Ladies of Horror Fiction celebrates Witches
Guest Post

Guest Post: Derivation of Hag by Kathleen Kaufman

Derivation of Hag

By Kathleen Kaufman

At San Diego Comic Con, the awesome Brendan Reichs joked that “I wrote a book about my mom and named it Hag.”   

He wasn’t wrong, the reaction to the title has sparked immediate and sometimes negative reactions.  We think of Hag as an insult, an ugly old woman, an unwanted creature, witch with a wart on the end of her nose.  

It’s all around not something you want to be called.   

Or is it?  The derivation of Hag goes back and back.   It is one of very few words that have no masculine form, it is a distinctly female term, used all the way back in the thirteenth century to describe a witch or enchantress.   Derived in part from the Old English term haga, which described the hedge or trees that separated a forest from the town.   Haga also appears in the Old English translation of Hawthorne, a tree of particular importance to ancient Celtic Pagans.   

By Middle English, haga had morphed to haetnesse,or goddess – a term used to call upon Minerva and Diana.    

As paganism became increasingly feared, the idea of a haga, or a woman who straddled the world of man and the land of the fae and forest was increasingly seen as a thing to be feared, rather than revered.   Later, as the beginnings of what would become Modern English further morphed haga to heathenish,  to  hag and then to witch, the role of a Hag was often a healer, a medicine woman who traveled from town to town, using roots and the plants of the forest to treat fevers and wounds.  It was then the Hag was really in trouble.  

Perhaps the most imbedded connotation of the term witch or hag comes from the 1692 Salem Witch Trials where a disproportionate number of accused witches were midwives, healers, or simply unfortunate enough to have escaped whatever infection was sweeping their community.  Salem and the surrounding community has become a nuclear shadow, a persistent stain on our founding history.   

Martha Carrier was called the ‘Queen of Hell’ and a ‘rampant hag’ before her execution on charges of witchery in August of 1692.  Prior to her new title, she had been the daughter of a prominent Andover family, wife of a prominent businessman, mother to four children…that is until a smallpox outbreak swept through Andover. The ‘Queen of Hell’ had the misfortune to not only escape infection, but also guard her children from illness. What’s worse, records show that she knew the way use local herbs to help heal her neighbors and friends.   Hag, Witch, Devil were the only monikers for such a talent. 

Some words carry weight.  Hag is a very heavy term.   But I counter that it is time to take back this ancient descriptor that encapsulates a powerful, and magical woman who straddles the land of the fae and the waking world simultaneously.   It is time to claim the word Hag for what it is, a uniquely feminine term, not for an old, ugly woman – but rather a force to be reckoned with, a power that not only understood the power of the ancient forests and healing power of nature, but also a woman to be revered, even worshipped.   

So yes, I wrote a book about my mother titled Hag, and I couldn’t be more proud to be the daughter of a hag such as she.    


Kathleen Kaufman is a native Coloradan and long-time resident of Los Angeles.   Her prose has been praised by Kirkus Reviews as “crisp, elegant” and “genuinely chilling” by Booklist.   She is the author of The Tree Museum, The Lairdbalor, soon to be a feature film with Echo Lake Studios and director Nicholas Verso, and her most recent, Hag, due out in October 2018.   Kathleen is a monster enthusiast, Olympic-level insomniac and aficionado of all things unsettling.   When not writing, she can be found teaching literature and composition at Santa Monica College or hanging out with a good book.   She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, terrier and a pack of cats.  

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