Daily Archives: July 1, 2015


Sometimes you meet someone and you sit to talk or listen for a spell. They say a few words and you listen closer, led, and you are bewitched, gradually or suddenly, until you list ensorcelled and you cast your lot with this person, you know this mouth full of words is your sort. The die is cast, and he is killing you softly with his song – or she with hers – and he is a magic man, she a magic woman; the curtains flew and he or she appeared, saying don’t be afraid… you started to fly… you were bewitched, bothered, bewildered. It is all a song; it soars as it sings, and it is sorcery.

Do we not all seek, at one time or another, to be ensorcelled? To take leave of our senses, to rise up from the world, wafting on the draft of the scent of another, the words, the inner curves, the corners of the mind, the webs of the fingers, the tongue and eyes and their many uses? To pass through a lens to the core of… of what? Ourselves or what we want to be or what we want another person to be? Remember that every magnet is a dipole, and one pole is attracted to another: the face we present to the world is one pole, and our deepest internal is the other, and we are attracted to those who present the same as that inner pole to us. We are drawn to this rare person of the earth.

Because there are only two kinds of magnets but there are many sorts of people. And it is perhaps aleatory to find the right match. But when we meet, it is sorcery indeed. And it pulls together and it pulls apart, on both sides. Here is a passage from The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje:

Her life with others no longer interests him. He wants only her stalking beauty, her theatre of expressions. He wants the minute and secret reflection between them, the depth of field minimal, their foreignness intimate like two pages of a closed book.

He has been disassembled by her.

And if she has brought him to this, what has he brought her to?

He and she have ensorcelled each other.

I think we all seek at one time or another such ensorcellment. We all seek to look back, later in life, on having been ensorcelled. To know that our plot could not have been as it was without it.

Such as soft silver word, ensorcel. All the consonants on the licking tip of the tongue or with a little caress of its curve: the nose-kiss of /n/, the purr of /r/ and the liquor chill of /l/, and the curving serpent s whispering softly in the ear c, which echoes the same sound. It is a word made to be spoken in a breath across a dim table. And yet it is a word for fireworks.

I have a book of paintings from the Albright-Knox Museum. On page 47 is a bold, symmetrical fountain of yellow and red on a dark blue background: “Fireworks” by James Ensor. The original French title is “Le feu d’artifice” – the artificial fire, the fire of artifice. It is an artifice by Ensor, celestial fire touched off by sparks on powder on the ground, calculated magic and a ballistic result.

Ballistic? From Greek βάλλω balló ‘I throw’. Throw and it leaves your hand, and you see the result. What do we throw? All sorts of things. Dice, yes – alea iacta est, the die is cast, an aleatory situation – but also glances, caution, hearts, lots. Not just lots of things; things called lots: any of various objects used for casting in random divination. The practice of using this is sortition, also called allotment; a person who divined using lots was, in Latin, a sortarius.

But divination is magic. If someone divines, by wit or by feel, what note to strike to resonate with the strings of your heart, so that you will cast your lot with them or feel out of sorts, they are surely a mage, a magician, a witch, a sort of sorcerer. A sortarius, which is where our word sorcerer comes from, by way of French. To bewitch was, in Middle French, ensorcerer, which became ensorceler to make it easier to say. And from that we gained English ensorcel, also spelled ensorcell.

We are told to avoid sorcerers and sorcery. But while we do not want necromancers, we want neck romancers, not a Dracula but someone who will give us love bites. We know there are lots of people in the world, and we want to find the right sort, the divine one who will divine what is in us. The other half to our magnet, perhaps. The one who will cast his or her lot with us, and stay with us for a spell. We want, if only to sing songs of it later, to have been ensorcelled.