Monday, March 2, 2009

Sorcery and Witchcraft

By John Michael White

Sorcery occurs in almost every society in the world. And in my opinion it is also the oldest and deepest element in the historical concept of witchcraft, which was formed out of pagan religion, folklore, Christian heresy and theology. Like all magic, sorcery is based on the assumption that the cosmos is a whole and that hidden connections therefore exist among all natural phenomena. The sorcerer or sorceress attempts through their knowledge and power to control, or at least influence these connections in order to effect the practical results they desire.

Closely related to sorcery is divination, the determination of facts or prediction of future events on the basis of the secret links between humans on the one side, and herbs, stones, stars, sheep liver, and jackal tracks etc. on the other. In Europe, diviners entered a tradition that brought them close to high magic, while witchcraft took a different path.

The simplest sorcery is the mechanical performance of one physical action in order to produce another, but the meaning of a given action varies among different societies. More complex sorcery goes beyond mechanical means and invokes the aid of spirits, but mainly the sorcerer or sorceress tries to compel, rather than to implore the powers that be to do their bidding. The thought processes of sorcery are intuitive rather than analytical. For example they may derive from the individuals observations of single critical incidents. A critical incident is an emotionally charged experience. So in a state of anger or rage you wish the death of someone you dislike immensely, and physically, for example punch the wall, in imitation of a blow aimed against that person. When you find that this person has died suddenly you will probably feel guilt, even to the extent that it was you that caused their death, especially if you assume a universe of hidden connections and have beliefs in the concept of magic.

Sorcery beliefs may also arise from unconscious thoughts expressed in dreams and visions. In societies where dreams are taken seriously and distinctions between dream and physical reality are blurred, dreams and visions do have great power to persuade. In most societies detailed sets of beliefs regarding sorcery are handed down by tradition and become part of the social and psychological systems of individuals. Those individuals will then all the more accept critical incidents and dreams as confirmation of these traditions.

Often sorcery has a function in society and in some it is closely related to religion, say for instance a priest or priestess of a public religion may perform ritual acts to make rain, ripen the crop to harvest, or secure success etc. Then as long as they are public and social in intent then sorcery may be of a religion. But when the acts are performed privately for the benefit of individuals rather than of society, then they are antisocial and therefore do not form part of religion.

Usually societies distinguish legally between public religious sorcery and private sorcery, approving the one and outlawing the other. And so the effects of sorcery are very real to those of us that truly believe in it.

Do you believe in sorcery and witchcraft? Or maybe you just have a fascination in which you would like to believe.

My name is John White and l enjoy writing articles


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