When Grandpappy Lamp Griffin discovered one morning that some of his apple trees had been relieved of their fruit, he considered that maybe Witches wuz a-pesterin’ him. According, he lit out over to old Zeb Patton’s place, so’s they could git their heads togither. “Zeb wuz a warlock and had a knack of grabblin’ with sperets and witches.”
Fans of Christian Day, please take note (because he has been campaigning of late to reclaim “Warlock” as a term for “male Witch,” rather than as a male Magicke-Worker of some dark repute): According to The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories (a collection of Appalachian Witch-Lore, compiled by Hubert J. Davis and published in 1975), the word “Warlock” was in common-usage amongst the mountain-folk of Virginia around the late 1930s-early 1940s (when these stories were collected)- as a synonym for “male Witch”; demonstrated, for instance, in the tale quoted above, ”Witches With Stingers” (p. 216), which was transcribed in 1939 and based upon a tale of someone’s grandfather. (The wily mountain-Warlock, or male Witch, Old Zeb Patton, by the way, makes a bunch of Witch-Balls, or little Charms, which he hangs in the apple-orchard, attracting bees and thwarting thieves.) This story is one of the several that reference a mysterious group of people called “Melungions,” a word that Davis describes as of uncertain origin, and which denotes- get this, swear to the Gods- descendants of the original Roanoke Colonists, who famously vanished. Virginia mountain legend remembers that they ran away with Natives, inter-marrying and begetting a stand-offish Clan of individuals thought of as supernatural and inclined towards Witchcraft. (I’m madly in love with the folklore in this book.)
Another Warlock-story is “Can’t Steal” (p. 218), collected in 1939 from a local story-teller who live about 10 miles south of Roanoke, concerning the owner of the Pidgeon Creek Mill, one Nathan Lee Purky. “Now Old Nath was a warlock, and he spelled his mill so’se nobody could steal from hit. He was so sure thet his spell’ud work thet, he didn’t even have locks on the doors.” “Old Jim Tom McCoy, from out on Buck’s Knob was the seventh son of a seventh son. This gave him some magic powers, but they were effective only when he had his magic buckeye in his possession. The buckeye had a seven carved on the eye, and had been hung around his neck by his grandfather at his birth.” As one can see, this is a social environment in which Magickal beliefs and traditions are all over the place. Well, what happens is that Old Jim Tom McCoy decides to trust that his Magicke Buckeye will protect him from the Witchcraft of Old Nath the Warlock- so he tries to steal some grain from out the mill one night. Oops- Old Nath’s Magicke was mightier after all; Old Jim Tom stumbles and falls, losing his buckeye- and ends up Magickally paralyzed on the floor until morning, when Old Nath shows up to jest gloat and gloat and gloat.
Again, in “The Disappearing Witch” (p. 222), collected in 1939, from an 84-year-old woman who remembered the story as a child from her grandmother (this is a wonderful story; I wish I could go into it further without getting tediously off-subject, as it actually has an element of faerey-tale about it): a trio of “Warlocks” decide to rob the country-store/ post-office one Christmas, knowing that liquor ordered for the holidays was kept there. Gathering in front of the store, they rubbed a special lotion onto themselves. Then the “first warlock to reach the door said, ‘Through the keyhole I go.’ He shrank and slipped right through the keyhole.”
So the other two do likewise; inside the store, “the warlocks collected the liquor, some money and other goods, and then decided to sample some of the liquor on the spot.” Well, the store-owner has been hiding out in the store, and surprises them at this point. Two get away, but he seizes the third “warlock” and locks him in the closet. The next morning, his crone-wife comes looking for her man; the store-owner and others apprehend her as well, and are just ready to string up both the Crone and her Warlock-Husband, when (sometimes there is something in these stories that is so Celtic, you remember that the Appalachians were settled largely by the Scots and Irish): “But bless my soul! A flock of large black crows swooped right down over those witches and said, ‘Caw! Caw! Caw! Up! Up! Up! in the air we go.’ The old crone replied, ‘And I after you,’ and she flew right out of the rope and up in the air and disappeared like a puff of smoke. Well, the old man was so surprised at this that he was too confused to figure out how to follow her.” The horses, startled by the old woman’s flying departure, bolt- and the old Warlock is hanged after all. Yet the community wasn’t “hagged” by Witches anymore.
It is in a fascinating story concerning Native Americans, “The Indian Warlocks From Acoma” (p. 74) that Davis identifies “Warlock” as meaning ”a male witch.” This tale, from a 1936 collection of Pueblo lore, concerns two “Warlocks,” or “members of the Witch Society of Acoma.” Detailing a ritual Pow-Wow at the enchanted mesa, the story is too full of interesting elements not to save for closer examination later (it is the remarkable parallels between this Native American story and Appalachian/ European Witchcraft that causes Davis to include it in his book). Nonetheless, it is “Warlocks” or “Male Witches” (indigenous to the Western Plains) that provide the story’s title.
However- one last mountain-tale that reflects the Appalachian conception of a “male Witch” as a “Warlock.” This story is really interesting, as the story-teller was the grandson of the preacher in question, and the nephew of the man-turned-Warlock. A fiery backwoods Baptist has one of his sons rebel against him in “Delivered Up To The Devil” (p. 20). Despite quotations from Scripture (“Hit sez in Exodus, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!’ Again in Leviticus, ‘A man also or a woman thet hath a familiar speret, er thet is a wizard, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone ‘em with stones; their blud shall be upon ‘em”), his son leaves to become a “conjure man.” Tracking down the “chief witch” of a particular “pack” of Witches, he asks her, “What does hit take for you to make a conjure man outten me? I want the whole works: to be able to cast spells, to change into varmints, to fly through the air, to find lost things, and to do all tother things any warlock can do.”
Well, she tells him what to do (it involves finding a spring whose stream runs due east; it also involves selling his soul to the Devil), but all for no good end; “Jonas Dotson lived to be an old man, and became notorious for his evil deeds. He harassed the people and became such a terror that finally he was arrested by Old Doc Taylor and hanged at Wise Courthouse for a brutal murder.”
Be that as it may- please note that (in his mind), being a Conjure Man and being a Warlock are the same thing, and both involve all the customary powers of the Witch- casting spells, changing into animals, flying, and clairvoyance.
Based upon the evidence of this book, “Warlock” would seem to be a word in common-use among Appalachian mountain-folk of presumably the 1800s (certainly the early 1900s), that described a “male Witch.” As the area was so heavily settled by the Scots and the Irish, it would appear to be a Celtic identification of some kind. It seems to have entered common American usage enough by the 1960s that Bewitched picked up on it as a term for male Witches. It is remarkable the many variations Virginia mountain-culture observes regarding: Conjure Men; Granny Doctors; Yarb Doctors; Witch Doctors; Gun Witches (this is a Witch who can spell/ unspell guns); Pellars (from a Scots-Irish term meaning a “White Witch”); and Warlocks- meaning a male Witch.