Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Women in Boxes": A Pythagorean Perspective

A magician's assistant is sawed in half. One woman, two parts. The phenomenon recalls those mystical Greek philosophers, the Pythagoreans. They would have recognized in the magician's assistant the principle of the female Dyad—the boundless number Two, governess of the concept of separation. Without an assistant, you see, the magician (who the Pythagoreans would've called the Monad—the Primordial One) is one-sided and therefore dimensionless. It takes the Dyad to establish dimensionality, just as a 3-D film is composed of two images, one for each eye, that lend endless perspective. So the Dyad takes the one flat surface the magician has to offer, and—voilà—out pops a 3-D box. Sure, she can fit inside any box, but she can't truly be contained. She can be cut in half, but she's ultimately unbreakable. The Dyad is our path to the infinite, since she introduces the property of boundlessness. She's a crucial contrast to the strict limit of the magician's Primordial One.

The Pythagoreans called the Dyad "the Goddess of Primordial Matter" because her formless fertility provides the foundation of creation—the generative source of being. She is the pregnant Silence which precedes the magic Word. Whereas the Monad is "something," the Dyad is "the limitless power to be anything." This power of plurality was also named Rhea ("The Ever-Flowing," hence our word "rhythm"), because through her tension of opposites she governed recurring motion and thus created a fluid, demarcatable presence known as Time out of the Monad’s monolithic, immeasurable Eternity.

The magician's assistant—the great number Two who brings infinite dimensionality to life. Three cheers for "Women in Boxes"!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pumpernickel Pickle

"Pumpernickel Pickle" is the magic phrase to conjure a gift-granting genie in the cartoon series Smurfs (1981).

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Brian asked me to stand in the middle of the stage while he said the magic word, which was “Salamander” if I’m not mistaken. After he said the word, I saw myself split into two people–like identical twins.
Pepe Greenway, “Magic Show”
In mythology, the newtlike salamander is created from flames. As a magic word, salamander evokes the elemental spirit of fire. The first two syllables, salam, echo the Arabic word meaning “peace.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Unclosing the New Time of Roses and Lilies

"The performance of new magical and poetic words will unclose the new time of roses and lilies."
—Mark R. Cohen, Toward the Millennium, 1998

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Magician Will Henry explains why he likes to use "penguin" as a magic word during performances for children:
Children always love to think they are creating magic through the use of a magic word. Now you shouldn't use just any old word. Most magicians use "Hocus pocus" or "abracadabra." I have found better success using just some random crazy word, like "Penguin" or "I love turtles." Most everyone is expecting a magic type of phrase, so when you blurt out a random word or phrase, it catches him or her off guard. Children love silly and it's always good for a laugh.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Zoobay is a pseudo-Buddhist magic word invented by humorist Peggy Sherman. In her “Fact Free Fables,” Sherman explains that: “Monks residing on the east side of the Himalayan foothills used the magic word ‘Zoobay’ when they wanted rain to fall in particular areas of crops but not on their homes. This absurd wish for a specific rain pattern called for some fairly impressive magic. The practice of chanting ‘Zoobay’ at dawn during drought season went on for dozens of years before the High Council of Monks decreed that it was improper for monks to use magic words.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nomme Domme

In the folklore of West Cornwall, England, "Nomme Domme" was a name that spirit-quellers used to address and obtain power over ghosts. The name is undoubtedly a corruption of the Latin In Nomine Domini ("In the Name of the Lord"). The name was considered "a magical word, very likely the spirit's name among spirits, for old folks held that they acquire new ones quite different from what they bore when in mortal bodies" (William Bottrell, Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall, 1880).

Saturday, February 21, 2009


“‘Inca’ is a magic word, rather like ‘sesame.’ To utter this word is to open the door on a vast treasure of art that can rightly be called one of the strangest the world has ever known” (Universitas: A German Review of the Arts and Sciences, 1959).

Friday, February 20, 2009


Science is a magic word today.
—James Capshew, Psychologists on the March (1999)

The very name of “science” is a magic talisman which hypnotizes the masses.
—Society for the Extension of Democratic Ideals, Cultural Freedom in Asia (1956)
“Science is a magic word that disposes the reader to accept as fact whatever is said” suggests Frank Severin in Discovering Man in Psychology (1973). Likewise, “‘Scientific’ is a magic word in the modern world” (Mario Pei, Words in Sheep’s Clothing [1970]). Using imagination and reason, scientists
create a third reality between the reality of the physical world and the reality of consciousness. It is a reality-within-consciousness but a reality-from-physicality. Science makes a new world, a world made by the mind from a world which the mind did not make. The success of science since the fifteenth century has been the success of constructing such a third reality. Because of the prestige of its amazing practical achievements, science has succeeded in gaining an unquestionable and apparently permanent place for its third reality within the general structure of reality-made-by-consciousness. Science is a magic by which we seek to control the physical world through consciousness. Among forms of magic, it is uniquely effective. (Philip Allott, Eunomia, 1990)

Thursday, February 19, 2009


"In thy slumber seize on the word I whisper in thine ears; it is a magic word—a mighty talisman, more potent than the seal of Solomon—more powerful than the Chaldean's wand—but it is potential for ill as for Good. See to it, therefore, that it is wisely used. The word is, 'TRY!'" —R. Swinburne Clymer, Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph and the Supreme Grand Dome of the Rosicrucians in France, 1929

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


In Medieval times, the ideal knight was as courteous as he was courageous. The chivalric code continues to spark the imagination like shining armor. "Chivalry is a magic word. It seems to breathe of foreign strands and moonlit groves and silver sands and knights and kings; it seems to tell of glorious deeds and waving plumes and prancing steeds and belted earls and things" (Diane Grant, What Glorious Times They Had, 1976).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


"Here is transition. Now, transition is to the student a word of magic sound—echoing the past, prefiguring the future."
—Prof. T. H. McBride, "The Little Missouri Bad Lands," The Popular Science Monthly, 1883

Transition, the spirit of betwixt-and-between, has been deified in many cultures: the Roman gateway god Janus, the Egyptian Anubis, the Toltec Xipe Totec, and the list goes on. We explore dozens of transition deities in our Oracle of the Two-Fold Gods.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Codename: Magic

It took over 18 months for cryptologists to break the Japanese Purple machine-cipher system. Decrypts were disseminated under the codename MAGIC.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Word Magic

Here's typographer Karly Barrett's take on the word "magic." Is the "agic" materializing out of the M, or is it vanishing into it?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Some Word to Open Up the Whole World

"I have in mind that some day I will say some magic word and the whole world will open up. (There may be a word or two, but it is the getting to where you can say them that counts.)"
—Paul Wienpahl, Zen Diary

Friday, February 13, 2009

An Ethereal Signature

"Surely, if ever a man had the magic word in his finger tips, it was Merrick. Whatever he touched, he revealed its holiest secret; liberated it from enchantment and restored it to its pristine loveliness. Upon whatever he had come in contact with, he had left a beautiful record of the experience — a sort of ethereal signature; a scent, a sound, a colour that was his own."
—Willa Cather, The Sculptor's Funeral

Thursday, February 12, 2009


"Oh, how she felt herself needed! Needed!—that was the magic word that unlocked her better nature."
—Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rose O' the River

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Seals of the Mind

"Words are seals of the mind, results—or, more correctly, stations—of an infinite series of experiences, which reach from an unimaginably distant past into the present, and which feel their way into an equally unimaginable distant future. They are 'the audible that clings to the inaudible,' the forms and potentialities of thought, which grow from that which is beyond thought."
—Lama Anagarika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, 1989

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


"And now I speak the ancient word of redemption and regret: Rewind."
Bewitched (2005)

Monday, February 9, 2009


"Loiterers. The word is like a charm, spiriting us away from a world that presses heavily upon us, from tasks that pile up heaven high, from a thousand calls upon our time, a constant insistence upon our effort, to something alluring, peaceful, lovely, and remote." —"Autumn Loirerers," New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1917.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


What is so dangerous about the "hwyl" that it is forbidden in cathedrals? "To the person who sees the strange word for the first time, and then goes to the cathedral and hears the hwyl, as hear it he will, forbidden though it be, the annual Welsh festival on St. David's eve will be something to remember all his life. The hwyl is a peculiar quality of voice or tone, said to be possessed only by certain gifted ones, to whom it has been transmitted by some Druidical ancestor, who moved his savage followers by that same magic tone, and incited them to battle or moved them to religious frenzy. It is a marvelous thing, the hwyl, and every hearer, with a drop of Celtic blood in his veins, is moved to the depths of his being. To the Scotchman it is as the voice of the bagpipes; the Irishman hears the banshee, but to the soul of the Welshman it whispers more than ever bansee shrieked or bagpipe skirled. In the cathedral it is forbidden because it excites the people. . . . [Yet] the hwyl will not be absent, for keep it out of his voice [a Welsh clergyman] can not." —The Cambrian, May 1902

Saturday, February 7, 2009


"'Church' is a strange word. To the ear it sounds rounded, lurching out of the mouth like an unhappy burp that will not be kept down but must be kept quiet. To the eye it appears bounded, its beginning and ending stiff, imposing letters that seem to be doing all they can to squeeze the life out of a lonely vowel. When you say it slowly, the word is very cold, bland, and boring, almost dead—which is how many people experience church. . . . The church is the place where this world and the other meet. The church is, quite simply, the magical universe of the Spirit." —Leonard I. Sweet, New Life in the Spirit, 1982

Friday, February 6, 2009


The famous Moorish plaza of Toledo, Spain has a magical name: Zocodovér:
You tumble upon the three-cornered impossible, delicious Zocodovér—who is to analyze the fascination of this strange word? It means, I believe, in Arabian, Place of the Beasts. Here fairs, markets, meetings, autos-da-fé, revolutions, conspiracies, everything that could take place in picturesque times, were held. (Esther Singleton, A Guide to Great Cities for Young Travelers and Others, 1911)

Thursday, February 5, 2009


"One magic word suggests a boundless enlargement of soul . . . It is a strange word, such as only poets can find—'they shall behold a land of farnesses,'—of sunny distances with distances still beyond."
—William Alexander, The Leading Ideas of the Gospels, 1898

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


"'The missing H!' she said, amazed. Picking up the hypnotism book, she carefully placed the H in the space on the spine. It fitted exactly, and the strange word YPNOTISM became HYPNOTISM again."
—Georgia Byng, Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism, 2004

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


"And then thlabber happened. It was a traditional magic term . . . There was a moment in which everything, even the things that couldn't be stretched, felt stretched. And then there was the moment when everything suddenly went back to not being stretched, known as the moment of thlabber." —Terry Pratchett, Going Postal (2005)

Monday, February 2, 2009


Ye die—but for your life, behold! a God shall leave the skies,
To murmur o'er earth's sepulchres the magic word—ARISE!
—D. P. Starkey, "The Bridal in Paradise," The Ballads of Ireland, 1857