Friday, March 11, 2011


There are certain names that no matter how popular they get, they will always be witchy. Sybil is one of them.

Sybil (pronounced "SI-bel") derives from the Latin Sibylla, which means "an oracle," or "a prophetess." In ancient Greece and Rome, sybils were groups of women who would tell the future while under the influence of a deity. In the Middle Ages, sybils were embraced by Christians and at least twelve of them were made into saints. Which is how the name Sybil became accepted by the Catholic Church. Historians admit that these women so far only exist in legend, and that there's no concrete proof of their actual existence.

The name's association with Pagan culture continued into recent history. Sybil Leek is one of the most important witches in Neo-Pagan history. Like Gerald Gardner, she rose to fame in the 1950s after the last of the anti-Witchcraft laws were repealed in England. Her life was very interesting. She claimed that she was the descendant of a long family line of High Priestesses, and that she grew up learning the Craft. She had only received three years of conventional education, and was home schooled the rest of the time. Her family focused on esoteric studies like astrology, eastern philosophy, nature, and herbs. Her family was acquainted with H. G. Welles and Aleister Crowley. After Sybil was widowed at the age of 18, her family sent her to act as High Priestess to a coven in France. Eventually, Sybil returned to England and became friendly with some Gypsies. She lived with them for a year while going to coven meetings. In time, she also got a "real" job as an antiques dealer.

She became famous as a Witch mainly just by being open and honest about her lifestyle. She openly disagreed with other witches on some topics, like disapproving of nudity and drugs during ritual. But she did believe in the practice of hexes and curses, and was one of the first Neo-Pagans to take up environmental causes. But her fame brought some unwanted media attention with news reporters coming to her home without warning and following her around, and this got so bad that she was eventually asked to leave by her landlord. She moved to America and appeared on many television shows about ghost hauntings.

I have to admit that until recently I had a slightly negative association with the name Sybil. I first heard of this name because of the book Sybil by Sybil Dorsett and it's film adaptation about her struggle against Multiple Personality Disorder. For a few years, this name made me think of mental illness. On a lighter note, it's also the name of a Harry Potter character. Sybil Trelawny is the talentless divination teacher at Hogwarts.

Sybil was a name that was most popular during the Roaring Twenties. In the United States it reached up to #319. The last time the name was seen on the charts was in the 1960s, and today it's considered rare and somewhat dated. There are some variations as well, like Sibyl, Cybil, Sybilia, Sybella, and Sibella. The later two should appeal to those that like the stylish Bella names.

Sybil definitely still has a mystical vibe to it. It doesn't matter if you don't know who Sybil Leek is. It won't matter if it suddenly becomes vogue again. It's hard to hear or see it and not think of Witches. Which of course, to us, is a good thing.


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