The history of witches and warlocks may surprise you. It surprises many people
to learn how the whole story of broomsticks and pointy hats got started.
It’s a long story. This is just a brief overview.
The origin of the word “witch” is the Old English word “wicce”. The masculine form of the old word was “wicca”. The modern religion Wicca, which is also known as the “witchcraft religion”, was named after the Old English word for a male witch or wizard. Wicca developed in England during the early 20th century but the religious practices are said to be based on those of the ancient European pagans.
The word warlock actually has a different origin. It comes from the Old English word waerloga, which can mean one who lies or breaks faith and is also a word for the Devil. The word witch was in use in England prior to the 12th century. The first known use of the word warlock was not until the 14th century.
Prior to the late medieval times, being called a witch was not necessarily a bad thing. There were white witches practicing in England and throughout Europe. The terms used to refer to these “good” witches included cunning folk and unbinding witches. In the English language of the time, referring to a woman as a witch was no different than saying she was a wise woman, according to historians.
The characterization of the witch as an evil-doer evolved slowly over time and resulted from a number of cultural influences. Christianity becoming the dominant religion in Europe played a major role. There was an outright ban on the practice of witchcraft by the Catholic Church. Witch hunts began in the 14th century and continued for hundreds of years. Christians believed that witches were in league with the devil.
Worshipping any god other than the God of Abraham was a violation of the Ten Commandments and the church was strong in Europe at the time. The practice of witchcraft was basically banned. Yet, there was no widely accepted view concerning what it meant to practice witchcraft or to be a witch. In some cases, all it took was to be accused of being a witch by someone who disliked you to be executed.
Witches are depicted holding or riding on broomsticks in drawings that date back to the 1500s. The earliest known reference to flying on a broomstick was in 1453 during the confession of an accused male witch. Of course, many of the accused witches of the time were tortured in order for the court to get a confession. They might say anything.
Where the pointy hat came from is anyone’s guess. In drawings from the 1612 Pendle witch trial, one of the most famous in English history, the eldest of the witches is depicted wearing a black pointy hat, the classic witches’ hat.
It stands to reason that most of the people accused of being witches were innocent. A real witch or warlock would have simply ridden away on a broomstick.