Glossary of terms
used in Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, by Max Dashu
Note: The many ethnic witch-names are not included here, as a table of them is included in the print version.
Aesir: a term that Snorri translated as “men of Asia,” but now shown by linguists to belong to a very old Indo-European root meaning "spirit"
Angang (German): omens observed from encounters with people or animals
Apocryphal saints: either disguised pagan deities or folk figures not based on historical people which emphasize themes beloved of the common people, such as sacred spinners and women who resist rape.
Argr, argan, ergi, ragr, org: not conforming to gender norms; often used pejoratively (Norse)
Arundel Penitential: French text dated to around the year 1000, with references to witches and Fates
Asynja (plural asynjur): a goddess of the Aesir deities
Baba Yagá: the “raging crone,” Russian witch figure, with Polish and other Slavic variants
Babd: Irish word for “raven, crow” (pronounced bow, to rhyme with now); prophetic goddess
Brigit’s Mantle: (brat Bhríde) cloth placed outside on the holy night of Imbolc to receive blessing dew
Brísingamen: the necklace of Freyja goddess, from a word meaning “fire” or “amber,” also called “tears of the sun”
Brúgh na Bóinne: “House of Boand, the White Cow,” the Irish name for New Grange. Also given as Brú, which means "womb"
Cailleach: “woman with mantle, veil,” later, Old Woman, and “nun.” Plural in Irish is cailleacha, in Scottish cailleachan.
Canon law: church law, from Latin, "rod"
Caoíne: Irish lamentation over the dead, praising their life, sung by women
Capitularies: Frankish laws and administrative acts of Merovingian and Carolingian rulers
Carline, carlin, carley: “Old Woman” in Scottish. The Gyre Carline is a witch who presides over the Hallowmas Rade of spirits, witches, and the dead.
Clach Nathrach: a serpent stone (Scottish) used in healing
Cnogba: “Hill of the Cow,” name for a megalithic sanctuary. anglicized as Knowth
Compurgation: a legal procedure of clearing someone from suspicion by having people (compurgators) take oaths
Cornucopia: Latin “horn of plenty” symbolizes abundance and nourishment, a basket filled with fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs
Cræft: power, skill, ability, wisdom
Decretum (also Decretals): decision, decree, ordinance, order, legal principle, opinion; used for compendia of canon law.
Dianatici: people possessed by Diana, according to sources after the fall of Rome (which describe them in pejorative terms)
Dindsenchas: “place lore,” a body of Irish texts taken (mostly) from orature, with additions and speculations based on biblical and other sources
Distaff: a staff around which fibers are wound to be drawn off for spinning; a symbol of female power connected to goddesses, Fates, seeresses and witches
Divination: seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by divine inspiration: sooth-saying
Doonie: a Scottish old woman spirit who protects and guides animals and people in trouble
Drycræft: druidic power, skill, knowledge
Dry susters, de dreie Gesustren:“Three Sisters,” in Old Dutch and Flemish
Dís (plural dísir): ancestral woman who may appear in dreams or powerful moments to protect, warn, advise, or aid
Elder, eldritch, eld: Otherworld, probably from Old English el- “other” and rice, “realm”
Elf-bore: a tree branch that grew in an unusual shape, usually creating an opening through which children were passed for healing
Elves (ælfe) or álfar: spirits, supernatural beings who in some cases cause illness, in others inspiration
Emasculate: to deprive a man of the power he is assigned in patriarchal societies. This term is problematic because it is one-sided, with no female equivalent; it is based on the assumption that male privilege is natural, rather than gender parity. But I use it in this book to describe the phenomenon of the "emasculating distaff," where a staff associated with female power is viewed as subduing "natural" male authority or as rendering him effeminate, and therefore inferior.
Erce: mysterious vocable used in an Anglo-Saxon invocation to the “Mother of Earth”
Fata: “one who speaks prophetically,” later a fate, fée, or faery spirit
Fetch: a supernatural double or apparition of a living person (English)
Fja∂rhamr: “feather-robe” of Freyja, which gives her the power to fly
Frith-freoðu: “peace-places” (Anglo-Saxon) sacrosanct from all acts of violence
Fylgja (plural fylgjur): “one who follows,” a protective female spirit, and also the caul after birth (Norse)
Gambantein: "taming wand" used by gods and men to subdue females (Norse)
Gandreid: “staff-ride,” an Old Norse term which can also be translated as “ride on a helping spirit”
Glaisteag: deer fairy, wilderness woman, in Scottish tradition
Gloss: translation of a word, often with examples or illustrations
Gnomic verse: sayings put into verse to aid the memory, from Greek gnome, “opinion”
Godwebbe: consecrated weaving used in blessing and healing
Gullveig: a woman who is burned and speared by the Aesir in O∂inn’s hall, but who is reborn, and becomes the traveling völva Hei∂r
Gynecaea: “woman-places,” where weaving and other crafts went on; the Old Norse equivalent was dyngja
Hag’s Chair (Cathaoir na Caillí): name given to a stone “seat” at Cairn T in Loughcrew, and other sites
Hamleypur: shapeshifters (Old Norse)
Harley Psalter: English copy of the Utrecht Psalter, which originated in the Netherlands, and projects certain heathen themes into Christian texts
Heathen: "person of the heath," a Germanic term meaning non-Christian, pagan; which was turned into a pejorative, meaning infidel, idolater, heretic, unbeliever
Heilawāc: Old German name for “holy water”
Heliand: Poetic rendition of Christian stories in Old Saxon style, a text which brought the name of Herodias into wider circulation
Henbane: Hyoscyamus Niger, a psychoactive (and poisonous) herb of the Solanacea family (daturas)
Hliodarsaza: “hearing-sitting,” an Old High German form of meditation
Hugr: heart, mind, intelligence, desire
Imbas forosna, forosnai: “wisdom that illumines,” the power of prophecy
Indiculus Superstitionum et pagariarum: Frankish penitential book listing pagan customs and observances, circa 800 CE
Indo-European: a family of languages stretching from Ireland and Spain to India, which linguists project as having diverged from their common Proto-Indo-European root at least 5000 years ago. This includes all present-day European languages except Basque and the Uralic tongues: Finnish, Sámi, Estonian, Hungarian, and their relatives.
Interpretatio romana: the insistence on viewing other cultures through a Roman lens, using Latin names instead of the original ones
Jötun (plural jötnar): Norse word for “giant,” corresponding to Old English etin
Kalevala: “land of heroes,” a body of Finnish verse redacted by Elias Lönnrot in the early 19th century
Kenning: a metaphorical expression combining two words to designate a thing or being by its qualities
Kupala: “showered,” a rite of asperging water from which the Russian name for Summer Solstice is taken
Lacnunga: Anglo-Saxon medical compendium loaded with charms, some of pagan origin, circa 1000 CE. Among them is the Nine Herbs Charm
Laima: “fortune, happiness,” fateful spinning goddess of Lithuania
la Vieille: the “old woman,” in French folklore associated with cold snaps of late winter, and cows
Lebor Gabála Erenn: Book of the Invasions of Ireland, major medieval text based on pre-Christian orature describing five invasions
Ligaturas: magical ties worn on the body, usually, and sometimes discarded in trees or water; amulet
Lots: casting lots was a form of divination in which sticks, bones, shells, stones or other objects were thrown and examined for meaning according to set principles
Luxuria: originally Latin for “excess, extravagance,” then “sensuality,” and finally “lust,” one of the Seven Deadly Sins
Maleficia: “evil-doing,” a word which by late Roman times meant harmful sorcery
Matres: “Mothers,” to whom mostly Gaulish and British votive stelae were dedicated
Matronae: “Great Mothers,” to whom mostly Germanic votive stelae were dedicated
Mead: honey wine
Megin (Norse), mægin (Old English): power, vital force
Miracle of the Bones: a widespread legend of witches (or ancestral spirits) who feast on cattle, then restored to life by wrapping the bones in the hides, sometimes with the touch of a wand or pronouncing a magical charm
Moiralogia: “words of the Moirae" (Fates), ritual lamentations women sang over the dead
Necromancy: performing magic by calling up the dead, especially to get information. The Latin term carries implications that do not accord with older practices of ancestor reverence, and so is unsuitable for describing them.
Nert: “life-force, power,” in Irish
Niflheim: “mist-realm,” the world of Hel, the underworld giantess
Nine Maidens (or Nine Sisters): a recurrent theme in Welsh, Cornish, Gaulish, Danish, and other lore
Ni∂: state of social shame, someone who is “beneath”
Norns: the Three Fates in Norse tradition
Old Wife: this archaic form has nothing to do with husbands, but is based on the original meaning of wif as woman. Thus the Old Wife of Thunder designates this power in her own right, not the "wife of Thunder"
Ørlög: primal law, literally “laid down at the origin”
Papaya and Isdustaya (Gulses, Gulzannikes): fate goddesses of the ancient Hittites
Parcae: “those who spare,” triune Roman goddesses of childbirth, with fateful power
Penitential: a priestly manual designed to change beliefs and customs of the people
Phylacteria: amulet, talisman
Potion: “drink,” originally, and later an herbal brew, filtre
Pythonissa: from Greek pythia, “snake-woman,” by way of Latin; this word was often used by churchmen because it appears in the Vulgate
Pši-pol’nitsa: Wendish spirit of the fields, a shaggy-haired goddess of flax
Quick: archaic English usage for “alive,” as in "the quick and the dead"
Regin: the Powers; Ragnarok means “Doom of the Powers,” in the original sense of doom as “fateful judgement”
Religion: from Latin religare, “to tie together”
Rocca fatata: “enchanted distaff" (Italian)
Romanesque: architectural style
Rune: “mystery, secret, counsel, consultation; runic character
Sampo: a magical object variously described as a quern (hand mill) or world pillar, capable of grinding out wealth and marvels (Finnish)
Sanas Cormaic: 10th century (and later) Irish glossary that explains words and gives underlying stories, including pagan myths
Seiðhjallr: high wooden sei∂ platform on which the völva carries out her ceremonies (Old Norse)
Seiðlæti: “sei∂-songs,” used to induce trance of the völva; also called var∂lokkur
Seiðr: ceremony of prophetic trance, with incantations; Snorri Sturluson called it “the skill from which follows the greatest power.”
Sentainne: “old woman,” the oldest Irish title of the Cailleach
Sheela-na-gig: a sculpture of a woman, often an old woman, engaged in"sacred display" of her vulva, found in churches and castles, especially in Ireland and Britain
Sirena: a mermaid, southern Mediterranean usage, sometimes taking the form of a sheela-na-gig, with parted legs or fishtails
Skáld: Old Norse poet, bard, lore-keeper; skáldkona, a female skáld. The women favored the fornyrðislag (“ancient meter”) and galdralag (“incantation meter”).
Slachdán: staff used by the Scottish Cailleach to strike with her winter power
Sliabh-na-Caillíghe: Mountain of the Old Woman, name of a range in Westmeath, Ireland, where the Loughcrew megalithic chambers Carnbane East and West are located
Sudnice, sudenice, sojanice, sudice, urisnici: Slavic names for the threefold fate goddesses
Syncretism: a blending of cultures
Sámi: Indigenous people of the Scandinavian North, who outsiders often refer to as “Lapps"
Taufr: charms, talismans, ritual objects (Old Norse)
Thriefa: stroking the body in order to divine future events, especially fate in battle (Old Norse)
Triquetra: three interlaced arcs found on metal, wooden, and stone reliefs
Trollkona: Old Norse word which can mean both “witch” and “supernatural woman”
Tuatha Dé Danann: Tribe of Danand (or of the Gods of Danand), a name for ancient inhabitants of Ireland, a people wise in magic, who were defeated by the Sons of Mil and driven underground.
Ur∂rbrunni: “Ur∂’s Well” named after the eldest Norn
Útiseta (sitja úti): “sitting out” on the land as a heathen dreamer, for long periods, chanting or in silence
Valkyrie: “chooser of the slain,” fate spirits of battle, possibly a kind of dísir. Wælcyrean in Old English
Vanir: a group of deities distinct from the Aesir, and sometimes overlapping with the Álfar
Vila (plural vile): word for faery in Serbian and Croatian. The vilenica was a woman who learned healing from the vile.
Völr: shamanic staff after which the völva is named; also called seiðstafr, “trance-ceremony staff”
Völuspa hin skamna: the “shorter Völuspa,” a passage of prophecy from a giantess in the Hyndluljó∂
Völuspá: “völva’s prophecy,” which is variously translated as prophecy of the seeress, sibyl, witch. Two versions exist, the Codex Regius and Hauksbók.
Weaving sword: “shed stick” used to separate warp threads into upper and lower so that weft thread can be passed through. Also called a weaver’s “slay,” “slew,” or “reed.”
Weird: “fate, destiny,” from a root that means “Became”; later, “eerie, otherworldly”
Wends: Slavic people of what is now eastern Germany, once called Sclavonia (whence came the word “slave,” from Christian enslavement of these heathens)
Weorðung (weorþung): heathen Anglo-Saxon ceremony of “honoring, showing reverence” to Nature
Wickerode: divining rod or wishing-wand (northern Germany)
Wild Hunt: the ride of spirits, deities, witches, and the dead, especially during storms
Witte wieven, “wise women,” Dutch name for ancestral women of the mounds
Wortcunning: Anglo-Saxon, “knowledge of herbs”