Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Male Witches or “Are you a Warlock?”

Oftentimes I meet people who aren’t sure how to approach this Wicca, Witchcraft, paganism, and Witches thing, other than what they see on television or through folklore and stories. Most of the time, I look at it as an opportunity to educate cowens (non-pagans) about what it is we do. Last year, I attended a pagan wedding which – because it was held on Samhain – attracted the attention of a large local newspaper. The print and photojournalists were really nice folks who seemed genuinely interested in our world and were very respectful and kind of our beliefs. How refreshing!

The journalist I spoke with wanted to know what the protocol and etiquette was of using the word “Warlock” to identify a male Witch, innocently of course. Couldn’t blame her for asking, since we’ve all been taught since we were little babes that a guy who practices magick was a Warlock. It got me to thinking, as I spent a few moments clarifying why that term is not widely used in the pagan community.

According to Wikipedia, the commonly accepted etymology derives Warlock from the Old English wǣrloga meaning "oathbreaker" or "deceiver". It is considered in polite Witchy society to be a bit of an insult, and those who choose to call themselves are looked at a bit askance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still used in pagandom, but usually by Luciferians, Satanists or simply uneducated Wiccans who are looking for a bit of a shock value.

It is said that during the period we pagans refer to as “The Burning Times” – what historians refer to as the Inquisition – Warlocks were those who would trade information for safety. They would happily divulge names, times & places of worship and real or made up details to keep the Inquisitors neck deep in Witches to torture, under the guise of God’s Grace. Today, we Witches still use the term “Warlock” as both a noun AND a verb. A Warlock refers to a person who has broken their oaths and has betrayed their coven and/or Tradition. It also refers to the act of the formal banishment of that individual from his or her coven or Tradition. If you hear of someone having been “Warlocked” from their tradition or group, it usually means they have been deemed an oathbreaker by a Council of Elders (or a similar tribunal) and it’s a hint and a half that this person has some significant baggage. I don’t know of many Witches who traffic with Warlocks. Certainly I don’t have high opinions of those who have been Warlocked, and give a wide berth to those who freely call themselves that.

Warlocks do exist but not in the definition of the mainstream. I’ve heard of pagans new to the Craft, especially males, who choose to refer to themselves as Warlocks. Some of these folks change their self-affixed labels when they are educated about the etymology of the word and the baggage behind it, but some hold onto this label. I’ve tried to be openminded about this, and understand that my way is not the only way to practice. Maybe the word “Warlock” is a name male Witches want to reclaim as their own. If that is the case, I think it would be a herculean task to change perceptions both within and without the pagan community.

Maybe this begs the question – do we as a pagan community need to come up with a word which describes a male Witch? Witch – as a word – often connotes a female, most likely through lore and common (mis)beliefs of the past centuries. While I like names to be gender neutral, it seems to me that our pagan men may feel like they are getting lost in a rather gynocentric religion. The desire to affix a label or moniker to separate themselves from the women of the Craft suggests that men wish to maintain their masculinity. I think it’s not a bad idea to consider. Unfortunately, the term “Warlock” in its current definition does not apply to 99.9% of male Witches in the Craft.

In Witchcraft today, a guy who is a Witch is just that – a male Witch. An argument can be made to simply use one name all the way around. A Witch is a Witch is a Witch. Male, female; straight, gay, bisexual, transgender; carnivore, vegan; what other labels you choose for yourself is your own business. Being a Witch is not about what plumbing you have, or what you prefer in this life. It is about identifying yourself with this particular belief system. The Gods don’t care very much about your gender. Come to think of it, they could care less about labels either!

So, I continue to tell people who ask that when they refer to a make Witch, they should simply say “Witch” or “Wiccan” if that is appropriate. Until such time when the term Warlock has better connotations within our own community, I think I’ll continue using the term Warlock as I was taught.

And what of that news story? The journalist didn’t call anyone a Warlock. Mission accomplished!