Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Find My Inability to Make Distinctions Dissatisfying

Sorcery: c.1300, from O.Fr. sorcerie, from sorcier “sorcerer,” from V.L. *sortiarius, lit. “one who influences, fate, fortune,” from L. sors (gen. sortis) “lot, fate, fortune” (see sort).

Sor·cery: 1: the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits especially for divining : necromancy
I have been, since reading a certain hilarious tirade on Jason's blog (I'd probably have said something like that to him at 19 or 20... Or even 23 years of age), trying to figure out at what point in history the word 'sorcery' became essentially blended, as a term, with Maleficium (“mischief” or “wrongdoing” - punishable by law in many places in the ancient world).

While the indictments against various forms of magic, divination, or dealings with spirits are explicit at different places in the Bible, I find myself somewhat puzzled over how a term that initially meant “one who influences, fate, or fortune” (Sortiarius) to the present definition.

Did it occur about the same time that sorcery and witchcraft became technically similar (in the context of the day) terms? Something like 1400s CE – 1600s CE?

And when people – who are not complete and utter w... Heh – refer to sorcery, what are they typically alluding to? When I refer to myself as such, it's normally an indication that I make pacts (or agreements, or enter into a relationship with) spirits; or I'm referring to a mode of practice similar in many, if not most, respects to witchcraft of the 'traditional' sort. However, when I think of the word “ensorcell,” which means to bewitch or enchant, I'm forced to not that the ability to influence seems also to relate intrinsically to spell work as well (if not glamors and many other types of the magical... crafts).

This leaves me at a loss as to what the distinction really signifies, if anything, from any other of the labels that float around?


Scylla said...

To me, Sorcery comes in with references to "Deep doings" - when one is actively twisting one's own fate, or that of another, toward a different goal. Sorcery has to do (for me) with the re-shaping of the self on a fundamental level.

As a comparison: Asking Dantalion to give you a kingly tongue is Sorcerous. Doing a spell to be considered wise is not.

Lance Michael Foster said...

You certainly could make a distinction. Language is ultimately a powerplay. What a "witch" is, differs whether one is a "traditional witch", a fundamentalist Christian, a Wiccan, or a little secular kid at Halloween. So there's that, sociocultural context.

Same for sorceror/sorcery, at least in my book. A lot of my personal subjective "baggage" when it comes to defining "sorcery" comes from reading Conan as a kid, as in "swords and sorcery," which did differ sometimes when they would call one a witch, another a priest, another a magician, another a sorceror, etc. In such tales (Conan, the Grey Mouser, etc.) sorcerors tended to be: 1. extremely powerful, 2. evil, and 3. used "demons" for their personal advantage.

And of course many of these terms are about magic-using individuals, dependent on categories in particular languages/language families. Some are particular to certain cultures and aren't really comparable exactly.

But if one was working toward a taxonomy, that tried to sort all this out (sorceror vs mage vs thaumaturge ...etc), well, that is an interesting taxonomic problem, worthy of an anthropologist :-)

Harold Roth said...

I think of sorcery as including in its practice malific magic and working with what are usually called demons. I see the label "sorcerer" as not implying any particular spiritual work along with the magic, being pretty much practical, in contrast to "magician," which I would tend to think included spiritual work of some kind. But all these words are so floppy that none of them fit most of us, IMO. I *think* that's because the practice of magic in our culture needs to grow more and then create or redefine the words that define it.