Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Tarot's Enchanted Snowman

Click to enlarge.

(In honor of Gordon Meyer, whose magic spell for bringing a snowman to life appears in Magic Words: A Dictionary.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


"We wait and wait for some formula, some magic word, some initiation to do for us what we must do for ourselves. There is a magic word—earnestness. The Buddha tells us that earnestness is the path of life and heedlessness is the path of death. Be earnest and nothing will resist you, but be earnest for great ends. Why should we speak of the lesser uses of the imagination. The man of vital imagination will be the creator and producer in any line that he undertakes."
—Swami Paramananda, Vedanta Monthly: Message of the East (1922)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Now You See It, Now You Don't

"Perhaps it was just the basic mystery of life . . . Now you see it—now you don't."
—William Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night (1981)

Saturday, December 27, 2008


The Land of Nimbi blog shares the magic word ramiferous, which means "bearing branches." Blogger Christopher Williams notes that "The magic and taboo that surrounds sacred boughs and branches is manifold and longstanding. The joyful giving of a branch of May and the festive hanging of the mistletoe are contemporary vestiges of quite ancient Goddess worship. Beware those bearing splendid branches, for they are most likely not of this world, and thus have the means to bewitch one and to open portals from this world to theirs." Williams cites a beautiful passage from Old Irish mythology, spoken by a strange woman to the hero Bran after he has taken up such a branch.

Friday, December 26, 2008


During the middle ages, sorcerers and alchemists sought God’s true name, imagining it to be the most potent magic word. Literally meaning “the four letters” in Greek, the word Tetragrammaton is comprised of four Hebrew letters (Yod, He, Waw, and He), spelling the unpronounceable name of the Hebrew God.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


"Christmas! that is the magic word I conjure with."
—David Herbert Lawrence, Lawrence in Love: Letters to Louie Burrows, 1968

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


“Noel! Noel! Noel! This magic word resounds on all sides. . . . Of the thousands of canticles which are heard on this famous eve, nine-nine in a hundred begin and end with this word, which is, one may say, their Alpha and Omega, their crown and footstool.”
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1862)

Monday, December 22, 2008


"Paradise, that magic word, can touch mysterious chords within us."
—Rev. Henry Woodward, "The Character of God: A Sermon," The Church of England Magazine, 1846

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In other news, the Weiser Books outpost at Twitter has been highlighting tidbits from our Magic Words: A Dictionary. For example:
"Foken Falk ... folkloric magic words for transformation into a bird." Tweet!
"Zauberwort ... a German word meaning 'magic formula.'" And I thought a Zauberwort was a sausage!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Magic Words and Symbolist Poetry

Aleksandr Blok likens the folk sorcerers of Russia to poets of the Symbolist movement. He explains that both types of wordsmiths "know the word, the essence of things, and know how to turn these things to harm or to good; therefore an inaccessible line separates them from the ordinary people." Like the language of Symbolist poetry, folk magic lingo seeks "to destroy that old self-satisfied, reasonable mode of daily life," to crumble the fossils of yesteryear. "Blok asserted that the magic word can carry those who believe in it beyond the limits of ordinary reality, to other unknown realities." —Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, (1997)

Saturday, December 20, 2008


This is the word that Donnie Osmond spoke in The Donnie and Marie Show [late 1970] to transform into Captain Purple. The word is purple spelt backwards.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The word most electric is an unexpected verb

Roy H. Williams suggests that verbs are magic words because they "kick open the door to Broca's area of the brain, that portal to conscious awareness." In other words, verbs spark off mental activity. Williams says that the Broca's area of the brain is put to sleep by predictability. Unexpected verbs, however, are guaranteed to intrigue. Williams cites an episode of The Simpsons:
When Lisa'a schoolteacher hears the town motto, "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man," she mentions she'd never heard the word embiggens before moving to Springfield. Another teacher replies, "I don't know why; it's a perfectly cromulent word." Later in the episode, while talking about Homer's audition for the role of town crier, Principal Skinner states, "He's embiggened that role with his cromulent performance."
Williams calls making up one's own attention-getting words "Suessing." He offers several examples of Seussing:
Use a noun as a verb: "Just Harley-Davidson your way to the head of the line."

Use a verb as noun: "If you can't deliver dazzle, I'll settle for twinkle."

Use a modifier as a verb: "He's planning to slippery his way through the press conference."

Use a verb as a modifier: "It's a kicking shade of pink."

Use a modifier as a noun: "I'm on the road to lethargic."

Use a noun as a modifier: "Now don't get all Brokeback Mountain on me."
See the full article here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tamaghis, Ba'dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana, Ghadis

Here's a mysterious spell suggested by William Burroughs:

Tamaghis, Ba'dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana, Ghadis

Repeating the words as one falls asleep is said to reveal the answer to any question in a dream.

Burroughs explains that the words are names of cities that existed one hundred thousand years ago in an area corresponding to the Gobi Desert. Each city has a slightly different character. Tamaghis is city of "contending partisans" where "everything is as true as you think it is and everything you can get away with is permitted." Ba'dan is a city of commerce where "everything is true and everything is permitted." Yass-Waddah is a "female stronghold" where "everything is true and nothing is permitted except to the permitters." Waghdas is a university city where "complete permission derives from complete understanding." Naufana and Ghadis are both "cities of illusion where nothing is true and therefore everything is permitted." Burroughs notes that "The traveler must start in Tamaghis and make his way through the other cities in the order named. This pilgrimage may take many lifetimes" (Cities of the Red Night, 1981).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


"'Baghdad is a magic word, as the place itself was magic in the days of long ago.' Whatever its dilapidated state, 'memory and imagination, too, are faithful genii easily summoned' and would conjure 'from the pages of the Nights the most gorgeous palaces, the most impregnable castles, and the most beautiful gardens ... like a dream.'"
—Priya Satia, Spices in Arabia, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


“Egypt! What wondrous pictures are conjured up by that magic word! Scenes of white-robed priests moving in solemn procession through columned aisles to the sound of stately music; . . . of royal pageants wherein King and Queen, bedecked in silks and cloth of gold, embroidered with a mine of gems, pass through the crowded lines of their acclaiming subjects; scenes of light and life and colour, which cannot fail to rouse our admiration, even our awe: such are some of the pictures that rise before us at the sound of the mystic name.” —F. H. Brooksbank, Legends of Ancient Egypt (1914)

Monday, December 15, 2008

May It Come

"May it come, the magic word, sound, image which will discover for you this world within which you will be invulnerable! May it come quickly!"
—Henri Michaux, The Major Ordeals of the Mind, and the Countless Minor Ones, 1974

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Decree of Destiny

"I am growing superstitious; I seem to feel I am in the cold, dank grotto of a sibyl I cannot see, I seem to feel chills and be awaiting in some magic word the decree of my destiny. Does fate exist, then; is the nightmare real, does the witch exist, and magic and the arcane, the inexorable silence of the temple and the word that kills without reason? Does the invisible sword of destiny exist, hovering over one's head, unjustly, unreasonably, prompting the cynic's sneer, and the curse against life, against providence, against God?"
—Pablo Mantegazza, One Day in Madeira, 1868

Friday, December 12, 2008


"The mere uttering of the magic word 'ada' preserves from bad luck. Good luck is sure if you say it every morning and every evening, turning towards the North and South." —M.C. Poinsot, Complete Book of the Occult and Fortune Telling, 1945

Perhaps related is the magical phrase Ada Ada Io Ada Dia, spoken by Welsh Romany Gypsies as they tell fortunes with dice. “The phrase sounds rather like ‘Oh dear, oh dear, I owe, oh dear, dear.’” “Exactly what it means is now lost in the mist of time, but it is a traditional divination rune or formula of words of power, probably Celtic in origin" (D. Valiente, “Stone Divination,” 2005).

Thursday, December 11, 2008


"Gold is a magic word which conjures a kaleidoscope of images from the myths and legends of every age and culture." —Jenifer Marx, The Magic of Gold, 1978

“Their great magician is Gold,” wrote Richard Henry Savage. “In power, in pleasing witchery of potent influence; insidious flattery of pleasure; in remorseless persecution of the penniless, all wonders are its work. Ariel, Mephisto, Moloch, thou, Gold! King Gold! and thy brother, Silver!” (The Little Lady of Lagunitas,1892).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


"Arizona! A magic word. Arizona! What visions of grandeur those seven letters conjure. Arizona! A symphony in mad, extravagant colors, shaded with the soft light of the desert in the evening, the purple mountains at twilight, the mauve sky of a rising sun." —Raymond Carlson, Arizona's Scenic Seasons, 1984

The origin of the word Arizona is uncertain. It recalls the Aztec arizuma, "silver bearing," and the O'odham Indian word aleh-zone, "little spring."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Strong distilled liquors are called spirits, so it's little wonder that alcohol is a magic word. "What potentialities of pleasure in the springtime of life lie in the magic word [alcohol], and, alas, how often in its dawn what regrets and shadows are conjured up!" (N. E. Vorke-Davies, "Wine in Its Relation to Health," The Gentleman's Magazine, 1897).

Monday, December 8, 2008


Ubiquitous in the book of Psalms, Selah is that magical moment before a miracle occurs. It’s that breathless instant of anticipation, of suspended disbelief. Selah is the pause in music, the stillness in the dance, the calligraphic circled space—emptiness enhanced. The word appears on Kabalistic talismans.


Elsewhere, Karen Koenig discusses how to use magic words to foster healthy eating habits.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Magic Words review

Here's an excerpt from Janet Boyer's review of Magic Words: A Dictionary:
The first 48-pages of Magic Words are utterly fascinating, with Conley an engaging tour guide through literary, philosophical, cultural and spiritual landscapes—realms dotted with landmarks that pay homage to the power of magical utterances (and, sometimes, even to silence and mysterious glyphs).

Not only does Conley offer examples of poetic incantations and the mysterious power of words in his introduction, but he also provides fascinating insight into the vocabulary of ritual (and why we get the giggles during solemn occasions!), the four archetypes of the Magician, and our ability to imbue “ordinary” moments with the magic of both cadence and connation.

The rest of Magic Words is dedicated to, well, magic words!

With word origins, facts, variations, meanings, mystique and appearances in literature, this A to Z guide offers a mind-boggling array of information to be mined by would-be magicians, entertainers, writers and artists. . . .

Magic Words is, indeed, a meticulously researched, heavily footnoted, and absorbing read, especially for lovers of trivia and words. Performers seeking to spruce up their magic routine would do well to consult this book, as would all manner of artists who seek to infuse their work with meaning, mystery, flair or sacredness.
See the full review here. Janet is author of The Back in Time Tarot Book.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Good, Just, Beautiful

Good, just, and beautiful are magic words but are not powerful in terms of warding off conflict:
What is good for me is not necessarily good for you. Indeed, if my good and your good involve the possession of an identical object—a person we both love, an honor we both covet—the two goods cannot be identical. This is the very structure of mimetic rivalry. We will not be able to avert conflict merely by pronouncing some magic word ("good," "just," or "beautiful") as we might the name of a god in a rite.
—Eric Lawrence Gans, Signs of Paradox, 1997

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ooo Eee Ooo-Ah-Ah Ting Tang Walla-Walla Bing-Bang

This phrase is a love spell chanted in the song “Witch Doctor” by David Seville (1958). “It is a song of unrequited love cured by the magic incantations of the witch doctor” (Bob McCann, “The Declension Song,” 2003). Diana Winn Levine suggests that ting tang are the magic words and walla walla bing bang mean the magic is over (“Funny 50s and Silly 60s Activity Worksheet,” 2005).

Thursday, December 4, 2008


There was the sudden zip and zing of magic.
—Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic (2000)
Zing is a little bolt of flowing energy, a “tiny shock.”* It whizzes past and bounces up, glittering all the way. Zing is something we add, to get things energized and moving. Zing is also associated with release, as in the saying, “Zing went the strings of my heart.”

* Diana G. Gallagher, Showdown at the Mall (1997)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Saritap Pernisox Ottarim

These antiquated Egyptian magic words are for opening locks. They are believed to grant the speaker the ability to “open all locks at a touch, whatever precautions have been taken to secure them.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Alithe Zamadon

These are ancient words of power whose very echoes make the syllables more distinct. They are “not the speech of human beings” but rather, “the language of the demiurges who could adjust the powers on which the cosmos turned" (David Drake, Master of the Cauldron, 2004).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Baby's Magic Incantations

Childhood words are interesting to contemplate. “The first ‘words’ of a baby are not words at all,” suggests professor Selma H. Fraiberg, “but magic incantations, sounds uttered for pleasure and employed indiscriminately to bring about a desired event.” A one-year-old baby will discover that “the syllable ‘mama,’ repeated several times if necessary, will magically cause the appearance of the invaluable woman who ministers to all needs and guards him against all evil. He doesn’t know just how this happens, but he attributes this to his own magic powers” (The Magic Years, 1996). This is why Fraiberg contends that “language originates in magic.” In addition to embodying magical expectations, a baby’s incantations are characterized by surprise and excitement, two crucial qualities for magic words.

As David Abram explains, “We do not, as children, first enter into language by consciously studying the formalities of syntax and grammar or by memorizing the dictionary definitions of words, but rather by actively making sounds—by crying in pain and laughing in joy, by squealing and babbling and playfully mimicking the surrounding soundscape, gradually entering through such mimicry into the specific melodies of the local language, our resonant bodies slowly coming to echo the inflections and accents common to our locale and community. We thus learn our native language not mentally but bodily. We appropriate new words and phrases first through their expressive tonality and texture, through the way they feel in the mouth or roll off the tongue, and it is this direct, felt significance—the taste of a word or phrase, the way it influences or modulates the body—that provides the fertile, polyvalent source for all the more refined and rarefied meanings which that term may come to have for us” (The Spell of the Sensuous, 1996).