Warlock comes from the Old English wærloga, or oath-breaker, deciever, liar. Witch comes from wicca and wicce, and used to apply to both men and women. At some point the word shifted over to refer to primarily women, so another word had to be brought in for “male witch.”
Some of this, no doubt, is due to the effects of works like the Malleus Maleficarium, a fifteenth century work which argued that most practicioners of witchcraft were women. But even works like this (aided by the new printing press) aren’t to blame for the polarization of the terms witch and warlock – the entire early Reformation was a time of strange cults, of religious fervor and occasional hysteria, and of people trying to adapt to a suddenly fluid religious and political landscape.
It’s interesting to look at the rise of cults like the Benandanti in Italy to see how the meaning of “witch” changed over time. In the eyes of the Catholic church, the Benandanti were witches, even though they explicitly said they fought against witches and warlocks to protect their towns. In their eyes, they practiced magic akin to shamanism; channeling the good spirits in a battle against evil. (The book to read is Carlo Ginzberg’s The Night Battles.)
Consider the position of the Catholic Church on witchcraft; in early medieval times, before the witch-hunting craze hit Europe, it was considered a sin to believe that witchcraft existed. Thinking that people could wield magic innately was a pagan superstition.
In the fifteenth century, however, the church completely reversed itself; it became a sin to not accept that witchcraft was real, that people who wielded it were tools of the Devil. It’s a remarkable about face. But even during the height of the witch huntes, the concept of “good” witches lingered, and never completely died out.
The rise of neopaganism in the late 19th and 20th centuries did much to restore the good name of witches. By adopting the old name (wicca/wicce) and harkening back to a more shamanistic vision of a witch, the neopagan movement reclaimed the name. In the 20th century, the commercialization of Halloween made witches seem even more benevolent; in TV, books, advertisements, witches were helpful, if somewhat misunderstood.
Warlocks were left behind in this reclamation project. They remained true to their original form – dealers with the devil and demons, unrepentant evil, traitors to their race.
It’s interesting to see how Warcraft picked one word over the other, and what the implications for the class might have been had they named it differently.
You hang a lot on the name of a magic-user. Even that term – Magic User – carries with it connotoations and expectations. Sorceror, wizard, mage, enchanter, necromancer, conjourer, witch – all of these carry baggage and flavor. They’re interesting and distinct in their own right.
I have been flying around on Cynwise, getting enough treats for her to get a kitty on a broom. I’m still really uncomfortable on ‘wise, still working through issues in my own head with my relationship to my ex-main.
As I looked at her, I wondered how this would have all played out in a more traditional RPG, where you can change the flavor of the character to suit the desires of the player.
And I can’t help but wonder, would warlocks be more popular if they were witches?
Would I be happier if she a witch instead of a warlock?
Names are important, but their meaning to people change as the language develops.
I could get used to ‘wise being a witch. It would make a great change of pace.