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A warlock is a devious and untrustworthy person (typically depicted as male in works of fiction) who uses magic, especially against others (compare wizard, sorcerer).[1]

Etymology and terminology[edit]

The most commonly accepted etymology derives warlock from the Old English wǣrloga meaning "oathbreaker" or "deceiver".[2] In early modern Scots, the word came to be used as the male equivalent of witch (which can be male or female, but has historically been used predominantly for females).[3][4][5] From this use, the word passed into Romantic literature and ultimately 20th-century popular culture. A derivation from the Old Norse varð-lokkur, "caller of spirits", has also been suggested,[6][7][8] but the OED considers this implausible due to the extreme rarity of the Norse word and because forms without hard -k, which are consistent with the Old English etymology (“traitor”), are attested earlier than forms with a -k.[9]


Although most victims of the witch trials in early modern Scotland were women, some men were executed as warlocks.[10][11][12]

In his day, John Napier was often perceived as a warlock or magician for his interest in divination and the occult, though his establishment position likely kept him from being prosecuted.[13][14]


  1. ^ "Definition of warlock". English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Warlock". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1989.
  3. ^ McNeill, F. Marian (1957). The Silver Bough: A Four Volume Study of the National and Local Festivals of Scotland. 1. Glasgow: William Maclellan.
  4. ^ Chambers, Robert (1861). Domestic Annals of Scotland. Edinburgh.
  5. ^ Sinclair, George (1871). Satan's Invisible World Discovered. Edinburgh.
  6. ^ Cleasby, R.; Vigfusson, G. (1874). An Icelandic-English Dictionary. London: Macmillan.
  7. ^ Olsen, M. (1916). Maal Og Minne. Oslo: Bymalslaget.
  8. ^ Loewe, M.; Blacker, C. (1981). Oracles and Divination. London: George Allen & Unwin. p. 130. 'Vardlokkur'...is related to the Scots dialect word 'warlock', wizard, and the meaning is thought to relate to the power to shut in or enclose"
  9. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, (online) 2nd Edition (1989): "ON. varðlokkur wk. fem. pl. ... incantation, suggested already in Johnson, is too rare (? occurring once), with regard to the late appearance of the -k forms, to be considered."
  10. ^ Thomas Thomson, A History of the Scottish People from the Earliest Times (1896), page 286: "Where one man suffered as a warlock, ten women at least were executed as witches."
  11. ^ Robert Chambers, Domestic Annals of Scotland: From the Reformation to the Revolution (1874), page 244
  12. ^ Journal of Jurisprudence and Scottish Law Magazine (1891), Execution of the Judgment of Death, page 397: "We read (Law's Memor. Pref. lix.) that 'one John Brugh, a notorious warlock (wizard) in the parochin of Fossoquhy, by the space of thirty-six years, was worried at a stake and burned, 1643.'"
  13. ^ Roger A. Mason, Scots and Britons: Scottish Political Thought and the Union of 1603 (2006, ISBN 0521026202), page 199
  14. ^ Julian Havil, John Napier: Life, Logarithms, and Legacy (2014, ISBN 1400852188), page 19