Friday, November 28, 2008


This Sumerian phrase, meaning “heavenly life,” was uttered by Incan priests in their incantations to invoke the divine.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Of Greek origin, “The magic term was homoousios, a word that may be translated not only as ‘of the same substance’ but also as ‘of the same existence,’ ‘essence,’ ‘reality,’ ‘being,’ ‘form,’ ‘definition,’ or even ‘truth.’” —Gunnar Olsson, Abysmal (2007)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


"Curiosities—a word of magic meaning."
The London Quarterly Review, April 1865

Image: a Cabinet of Curiosities from 1599.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Magic Words to Obtain Confessions

Magic words of rationalization, projection, and minimization help interrogators obtain admissions of guilt. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin explains:
Investigators often ask, "Do any magic words exist for obtaining confessions?" The answer is an unequivocal yes. Certain words and phrases, such as "accidents happen...," "anyone in this situation could have...," "everybody makes mistakes...," can give offenders a dignified way to admit their involvement in a crime and provide investigators with a proven approach to obtaining confessions. After identifying the appropriate words to use to obtain confessions, any investigator can become adept in using the magic words of interrogation.
See the full article here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Magic Word is Best For You?

The best magic word for you depends upon what kind of magician you are: Trickster, Sorcerer, Oracle, and Sage. Jeff McBride explains these archetypes in the Mystery School book. A quick way to determine your type is to think about how you'd organize a friend's birthday party:

A trickster type is mischievous and would be inclined to throw a surprise party or a hire a novelty singing telegram. "I can't believe you did this" would be a typical reaction. The trickster's magic words are likely to be funny-sounding tongue-twisters or irreverent wordplays.

A sorcerer type likes to make huge impressions with grand gestures, such as arranging a lavish, elegant dinner party. "I'm speechless" would be a typical reaction. The sorcerer's magic words are likely to be weighty and mysterious syllables from Egyptian and European wizards of old.

An oracle type would take a psychological approach and snoop out the ultimate gift as if through mind-reading. "How on earth did you know I wanted this?" would be a typical reaction. An oracle's magic words would be friendly, familiar words like "vacation" that cause us to spirit off to a fantasy world.

A sage type would take a philosophical approach and act as a wise one or guide to give a friend symbolic wings; the birthday would be an ordinary day made extraordinary by awakening the inner child to see with eyes of wonder. "Only you could have made today so special" would be a typical reaction. The sage's magic words are likely to be mystic chants of Judaism's Kabbalists, Islam's Sufis, Christianity's Gnostics, Buddhism's Lamas, and Hinduism's Gurus.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Language is Magic Stuff

"Language is magic stuff that needs to be consciously pushed into shape and form to ensure that it works exactly the way you want it to work." —Wilfried Hou Je Bek, "Graffiti and the Obelisk"

Friday, November 21, 2008


“One magic word can increase a salary offer by thousands of dollars, according to one salary-negotiation expert. That word is ‘Hmmm,’ preceded by a thoughtful, pregnant pause, followed by a question, says Jack Chapman, author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute (Ten Speed Press). Here’s his formula: ‘When you hear the figure or the range, repeat the figure on the top of the range and then be quiet. Change “OK” to “Hmmm . . . is that the best you can do?”’" —Sharon McDonnell, You’re Hired! (1999)

Thursday, November 20, 2008


"Now, pick a magic word."
"Nope, umm's not good enough."
—Nora Roberts, Honest Illusions, 1993

I bellowed the magic words, “Uuuhhh, Uuuhhh.”
—Raymond W. Baker, Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, 2005
Language has the power to reawaken vestiges of humankind’s earliest communication—our ancient ancestors’ savage cries of anger or love. All such cries were commands, “originally bound up with the act” and indeed inseparable to the primitive mind. When intoned without mockery, the primitive syllables of ooga-booga conjure the “primal oohs and ahs from cave men and women . . . in those early human settlements,” or perhaps the mysterious, exotic powers of tribal elders (Helen Godgson and Patti Britton, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sensual Massage, 2003).

Ooga-Booga has a variety of meanings, including:

• God; higher power
“Great Ooga-Booga, can’t you hear me talkin’ to ya?” —The Temptations, quoted in Miles to Go by Chris Murphy (2002)
“[P]eople felt when they died their ‘spirit’ went to the great ooga-booga in the sky . . .” — (2003)
• Jungle native chant
—James Howard Kunstler, Geography Of Nowhere (1994)
• Mumbo-jumbo
“The stuff where you play the records backwards and it’s got some sort of ooga-booga about the Devil on it.” —Joe R. Lansdale, The Drive-In (1988)
• Nonsense
—Orson Scott Card, The Memory of Earth (1992)
• Occult; “otherworldly phenomena”
—Bernie Brillstein, Where Did I Go Right? (1999)
• Password
“After two rings, a voice spoke from the tiny handset. ‘Ooga-booga?’ ‘Boola-boola,’ Tollhouse responded. ‘Hubba-hubba!’ came the gratified reply.” —Harry Beard, The Dick Cheney Code: A Parody (2004)
• Primitivism
—Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ London 2004 (2003)
• Ritual
—Alexandra Robbins, Secrets of the Tomb (2003)
• Spirituality
“[There is] a spiritual component—what I sometimes laughingly refer to as ooga-booga moments.” —Ronna Lichtenberg, Pitch Like a Girl (2005)
• Spooky
“In desperation, soaps have started adding a lot of ooga-booga ghost storylines with voodoo, witchcraft, and, in the case of one, a Chucky-style creepy doll that comes to life.” —Celia Rivenbark, We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier (2004)
• Voodoo
“There were zombies in the building. Not ooga-booga magic-type zombies, but near enough.” —Richard Fawkes, Nature of the Beast (2004)
• Witchdoctor, head honcho
“Seems the Lord High Ooga-Booga wants to see you face-to-face ’fore he seals the deal.” —Tom Clancy, Hidden Agendas (1999)
“[H]e was like a guru, or a witch doctor, or some kind of far-out ooga-booga man . . .” —Frank E. Peretti, This Present Darkness (1986)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Khabs Am Pekht

This mystic Egyptian phrase translates as ‘the attainment of the star.’ According to Fellowship of Isis documents, initiates of the Elusian Mysteries were dismissed with the corrupted pronunciation Konx Ompax.

As the poet Gary Barwin has suggested,
the stars are asterisks
footnoted by things here on earth

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Word to Transcend Time

"Let us find a magic word, an 'open sesame' to remembrance, which shall act like a celestial incantation, wafting us back, to relive this happy hour."
—Leon M. Lion, The Surprise of My Life, 1948

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kha-khe, Khi-khi

These magic words, of Sioux origin, are to be said by a medicine man with the croaking voice of a buzzard. They were recorded by Native American storyteller Zitkala-Sa (1876-1938).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This Magic Moment

"This Magic Moment" is a slick assembly of magicianly clips from filmdom.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Spells Without Words

A Book Without Words: A Fable of Medieval Magic involves a tome of spells that appears to consist of blank pages. Having compiled our own atlas of blank maps, we find the concept enchanting!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Process is the Objective

"I need to go and get a magic word. I'll be right back."
—Allan Kuester, A Holiday Dream, 1999

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mutatis Mutandis

This Latin phrase of transformation indicates “the necessary changes having been made.”


In honor of a supportive film noir filmmaker, we've been digging around for a good quotation in which noir is used as a magic word. We're still looking, but there is this:
[Surrealist writer Julien] Gracq has stressed the predilection for the word 'noir,' which because of its subtle suggestion of sacrilege exercises a demonic fascination for [founder of surrealism André] Breton.
—Clifford Browder, André Breton, 1967.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is There a Magic Word?

"I don't know what to do! Is there a magic word I should say?"
"I don't know, is there a magic word you should say?" said the toad, and turned over.
—Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men (2006)


Don't miss this clip of our eccentric short talk entitled "Jeff McBride and His Precursors," in which we trace one stage magician's effect on art backwards through time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


We must be in the center of the magic focus.
—Piers Anthony, Geis of the Gargoyle (1995)

Your focus invokes The Magician.
—Richard Gordon, The Intuitive Tarot (1994)
The magic word focus is a cornerstone, a linchpin, bringing attention to the heart of the matter. Focus is a magic word of powerful concentration. It’s the point of convergence.

Monday, November 10, 2008


“The old man half-recalls his wandering thoughts. He mutters: ‘Mother, mother.’ It is many years since he has spoken that word, and she who bore the name has long slept beneath the sod. Ad yet it is a magic word, for it speaks of the tenderest, dearest love. A tear runs down his furrowed cheek—a tear from a fountain long since dry. But that one word, ‘Mother,’ makes the old man a child again.” —Anonymous, “Day-Dreams,” The Knickerbocker (May 1857)


By the way, here's a collection of some of our magic-related guest blogs.

"Octarine," the imaginary color of magic.

A profile of Loïe Fuller, illusionist of light and color

The colors of ancient Egypt

Beguiled by a mystery

Friday, November 7, 2008

Open Sesame

Vocal commands such as “open sesame” seem to hark back to ancient sonic technologies. Some researchers are convinced, for example, that sound vibrations were manipulated to levitate heavy stones during the building of the Great Pyramid. Umberto Eco suggests: “It is known that the Chaldean priests operated sacred machines by sounds alone, and the priests of Karnak and Thebes could open the doors of a temple with only their voice—and what else could be the origin, if you think about it, of the legend of Open Sesame?” (Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988).

Thursday, November 6, 2008


This venerable word may not be powerful enough to move mountains, but it is said that stones heed its call. Consider this literary example: “Kerry concentrated, gesturing toward the ground, and said, ‘Ashashalika,’ one of the old words of magic. Rocks shifted, shaking off their dusting of snow. Big ones rolled quickly to the points Kerry had visualized, and smaller ones filled in the spaces between” (Jeff Mariotte, Winter, 2005).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pon Chiki Non Non

Originating in India, this phrase is used to vanish something into thin air.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Eenie Meenie Minie Moe

The incantation Eenie meenie minie moe puts a matter at hand into the hands of fate. The words have a spiritual, poetic quality. Poet Rodger Kamenetz recalls passing Allen Ginsberg “in the audience during a teaching by the Dalai Lama in New York. While others were dutifully chanting Tibetan syllables, Ginsberg was intoning ‘eenie meenie miney mo.’”[1] The phrase is closely associated with the action of counting and is “based on a counting system that predates the Roman occupation of Britain, that may even be pre-Celtic. If so, it is a rare surviving link with the very distant past. It not only gives us a fragmentary image of how children were being amused at the time Stonehenge was built, but tells us something about how their elders counted and thought and ordered their speech."[2]

[1] The Jew in the Lotus (1994)
[2] Bill Bryson, Made in America (1994)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Magic Archetypes

We're delighted to announce that imagery we curated for the book Magic Archetypes: The Art Behind the Science of Conjuring appears (in animated form) in the new Eugene Burger documentary A Magical Vision by filmmaker Michael Caplan. See a preview of the film on YouTube.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Magic Words review

Library Journal reviewed our Magic Words: A Dictionary in the Oct. 15 issue:
Despite its undeniable appeal to New Age audiences, Conley's (One-Letter Words) book of more than 700 words and phrases is just as relevant to the linguist and language enthusiast as it is to Occult followers. A vividly written introduction includes contemplations on ritual and pronunciation, and each multi-paragraph entry explains meanings, origins, and literary references. Like an academic work, the text is liberally footnoted, citing pop culture, literary, or Internet uses of the word or phrase—although it occasionally omits significant references. Recommended for pop culture, New Age, and language libraries.