What is the Difference Between Witchcraft and Sorcery

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The Difference Between Witchcraft and Sorcery

Modern anthropologists have drawn a distinction between witchcraft and sorcery, which can broadly be described as follows.

Witchcraft
is an innate ability within a person which is an involuntary personality trait that is associated with physical peculiarities. The witch or warlock exercises their power in a purely psychic manner that needs no spell, ceremony, or any tool or accessory.

Sorcery
on the other hand involves the use of spells, accessories, ceremonies or rituals and can be performed by anybody who knows how to do it, no innate ability is needed, as sorcery is a physical act and something that can be seen and witnessed.

Medieval England
This definition can loosely be applied to medieval England when contemporary writers were already aware of the distinction. In 1653 when one writer stated that sorcery was ‘a thing or mischief which is distinct from witchcraft, as thus, witchcraft being performed by the devil’s insinuation of himself with witches,… sorcery being performed by mere sophistication and wicked abuse of nature in things of nature’s own production, by sympathy and antipathy’ .

It is perfectly legitimate to exploit nature for a good purpose but with sorcery ‘it is the evil of the end that is scorcery’.

The distinction did not make any difference, although witchcraft could not be witnessed, witches or warlocks were said to have certain physical characteristics or peculiarities that were the mark of the devil or the witches mark. Here are some examples.

  • The hair of a witch could not be cut.
  • When sitting in bright sunshine a witch would leave no shadow.
  • Burning a witch at the stake prevented their ability being passed on to their offspring.
  • Eyes had the special power of fascination.
  • People who had warts or cancers.
  • Witches could shed no tears

There were very few accused of sorcery as witches could be accused of mere ill wishing or of being in possession of a familiar an animal said to help them in the devil’s work.

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