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Wander 5. 'Witch'

Three witches riding a pig facing right.
The Witches of Northamptonshire, 1612, London

You may know a witch. Which is odd. If your cells were grown in a 'Western' culture, you likely take for granted that the Scientific Revolution sorted magical thinking right out.

But this year, 2019, is home to many living, breathing witches. It is also still home to leaders and institutions who use witch beliefs to target women or non-conforming people. It has witnessed a surge in sci-fi and fantasy TV and fiction. A series based on Octavia Butler's Wild Seed is in development, and N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy may be in the works too, goddess be praised. Never mind a LoTR series and The Wheel of Time in addition.

Self-identifying as a witch works many ways. Since the New Age movement, it has often drawn people who feel close to Nature, the Earth, and cosmic bodies like the Moon, the Sun, and stars. Being a witch can also be an act of protest for people who find kinship with rebels and resistance to oppressive regimes. Witches convened to perform mass hexes on Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh for example. Astrology and Tarot readings are enjoying renewed popularity, as are 'holistic' or alternative wellness practices.

I research word histories and the history of magic, and at times I can see that etymology inspires something like magical thinking. There is allure to the prospect of a deep and subtle order to thinking throughout history. If we only unearth these occult connections, we will wield the secret power of words. Even the tree diagrams can remind you of red-string, bulletin board conspiracy theories.

Crazed man in front of cluttered bulletin board with red lines connecting papers
Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

We need not determine that the world is flat or that the Illuminati have rigged the Grammys to appreciate the following connections, though. Working our way back as far as researchers have dared, here's a discovery of 'witch':

Tree diagram of the roots of 'witch', 'wake', and 'vegetable'
The Witch of the Living

'Wake', 'vegetable', and 'witch' have all been linked to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European word, *ueg or *weg, which means 'fresh', 'strong', and 'lively'. The Proto-Italic and Proto-Germanic words that descend from that one mean to awaken, to watch, and to revive. Wicca and wicce mean 'witch' and 'wizard' in Old English, from which we also get the name for Wiccan spiritual beliefs.

When you emerge from sleep, 'death's second self', you return to life. Renaissance English doctors and natural philosophers called the 'vegetable soul' the basic, life-sustaining force of a body to grow and change (as opposed to the 'sensible' and 'rational' souls that let you feel and understand). And a witch was thought to know and manipulate the forces of Nature. At worst, they were said to use demonic help. At best, they were thought wise workers of occult sympathies in Nature, or the hidden connections between things in the world. 'If you hold your mouth right', as my southern progenitors might say, that sounds rather like scientific thinking.

All of this is to say, that if you consider yourself a woke vegan witch, you are etymologically triple-dipping. And witches love threes.

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