Witan

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Witan

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Witan, or Witenagemot, was the national council of "wise ones" who advised the Anglo-Saxon kings in early Britain. For example, King Alfred asked the advice of the Witan regarding the testamentary disposition of his private inheritance. He also consulted his Witan before making peace with Guthrum. The Witan started as a small group of advisors but with the king of Wessex becoming the king of all England, the Witan also grew in size.

The group was composed chiefly of eorls, or nobles of hereditary rank, together with gesiths, or professional warriors. As a lawmaker, the king seldom acted without his Witan. There are many instances to show that this Witan was also able to elect a king. By late Old English times the Witan had many ceremonial functions, joining the king when he received ambassadors and, by the eleventh century, joining him in public feasting.

The word "Witan" comes from the same root as the Old English wiccian, "to work sorcery." Henry Sweet's The Student's Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon cites the Anglo-Saxon wita/io/ge (m) meaning "a sage or wise man," and witeg/a or witga, "a wise man or prophet."

Speaking of a modern tradition of Witchcraft, Edain McCoy says, "Witta, the Irish Gaelic term for the Anglo-Saxon word Wicca, is one of the Irish names of the craft."