Hag originally meant a “Holy Woman,” coming from the cognate of the Egyptian heq, a predynastic matriarchal ruler who knew the words of power, or hekau. In Greek she was personified as Hecate, the Crone aspect of the Goddess or Hag as queen of the dead, incarnate on earth as selected wise-women, or high priestesses.
Throughout ancient, northern Europe the Hag, denoting the goddess of death, was worshipped with veneration. She was seen in the Hag of the Iron Wood whose daughter or virgin form was Hel. In Old Norse hagi meant to chop in pieces, which is what happened to sacrificial victims dismembered for a feast. Perhaps “Hags” were priestesses who offered sacrifice, like the Scythian matriarchs who butchered for their sacred cauldrons and read omens in entrails. Since the Northmen colonized Scotland the dish of haggis, or “hag’s dish” was made of internal organs. Until the 19th century, the New Years festival of Hagmena, or Hag’s Moon, was observed. It was when people went from house to house begging cakes. A portion of the festival was chronicled, “On the last night of the old year (peculiarly called hagmenai) visitors and company made a point of not separating till after the clock struck twelve, when they rose, and mutually kissing, wished each other a happy New Year.”
This custom continued until a contemporary clergyman declared the Hagmena meant the Devil was in the house. Like most customs that were attached to the Goddess and Goddess religion, as can be seen, this one was also demonized. There generated many unbecoming tales associated with hags and witch-hags; most were degrading to women to enhance patriarchal rule. Hags were associated with succubi that cause nightmares when sitting on the person’s chest to “ride” him to exhaustion or even death. To safeguard against this was to place a penknife on one’s breast or a table fork under one’s head. Along with this witch-hags were believed to steal horse from stables and return them sweaty and exhausted after having ridden them all night. To prevent this amulets and charms were hung in stables.
Even though intelligent persons know such tales were mostly based upon superstition the term hag is no longer becoming when applied to any woman. Due to such tales it has became an uncomplimentary term taking on the stereotype of an ugly, disagreeable woman. A.G.H.