The prefix of the word 'Malefica', 'mal-', is said to mean any of the following, bad, badly, ill, poorly, wrong, or wrongly. If you trace the word element back as far as Proto-Indo-European , the closest PIE reconstruction that aligns with this prefix is 'mol-', the word for thoughts, ideas, courage, thinking, and mental strength. The second part of the word, 'fica', relates to 'fication', or 'a making' or 'causing', also 'ficare', which also means 'to make'. Tracing this back to its Proto-Indo-European root, we find the word 'dhe', meaning 'to set,' or 'to put'.
Forgetting for a moment the Latin meaning of Malefica, which describes a witch or 'a woman that does evil', and replacing it with this possible reconstruction, the term can be redefined as stemming from the possible PIE reconstruction mol-dhe, or 'to put forth thought', 'to set ideas', 'to establish a mental strength' are all good guesses at what this early word might have meant in context.
I have read in a few places what amounts to a re-appropriation of the word Malefica. Modern witches and magicians are known to define the term as 'Doing for oneself', of 'Doing magic to gain personal power' (I almost wrote a post using this common theme, before diving down the etymological rabbit hole I now sit at the bottom of), which sort of fits, but these definitions usually point very heavily towards the reason for the act and not the act itself. I think, by piecing together PIE roots of the word and looking closely at what it means in our magical realities to put forth thought, we gain a better understanding of what it means to perform the act of 'Malefica'.
There is the argument about the term being originally coined in Latin and, therefore, means a specific thing, right? That certainly has some validity, but only if you prescribe the power of words to mankind alone. I do not, I very much believe in the immortal words of William S. Burroughs:
"The word is a virus."
What he meant by this phrase is that words are older then us, that they use us, work through us, are biological entities that evolve inside an ecological niche made up of the thought patterns of humans. It is this Word Virus lens through which I view and interrogate the term, 'Malefica'. What does it mean to us when we think about the act of courageously setting our ideas? To me, that is a perfect description of sigil magic, taking a statement of a desired result and making it real through the creation and activation of a sigil. Through our new / old lens we can intuit the definition of Malefica to be, instead of 'She who does evil' to be 'She who makes her thoughts real'.
It is important for us, as magicians, to look at the words used to describe us and to describe our actions, who coined these words? Was it an inquisitor? Was it an anti-witchcraft faction bent on neutralizing the inevitable pagan uprising in its Christian kingdom? Often the answer will be yes. We define ourselves too often through the eyes of those that would paint us with a strict moral brush.
Mol-dhe, Malefica, courageously making our thoughts real, this can be a description of not only the act of creating sigils but of the overarching lifeway of the witch, of the gnomeschooled, of the urban mage or modern Cunningman. We face the ruling veil of Muggles with our chins raised. We wrangle the demons that the normals fear and demand that they aid us in changing our circumstances to the benefit of ourselves and our family. These are spirits that are hostile to humans, yet as the Maleficent we face them down confident in our power to subdue and haggle. We happily haunt graveyards and speak with the dead, to console them and to tell them of the world of the living.
It sounds like one of those awesome power words from Frank Herbert's Dune.
We should refer to Malefica through our understanding this reconstruction, this protoword. Let us no longer think of it by the definition given it by the clergyman Heinrich Kramer and his classic '101 Ways to Identify and Kill a Midwife'. Let's step back to a time when the fox and the bear taught us how to hunt and in turn we offered and drank mead to their archetypes in the sky. Malefica predates Christian morality and should be re-appropriated for our purposes, since it is us that it was coined to represent. We are the Post-Modern Maleficent and our magical realities are built on a foundation of Malefica.