I read a lovely reflection this morning by someone who said the root word of crone is crown, the root of hag is hagio (wisdom), and the root of witch is wit.
I’m not sure where this author did her etymological research, but a cursory etymological study indicates these to be folk cognates rather than actual word lineages. I like folk cognates, a la Mary Daly. Folk cognates add layers of richness to the living nature of a word. Folk cognates help to deepen our personal internal associations with words. As I enter my own cronetime, I will go crowned by my white hair rather than as an old ewe fit only for carrion (the actual root, which gives us an historical glimpse into attitudes towards old women at the time the word began to be used to denote older women). Though even carrion is a holy mystery, giving life and well-being to the next generation, so I do carry that original etymology in the layers.
I also like some of the actual etymologies of the other two. Witch comes from the Old English “wicce” and “wicca,” sometimes defined as crooked. It seems to be associated with the Old English “wigle,” a term for divination. And now I want to go searching to see if witch and wiggle are associated at the root. Combining actual and folk etymologies, a witch is a crooked, witty, dancing diviner. Shimmy on, friends!
My favorite actual etymology in this group is hag, which comes from the Dutch and German words for witch: “heks” and “Hexe.” These, in turn, are related to the roots of the word hedge, which is the ancient boundary between the wilds and civilization. Midwives and healers would cross hedges into the wildlands to find herbs and remedies. Witches and hags straddle the space between the world of civilization and the world of the wild, threatening the patriarchal status quo and the rush to civilized progress (the same rush which is driving us toward planetary destruction). Witches and hags are marginal, fringe-workers, edgy. And, adding in the folk cognate with hagio, they’re wise women.
One more, since autocorrect keeps offering me “weird” when I type “word.” Weird, which we define as strange, and use to Other people, comes from the OE “wyrd” which means destiny. Shakespeare called his Macbeth witches “weird sisters,” suggesting that they were bound up in the fatalism of the play. Taking the folk etymology that my autocorrect keeps offering me, we can say that language, perhaps, is destiny, that words are weirds, that words have import and power (magical perhaps) in the effects they have on listeners and readers, writers and speakers.
Not long ago, someone used one of these very words to shift my weird, in a deliberate attack. I was publicly called a witch, as an attempt to shame and harm me. In the end, the accusation cost me my job at a Christian institution.
I knew many of these word lineages when I was victimized by the cyberbully, so the word did not hurt me–it was the way the attack played out. The word was used to harm, as these words and so many others are intended.
Perhaps I need to just as publicly claim the word for myself.
I’ll straddle that hedge between civilization and wildness.
I’ll wiggle my crooked dance, and keep an eye on the future.
I’ll claim my wit and my weird.
I’ll be crowned, and witty. Wise and holy.
I’ll even offer my croneself as nourishment for the coming generations.
You may call me a witch, a hag, a crone. Those words will not hurt me.