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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sorcery – It's not your father's trick laying

"Sorcery has been called Magic: but Magic is Wisdom, and there is no wisdom in Sorcery" PARACELSUS.

Sorcery at times gets a bad wrap. But these days the term is pretty popular with some of the best magicians out there.

In my personal experience as a little kid, the Sorceress in He-Man and She-Ra definitely had wisdom; that was kind of the whole point of her character.

As I reached middle school and began exploring comparative religion and studying magic I got a new concept of sorcery: magic based in talismans and rituals that commanded spirits but didn't involve any divine presence. It took on a kind of non-religious shamanism image in my mind.

All in all, it wasn't a bad thing. I interpreted it as magic focused on being effective and nothing else.

I can see why Paracelsus might say it doesn't involve Wisdom though, if one interprets the Wisdom of magic to be the return to a divine source for greater understanding of ourselves, our world and our magic. Something wholly practical wouldn't be about that. But that position certainly suggests a sort of classism. Elite intellectuals get to do the real magic because they have time to focus on the alchemy of rotting dung, while poor cunning folk do evil magic not driven by wisdom, because they need to eat. Normally I'm not so populist in my position, but there's a definite sort of disenfranchisement. I'm not sure that sorcery is even accurately described as something which ignores that search for Wisdom. It's a narrative that isn't really meaningful anymore.

Anyway, as I kept getting older, and kept studying magic, I began to see the negative connotations associated with the word sorcery, and major writers from the magical revival treating sorcery as black magic.

Studying mysticism and magic in an academic context in college provided a similar definition of sorcery to the one I held, and without the negative implications. I figured college professors were right and Mathers and Crowley were wrong.

The system of magic into which I was initiated at the time even used the term sorcery to describe one of its grades, but I admitted feeling silly saying “I'm a Sorcerer in the Order of Draco.” In our case sorcery referred to magic using tactile implements such as dolls, and images, and links via contagion, as well as physical objects in sympathy to a symbol of a magical force or very basic sorts of talismans and fetishes.

Still, I felt silly, and I would look at IGOS and think “hmm, why'd they go with sorcery...”

Even with feeling silly with the word, I thought the negativity about it was stupid and I wrote at length about how Mathers's use of the word to equate to black magic was ignorant of the development of various terms, the histories of various types of magic, and just kind of the world at large. But I think I wanted to defend the word Goetia more than Sorcery.

In fact, the only thing that probably would have led me to crap on sorcery was my limited appreciation of Chaos magic.  I considered Chaos magic to be largely a very modern approach to a very simple sort of sorcery. I wasn't a huge fan.

Now, about 15 years later, I'm pretty cool with most words for magic and magic users, and actually find that the most down to earth and visceral terms seem to be the best. Some of these words have a certain power to them due to cultural impacts much bigger than our limited magical community. What seems neat though is, as I've said, a lot of the best magicians have embraced the term sorcery to describe their work, despite a lot of earlier late 20th century magicians rejecting the term.

I would think part of this may be because “magic” carries with it so much these days that is not magic. Ritualized therapy, religion restructured as magical ritual, and things along those lines are not implied at all by the word sorcery.

Sorcery still implies magic focused on results. Magic which explores various technologies and uses them appropriately. Magic with spirits and talismans. And, despite certain prejudices, usually magic with some sort of divine or quasi divine figures. Wisdom plus Results, this is probably why many of the best magicians these days describe much of their work as sorcery.

Growing up I had a hugely ranging interest in magic and have tried to study as many approaches and methods as I could. Being able to work with the Merkavah one night, Hoodoo another, the PGM the next, and then rounding it out with a grimoire, or a modern technique the next night is appealing because you have a wide and ranging tool box. I can work with the Black Man in the Forest when appropriate, toss a rosary by my pillow when needed, and conjure spirits of the second heaven as needed, all with no contradiction, and without assuming that I am adopting paradigms without their own reality. I can truly embrace them all as real.

Many modern sorcerers seem to have spent time becoming an expert in their chosen method, but have also spent significant time studying and exploring several others and can approach them separately or work them together. The prevalence of Afro-Caribbean systems amongst the community of grimoire magicians is sort of puzzling and first glance but makes a lot of sense and is pretty interesting as you think about it.

I think to some degree there is a generational element to this. It isn't the old eclecticism and it isn't appropriation. It's more like the tendency to multitask and interlink things. For people who grew up in a hypermedia inspired world there is not simply an idea that we can explore with depth multiple discreet things and understand them individually and also as part of a whole – that is simply how one approaches the world. In fact, it is puzzling to us seeing people who do not approach the world on the basis of interconnectivity.

So to close with a recollection that amuses me. I was once speaking with someone about a sorcery class series being offered at a local magic shop. I didn't anticipate the person offering it to have anything of value but it was possible he was simply sponsoring it, and so I was curious. The person with whom I was speaking chuckled and said something to the effect of “Well, no serious magicians would be calling what they do sorcery, so it probably won't be good.” I thought to myself that it was much more likely for a more advanced magician to call his work sorcery than your average person to do so, but still felt the class was probably not what I was looking for so it wasn't worth pointing out that these days, the kids aren't talking about MacGregor Mathers's sorcery.

Anyway, I leave you with this...

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