late 14c., phitonesse, Phitonissa, "woman with the power of soothsaying," from Old French phitonise (13c.) and Medieval Latin phitonissa, from Late Latin pythonissa, used in Vulgate of the Witch of Endor (I Samuel xxviii.7), and often treated as her proper name. It is the fem. of pytho "familiar spirit;" which ultimately is connected with the title of the prophetess of the Delphic Oracle, Greek pythia hiereia, from Pythios, an epithet of Apollo, from Pythō, an older name of the region of Delphi (see python). The classical spelling was restored 16c.
updated on February 18, 2021