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Definition: Warlock from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

An evil spirit; a WIZARD. The word represents Old English wǣloga, ‘traitor’, literally ‘oath liar’.


Summary Article: warlocks
From Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

Men who practise black magic, sorcerers; often also used of a male witch.

The word ‘warlock’ has been used in various senses throughout the centuries, most of them pejorative. In its original Old English form, waerloga, it referred to an oath-breaker or traitor, and from about 1000 to 1500 it was a general term for any wicked person or scoundrel. However, during this time it was also used to refer to the devil, or a demon or spirit of Hell, and by extension, to any savage or monstrous creature, such as a giant or cannibal. From the 14th century onwards it had taken on the more familiar sense of a person who was in league with the Devil and was possessed of occult and evil powers – a sorcerer or wizard. In this context, it was used as the male equivalent of ‘witch’, and like ‘witch’, it had highly negative connotations in the Middle Ages. In medieval times, warlocks were thought to ride pitchforks or cats in the same way that witches were said to ride broomsticks. The use of ‘warlock’ to mean ‘male witch’ or ‘sorcerer’ persists to this day, but the word has never been used in this way by modern Wiccans, for whom ‘witch’ refers to both male and female practitioners; to Wiccans, the word has a meaning very close to its original Old English one, and is used of a person who has broken his oath of trust to his coven, and has as a result been ostracized by his magical community. The term is considered offensive by most male witches.

Another theory for the etymology of the word is that it derived from the Norse vardlokkur, meaning a man who had the power to bind spirits by means of runes and knot magic.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007

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