Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Magic: A Hard Word to Say Out Loud

"'Magic is sort of a hard word to say out loud, I think."
"It is if you mean it. A little shaming to say. Like 'sex.'"
"Like sex?" She laughed.
"I mean it's a thing you want to keep at a distance. Even though it means a great deal to you, even because it does. It's just agreed on, under the rules of politeness. It won't be seriously discussed."
"You sound like you think it works," she said.
He leaned toward her and began to speak a little more urgently. "Magic comes in more than one kind," he said. "There's illusion, like you said; Houdini. And wonder-working, wave a hand, get what you want—that kind is restricted to stories. But there are other kinds, that were really practiced. For centuries. It doesn't seem likely that people would have gone to so much trouble for so long if what they did didn't work at all."
—John Crowley, Love and Sleep

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Paul McFedries' "Word Spy" illuminates the new sense of the word magicology. (Thanks, Gordon!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Boombye Boomba

From Philippine folklore, Boombye Boomba is a magic phrase that animates a wand for violent purposes:
"Oh, it is only a stick, but if I say 'Boombye, Boomba' it will beat you to death."

At the sound of the magic words the stick leaped from his hands and began beating his friend until he cried:

"Oh, stop it and I will give back everything that I stole from you."

(Mabel Cook Cole, Philippine Folklore Stories, 1916)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Why does the word ghost contain a silent h? "The h is not sounded, as it was only added under the impression that such a mysterious word needed the mysterious breathing of an h to produce its effect. The same applied to the spelling aghast, originally written agast; but it does not apply to ghoul, a grave robber, in which the gh is derived from an Arabic guttural" (Paul D. Hugon, The Modern Word Finer, 1927, p. 142).

Pictured is a silent H from Calico Ghost Town, California (thanks Leo Reynolds).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


"So what's the magic term or terms?"
The letters spelled c-a-t-a-c-o-m-b.
—Wes D Gehring, The Charlie Chaplin Murder Mystery, 2006
Catacomb is a word of necromancy. The word comes from the Latin catacumbas, the name of St. Sebastian's subterranean necropolis near Rome, Italy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chinese Magic

A magic vendor's sign in Zhouzhuang, Jiangsu Province, China, photographed by Cheri Ehrlich.

Friday, July 17, 2009


"Razahbelsijah" is a "mystic word" noted in encyclopedias of Freemasonry. Does it have a literal meaning? If you happen to know, let us know!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Akos Pakos

In a fifteenth-century German-Jewish manuscript, a magical formula of mystical names is spelled out. “One of the incantations in it . . . contains the names ‘Akos Pakos,’ the earliest literary occurrence of the terms which, with slight orthographic variations, have become the hallmark of pseudo-magic in a dozen European tongues—our Hocus Pocus” (Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 1939).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Making Words Magic Again, in a Hall of Mirrors

"To make words like magic again, we forget what they mean. Say any one of them over and over again so that it is just a sound thrumming inside you, drilling its emptiness into your soul. Sentences as sounds precede their sense as purpose. It seems to be only the human beings who name things. The people. The place. The not-human. The voice. The change. Accident or design? The world is still the same and not the same. It is language that wants it to be one or the other. The name must hold. And the thing is gone as soon as we have identified it. Left with only the name, we hold empty words. These incantations and syllables swirl around the elusive subjects of reality. If only words could be more than words! Trap any one of them in a corridor of parallel mirrors, and the single name immediately echoes to infinity. Inside the scale of that sound is a region of magic, where what is awesome pushes through the confines of reason."
—David Rothenberg, Wild Ideas, 1995, p. 140

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Word Illusions

From Kenton Knepper's essay "Words, Mentality, and Their Power in Magic":
Words are symbols. As symbols, they are representative only. Words are not of course the actual things they represent. Yet, we speak as though what is said is a literal, and therefore physical, fact. Words have within them the essence of illusion. Magical performers understand the need to apply these word illusions from everyday life to their performances.
Continue reading here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Magic, Science, and Religion

"He began to think that even though magic, and science, and religion did not all mean the same thing, they all meant in the same way." —John Crowley, The Solitudes

Thursday, July 9, 2009


"Foom" is the sound of a magician conductor transforming his orchestra into rabbits (MAD Magazine #55, June 1960, page 8). (Via the Don Martin Dictionary.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One-Letter Words of Power

“The simplest and, in some senses, the most powerful of the words of power are the words of one letter.” —Bill Heidrick, “Magical Correspondences”

Sunday, July 5, 2009


"In Tantra, there is a principle called 'varna,' which holds that sound is eternal and that every letter of the alphabet is a deity." —Kerr Cuhulain, Full Contact Magick: A Book of Shadows for the Wiccan Warrior

Friday, July 3, 2009

Wordless Magic

How can one express "what language is incapable of putting into words?" Does relinquishing logical language foster unity with all living things? The Theatre of the Absurd has an innate distrust of language, preferring wordless communication through "shapes, light, movement and gesture." The aim is "to create a ritual-like, mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision, closely related to the world of dreams."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Knot

"Then you just say the magic word . . . 'what knot' . . . 'what knot.'"
Bill Severn's Big Book of Magic‎