I’ve always had an issue with labels; how to label myself, and my practice. On a personal level I dealt with trying to explain a gender identity, which during my late teens just didn’t have a convenient label (and would end up with me telling small lectures to explain things), and it wasn’t until my late twenties that terms like gender-queer came into usage. Sexuality was the same issue, sure bisexual worked, but it missed out on a few things, and again wasn’t until years later in my mid-twenties I found a word more appropriate for me in pansexual.
Magickally I’ve floundered on these things too. Like all labels, I wouldn’t feel compelled to use them if not for shorthand discussions with people. Every forum, every convention, every conversation, as an occultist you get asked something like “What are you?/What do you practice?” Granted I have labels I can and do use, but they’re often narrow and imprecise. Over the years I would have said: energy worker, occultist, magickian, Buddhist, ceremonialist, shamanic inspired, fate-fucker, but none of them ever really fit.
I never felt comfortable with the term pagan, sure, I might believe in the existence of some of the same gods as pagans, but I wasn’t one. My path wasn’t about these gods, or “the old ways,” or whatever. My path was about exploring, experimenting, and doing magick. The fact gods might exist was periphery information, in much the same light as the fact that a Taco Bell three cities over might exist. Witch was much the same, with an addition issue around the type of people I’ve encountered in real life who use that term. (My online witch friends are awesome, the offline witches I’ve met…well, I’ll politely say nothing about them)
I often use the term occultist, and I’d argue in some ways that is the closest of the terms, but also problematically the farthest away. It implies something bookish and scholarly, sure, but also passive, armchair, and hidden, which doesn’t work.
(Ceremonial) Magickian it has its flaws, but it works, but it discounts the ecstatic side of my work, the Buddhist elements. I’ve avoided shaman, cause despite having a strong influence of shamanic elements, there is a cultural issue both personally and interpersonally which makes that word tricky.
I often joked that I’m either a Buddhist using Ceremonial Magick, or a Ceremonialist using Buddhist Magick. That has worked more than anything else.
Recently though a term has been worming its way into my usage, for myself and others: Sorcerer.
What makes sorcerer any different?
When I say Buddhist there is the image of people in robes chanting and meditating in a room filled with incense, true. Yet that ignores the Buddhism that has me dancing and drumming in cemeteries, or making demon-traps for exorcisms. And that’s just where Buddhist doesn’t work in terms of Buddhism. (Though it’s a great decoy to give people who couldn’t/wouldn’t understand what I do, they think Buddhist is one thing, I practice it as another.)
When I say Ceremonialist there is an image of …actually again someone in robes, chanting in a room filled with incense, calculating out astrological timing and making sure that the appropriate planetary ingredients are in the incense, again that’s true. This misses the ecstatic contact though, when I don’t call to the Angels, but they Call their Fire into me. This ignores leaving the books behind and following the Will of the Spirits. And again, that’s just were Ceremonialist falls short.
These labels don’t include the fact that both of these traditions are heavily woven together in my practice. Every morning I make offerings according to Buddhist methods to the planetary angel of the day, I sit in anapana meditation before beginning to pray to my HGA, I use phowa to scry, I time sadhanas by planetary influences. These traditions are really one in my life, but there is more to it. My trance methods come out of shamanic traditions from East and North East Asia. My ancestor work, though wholly my own owes a lot to the practices I learned from friends practicing the African diaspora traditions, and the methods of East/South East Asia. The Gods I call to are from India, Tibet, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Mesoamerica, as well as those from modern gnosis. My energy work is modern models.
I know to an extent that everyone’s practice is somewhat eclectic, all traditions are, and modern practioners tend to be more so, and I’m not arguing that mine is any more or less eclectic, or that it’s better or worse in how it manifests. I’m saying that I find naming important, and all of the names I’ve seen and used are half-right at best, but sorcerer is a bit better.
When I say sorcerer…well, there are lots of images, but here is the thing, none of them are as strict. Buddhists sit, Ceremonialists read and calculate, Witches dance with spirits, Shamans travel the worlds, but a sorcerer…does any of these. To paraphrase Jason Miller “I use the word sorcerer not for what it means, but for what it doesn’t mean.” It doesn’t have the same cultural image that the other words do. All you know about a sorcerer from the title is that they do magick, fullstop. It doesn’t say the Path is about Divine Worship, or Material Ends, it doesn’t have the sense of High or Low magick, just magick.
I like this. It’s imprecise, but it’s imprecise in a way that is open, rather than one that is closed. I can say I’m a sorcerer, and that leads into a conversation about the elements of my practice. Sorcerer is a term used in a lot of English translations of different traditions, just because it has this open application. The most obvious from a Buddhist perspective being Milarepa and Padmasambhava, both have been called Buddhist sorcerers in English works. On the other hand when I say ceremonialist, my practice is defined, and then the conversation becomes me explaining who that term doesn’t work or fit, how I’m a ceremonialist “yes, but…”. I’ll still say I’m a ceremonialist, but not as a label, but as a facet within sorcerer.
It’s imprecise, but it gives enough detail to get the point across, without restriction any options within it. With all the other labels I’ve felt I’ve had to use them, and explain them away, but with sorcerer I can just let that term be, and clarify specifics. So for now, I guess you can call me a sorcerer, it sits more comfortably with me than labels in my past.