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

 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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Manitoba Moose Survey Results - Manitoba Wildlife Federation


The plural of tooth is teeth,

and the plural of goose is geese.

Would somebody kindly

explain to me, please,

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Good old English. She's taken many lovers, down the long years.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I think we borrowed the word moose from the Algonquin, it's not an English word.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs


None of the ancient pagan languages with which I'm familiar had a word for 'amen', but after a thousand-some years of Christianity here in the West, we've gotten used to having one. So it's well worth asking: How do you say 'amen' in Pagan?

Amen. Yes, Robert Graves uses it to end a prayer in Seven Days in New Crete, his dystopian novel of the Goddess-worshiping future, but otherwise—so far as I can tell—there's consensus across Pagandom that we need a term of our own. (Consensus among pagans. Fancy that.)

So Be It. Well, if you must. Colorful, though, it isn't. Sorry, folks, I think we can do better than this.

Ho! No. No. No, no, no. Ripping off a Lakota verbal affirmation is not the direction we want to take here. As pagans, First Nations/Indigenous people are our spirit-kin. We are the last people that should be pillaging Native culture of anything. Learn from Native people, yes. Be informed by Native people, yes. Steal from Native people, no.

Blessed Be. I've met a number of Wiccans who use 'Blessed Be' as other folks use 'Amen'. Well, OK, but it seems to me that this phrase already means so many other things in the context of Wiccan culture—Hello and Good-bye among them—that it might be nice to have something a little more, shall we say, situationally specific.

So Mote It Be. First off, some back-story. Gerald Gardner took the term from the vocabulary of Masonry, which uses it pretty much as Wicca does: as an emphatic phrase of final affirmation. Think of it as a verbal capstone, or seal.

Yes, it's Wiccan, right out of the B of S. I know non-Wiccans who eschew the term for this very reason. Here's what I like about 'So mote it be'.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I'll stick with Amen. If I'm feeling cantankerous I might say Amen-Ra, but that's it.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs



Don't get me wrong, I'm all for merriment, and making merry—and let us take a moment to savor that fine old phrase, and consider the implications: “merry” isn't something that you are, it's something that you do—is a fine old Yuletide thew (that's “custom” in Witch).

Still, there's something about the greeting “Merry Yule” that, like a shot of vinegar, sets my teeth on edge.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you why. To my ear, it smacks of keeping up with the cowans, which (in my experience) is rarely the best modus operandi. Yule is Yule, its own thing, not something that you write in, having erased “Christmas.”

So, if not a merry one, then what kind of Yule do we wish one another?

The default adjective for holiday salutations in English is, of course, “happy.” There are worse things than a Happy Yule. Colorful, though, it's not. Likewise, since the greeting is often yoked with “and a Happy New Year,” you've suddenly got a “happy-happy” pairing which is, to say the least, infelicitous. Then there's that clunky BUM-bum-BUM meter to it. “Happy Yule” may do the job, but dance on the tongue it doesn't.

Well, when in doubt, consult the kinfolk. Norwegians wish one another a Gledelig Jul, and Danes a Glaedelig Jul: a Glad Yule. (Icelandic is similar: Gledileg Jól.) Now, a glad Yule certainly beats a sad one, but in English there's something forced about the phrase, almost pretentious. It sounds like Translation-ese, which—of course—is exactly what it is. Cognate-for-cognate isn't necessarily best translation strategy.

For Swedes, though, it's God Jul: a Good Yule. Now that I like. Forceful, firm, terse even. (It's cold up here in the North Country: you don't want to go letting all that cold air in. Hence our proverbial Northron taciturnity.) Metrically, it's got that nice, assertive spondee: BUM-BUM. A Good Yule doesn't mess around. A Good Yule tells you what's what. It goes in, does what needs to be done, and gets out again. A Good Yule is lean, and sinewy, and oh-so honey-sweet on the tongue.

It's worth noting that up in Scotland where Yule's Yule and no one has ever bothered with that newfangled Christmas business, it's still Guid Yule, short and sweet.

Well, in the pagan world you'll make up your own mind, and glad I am of it. If you wish me a Merry Yule, or a Happy one, or even a Glad one, I'll gladly take it—as witches say—with both hands.

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Lesson 1


“What a beautiful [blowing] horn,” I say.

It was, and my friend's wife, to whom the horn belonged, told me the story.

She had raised the cow herself from a calf. After a long, productive life, the cow—I can't remember her name anymore—was happily grazing in the pasture one sunny day when...

“...Thor took her,” she said.

Translation: “The cow was struck by lightning.”

That's how you think in Pagan.


Up in northern Minnesota's Lake Country, a young girl disappeared and was never found.

“They say the lake took her,” her mother told authorities. “I don't believe it.”

Translation: “The girl drowned.”

That's how you think in Pagan.


Extract from the article “Bealtaine Rite” in The Waxing Moon, Bealtaine 1977

We met one day in May when the Moon told us it was right.

Translation: “We held our Bealtaine ritual during the Waxing Moon of May (because the waxing of the Moon mirrors the waxing of the Year).”

That's how you think in Pagan.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

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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