If you have ever read “The Golden Bough” by James Frazer you surely know that our most ancient ancestors had a vision of the world permeated by sorcery. Frazer describes sorcery as based on two principles included in the same definition of “sympathetic sorcery”, since both presuppose an interaction at distance:
–The similar generates the similar, the effect resembles the cause. From this law of similarity/imitation the sorcerer deduce of being able to reach the desired effect simply imitating it.
–The things that have come into reciprocal contact one time will continue to influence each other, even when the physical contact has been interrupted. From this law of contact/contagion the sorcerer deduce that every action he performs on a material object will influence in the same measure the person with which the object has been once in contact, that was or wasn’t a part of his body.
Our most ancient traditions were obviously permeated by sorcery, for example: -The custom of calling the newborns with the names of dead relatives, so that the descendants would become their ancestors. -The celebrations where, through a dramatic representation, our ancestors staged the contrast between Summer and Winter, during which some actors interpreted the role of Summer and others the role of Winter, and they symbolically fought each other. The faction that represented Summer had always to win, so that in the same way Summer would come back after “defeating” Winter. -When the Sacred King reached the end of his annual function, he sometimes retired for a short period in a symbolic grave and was believed to be dead, as similarly to the dead he too was in the grave. Etc.
Sorcery never leaved our minds and our thoughts: even today we still make use of it, everyday, without realizing it. Some trivial example? -Many people today (between 7 and 70 years…) think that by simply imitating others esthetically they will receive the same appreciation among their peers. -Many people today when playing football (or other sports) using the t-shirt of a player they admire, think/pretend to have abilities that they don’t really have or achieve performances that normally they would have never accomplished: this because they in a way identify themselves with the name written in the t-shirt. Etc.
The sorcerer believed of being able to influence – through the application of these principles – even nature, i.e. the spirits. For our ancestors the spirits consisted in invisible essences/vital principles that governed nature and its cycles; not directly visible forces that manifest themselves, revealing their existence through the observation and ascertainment of their effects. The word “spirit” derives from Latin spiritus with the meaning of “breath, a breathing” perhaps from PIE *(s)peis- “to blow”. Why? I don’t know, maybe in relation to the fact that a breath is invisible and intangible but still a force that can manifest itself in the material world and alter it; in the same way the spirits were seen as the “wind/breath” causing the changes inherent to the cycles of the natural world.
So originally our ancestors saw nature as animated by these spirits and only after some time they passed to a view of nature that saw it governed by external deities: this change of perspective is known as anthropomorphism, i.e. the attribution of an increasing number of human characteristics to the spirits of nature.
An example in this regard can be found in Ancient Rome, where the Numen (defined by Julius Evola as a “nude force, that defines itself through its ability to produce effects, to act, to manifest itself – and the sense of the real presence of such powers, of such <numina>, as something transcendental and immanent, at the same time marvelous and fearsome, constituted the substance of the original experience of the <sacred>”) was later conceived as Deus.
We’ll return later to this change of perspective.
You see, there is a slight difference through sorcery and science as this last is understood (as well as adored and revered…) today. Our ancestors perfectly knew, exactly as we do today, the immutable laws and the regular and certain succession of the natural events. Our ancestors never believed (or even wanted…why on earth they would have wanted to alter the perfectly harmonious and balanced natural cycles?) that through sorcery they could have eventually obtain e.g. Summer for all the days of a year. What they believed – wrongly – was that the course of nature was guaranteed by the spells of man, without which all the natural cycles would have been at the mercy of randomness.
A Sorcerer (but in those days they had only their minds, no books…):
At a certain point men found out that the course of nature continued indifferently as usual even without their support/practices and then they started to simply celebrate the magnificence of nature in its multiple aspects (including man itself, which is a part of nature), addressing individually to each spirit instead of trying to support/manipulate them: to do this they necessitate to give them a name and consequently started to think of them as anthropomorphic beings, that is the gods and goddesses as we today intend them, each one obtaining as attributes, for example, the elements, animals and trees that were associated with each spirit. It is the birth of religion and of the deities, the Sorcerer/Sorceress became a Priest/Priestess and the Sorcerer-King/Sorceress-Queen became a God-King/Goddess-Queen. As you may have understood, the customary approach to life based on sorcery didn’t fade easily or quickly and that’s why the Kings and Queens of Europe during the Neolithic ended up becoming specific deities (respectively the Sky/Sun God [the incarnation and living symbol of the principle of “immutability” and of “being”] and the Earth/Moon Goddess [the incarnation and living symbol of the principle of “mutability” and of “becoming”]) simply by imitating them, i.e. assuming their roles, functions and names, their attributes and external characteristics, etc.
Hail to the European Gods and Goddesses!