If you have ever read “The Golden Bough” by James G. Frazer then you will know that our 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 deduces of being able to obtain the desired effect simply by imitating it.
–The things that have come once into reciprocal contact will continue to influence each other, even when the physical contact has been interrupted. From this law of contact/contagion the sorcerer deduces that every action he performs on a material object will influence in equal measure the person with which the object has been once in contact, whether it was or not 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 in which, through a dramatic representation, our ancestors staged the opposition between Summer and Winter, during which some actors interpreted the role of Summer and others the role of Winter, symbolically fighting 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 sometimes he hid for a short period in a symbolic grave and was believed to be dead, since similarly to the dead he too was in a grave.
Sorcery has never left our minds and thoughts: we still use it today, everyday, without realizing it. Some trivial example? -Many people today (between 7 and 70 years…) think that, simply by imitating others aesthetically, 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 or are convinced to have abilities that they don’t really possess, or achieve performances that normally they would have never attained: this because in a sense they identify themselves with the name written in the t-shirt.
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, 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; likewise the spirits were seen as the “wind/breath” that caused 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, defining itself with its ability to produce effects, to act, to manifest itself – and the meaning of the real presence of such powers, of such <numina>, as something transcendent and immanent, at the same time marvelous and fearsome, constituted the essence 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 subtle difference between sorcery and science compared to how the latter is understood (as well as adored and revered…) today. Our ancestors knew perfectly, exactly as us today, the immutable laws and the regular and certain sequence of the natural events. Our ancestors have never believed (or even wanted…why on earth they would have wanted to alter the natural cycles, in themselves perfectly harmonious and balanced?) that through sorcery they could have attained, for example, a perennial Spring or Summer. What they believed – wrongly – was that the course of nature was guaranteed by man’s spells, without which all the natural cycles would have been at the mercy of chance.
A Sorcerer (but in those days they had only their minds, no books…):
Gradually they understood that the course of nature manifested itself immutable and indifferent to the support and practices of men, which simply began to celebrate the magnificence of nature in its multiple aspects (including man itself, which is part of nature), addressing individually to each spirit instead of trying to support/manipulate them: to do this they needed to give them a name and consequently they began to think of them as anthropomorphic beings, that is to say the deities as we today intend them, each having 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 and the Sorceress became the Priest and the Priestess, and the Sorcerer-King and the Sorceress-Queen became the God-King and the Goddess-Queen. As you may have understood, the usual approach to life based on sorcery didn’t fade neither easily nor quickly, and this is 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 principles of “immutability” and “being”] and the Earth/Moon Goddess [the incarnation and living symbol of the principles of “mutability” and “becoming”]), simply by imitating them, i.e. assuming their roles, functions and names, their attributes and external characteristics, etc.
Hail to the Gods and Goddesses of Europe!