Sunday, October 5, 2008

Antiquated Language and the Universal Mystery

Medieval conjurors first began using exotic words to “give their performances an air of authentic secret knowledge.”[1] Whether they employed pseudo-Latin phrases, nonsense syllables, or esoteric terms from religious antiquity, these magicians were doing far more than merely adding a bit of enigmatic audio to their visuals.[2] They were enhancing their specific illusions with a universal mystery: language as an instrument of creation.

Ancient-sounding words project an aura of tradition, of “‘old wisdom’ handed down through generations.”[3] It’s little wonder that the archetypical depiction of a magician involves the utterance of antiquated words, in addition to the grand gestures that impart a larger-than-life dimension to his activities.[4] And because archaic magic words necessarily predate a magician’s own life, they point to the existence of a “transcendent” realm beyond the logic and laws of our ordinary world.

[1] Paul Kriwaczek, In Search of Zarathustra: The First Prophet and the Ideas That Changed the World (2003)
[2] Needless to say, a magician’s patter can serve to distract, for “We get mesmerized by magic words” (Dale Mathers, An Introduction to Meaning and Purpose in Analytical Psychology [2002]).
[3] Jesper Sorensen, Magical Rituals and Conceptual Blending
[4] (2002)

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