A witch is a term for a female follower of the pagan religion. It is also used as a derogatory term to describe what could more appropriately be called mage or wizard. In old times, people with unusual skills were often called witches, and subsequently burned at the stake, for no real good reason other than the fear people had of them. See also warlock.

The earliest recording of the burning of a witch is in 1440. In 1591, Shakespeare (Henry VI 5.3.34) depicts the witch as "ugly", with bent brows, and compares her to Circe. All related words from the Indo-European root *weik- are connected with religion and magic; cf. OE wigle 'divination, sorcery, WILE' and (via French) GUILE; cf. also Lat.. victima 'sacrificial animal' (> VICTIM).

Witch (?), n. [Cf. Wick of a lamp.]

A cone of paper which is placed in a vessel of lard or other fat, and used as a taper.

[Prov. Eng.]

 

© Webster 1913.


Witch, n. [OE. wicche, AS. wicce, fem., wicca, masc.; perhaps the same word as AS. witiga, witga, a soothsayer (cf. Wiseacre); cf. Fries. wikke, a witch, LG. wikken to predict, Icel. vitki a wizard, vitka to bewitch.]

1.

One who practices the black art, or magic; one regarded as possessing supernatural or magical power by compact with an evil spirit, esp. with the Devil; a sorcerer or sorceress; -- now applied chiefly or only to women, but formerly used of men as well.

There was a man in that city whose name was Simon, a witch. Wyclif (Acts viii. 9).

He can not abide the old woman of Brentford; he swears she's a witch. Shak.

2.

An ugly old woman; a hag.

Shak.

3.

One who exercises more than common power of attraction; a charming or bewitching person; also, one given to mischief; -- said especially of a woman or child.

[Colloq.]

4. Geom.

A certain curve of the third order, described by Maria Agnesi under the name versiera.

5. Zool.

The stormy petrel.

Witch balls, a name applied to the interwoven rolling masses of the stems of herbs, which are driven by the winds over the steppes of Tartary. Cf. Tumbleweed. Maunder (Treas. of Bot.) -- Witches' besoms Bot., tufted and distorted branches of the silver fir, caused by the attack of some fungus. Maunder (Treas. of Bot.) -- Witches' butter Bot., a name of several gelatinous cryptogamous plants, as Nostoc commune, and Exidia glandulosa. See Nostoc. -- Witch grass Bot., a kind of grass (Panicum capillare) with minute spikelets on long, slender pedicels forming a light, open panicle. -- Witch meal Bot., vegetable sulphur. See under Vegetable.

 

© Webster 1913.


Witch (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Witched (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Witching.] [AS. wiccian.]

To bewitch; to fascinate; to enchant.

[I 'll] witch sweet ladies with my words and looks. Shak.

Whether within us or without The spell of this illusion be That witches us to hear and see. Lowell.

 

© Webster 1913.

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