Etymology of the Word "Witch" or "Wicca. " 

by Guardians of Darkness
Standard etymologies with a few additions from Tani Jantsang where noted.

Tani Jantsang connected this word, based on the etymologies shown below, to the Sanskrit term VIDYA which means "knowledge or science" - basically Wisdom.   Also, Vidyadhara are either male or female, "possessors of knowledge. "  They are also called Nabhaschara, which means "moving in the air, flying" and also called priyamvada, which means "sweet spoken. " They are also considered cunning and mischievous!  Later, in India, as mythic ideas formed on these concepts, they were considered "powers of the air that can be wives or husbands of humans. " 

Some of the words that "witch/wicca" trace back to are obviously the same as the word Vidya.  Be as it may, Vidya is definitely, without dispute, the OLDEST word that means this.  And yes, it definitely pre-dates the Hebrews. 

Here is the article (or articles?) that was/were shown on an egroup in the past.  I don't know the author (or authors?) of this.  Author's names appear to be at the end of some of these articles.  There are some comments made by TJ and marked as such in parentheses.

Where does the word come from?

The history of the term itself and a possible etymology are actually two things. . . The term "wicche" appears in texts prior to the time of Aelfric, and is  usually glossed as "divinator" [sic]. This term was used for both males and females.

With Aelfric (c. 980 c.e. ), the term "wiccan" [O.E. , plural] takes on a more  sinister connotation, as the quotation below will illustrate:

  "mor slagan and mandaedan and unmæ fulle gitseras wigleras and wiccan and unlybwyrhtan ßeofas and reaferas and a reaan dra-men" ("murderers and evil-doers and heedless misers, seers and witches and poison makers, thieves and robbers and fierce magicians") J. C. Pope, ed. , Homilies of Aelfric (EETS 259, 260, 1, 436:375-77)

This begins the association of the "witch" with other unsavory, illegal or immoral acts. Previously, it seems, the terms "wicce", "wicca", "wiccan" and the verbal form "wiccian" had something to do with the occult (as in the discovery of hidden lore, suggested by its gloss as diviner), but not necessarily with infernal pacts or things antithetical to the faith.

Where does the word come from? We've got at least three possibilities:

Choice #1: from the Proto Indo-European (PIE) *weik," having to do with consecratory activities. This also leads to the Modern German form "weihen," "to  consecrate," and to Old Norse "vígja," "to consecrate," and perhaps with Old  English "wiglere" usually glossed as "seer, or prophet. " The justification for the movement of a hypothetical PIE "k" to a "gh" and then back to a "k" leaves  this etymology a bit unsatisfying to me. Also, the progression to "g"s and "h"s  in one Germanic dialect, and to either "cc" or "kk" in another is anomalous. (Actually, the writer is wrong on this.  It's not anomalous at all.  It would be anomalous for a gutteral, like g, gh, k, kh, c, cc, etc, to change into a labial, like b or p. ) 

Choice #2: from the Proto Indo-European (PIE) *weik," this having  to do with bending. The closest this comes to another Germanic cognate is the Swedish "vika" which means "to fold. " The Modern  English word "wicker" may in fact refer specifically to the Willow tree  ("vikker"), from a dialect of Old Scandinavian (although the modern term in Swedish and Norwegian is "sälje", after the Irish "Saille"). In this case, the  Germanic root is for the word "weak" or pliant. If related to the verb "to  fold", then we've got a long front vocalism (indicated by the accent over the "i"), and this long vowel would not produce a geminate (doubled) consonant such  as "cc" or "kk" as we find in "wicca. " 

Choice #3: from the Proto Indo-European (PIE) *weid, to see or to know.  This form produces everything from Latin "video, videre" "to see", to the  English "wit" "knowledge" and German "wissen," "to know. "  (And to the Sanskrit VIDYA. TJ)  Seeing and knowing have been semantically tied throughout the Indo-European languages, and for the  English "witch" would yield the translation "wise one" even as the Latin "saga"  is at once the word for a "female witch" as well as the basis for our Modern  English words "sage," or "sagacious. "

Old English forms are: wicca [masc. , sing. , "witch"], wicce [fem. , sing. ,  "witch"], wiccan [pl. "witches"], wiccian [verbal infinitive, "to bewitch"].  Each of these terms has a geminate velar (reflected in Old English as "cc"). A term "vekka", "sorcerer", is attested in Old Danish (Saxo Grammaticus's Gesta  Danorum) and reflects an older form "vitka", a contraction of "vitugr" meaning  "wise one. " According to Sophus Bugge, a well known Danish philologist, the  medial "t" in a "tg" or "tk" combination would be lost, causing the "g" or "k"  to geminate (double), which is how the term "vitka" is transformed to "vekka".  So: vitki; vekke; or vitka ) vekka. This is the same principle by  which we derive the term "wicca" -- that at one time there was a medial "t"  which was reflective of the "t" in "wit". So: witca ) wicca; and witce )  wicce. (Or "witch," which has the "t" back in the word. TJ) By the same token, the Old High German "wicken" "to work magic" is  possibly reflective of a reconstructed form *witken, to exercise one's knowledge.

The phonological shifts of choice #3, as well as the semantic tie with other  Germanic dialects, makes this last the most probable in my eyes (the author's eyes). In fact, the  reintroduction of the medial "t" in the Modern English was probably more  reflective of the word's etymology than the dictionary gives credit for! So perhaps Gardner wasn't so wrong after all! Tom Johnson


1. Martin E. Huld, "ENGLISH WITCH"; Michigan Germanic Studies 5,1(1979):36-39.
This work is primarily about the semantic field, rather than the phonetic shifts which affect our understanding of the word.
2. J. C. Pope, ed. , Homilies of Aelfric (EETS 259, 260, 1, 436:375-77) Quoted in Huld (1979).
3. Saxo Grammaticus, in his Latin History Gesta Danorum
4. Records the word Wecha, and uses it as an appelative of Óðinn as a magical worker.
5. Sophus Bugge, Studien über die Entstehung der nordischen Götter- und Heldensagen, p. 143, note 5. The bit about "tk" combinations.

(Reprinted with permission)

The concept of the "witch" can be found in EVERY world culture and language in some form or another. Be it kahuna, hexe, strega, bruja, baobh, bacularia or makhsheyfe; the thought that lies behind it is still the same.

So -- Where did the word come from? What does it exactly mean? -and- How did it become such a universal principle?


Etymology traces the development of a word-form from its earliest recorded occurrence in a language to the present day. Because language is a living entity, words, spellings and meanings are constantly changing. This means that the history of a word and its possible etymology *may not* necessarily coincide. However, I included it in my notes because many people will use etymology as a definitive factor in their arguments for the origins of the witch and witchcraft.

It doesn't really matters where the word 'witch' came from; after all, there is no finite way to prove or disprove its origins. Where the word is going?


[1] n. -es [ME wyche, from OE wice, wic; probably akin to OE wïcan to yield, give way-more at weak]: any of several trees having pliant branches.

[2] n. -es [ME wicche, from OE wicca, masculine, wizard and wicce feminine, witch; akin to OE wiccian to practice witchcraft, MHG wicken to bewitch, to divine, OE wigle divination, wiglian to divine, wïg idol, image ON yé temple -- more at victim] a. dialect British: Wizard, Sorcerer b. (1) : a woman practicing the black arts: sorceress (Halloween ~on a broomstick) (heard of one old ~changing herself into a pigeon -John Rhys) (2) : an ugly old woman : crone, hag (a skinny old ~ with a face like a meat ax and a voice like a buzz saw --Helen Eustis) c. (1) : one supposed to possess supernatural powers especially by compact with the devil or a familiar (2) : a magic spell : hex (it's my idea. . .he put the ~es on it -Helen Rich) d. or witcher -s: dowser 2 : one that bewitches (the quaint ~ memory -P.B. Shelley); specifically : a particularly charming or alluring woman 3.a (1) : storm petrel (2) : grebe (3) or witch bird : animal b. also witch flounder: a small mouth blackish or brownish deep water flounder (Glyptocephalus cynoglossus) of the north Atlantic that is of some importance as a food dish c : witch moth.

[3] adjective : of , relating to, or used against witches (~cult) (~ doors used to ward off evil spirits)

[4] verb -ed /-ing/-es [ME wicchen, from OE wiccian to practice witchcraft] 1: bewitch 2 : dowse. [1]

Definitions and Meanings

Definitions are formed by how society utilizes the word in its culture and as cultures change so does its utlization. The question then is: what does it exactly mean to be a witch in our culture? According to many dictionaries, 'witch' in its noun form can refer to a plant, animal or person. Yet --it is the definitions pertaining to the person that are so dominant and so controversial in our society. So, how does our society use the word witch today?

Generic: It simply states: a witch is a person who practices sorcery. Sorcery can include a variety of aspects such as healing, divination, magic, alchemy, necromancy, spells, herbs, meditation, etc. These practices are often an avenue within an established spiritual structure. It is the Generic interpretation that is the common link among the cultures worldwide.

How did it become such a universal principle? The reason(s) could have been: (a) synchronicity, (b) a single ancient religion, (c) cultural diffusion, or (d) just inherent human nature. --the need to explain the natural world and its inner workings. [2] Personally I think it is the combination of diffusion and inherent human nature. I strongly doubt the synchronicity and the single ancient religion theory.

Jewish: An Ob. The Witch of Endor was named Bahalath-Ob. A spirit conjurer, necromancer, sorcerer/ess or a person versed in making poisons or potions. Moses was against them and believed they were born with "obic" and forbidden knowledge.

Christian: A witch is a person who practices the black arts and possesses supernatural powers due to a pact with the devil - also known as Satan. The origins of this definition came from the medieval period circa 1500 when it also included heretics, eccentrics, lepers, Jews and anyone else who didn't conform to the Christian Church. During this time 'witch' almost always referred to women and is evident with words like hag and crone. The reasoning behind this was that women were considered the weaker sex and thus were easily tempted by the devil. Even today, when we think of a witch we think in terms of female, although they can be male as well.

Modern: A witch is a member of a particular spiritual construct often based on an amalgamation of different religious concepts and practices -and- who practices magic/sorcery within the scope of this faith. The Pagan community and other Earth-based spiritualities make it clear that the practice of magic is the distinguishing factor for the description of witch. Basically it is a mutually exclusive relationship that states: not all Pagans are Witches and not all Witches are Pagans.


1. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Volume III
2. A History of Witchcraft, Jeffrey B. Russell; p. 24.
3. Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 4th ed. Vol.2
4. Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler

Proposed Roots

There are three proposed Indo-European roots for the term witch, which reflect the practices of these religious specialtists:

*WAT Prophecy, inspiration, or ecstasy

*WEIK The religion of the sorcerors

*WID To know, or to be wise

(WID - like VIDYA - same meaning, from Sanskrit, the oldest Indo-European language!  TJ)

*WID continues in the Welsh language as the most common of their words for witch: gwyddon (masculine) and gwidden (feminine). The term dyn hysbys has also come into common usage within the modern Welsh language and means "a person of information. "

The "Diccionario Escolar de la Etimologia Castellana" provides a derivation of the Spanish bruja from the Iberian bruixa and the Gallego bruxa. This is related to the Gaelic buitseach, which in turn is related to the Anglo-Saxon wicca (masculine) or wicce (feminine).

"Skeat's Etymological Dictionary" gives the following etymology to the term witch:

Witch. Mediaeval English wicche, both masculine and feminine, a wizard, a witch. Anglo-Saxon wicca, masculine, wicce feminine. Wicca is a corruption of witega, a prophet, seer, magician, or sorceror. Anglo-Saxon witan, to see, allied to witan to know. Similarily Icelandic vitki, a wizard, is from vita, to know. (Again, VIDYA, knowledge of science TJ)

From "McBain's Scottish Gaelic Etymological Dictionary" there is the following:

Baobh. A wicked woman, witch; from the Irish badbh, a hoodie crow, a fairy, a scold; from the Old Irish badb meaning a crow, demon, or the Irish war-goddess by the same name; Welsh bod, a kite; Gaulish Bodv-, Bodvo-gnatus; Welsh Bodnod; from the Norse bod, meaning war.

"Etymologisches Worterbuch der Deutschen" provides the following information:

Hexe. Middle German hecse, haxe. Old High German hagzissa, hazus, hazissa. In Latin furia, striga, eumenis, erinnys. (Erinnyes: one of the furies or the furies - in Attic Greek. TJ)  Consistent with Low German haghetisse. Low German heks. Anglo-Saxon haegtesse. English hag. This is derived from the Old High German hag, which comes from the Anglo-Saxon haeg meaning hedge. Haeg is comparable to the Old High German zunrita and Old Norse tunrida, meaning a hedgerider or a witch. The German root *tusjo is similar to the Westphalian dus meaning a devil, demon, or fiend, and the Norwegian tysja meaning a fairy, elf, or deformed woman. This is comparable to the Gaulish dusius meaning an unclean spirit, and the Cornish dus, or diz meaning a devil, demon, or fiend. The modern German equivalent of this is duasia meaning a spirit, and the root of that word is *dhus or *dhuos.

Current words in Welsh that get translated into witch are:
dewines, (dewin for males), which has its root in divination;
gwidden can be used to mean a female witch.
gwyddon, magician, refers to a scientist these days
gwrach, witch has the hag/crone connatation

Other Words semi-related to the "sorcerer" concept

Tani Jantsang added the Sanskrit root, the word VIDYA.  Here are some other elaborations from TJ on some words not included in any kind of etymology usually done by others.  That they don't include these words with similar or even identical sound and meaning, is quite astonishing, since some of them are important words having to do with non-mainline religion!  These are some other words, including Altaic or Turko-Tatar words, which also seeped into Slavic languages, especially in Russian nouns - expected due to so much intermixing, but these even have similar sound and meaning in cultures far separated from them. 

BOG means God in Tatar, Mongol and Slavic languages. It is not related to the Sanskrit root word "devi" where words like Deus, Theo, Zeus and similar words come from, including the word Deity. 

BOGA means a shaman in Turko-Tatar

BOGDO means holy in Mongol (another Tatar language, not related to Chinese).

BOG WOMAN in Celtic is similar to witch or sorceress, a magic-woman.

BOKU (spelling?) in Voodoo is similar to a BOGA or UBER.

BOGEYMAN - slang, it means a scary being.

Of note, the Sanskrit word Devi can also be traced to the word Devil through the Persians.  The Persians inverted the Shivaite religion and turned all of the Devi into devils.  A well known example is Aeshma Devi, the demon-leader of Ahriman's hordes.  Aeshma Devi is the same as Asmodeus, the incubus demon in the Hebrew story of Tobit.  Aeshma Devi was a General of the forces of darkness, in Persian mythology.

Also of interest to Sumerian fans: "The original sign was a five-pointed star, sign #306 in Labat. * ub means 'corner'. " (From John Halloran ) and UB means "corner, angle, nook; a small room, cavity, hole; pitfall" from: [This is like the "mychos" in Pythagorean thought, pentamychos - the five caves or gates. ] Also from the second url: "The n+vowel words suggest that the system of clay tokens for counting and recording, which prevailed throughout the Near East from 8,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C. , was already in use. The word for 'clay', imi, is related to the word for 'tongue; speech', eme. The word ùr meaning both roof and entrance, as well as the word ub meaning corner, suggests that they lived in the close-packed, rectangular houses entered through holes in the roof found in Western Iran at sites like Ganj Dareh as well as in Anatolia at sites like Çatal Hüyük. Proto-Sumerian includes words for domesticated animals such as dog (ur), goat (ùz), cow (áb), and sheep (us5). Simple agriculture is indicated by the words for grain (še), irrigation ditch (ég), and digging stick (al). The indications are that the proto-Sumerians invented their language at the start of the Near Eastern Neolithic, approximately ten thousand years ago. " One might more accurately say that the Proto-Sumerians already had their language, but had those specific words in their language 10,000 years ago. Sumerian is not a language related to Hebrew or Egyptian. It is a language related to Ural-Altaic (what some people call Turanian):

*This is from Labat, #306, the pictogram for UB:

Note it is a pentacle, two points up.

UBER means sorcerer in Turkish.

UBAUR means sorcerer in Bulgarian, originally Tatar speaking Bulgars, they are now Slavic speaking people.

UPIR means vampire in Slavic Russian.

OB-AUR means kether closed after creation of cosmos, in Hebrew Kaballa.

OB means a necromancer or spirit medium in Hebrew (the Witch of Endor was Bahalath-Ob)

OBEAH is part of the Voodoo religion, a sorcerer. 

UBA is the name for Shaman idols of Turko-Tatars

OBA is the name for Shaman idols, same as Uba, but in old Mongol.

OBO is the name for a stone cairn in honor of a spirit of some location in modern Khalka Mongol.

OBOL (bl) also obolus (b-ls) n. pl. obols, also oboli (- -l) silver coin or unit of weight equal to one sixth of a drachma, formerly used in ancient Greece. Latin obolus, from Greek obolos, variant of obelos, spit, obol. (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. ) The River Styx was the way to get to the underworld. To get across you had to pay Charon, the boatman. The cost was one obol placed under the deceased person's tongue. After you paid him he would take you across.

Below are two images of Obols. Note, near the red line, the pentagrams, two points up. The head shown on both coins is Apollo.

ABADDON was originally a name for the caves (mychos) wherein initiation rites were held. Abaddon was the lowest region of the hebrew hell, similiar to Tartaros - like the Abyss itself. Abaddon means "place of destruction.

APOLLYON is Greek for Abaddon, which is derived from the verb apollymi or apollyo; meaning "destroy. " Ub or Ab in Sumer meant cave or pit. Apollyon appears as a personification of the Abyss in Revelations (Bible). In one ancient manuscript of Revelations it says Apollo instead of Apollyon. Both are also kings of locusts. Originally Apollo was very much indeed connected to the underworld and "the Abyss. "

UBBIA means a Worm Idol, or maggot in Italian, a figurative word. (not a snake; a worm or maggot [insect larva]).

Regarding Ubbia, it's a very odd word, since it's not the way you say "worm," "idol," or "worm idol" in Italian at all.  The word idolo means idol. The words lombrico, verme and rimorso are words for "worm" in Italian. Just in case someone might think that "worm" could have been a stand-in for "serpent," the word for "serpent" in Italian is serpente velenoso. The word for "snake" in Italian is serpente. The word for "maggot" in Italian is verme, or nozioni stantie. So Ubbia neither means "idol" nor "worm" nor "maggot" in Italian, nor anything similar. The word for "worm" in Latin is vermis

The word "ubbia" does have some other regular meaning in Italian; it means "irrational fear. "  Source: The Collins Italian Dictionary, 1995. HarperCollins Publishers:  "ubbia [ub'bia] (n) (f) irrational fear. "

The Tatar invasions, staring with the Huns and Avars and similar people, and lasting into the middle ages with the Khans, certainly did inspire "irrational" types of fear in European Christendom (well, actually, the fear itself was not irrational; what they thought of the invaders was irrational), who imagined these people, whom they called "Tartars," were Devils out of Tartaros, which they thought was Hell.  They didn't think the "Tartars" were human due to the weapons they used and the way they fought battles and rumors they heard about them.  But that doesn't connect "ubbia" (irrational fear) to worms or idols except in the sense that it was probably known that these "Tartars" had UBA (idols).  Then again, any kind of "sorcerer" (uber) might inspire irrational fear. Tatar sorcerers had UBA (idols). But there is no connection to the word "worm" there. 

The Shaman idols were called UBA and these were pretty well known all over, especially when the Mongol Empire became the biggest single empire to ever exist on earth in history. Italy is a long way from China, and the UBA idols had nothing to do with worms or even serpents.  What's the connection, if any?  How could UBA idols and "ubbia" (irrational fear) come to mean "Worm Idol?" or "maggot"? (A maggot might look like a worm at first, in its larval stage, but it goes through a metamorphosis and becomes an insect. )

For the hell of it TJ also mentioned this: there are a people known later in Europe as Avars (the word means "refugee"), who were really called Jurchen or Jurchid. They were part of a confederacy of nomadic tribes on the northern borders of China from the late Fourth to Sixth Century.  Some Avars were already in Europe in 550s AD, whereas the Jurchen still appeared in Chinese sources in 560s AD, just ten years later. Confusion exists for some that try to study this because they don't realize that tribes of this type do change their tribal name if they are, e.g. , "left behind" or "refugees. " The Chinese, who hated them, but who also did most of the writing about them, didn't really know their business enough to seriously sort this out.  Some Jurchen merged with larger confederacies, including the Uighurs.  Some were refugees and ended up settling in Europe, mainly in Austria.  That they were, indeed, the same people is proven by skeletal finds that anthropologists dug out.  The forensics on these skeletal finds show them to be identical to Buryat peoples of today.  (This shouldn't be hard to understand: all people make derogatory puns against people they don't like.  Big example: Africans from various nations in Africa are called "Negro" by European colonists, though that is not their own name for themselves at all, and they are also derogatorily called "nigger. " These people themselves, in the last few decades, wanted to be called Colored, then Afro-American, then Black, and now African American.  But Africa is a continent, not a country or tribe.  They no longer use a name for themselves that's based on their tribe or country of origin. They also, in common terms, use the word "Brother" or "Sister" to refer to one of their own "race. " E.g. , "Are you a Brother?" "The Brother said…. . " or "The Sister said…. . " But do the Europeans know what countries these people came from? No, they don't. ) 

But to the point. These Jurchen were a large nation of Turko-Tatar people. They, as all the others, were Shamanic and had many UBA in their culture in many places (idols they'd make that stuck out of the ground).  The Chinese, always at odds with these Turko-Tatar people, called them "Juan-Juan," as a nasty pun.  The derogatory term Juan-Juan literally means "Wriggling insects. "  Others translate it to mean "Wriggling Worms. "

Marco Polo would have been a connection between "things far East" and "things in Italy," later on in time. It's a possibility that the Chinese nasty pun, "Juan-Juan" meaning "wriggling worm/insect," the irrational fear Europeans had of these warriors, and the name of their idols (Uba) went into making UBBIA a slang or figurative Italian word for "Worm Idol," or "maggot," since nothing else can begin to explain it. To further try to explain the fear and irrationality:  for one, Europeans thought these people were Demons or Devils out of Hell due to what they SAW of them and what kind of fighting they saw, and they saw it during a period of hundreds of years of invasions.  For seconds, Guyuk Khan (grandson of Jenghis Khan) wrote a well-known missive to the Pope in Italy and outright told the Pope something that would make Christendom think that he was their own anti-Christ or Devil and that the Pope should bow before the Khan, not the other way around.  He said literally:  "I AM THE SCOURGE OF GOD. "  Of course, he was just tough-talking and using the Pope's own rhetoric.  Guyuk Khan was a Shamanist who had no idea what the Pope's "God" was. But he was also the Supreme Khan of the largest empire the world has ever seen, larger than the USA and larger than the xUSSR.  When such a ruler proclaimed something like that to the Pope, rest assured, EVERYONE heard about it.  Such talk from these UBA worshiping Shamanist people, or the Khan of such a huge empire, would inspire irrational fear. It's remote, but no one else ever came up with anything.

Since a search online for this word is not yielding easily-found results, and unfortunately, the original dictionary TJ saw it in was very old and replaced by a new one, we have to make do with what we can find. The word Ubbia, as from English to Italian, is defined figuratively as "maggot," and can be found in the "World-Wide Italian Dictionary," Fawcett Premier Book, (reprinted from the Follett Publishing Company original), 1967, Page 337. Library of Congress Card Catalogue number: 65-12915. TJ said that at least one educated Italian in his late 60's knew it as meaning "Worm Idol. " It was due to what he said that TJ decided to look it up in a very old, falling-apart Italian dictionary and found it.  ("I had heard that word when I was quite young; Italians would say it about someone, and they said it meant, 'He worships at the idols of worms. '") "Figurative for maggot" is close enough. 

And in case it's out of print and impossible to get, here is an image of the part of the page showing the definition. 

To see the entire text of "ARADIA, Gospel of the Witches," a text that definitely pre-dates Gardner or any of the others accredited with "inventing" their religion, please visit this page: