A Witch is someone who identifies with and reclaims the ancient Anglo Saxon name for a northern European shamanist healer and magician, from the Anglo Saxon root word for shapeshifter and generally magical wise person. ‘Wicce’ denoted a female practitioner and ‘wicca’ a male practitioner, pronounced ‘witch-eh’ and ‘witch-ah’ respectively. (The double ‘c’ gives an aspirated ‘tch’ sound.’) The gendered word also denoted the Craft itself, as in ‘Wicca Craeft’ giving us Middle English ‘Witchcraft.’
The proto-Indo-European root, “wic,’ signifies a villager or householder. Though there are specific words for this type of earth-centred animist/pantheist spirituality in various northern European cultures, ‘witch’ is the one that has stuck in English from its Anglo-Saxon roots. The term became a pejorative and condemnation in Christian society through the offices of the Inquisition and the European Witch Hunt (14th through 18th centuries).
Indigenous peoples were targeted, tortured and executed as witches, and their religious practices condemned as witchcraft, by successive waves of European invasions and domination in the so-called ‘New World’ from the 16th century onward. (Conquistador armies advanced with a priest bearing bell, book and candle taking up the lead.)
The name was reclaimed during the 1950s by British witchcraft revivals, most prominently the Gardnarians and Alexandrians, and migrated to North America; it became an emblem of various women’s movements as a facet of activist 2nd wave feminism and Eco-feminism in the 1970s, with champions like Z. Budapest, Starhawk, and the ‘Reclaiming’ community, and a popular revival of the word ‘wicca’ came along in the 1980s.