• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

[Necro][Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?


Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

Robert McGregor said:
Of course, in Christianity a Christian Priest preforms magic in many senses. When a Christian prays they are preforming a spell in many regards. Invoking the supernatural to achieve some desired result. But that doesn't mean that a Catholic priest is a wizard.
At first, I was going to argue the whole invoking the supernatural thing...but it rally kinda fits. (I'm Catholic meself, just as an aside.) Really, the only thing I have with this is that faith and miracles, from a Catholic perspective, aren't supernatural, per se...they're divine. I've always seen the difference between these as coming from God (divine), and coming from anywhere else (supernatural). Also, as a Catholic, the only real "anywhere else" I can think of would indeed be Satan, so....yeah. Random bit of talking there.

On the main topic: I agree that it started with D&D or one of it's immediate wargaming predecessors. I site Gandalf as an example...he sure as hell wasn't weak in the fighting department and he was, for all intents and purposes of Tolkien's works, an angel or emmisary of higher powers.


A theorist
Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

I may be speaking total bullshit, but anyways...
I faintly recall that healers were added to complement the party. They needed an explanation of some sort, and cleric fit nicely, so the healers became clerics.
This might have been the birth of thieves, not clerics. Not sure.


Registered User
Validated User
Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

This seems like a good question to pose to Gary Gygax, who occasionally has long threads to which he responds to questions.


Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

Brousseau said:
Fixed your typo. (I hate that joke, but I had to do it.) I know it's been pointed out already, but I think it bears repeating. Christian-dominated medieval Europe is the only culture I can think of that drew a distinct line between magician and holy man. Most of the cultures that I can think of either happily blended the two or they had several different types of holy sorceror that existed on a spectrum between the two extremes.
The only difference is that "wizard" is pejorative, meaning one who is too wise, as is witch, being associated with diabolism.

In actuality, the average medieval person expected a learned and holy priest to be able to perform miracles and have esoteric knowledge of things such as a geometry, alchemy, and Latin. It's just a linguistic thing that European languages distinguish between "good" miracle workers and "bad" ones. This is largely an artifact of a Europe united by Christianity and the consequent privilege to label things outside the Church's purview as "socery," "blasphemy," "witchcraft," and so forth.

In most Native American cultures, there is little distinction made between "our magicians" and "their magicians," except that many cultures also posit the existence of witches, who were essentially inhuman creatures.

You could say that most human cultures posit a difference between "priests" (who pray and are a nice and perform miracles) and "witches" (who are mean and do unnatural things like turning into animals or stealing luck). However, in the voodoo tradition, one group does both. Basically, it has more to do with a certain archetype than any major difference in the nature of their powers. For instance, witches in South America are often associated with reptiles, poison, and fevers, whereas your friendly local magicians are generally associated with mammals or birds, poisons, and straight up death curses.

During the high medieval period, practitioners of alchemy and astrology, from whom we get both our archetype of the learned wizard and our modern scientist, they made little disctinction, if any, between magic and religion.

Sir Isaac Newton was a physicist, a magician, and a Christian, and saw not only no contradiction between those roles, but an essential unity in their purpose of understanding the Creator's will.

King Solomon was often ascribed both great holiness and great powers of magic.

Halloween Jack

Equipped with Bubble Lead
Validated User
Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

basilisk said:
Ramirez and McGregor are pretty much correct. There's an additional distinction, in Europe anyway, between 'witchcraft' and 'sorcery.'

Sorcery was believed to affect the natural world through all sorts of material components (wax replicas, incense, candles, etc.) and conditions (times of the year, night, etc.) Astrology and alchemy could both fit under the rubric of sorcery, and were at times considered as such. These were believed to be accessable to anyone who knew how to do them and were nothing more than simple cause and effect relationships--oftentimes they were seen as legitimate 'sciences'

Witchcraft didn't require any obvious, time-consuming rituals. You got your powers through direct communion with the Devil. You used common-place objects in simple ways to dramatic effect--swishing a broom in a tub of water could cause a blizzard, for example. Sometimes you could do things at a glance--the Evil Eye is an example--or by simply wishing out loud that something bad would happen to someone. Since you had the Devil on your side, it happened.
The latter sounds pretty much like an evil cleric.


Registered User
Validated User
Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

Nearly all forms of magic require some invocation in one form or another,so it can be associated with religion,but for "wizardry","sorcey" and so on,for non-clerical magic,the power comes from knowledge,usually of "Names".
In hellenistic age and roman republic to empire period,there was already a distinction between religion and magic,but it was subtler than in christian europe...
Look for example at the figure of Circe in the Odissey:she's a witch but not a religious figure.
For the D&D cleric,power comes from faith itself,from the fact that one believes in something.This concept has roots in semitic mysticism(the kabbalah),but became truly dominant during the early diffusion of Christendom.
In late roman empire and early middle ages,there are several tales pf saints working miracles directly.The number of such tales grows thinner with the passage of years.
I remember reading for example an agiography of st. Patrick where the Saint killed a wizard in a duel of magic.
The Jewish invention of the "power of faith",transformed in innovation by the endemic diffusion of Christendom,as opposed to "the power of knowledge", became a mental scheme common in western tought,echoed in the fides\ratio duality perceived during the middle ages and on 'till our days.
It has become "the way we see it" as westerners.
This I think is the motivation of the persistence of the division in rpgs,too.

Old Geezer

New member
Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

Here is how I heard the story from my friend William Crolley, one of Dave Arneson's original players.

Ahem. I was there.

In CHAINMAIL there were wizards that functioned as artillery.

Then there was Dave Arneson's first miniatures/roleplaying campaign. Some players were 'good guys' and some players were 'bad guys' and Dave was the referee.

One of the 'bad guys' wanted to play a Vampire. He was extremely smart and capable, and as he got more and more experience he got tougher and tougher.

This was the early 70s, so the model for 'vampire' was Christopher Lee in Hammer films. No deep folklore shit.

Well, after a time, nobody could touch Sir Fang. Yes, that was his name.

To fix the threatened end of the game they came up with a character that was, at first, a 'vampire hunter'. Peter Cushing in the same films.

As the rough specs were drawn up, comments about the need for healing and for curing disease came up.

Ta da, the "priest" was born. Changed later to 'cleric'.

The bit about edged weapons was from Gary's reading the old stories about Archbishop Turpin, who wielded a mace because he didn't want to shed blood ("who lives by the sword dies by the sword").

In other words, it came about the same way that 90% of the D&D rules came about :

Last edited by a moderator:


Registered User
Validated User
Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

Old Geezer said:
In a nut shell, this is why I love Old Geezer



Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

If you think about, Gandalf and Elrond from LOTR could be described as either clerical or arcane casters. The distinction really is based on the mythology in question. "Our guys" may be described as holy or magical, while "their guys" may be described as magical or monstrous, with the specifics depending on the state of religion and the significance of miracles in the culture.


Hiding in a snowdrift
Validated User
Re: [Historical] Where did the Cleric/Mage split come from?

If you read all of Tolkein, you'd know that Gandalf, Saruman and the other three wizards are actually divine beings sent down to keep an eye on things.

Part of the reason for the strong dichotomy in Christianity is their struggles/warfare with the pagans of the day. It really enhanced the us/them mentality. For a fun read, check out the Acts of Peter for a really interesting magic duel that probably codifies the whole reasoning in the split.

In the game, it was just made up that way, as Old Geezer so nicely told.

Top Bottom