Sunday, May 31, 2009


Push is a magic word for expecting mothers, unless they're practicing "hypnobirthing":

"My water broke, and then came the moment when he was supposed to utter that magic word 'push.' But he didn't."
—Laura Wides-Munoz, "No Pendulums Needed: How a Reporter Became a Fan of Hypnobirthing"

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Surfeit of Magic Words

What if there are "too many words before something happens and, especially, too many words after the magic has happened"? Eugene Burger has the answer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Word as Creative Potency

Over at Social Fiction, Wilfried shares this excellent passage on the magical power of words from The Winged Serpent:

The singing of songs and the telling of tales, with the American Indian, is but seldom a means of mere spontaneous self-expression. More often than not, the singer aims with the chanted word to exert a strong influence and to bring about a change, either in himself or in nature or in his fellow beings. By narrating the story of origin, he endeavors to influence the universe and to strengthen the failing power of the supernatural beings. He relates the myth of creation, ceremonially, in order to save the world from death and destruction and to keep alive the primeval spirit of the sacred beginning. Above all, it seems that the word, both in song and in tale, was meant to maintain and to prolong the individual life in some way or other that is, to cure, to heal, to ward off evil, and to frustrate death. Healing songs, and songs intended to support the powers of germination and of growth in all their manifestations, fairly outnumber all other songs of the American Indian. The word, indeed, is power. It is life, substance, reality. The word lived before earth, sun, or moon came into 'existence. Whenever the Indian ponders over the mystery of origin, he shows a tendency to ascribe to the word a creative power all its own. The word is conceived of as an independent entity, superior even to the gods. Only when the word came up mysteriously in the darkness of the night were the gods of the Maya enabled to bring forth the earth and life thereon. And the genesis of the Uitoto opens, characteristically enough, in this way: "In the beginning, the word gave origin to the Father." The word is thought to precede the creator, for the primitive mind cannot imagine a creation out of nothingness. In the beginning was the thought, the dream, the word. The concept of the word as Creative Potency lives on, even in the simplest song of hunting or of harvest, of battle, love, or death, as sung by the contemporary Indian.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Whole History of Magic

"If we wish to sum up the whole history of magic in a sentence, we may say that men first regarded magic as natural, then as marvelous, then as impossible and absurd." —"Magic: Its Origins and Relations to Science," Studies in History, Economics and Public Law (1905)

Don't miss Stuart Cumberland's ruminations on "Where has the Mystery Gone in Magic and Mentalism?" (thanks, Gordon).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Never Underestimate

"Never promise what you are not sure you can deliver and never underestimate the power of your magickal word." —Church of the Ancient Mysteries

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Kan-dee-gram is a magical phrase for creating a zombie messenger in the interactive drama "The Curse of Whately Manor" by Frank Branham (1992). The phrase is a play on candygram.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


[He talked] such a curious, gentle, primeval cadabra that it drew her toward some violent unknown whirlpool and made her hum and shake.
—Barbara Trapido, Temples of Delight (1990)
Cadabra is that flash when your mind is blown, like a hit of a powerful drug—“Sniff, cadabra,” as novelist Rachel Timms puts it. The word has an aura of necromancy to it, with its similarity to cadaver. It has all the impact of the longer word abracadabra, but without any dilly-dallying—it goes straight for the punch.

Scholar William Isaacs explains that cadabra can be broken up into two root words: “Ca translates to ‘as.’ Dabra is the first person of the verb daber, ‘to speak’” (Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together, 1999). So cadabra means “as I speak,” equivalent to “upon my command."

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Its first half referring to dreamlike imagery, this mouthful of a nonsense word is pronounced three times, in a clear voice, by a fairy in Edward H. Knatchbull-Hugessen’s Tales at Tea-Time (1872). The word transforms a misshapen hag into a sylph.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Nabba-Gadobba is a pseudo-Babylonian magic word invented by humorist Peggy Sherman. In her “Fact Free Fables,” Sherman explains that: “Court jesters in ancient Babylon used the word ‘Nabba-Gadobba!’ when they performed the age-old trick of transforming a handful of women’s undergarments into a pair of dodo birds. The exclamation rapidly fell from existence with the rest of the empire.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Magic Epitaph

Shall we all die?
We shall die all;
All die shall we –
Die all we shall.

–Epitaph, St. Winwalloe's churchyard, Gunwalloe, Cornwall

via Futility Closet

Monday, May 11, 2009


He, that concealed things will finde,
Must looke before him, and behinde.
—George Wither, Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (1635)

via Unurthed

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Magic Words in Politics

Here's an interesting rumination on nefarious magic words in politics (via Gordon).

Saturday, May 9, 2009


The word aim has assumed the force of focused intent and is used to invoke emotional, psychological, and physical powers. How-to manuals and self-help gurus alike advise those seeking personal power to activate their aim.
“When he was a boy, another boy had taught him magic words for hitting a bird with a stone: ‘Aim, aim, got my aim—if I miss you I’m not to blame.’” —Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (1988)

Thursday, May 7, 2009


The first part of this Kabbalistic phrase recalls the syllables of "abracadabra." Ahbahrahkahdevarahhanevee "is a phrase that declares to the All, including the spiritual hierarchies and elementals, that the identity of the speaker, the words or acts that follow, or the very life of the speaker subsequent to the utterance, is not of the mundane, but wholly dedicated to the 'Great Work,' to use a common phrase of western magical tradition" (Jerry Blair, The Tree of the Nevee, 2002).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sundials and Math-magical Spells

From an intriguing essay on how computers are descended from sundials:
Magic came before programming, programming came before mathematics, but the goal was always the same: to manipulate causal relationships in some sphere of extra-human intelligence. The sun, after all, was the first power towards which the celestial programmer directed his spells. Programmers executed spells in a self-defined medium and slowly these spells turned into code, into mathematics. But at least as late as Pythagoras the difference between programming, magic, mathematics were impossible to tell.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


“If you feel in any dangerous or awkward position, and your intentions misunderstood by the inhabitants of the country, pronounce at once the magic word ‘Bunkum!’ which will confuse and humbug them as it has many people before them, and probably set you clear of your troubles.” —Edward H. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Tales at Tea-Time (1872)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gind'ise gina

Gind'ise gina is the "master word of magic," traced back to the founder of the Songhay empire, Sonni Ali, "a great warrior and an even greater magician" (Paul Stoller, The Cinematic Griot: The Ethnography of Jean Rouch, 1992).