardly book called “Malleus Maleficarum” (also known as The Witch Hammer, although translated it actually is titled: Hammer Of Witches). This book was printed and distributed to any would-be witch hunter of the era (originally published in 1486, mass issued 1487) as a textbook for identifying, torturing, and eliminating Witches and their kin (be that kin blood or merely friends of like mind). This book survives to this day and has been translated from its original Latin to English as well as many other languages.
Many European Inquisitions began as early as the 1100’s and some people still claim the mantle of Witch Hunter to this very day. Sad but true (and usually, these people are also sad but true. I mean, who kills Witches now-a-days). This is the dark part of our Pagan History. While some would say that this dark period is lacking in information, you might be surprised to find that many places still hold remnants of records that tell dark tales of hatred, greed and bloodlust towards our people.
Just like with the American Civil War, many families were often pit against each other, or used as leverage for information. We all hear about the women burned at the stake as Witches. But we fail to get much in ways of how men were treated. Also, keep in mind, if one member was found guilty, it marred the family name for generations to come.
So, where am I going with this, you ask? To the heart of the word Warlock and how men have had to hide their Pagan heritage just as women have, for generations.
As a scholar and researcher, one of the first necessities for my Pagan education was to learn about the historical aspects, broad scale. As the child of a renowned Historian of the Smithsonian, I was privileged to have access to historical information that most people will never see because it’s stuck in a back room or a library meant for staff only. I also was fortunate to learn Latin growing up.
In Latin, the word “Warlock” actually translates to “Luminosity”. However, around the early 1500’s in Scotland, Witch Hunters would seek out local men, known to many as Warlocks, and they would torture them into giving them names, and they usually wanted the names of prominent women or landowner (or better still, women land owners).
Therefore, the locals of Scotland quickly stopped using the term Warlock in order to protect their Elders from these hunters. The idea that the term Warlock meant “traitor” is also based on the fact that men would be captured and tortured, but less often to death. Unlike women, men were given an opportunity to bargain their way out of being put to death by giving another name (or by paying the hunters off with great sums of family money, sometimes they might even offer a daughter as a bride, along with a substantial dowry), which others would see as a betrayal. And it was a betrayal to some extent. But sometimes it wasn’t their life in peril, it was the life of their wife, child or some one else they dearly loved. May I just say, I hope I am never put in a position where I have to chose my own life or that of someone else to save myself or to save someone I love.
You might be surprised to hear that much of the Inquisitions were about power, land and money rather than about religion. It did, however, bring out many a zealot hellbent on promoting Monotheism. You might also be shocked to find that Christians were not the only Witch Hunters, either. (But that’s a story for another blog).
Finding a Warlock in that era was also like asking to speak with one’s Mayor, for some villages/communities. It was a title with many meanings, and it was meant to say this man is our wisest, our most brilliant and bright, as well as a protector. Yet, the Inquisitors took something good and soured it. They twisted a term and bastardized it so badly, it has stuck to this very day.
So, when I hear someone today stating that those who go by the term Warlock must be liars or traitors, I bite my tongue (unless they seem open minded to the education of truth, in which case, I may very well engage with the intention of sharing it’s true history). I think what grinds my gears the most is how commonplace it has become to hurl this word as a modern insult, when in fact, it was never an insult to begin with. Warlock was once a cherished title, which made them a target, which in turn, has become a label. It’s a modern misnomer. And I, for one feel it is time to take our words back. Warlock should have been taken back generations ago.
It is also rather distasteful to see how many people of the Path don’t feel Pagan history is all that important. Watching someone use Warlock as a negative term is rather infuriating since it tells me right off the bat that this person is not truly researching the faith they claim to have dedicated themselves to.
By that I mean, you don’t see Thelemites ignoring Crowley’s teachings of Egyptian History, Mythos and Philosophy set into a modern Hierarchy. A modern initiate of Stregia (Stragheria) would never ask who Charles Godfrey Leland was or say they’ve never read Aradia. So, why would even an eclectic Pagan not want to find some of the deep roots of our Pagan history? It’s like not knowing about the history of one’s own country. Granted, many people don’t bother with their own history, and they are sheltering themselves, which is their choice. But if we do not know history, then we are doomed to repeat it.
Also, what spurred me to even write this is a sad situation. I had a dear friend who had always gone by the term Warlock. Just two months ago, he reared his head in a group, trying to explain the true origin of the word, only for people to loose their ever-loving minds on him. They demanded he “accept” their understanding of the word Warlock as a traitor and liar. He kindly tried to tell them its Latin meaning, which they just refused to believe (it’s so easy to check this, just use any reputable online translator). Three misinformed people verbally attacked him about this word choice well after he had left the conversation and left the group. He blocked them, then started getting nasty messages from other accounts he didn’t recognize.
When he stood his ground and stated he would not change his preferred moniker, they started contacting people on his friends lists, outting him as a “black practitioner” (many already knew his religious philosophy, so that was no big deal). When that didn’t turn people against him, they found out where he worked and started calling/emailing/reviewing online about how they have a traitorous Warlock among them. They insisted he would steal from his employer if given a chance, stated “how stupid” they thought he was and how he couldn’t be trusted.
This, by fellow Pagans! It turned my stomach that our own could be so hateful, based on inaccurate information. In case any of those people who took part in that argument are even interested, after being forced to resign due to all the harassment these people caused his company, he took his own life. He took his own life after almost two months of internet bullying over a word that is deeply misunderstood. That is NOT the Craft I wish to see.
When Witches are so savage to their own, they are no better than the hunters were during the Inquisition. There is no room for this in our hearts, communities or on our Path to continue promoting this Honored Title as something derogatory. It never truly meant what people seem to think it means. Just because people keep saying it doesn’t mean it’s true. And above all else, I hope my fellow Pagans are finally in a place where they will be open to our Historical Education as well as Spellcraft.
It costs nothing to disagree and walk away, or to be kind, even if you don’t relate. And if a term is so terrible to you, maybe you should look within to try to understand why. Or you could always research, learn and educate yourself. I live to learn.
Or maybe, we still feel the pain of the Warlocks that came before, which is making it hard for people to welcome it back to its rightful place in our philosophies. It has clearly left a mark on our communities and in our sphere’s of learning.
My only hope is that those who embrace “An it harm none”, never treat another Pagan with such disregard or distaste, especially over a truly misinterpreted word. Thank you for reading.
Rest In Peace, My Friend.
Warlock S.K. Light – July 2, 1975 – Feb 13, 2021