What is the difference between a witch and a sorceress?


Quick Answer

In common usage, there is no clear difference between the terms "witch" and "sorceress," and they are very frequently used interchangeably. However, sorcery is sometimes more associated with black magic and evil intent than witchcraft, especially since the systematization of Wicca as a contemporary religion.

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Full Answer

The term "witch" has been traced by etymologists to the Old English "wicce," meaning a female magician or sorceress. Specifically, a "wicce" was a woman who made dealings with evil spirits. Although not verified, it has been suggested that the original meaning of "wicce" was more precise than as a synonym for sorceress, referring to a specific set of practices. In 1584 Reginald Scot observed in his "The Discoverie of Witchcraft" that "witch" and "wise woman" were essentially synonymous.

The Old English word "lybbestre" appears to refer more specifically to "sorceress" and, since this word is derived from "lybb," meaning a drug, poison or charm, there is some indication of a sorceress's specialty.

In the Bible, there is no clear differentiation. Exodus 22:18 appears in the King James Version of the Bible as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," but in other versions, such as the New American Standard and the World English Bible, the word "sorceress" is used in place of "witch."

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