Witches and Wizards

I am not a witch.

Why aren’t I a witch? Because I’m a sorcerer. Or at least I practice sorcery. Well, I’m pretty sure it’s sorcery and not witchcraft. I think.

But I’m also a magician, I know that. And I think I might be a wizard, because my Mentor told me that I was, and that what we did was wizardry, which is still magic, but somehow different from being a magician or a sorcerer or a witch.

I’ve also read that Wicca teaches that all witches are their own priest(ess/s/esses), and I don’t think I’m a priest, although I do petition the gods on my own behalf, and perhaps on occasion for others., which I think is what a priest does.

Confused? Because I’ve been doing this magic thing for a while and I don’t really have a handle on this yet myself.

So what makes one a witch, or a magician, or a sorcerer, or a wizard, or a priest?

Academia really didn’t have an answer there. The difference between a witch and a sorcerer seems to have little real difference other than what culture the term is being translated from, and occasionally whether or not the magic done is seen positively or negativity. Witchcraft (Sorry Wiccans, but “witch” has always been a pejorative term.) and sorcery seem to be terms connected to Bad Things, while magicians and wizards seem to be the good guys (and yes feminists, they’re usually men). These terms seem to have a flavor or connotation that we attach to other cultures.

I’m doing this unsourced, and I apologize for that, but based on the impressions I’ve gotten from my academic work, depictions in cultural media, and assumptions I’ve observed both within and without of the pagan community, I’ve come up with some running ideas. Please keep in mind that I am not in any way advocating these as hard or official definitions in any way but this is how I personally conceive of these different categories. Also keep in mind that these classifications are in no way rigidly or mutually exclusive. And when in doubt, defer to whatever term the person you are talking to or about prefers. And by all means, I encourage any readers to offer criticisms or any other input on these.

Witch:

A person who performs magic by taking power from ingredients found in nature, especially obscure ones. Is in tune with natural cycles and can readily access that to enhance magical working or assist in finding certain ingredients (i.e. what is in season or locally found). Attuning to natural cycles or patterns through representation is also common. A witch is a technician, and I do not regard “witchcraft” as a religion but as a skill set. As such, a person of any religion can practice witchcraft. By partner is ostensibly Catholic, but is a very powerful witch, and can whip up potent (and delicious!) herbal remedies for what ails you on the fly. Regards magic as a natural force made manifest. D&D analog: Druid

Magician:

A person who performs magic by means of ritual designed to access and direct divine energy. There’s kind of a blurry, perforated line between a magician and a witch, because witches perform rituals too, and magician can use natural objects. What I see primary to being a magician is the implementation of a complex ordering system that allows the mage to correlate and assign anything and everything to categories, that make interacting with the powers of the universe easier. A magician’s work is essentially classifying everything in the universe and internalizing that classification, connecting to the divine without while realizing the divine within. (Lon Milo DuQuette essentially says that the job of the magician is to explore the connection of everything to everything else until your mind snaps and you see the underlying reality of the divine. Ouch.) Magic is usually performed according to set and well-tested criteria, and everything is systemically and rigorously verified and checked. Regards magic as a state of mind or being. D&D analog: Wizard

Sorcerer:

A person who uses a wide range of magical techniques, especially those that are free-form or improvised. Tracing on-the-fly sigils in dust or dirt, made up chants, improvisational rituals, directed energy work, or other improvised acts using whatever is handy are what I’d consider sorcery. A sorcerer would employ whatever techniques are available and appropriate, and might appear as a magician in some circumstances or a witch in another. Regards magic as a process or activity. D&D analog: Sorcerer.

Wizard:

This is a hard one to pin down. Part of that is due to the confusion of the Harry Potter universe that posits wizards as male witches. I’ve also been mentored by an individual who described himself as a wizard, and his definition was, well, unique. The way I’d describe it is this: a wizard is a person who has mastered the skills of the magician and the sorcerer, and combined them under the aeigis of the mystic. My mentor described it as “a being who does not do magic, but who is magic.” This is a bit esoteric for me, but also describes how many magician approach magic, as relating to a state of being rather than a process. I would posit wizardry as a magic of thought, where ritual, action, and even correspondence and association are unnecessary, as the wizard simply has the thought and the result occurs. Gnosis and magical link are essential here, and attainable without ritual aide. No D&D analog, parts Wizard, Sorcerer, and Cleric.

Priest:

A priest is someone who petitions the gods, especially on behalf of others. If you make your own offerings, you are your own priest. If this were to involve any sort of magic, I would imagine a person praying or petitioning the gods for a certain effect, or for the power to induce such an effect. I do not consider the roles of counselor or minister to be inherent to the role of priest; such associations are a holdover from Christianity. I would expect a priest to be versed in the lore and stories associated with the deities he serves. D&D analog: Cleric, Bard

So that’s really what I’ve got. As I said, it’s pretty sloppy and based in large on my own experiences and biases, and I welcome any input. But these terms that we toss around, often undefined, describe things that are different in some way, and thinking about those differences is important if we are to work together.

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10 responses to “Witches and Wizards

  1. I always enjoy reading topics like this to see how people define all these labels. At the end of the day I feel each label should only be attached by the person claiming to possess it, leaving the definitions up to each individual who uses it. IMO, your definition of witch would fall under the “traditional” view of a witch, while I think because of Wicca, modern witchcraft has kind of melded together with the role of magician. But I also realize that witchcraft is usually “low” magic and the magician most often practices a form of “high” magic, but that’s a whole other topic to discuss. 🙂

    • Argh! I can’t believe I went through all that and didn’t bring up the low/high magic thinger!

      I differentiate between Wicca and witchcraft, because Wicca is a religion, and witchcraft is a technical system. That, and Wicca is far more closely related to Qabalistic magic than what most people probably think of as witchcraft these days. So yeah, I can see a lot of Wiccans being closer to the “magician” end of things.

      I also consider these categories loose and fluid, and there’s plenty of room for overlap.

  2. I don’t care! I’m a chicken Qabalist! Call yourself what you want!

    (I actually will read this at some point, and I’m sure it won’t make me like the term “witch” any better 🙂

  3. OK, finally did read it. I agree with most of it.

    Words go in and out of fashion; I used to think “witch” was almost always a term for a malevolent magic user, at least before the 1950s, but Apuleius Platonicus has collected a staggering number of counterexamples: http://egregores.blogspot.com/2013/04/witches-as-healers-in-piers-plowman.html is a good starting point. Even within my lifetime, I heard my Tennessee country relatives call someone a water-witch or similar term.

    But then there’s this quote from Éliphas Lévi: “The magician avails himself of a force which he knows, the sorcerer seeks to abuse a force which he does not understand. If it be possible in a scientific work to employ a term so vulgar and so discredited, then the devil gives himself to the magician and the sorcerer gives himself to the devil.” Of course, it’s pretty clear that “Hyperbole” would have been a good middle name for Lévi … but this always gives me a giggle when I see the current crop of people who are trying to reclaim “sorcerer.”

    I think I’ll stick with “Magician,” although I joke that “natural philosopher” would suit me really well, too.

    • There are cultural differences as well that I’ve noticed. I hear “sorcerer” a lot more from folks in the UK. For some reason I also had the impression that sorcerer implies a willingness to take money for magic, whereas magician does not. Or more generally, magician = right hand path, sorcerer = left hand path.

      Who knows? I do magic. It works. I’ll call myself any one of those things depending upon who I’m talking to and what I’m talking about.

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  7. I used to love labels. But not any more. And to be honest, I’ve worn all those hats at one time or another during my years of studies. I’ve been given names and even titles, which I’ve politely ignored. And then, I pitched the whole lot out the window. All of it. What am I now? I’ve used TechMage a lot, but in the end, I’m just me.

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