I've been wondering for a while now whether the words "exorcism" and "sorcery" are related etymologically in any way. The question came to me from the fact that, in Greek, we have the word εξορκισμός for "exorcism", εξορκίζω for "exorcise", etc. And what made me curious is that we also use another derivative of the word "exorcism" (written out as ξόρκι/ksorki) to mean "sorcery" (or "spell"). I thought that maybe this could be more than coincidence.

But after looking around, I'm under the impression that they aren't related to each other. "Exorcism" seems related to όρκος/orkos (Greek for "oath", with "exorcism" meaning "to bind by oath"), while "sorcery" seems to share a (Latin) root with "sort".

Is there any deeper (maybe older) relationship between the two words that I'm not seeing? Or are they really just two unrelated words that happen to share a few letters?

  • You mean that in Greek the two terms have the same etymology? – user66974 Jan 30 '15 at 14:07
  • @Josh61 I've edited the question. Is it clearer now? – T. C. Jan 30 '15 at 14:16
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    sorcery, exorcism. so (English) 'sorcery' is from Latin 'to sort' and 'exorcism' is from the Greek. – Mitch Jan 30 '15 at 14:20
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    @Josh61 I was actually asking about the English ones. The part about the Greek usage was simply to give a little bit of context to my question, nothing more. – T. C. Jan 30 '15 at 14:24
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    And going back to the proto-IndoEuropean, the best etymologies I can find online are that the Greek orkos (meaning oath) is related to Greek erkos, meaning to fence, limit, which comes from proto-Indo-European serk-, meaning to tie together; while sorcery comes proto-Indo-European ser-, meaning "to line up". So if they're related, it's pre-proto-Indo-European. – Peter Shor Jan 31 '15 at 19:06

It seems to be a coincidence.

In the etymology of "exorcise" the Greek horkizein (to take an oath), or rather horkos (oath) seems to have been transliterated eventually to "orc", losing the initial eta and replacing the kappa with C.

In "sorcery" the Latin sortiarius, the T sound was eventually transliterated to a C (in English, "tian" or "tion" are pronounced like "shun", exactly as we also pronounce "cian" as in "mortician" or "physician".) So there is a plausible phonetic path from "sortiarius" to "sorcery", without invoking any other root.

Interestingly, "sort" in Latin otiginally had to to with the casting of lots, which once was done by choosing, blindly, sticks of various lengths to determine the winner (or loser, depending on the situation). So I suspect (maybe you can prove this by research) that "sorcery" originally applied to casting sticks and reading the result to interpret one's fate. Compare, for example, the "I Ching" yarrow-stalk method.

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    There seems to be a misunderstanding of the Greek alphabet: eta, Ηη is not a /h/ sound but /iː/. And OED has ὅρκος for "oath": no sign of η but there is the "rough breathing" symbol (which is equivalent to /h/ and transliterated as h in English). – Andrew Leach Jan 31 '15 at 10:06
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    @Andrew Eta was /ε:/ in Classical Greek; it only became /e:/, then /i:/, then /i/ later on. Also of note is that the spiritus asper in Greek is usually the result of an erstwhile /s/, so ὅρκος comes most likely from an earlier *sorkos. Theoretically, this could be a k-expansion of the same root as Italic (Latin) *sor-ti-, but the meanings are so different that there's no real reason to think they are related. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 31 '15 at 10:45
  • Thanks. I don't know any Greek, and can't type Greek characters on my mobile; I was only guessing that the H in the English rendering "horkos" was an eta. Feel free to edit your further insight into my answer, or take credit by adding your own and I'll upvote it. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 31 '15 at 14:57
  • Is the issue about the spiritus asper the only reason that this answer was downvoted? – T. C. Jan 31 '15 at 18:50

Brian's answer, as now edited, is correct. "Exorcism" is from Greek, while "sorcery" is from Latin; the two are not related. To return to the original question: Modern Greek (not classical Greek) ξόρκι is a curtailment of εξορκισμός and is thus only by coincidence similar to "sorcery".

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