Monday, December 17, 2012

A Magic Word's Turbulence

From our outpost at Twitter:

"A magic word—merely pronounced, it creates a turbulence, an agitation." —Thomas C. Heller

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Another reason we're so extraordinarily leery of Big Science:

"The magic is gone, the sage is a technocrat, the nymphs are departed, the dryads are nothing, the rocks and trees are only that." —Lee Gutkind, Becoming a Doctor (2011)

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Reason Magic Has Survived

"The reason magic has survived and is slowly overpowering religion is that of the two, magic is the stronger. Religion is an offshoot of magic.  Because it does not have roots of its own, it lacks true strength and credibility.  Magic is real, so it commands belief.  In magic man meets the transcendental, and he comes face to face with God." —Migene González-Wippler, The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies, and Magic

[We're now blogging daily on magic words and imagery at Spotted in the Wild.]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The "Closed" Character of the Mysteries

“The word mystery (mysterion in Greek) derives from the Greek verb myein, ‘to close,’ referring to the closing of the lips or the eyes. This ‘closed’ character of the mysteries may be interpreted in two ways. First of all, an initiate, or mystes (plural, mystai) into the mysterion was required to keep his or her lips closed and not divulge the secret that was revealed at the private ceremony. Vows of silence were meant to ensure that the initiate would keep the holy secret from being revealed to outsiders. . . . A second way to interpret the ‘closed’ nature of the mysteries relates to the closing and the opening of the eyes. Closed eyes brought darkness to the prospective initiate both literally and metaphorically, and the opening of the eyes was an act of enlightenment.” —Marvin W. Meyer, The Ancient Mysteries (1987)

[This is an excerpt from our dictionary of magic words.]

[Our frequent updates on magic words and symbols are now at the Spotted in the Wild blog.]

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The World Changed by One Little Word

From our new, steadily updated blog called Magic Words & Symbols Spotted in the Wild:

The idea of the world changed by one little word gratifies my delight in smallness.
—Richard Zimler, The Seventh Gate, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Words Are Life

A line taken out of context, from our dictionary of magic words:

We speak and the words are life, they are material and substantive.
—Molefi Kete Asante

For new items about magic words and symbols posted every two or three days, see us over at our Spotted in the Wild blog.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tracing One's Magical Genealogy

We're pleased to announce our new guide to tracing your magical genealogy, entitled Heirs to the Queen of Hearts. To stand upon the shoulders of the mighty requires not only a colossal step up but also concerted balancing and adjusted perspectives. What a hefty responsibility comes with owning exalted heritage. What an effort of imagination it takes to draw our birthright into the limelight so as to illuminate the missing branches in our family trees. When missing branches are of royal and/or magical origin, we find ourselves facing some rather profound questions and challenges. To what crown (or crowning glory) are we the natural successors? To what dignities? What traditions are our responsibility to keep alive? What untapped powers? If our Weltanschauung does not account for an Otherworld, how can we reconcile our nymph-glands? How are the descendants of an exotic deity to appease another holy ghost? Truly, to quest for the higher echelons of human life, to scale ancestral branches, is to hang topsy-turvy with Odin on the World Tree.

Catch up on our ongoing research into magic words and symbols here:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Weird Magic Drummed In His Blood

A line taken out of context, from our dictionary of magic words:

There was magic in the words, a weird magic that beat through Matt’s head and drummed in his blood.

In other news, after long years of studying both the mystical Tree of Life and color symbolism, we're honored to be a part of this new release.

Just a reminder: the new home to our ongoing research into magic words and symbols is here:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Prescriptions for Better Magic

When we're not studying mysterious old words, we're most likely making pictures of them. We had the pleasure and honor of illustrating the hysterical wordplay in the chapter titles of famed magician Jeff McBride's new book, The Show Doctor.

Catch up on our ongoing research into magic words and symbols here:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I have the magic word, chiaroscuro, and I shall pass through the labyrinth.
—Teresa Flavin, The Crimson Shard (2012)

Chiaroscuro is the interplay of light and shadow.

The illustration is from an 1895 issue of The Canadian magazine.

A reminder: our posts about magic words and symbols spotted in the wild have officially moved here:

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Lovely Mention

We're honored by this delightful mention:
Craig Conley, bless him, has given us plenty of literary treats - but his Magic Words: A Dictionary is one of the excellentest. The entries are essay-style, so they're fun to read (like I would ever recommend anything that wasn't), and feature words and symbols from around the world - each with its own etymology, as well as mythical, historical, and cultural background. Illustrations of symbols and icons are included where applicable. Bippity boppity boo.
—"Books by Design: Reference Books You'll Actually Use"

A reminder: our posts about magic words and symbols spotted in the wild has officially moved here:

Friday, April 27, 2012

We're Moving

You're cordially invited to join us at our new digs over at Typepad. From here on, that's where we're posting magic words and symbols spotted in the wild:

We'll allow this spot at Blogger to lie fallow.

(Photo by Bruce Harlick)


"And the magic word is ...?"
"Zodiac, sir. It was the only word I could think of offhand that starts with Z."
—Roger Keevil, Feted to Die: An Inspector Constable Murder Mystery (2012)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reading Shifts Reality

We've been constructing a series of tests (the first of their kind) for proving that the act of reading shifts reality. Perhaps appropriately (given the whimsies of quantum physics), the test results are proving to be simultaneously mind-blowing and funny. We'll share this project as it nears completion.

Meanwhile, here's the latest review of our companion to magic's greatest magazine, and please note that while people are selling used copies of our book for $195, Amazon still offers it new for a mere $18.

[Jinx Companion] might be the book that starts you on a vibrant path toward new and more creative magic. ... The authors have done a herculean task in researching every word of The Jinx to mine the best material; they sorted carefully through it and pulled out the best of the best for you. ... I applaud their intense research. It is the kind of investigation and mind-expansion that we all should be doing. ... It is not for everybody, but for those of you who have the time and inclination to see why what is old is often new again, this is a nice journey at a very reasonable price. —Jim Kleefeld, M-U-M Magazine

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You Do The Math

"I believe in the magic of words, in the magic of books, in the magic of being a Reader. There are three kinds of people in the world, those who are a Reader, and those who are not. You may think that this only adds up to two types of people. But that is only if you are one of those people who indeed can count."
—Max G. Bernard, "The Reader Suffers the Theft of Dostoyevsky"

(Dedicated to Jeff Hawkins)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Magic as Reassurance

A magician begins “doing incredible things with big silver hoops” for no less a purpose that to REASSURE a spectator. (This we learn in an intriguing illustration in The Saturday Evening Post, Nov. 12, 1904.) We don’t typically associate reassurance — the restoration of confidence — to tricksters; we all know that a “confidence man” is ironically named.

How exactly does the demonstration of a mystery serve to put a spectator’s mind at rest? See our article in Secret Art Journal:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rosewood Mysteries

A friend writes:

The first writing I ever did -- I was about 7 or 8 -- was to make up 'magic' words -- some kind of incantation about rosewood (which I thought literarily meant the wood of a rose..which I harvested from the garden) which I then wrote on cue cards and recited from time to time, and hid in a little grey box. We are always in search of ourselves in words, in the world, in mystery and confusion.

Beautiful, eh?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Colour Element of Thought and Imagination

A cross-posting with our Abecedarian blog:

In a letter to historian and mocker of superstition William Harnett Blanch, the illumined Oscar Wilde wrote, "I love superstitions. They are the colour element of thought and imagination They are the opponents of common sense. Common sense is the enemy of romance. The aim of your society [a club serving 13 courses, with ladders to walk under, mirrors to break, black cats, and so forth] seems to be dreadful. Leave us some unreality" (qtd. in Phil Baker's biography of Austin Osman Spare).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's in a Name?

We're often asked about our latest research. The following description isn't a sales pitch — the only profit we'll see is other folks putting our ingenuity to use and sparking insights in others.

Our latest project, a few years in development, is a system for decoding Egyptian echoes within the letters in one's name. It's technically a system for magicians to use, but there's nothing "tricky" or insincere about the system; the symbolism is genuinely there and deeply meaningful. Most vitally, we offer instruction on how to be a spontaneous poet, using the letters in someone's name to trigger original Egyptian poetry, instantly and effortlessly.

Here's a link to a fuller description, if you're interested in the idea of awakening Egyptian poetry from a name:

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Sigil Puzzle

Here's a sigil puzzle from -- of all things -- a children's magazine from 1873. The sigils communicate a well-known aphorism with celestial inclinations.


Reading from top to bottom, then left to right: "To err is human; to forgive, divine." From Our Boys and Girls Monthly, February 1873, p. 138.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Which Ones are Word Magic?

"We have words for 'potato' and 'mermaid' and 'luck.' Which ones are word magic and which are not?" —W. Ward Fearnside, About Thinking (1996)

[The mermaid plaque is from our favorite magical village, Portmeirion.]

Friday, March 30, 2012


Magician Jon Racherbaumer declares "new" to be a magic word in the March 2012 issue of Genii. He makes reference to Winifred Gallagher's New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Magic is the Natural Element of Life

We need to call it magic because magic is the natural element of life.
—Robert Shapiro, Benevolent Magic & Living Prayer (2005)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Magic Words Underfoot

(For Gordon Meyer, whose own "underfoot" series is an ongoing source of delight).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Historical Moment at Which Magic Defines Us

Dr. Amy Wygant suggests that the nature of magic "is to be powerful precisely because it eludes and exceeds definition." So much for dictionaries of magic words (blush), but Wygant makes an informed point. She explains: "In our own time, it seems that an all-pervasive and undefined recourse to the notion of magic has invaded mass-market media. Without needing to bother with definitions, indeed while itself becoming a definition of the most unlikely objects and activities, 'magic' has become a central paradigm in our speaking, writing, and thinking, our representations of ourselves and our souls, our ways of acquiring knowledge, the process of creation, and our connection to the universe. Magic has become a hermeneutic tool and provides, in all of its powerful, hieratic indefinability a general model of interpretation." Wygant offers examples from a random Sunday newspaper: mentions of a "magical" tourist destination, "magical" lighting for interior decorators, an author whose life is as "magical" as her children's bestsellers, a multi-millionaire musician who has lost his "magic touch," chefs who "prestidigitate" in the kitchen, and so on. Wygant suggests that one might claim that "Ours is a magical age," since "The cosmos, it seems, has been generally enchanted. Far from allowing us to define magic, however, this general enchantment seems to have produces an historical moment at which magic defines us" (Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France, 2007, p. 27).

Wygant allows that we may very well ask why magic seems to be everywhere, when the eminent historian of magic J. G. Frazer declared that the Age of Science (preceded by the Age of Religion) had wiped out the Age of Magic. Rather than define "magic," Wygant suggests focusing on the "everywhere" that magic seems to inhabit. "This 'everywhere' is the Greek cosmos, which inhabits a semantic field that includes 'glamour,' 'charisma,' and 'makeup,' as well as cosmetics, and whose members always seek to name a paradoxical situation. That is, cosmos is world, but this cosmos is nothing but ornament, cosmetics, the variable arranging of our bodies as a function of changing fashion in order that they might embellish, decorate, and inspire desire. Our makeup is our character, our constitution, the set of qualities that composes us, and yet it is at the same time the paint that conceals rather than elucidates truth. Charisma is not essentially a political quality, yet no politician can be elected without it, nor may any teacher, the magus, actually teach. In a line that runs from cosmos to cosmetics, then, there is in the first place this magic as a general poetics of appearance that we have just been looking into, 'glamour.' But when this logic of cosmetics is pushed to the socio-political, there is, secondly, a magic of culture that seeks to ensure that our 'everywhere' will be broadcast to everywhere else" (pp. 27-28).

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Secret of Our Research Into Magic Words

We're often asked just how exactly we research magic words (since our work predates the invention of Google). Our secret actually all boils down to color. Pictured is one of three bookcases in our new secret headquarters in the oldest city in America.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sonic Meaninglessness

“Sound poetry began with the dawning of language itself,” explains Peter Finch. “Tribal chantings, group wailings, rhythmic mumblings in celebration of gods and victories. These were the pre-literate verbalisings that are actually claimed as a common source by all poetries. Through the centuries they became mantras, meditational repetitions, sonic meaninglessness: Try this—Om Amkhara om om. Or this—ababra abrakakraka abrakal abrakal abrakal abraka abra abrabcadarrab era abaracadabara. Recognise them? Of course you do. In Babylonian times spells like these were installed in the corners of houses as traps for demons. The text was written in the shape of an inward turning spiral. The demon, only ever able to read in one direction, would follow the spell in its irresistible progression and end trapped, hard in the centre. The first ever visual poetry. And one with a purpose. What is poetry for? For catching the dark things at the back of our heads and fixing them for all to see” (“Sound Poetry” [2003]).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Taking a Word and Deriving the World From It

How a poet uses magic words:

"As the artist pounds into his symbol all the richness he can summon, as he takes a word and derives the world from it, so to the symbol the intelligent reader brings all of the past that he has been able to gather for himself." —John Unterecker, quoted in In My Dreams I Ride Wild Horses (2011)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Best Word is Not Always Standard English

This could be advice for choosing a magic word:

"When I'm choosing a word, I never choose the right word; I choose the best word, and the best word is not always Standard English." —Patricia McKissack

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Magic Words at the Fountain of Youth

Did we forget to mention this recent article about our search for "shapes of magic" at Ponce de León's Fountain of Youth?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Part of the Magic is the Mystery

"What makes it magic? ... Magic can't be defined, can it? Or it loses what makes it magic. ... Part of the magic is the mystery, don't you think?"
—Megan Hart, "This Is What I Want" (2007)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Passwords Old and Ancient

The password to get into Abulafia had to be seven letters or fewer. Letters or numbers. How many groups of seven could be made from all the letters of the alphabet, including the possibility of repetition, since there was no reason the word couldn’t be ‘cadabra’? I knew the formula. The number was six billion and something. —Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum (1988)

We've previously discussed how the original password was open sesame (better translated as "simsim"), and how passwords are like magic words in that they are the keys for unlocking barriers, dissolving obstacles, revealing something beyond. Passwords are the coveted guarded secrets that grant admittance into inner chambers and secret circles. The folks at Wired sought to track down the first computer password. (Thanks, Gordon!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


We have a doozy for you — an extraordinarily rare magic word from Hebrew mysticism, courtesy of Doctor of Biblical Studies, Trailblazer of Ancient Texts, and Specialist in the Book of Enoch, Dan Olson. Dr. Olson kindly invited us to share the fruits of his labors. He wrote:

— — —

One of the many magic words from the world of Hebrew mysticism: Beka.

I know of only two texts that bear witness to this magic word, but as far as I can tell no one else has noticed the connection between them.

Beka consists of two letters, and it means “in you (sg.).” This is a common Hebrew word, used dozens of times in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 26:13, however, it appears in a very odd construction. The verse is usually translated along these lines:

Oh LORD our God, masters other than you have ruled over us;
But in you alone do we make remembrance of your name.

Some such meaning seems to be the intent, but the syntax is awkward. According to the usual meaning of the words, taken literally the second line should read, “Apart from in you do we make remembrance of your name.” This weird construction was a red flag to Jewish mystics, who quite naturally took “in you” (beka) here as a noun, part of a prepositional phrase. “Apart from beka do we make remembrance of your name.”

For those who don’t know, it needs to be pointed out that Hebrew, like many languages (including Greek and even Latin in the case of Roman numerals), uses the letters of the alphabet for its numerals. Beka has a numerical value of 22 if you add the two letters together. Very pedestrian gematria that.

In the Zohar (13th c. kabbalistic text), we find a commentary on the verse. “Rabbi Simeon” claims that while meditating on “the letters of the Holy Name” (i.e. YHWH, “Yahweh,” the personal name of God usually rendered “LORD” in English), he received a vision:

It is written, “O LORD our God, other lords beside thee dominated us, apart from thee do we make mention of thy Name” (Isa 26:13). This verse, apart from other interpretations, contains a profound doctrine of faith. YHWH Elohenu (LORD our God) is the source and beginning of supreme mysteries indeed....this Name dominates all. However, “other lords beside thee dominated us”; the people of Israel, which is destined to be ruled only by this supreme Name, is ruled (now) in exile by the “other side.” Indeed, “apart from thee (beka) do we make remembrance of thy Name.” The name “by thee” (beka) symbolizes the Holy Name comprising twenty-two letters,[1] and this is the name by which the Community of Israel is always blessed, as, for instance, “to whom thou swarest by thine own self (beka; Exod 32:13); “in thee (beka) shall Israel be blessed” (Gen 48:20); “for in thee (beka) I can run through the troops” (Ps18:29). In times of perfection, peace, and harmony, the two names are not separated one from the other, and indeed it is forbidden to separate them even in thought and imagination; but now, in exile, we do separate them... “Apart from thee,” being far away from Thee, and being ruled by other powers, “we make remembrance of thy Name,” in separation, thy Name (YHWH) being separated from the Name expressed by beka” (Zohar Shemoth 9a-9b).

The reason I took an interest in this obscure text in the Zohar is that when I was working on my translation of and commentary on The Book of Enoch, I came to the conclusion that this was the key to understanding a very difficult passage. In chapter 69 we are given a list of evil angelic powers that are causing much mischief on earth. (These powers would be equivalent to the “other masters” who are currently exercising illegitimate rule, according to the Zohar.) The last on the list is Kasbeel. The verses in question are quite difficult to translate because there are MANY variations in the manuscripts, and the text is obscure by any reckoning. I stuck closely to one particular manuscript[2] that really was the only one that provided a coherent text throughout the entire section.

This is the “number” of Kasbeel, chief of the Oath (which Oath he revealed to the holy ones while he was still dwelling above in glory). Its name is “Beqa.” He tried to talk Michael into revealing to him the secret Name in his possession, in order that they might then pronounce it [or make it to be remembered] in the Oath, and in so doing make those who revealed everything secret to the children of men [these are the fallen angels] tremble before that Name and that Oath. This is the power of that Oath—for it is indeed powerful and strong—and responsibility for this engraved Oath was given to Michael, and they are his secrets (En 69:13-16a).

The way I read this, the good angels were each in charge of one of the divine names of God. Kasbeel was in charge of the cosmic Oath Beka, being entrusted with its “number” (i.e. gematrial value). Michael was in charge of a different secret Name, possibly the divine Name YHWH. In the story told here, the end result is that the cosmic Oath is taken from Kasbeel and is now in Michael’s charge. This cosmic Oath is elaborately celebrated in the following section of chapter 69, which tells in a long series of stanzas how all of creation came into being and is held together in orderly fashion “through the Oath.” The Oath represented by Beka has a gematrial value of 22, the same as the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which in turn is virtually a secret name of God in his creative capacity, as both the alphabet and the divine Name YHWH are credited elsewhere in Jewish tradition as functioning in this manner, creating, ordering, and “binding” all of creation (see, e.g., Prayer of Manasseh 3 and Sepher Yetsera 2:2). Perhaps Kasbeel tried to get Michael to reveal the secret name in his possession (YHWH?) so that the two of them could then combine it with the name/oath in his—Kasbeel’s—possession (Beka), expecting that the power in this combination would terrorize the rebel angels into submission. He may have tried to persuade Michael and the other “holy ones” to go along with this plan by first revealing to them the Beka name, hoping they would feel obligated to reciprocate. If so, the plan failed, and Kasbeel may have lost his heavenly post as a result, since he is no longer “dwelling above in glory.” Alternately, the “holy ones” to whom Kasbeel revealed the Beka oath while he was dwelling above were in fact the angels who later rebelled, and what we see here is a desperate and unsuccessful attempt by Kasbeel to undo the damage caused by his mistake. Either way, Kasbeel is gone, and Michael is now in charge of the Oath known as Beka. Coming as it does at the end of a list of wicked angels, the passage identifies Kasbeel as one of them and explains the circumstance that persuaded him to cast in his lot with the fallen angels. That’s my reading of this obscure passage.

Note how both passages seem to deal with the artificial separation of divine names/oaths, which results in the weakened state that allows “other powers” to exercise rule in God’s creation.

This section of the Book of Enoch is generally dated to around the turn of the era, give or take three or four decades. There is evidence elsewhere in the Zohar that the author(s) were familiar with this section of Enoch[3], so it may well be that we have in the Zohar is a mystical interpretation of Isa 26:13, the core of which already existed around the time of Christ and is alluded to in Enoch 69. As I said, I know of no other instances of Beka as a name/oath/magic word.


[1] R. Simeon is alluding to the 22-letter divine name derived by arcane permutations from the first five words of the famous priestly blessing in Num 6:24-27. This mystical name is not explicitly attested earlier then the beginning of the medieval period, but there is an older tradition, found already in the Sepher Yetserah (“Book of Creation”), which may go back as far as the second century AD. The Sepher Yetserah identifies the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet as the means by which all the cosmos was created and ordered, making the alphabet itself virtually a 22-letter divine name.

[2] For this section of Enoch, there is only an ancient Ethiopic version available, and there are dozens of manuscripts to sort through.

[3] In the Zohar Vayaqhel 202a we hear of an angel named Gadriel who is in charge of human warfare. The angel Gadriel in exactly this capacity appears also in Enoch 69:6-7. “Gadriel” is an extremely rare angel name, so the Zohar is likely dependent on this section of Enoch in this case.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Weaving a Tale of Magic

The caption reads, "Engaged, evidently, in weaving a tale of magic." From Hampton's magazine, 1909.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Magic Words Must Be Born of the Moment

We love this intriguing passage about how magic words must be improvised to be powerful:

"In the worlds of Jewish mysticism and Germanic fairy tales, a single magic word can make all the difference. The mojo of an effective transformative incantation involves using the right word at the right time. It must be improvisationally born of the moment, not a mindless, memorized formula. Magical words are by their very nature surprise—words that accidentally evoke mojo."
—Bradford Keeney, The Flying Drum: The Mojo Doctor's Guide to Creating Magic in Your Life (2011)

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Real Secret of Magic is that the World is Made of Words

Our friend (who also translated our book Magic Archetypes into Italian) Ferdinando Buscema notes that believing in magic may sound like an outdated superstition, yet it "means believing in the supreme power of the imagination to shape reality. As neuroscience has validated to a great extent, we are and we become what we think. And so, the magic meme is a kind of mind software to conceive and do things which are, as it were, magical." Buscema shares the third secret of magic: "Reality is made of words." He explains that "Magic is the art of the word that enchants and has concrete effects upon the world. The words that we speak shape our reality more deeply that we generally acknowledge. One postmodern philosopher [Terence McKenna] pushes the idea so far as to say that the real secret of magic is that the world is made of words. Those who know the right words can realize virtually everything they want." For concrete proofs, see Buscema's TEDx talk here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


A line taken out of context, from our dictionary of magic words:
Egg, then, is a perfect magic word, both broadcasting a signal to create as well as facilitating a new reality.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hocus Into Pocus

A line taken out of context, from our dictionary of magic words:
The formula is a distillation of the intention: “May that which we call Hocus be changed into Pocus.”