MAGIC WORDS: An article by one of the few good writers on Magic: Marko
Even though they are not used as much in our days as they
were used in other times, magic words are part of our
tradition. The utterance of spells, incantations and prayers
forms part of world folklore and religions. According to
mystic knowledge and various religions the Creator of the
Universe spoke and created. Words of Power or, let's say,
Sounds of Power, coming from a most powerful being, created
Us, simple humans, have tried for as long as we have roamed
Earth to get our share of this power and thus have come with
blessings, curses, prayers, incantations, spells, and
whatnot. The bottom line is that mankind has believed the
idea that certain words, phrases... that is: sounds, have
the power to affect the normal ways of nature: to stop
storms, to bring rain, to heal, and even to kill.
Artistic magicians (that means us) of other times borrowed
some of these powerful terms or came up with new ones in
order to better represent the part one is supposed to be
representing when doing trickery, that is, the part of a
magician: a powerful person conversant with deep secrets
which allow him to subvert the accepted laws of nature.
The term "magician" itself comes from the priests of an
ancient religion: Mazdeism, the religion of Zoroaster of
Persia. According to Zoroaster there is a war raging in the
Universe between Good (light) and Evil (Darkness).
Ahura-Mazda is light; Ariman, his foe, is darkness. Of
course you recognize these concepts since they are the same
used by many religions of our time: the idea of an eternal
struggle between Good and Evil.
Well, to get back on track, Zoroastrian priests were called
"mag" or "magi" and accounts of the miracles they performed
spread through the ancient world with the result that the
words "mag" and "magi" came to be applied to anyone doing
anything of a marvellous nature... for example: tricks. Thus
the words transform into Magic, Magia, Magie, Magician,
Magicien, Mago, etc. directly from the ancient Persian
language via the Latin of the Roman Empire.
However, the use of the word Magic meaning the art we
practice, is rather new. In ancient Roman times the guys who
performed tricks were called "acetabularii" because the main
trick in those times was the still well-known Cups and Balls
which they performed with the same metal cups used in the
market by the vinegar vendors. These cups were called:
"acetabulum." Remember vinegar is mainly acetic acid...
that's were we get the word "acetic" from. (By the way, in
Spanish vinegar is "vinagre" which means "spoiled wine"
which is exactly what vinegar is!)
In the English language, the kind of magic we perform was
called for a long time simply "juggling" and according to
"The true art ... of juggling consisteth in legierdemaine."
Legierdemaine, which has an undeniable french origin means
"nimbleness of hand."
In Spanish we have "juegos de manos" which means "play of
the hands." The use of the French term in England might be
due to French magicians of the time travelling there since
circa 1250, French king Louis IX expelled from France all
tumblers and magicians, accusing them of perverting customs.
The term "conjurer" was latter used in England to identify a
magician and it means "someone who conjures," a conjuration
being a magic spell... so we are back at words again.
The most famous of magic words must surely be Abracadabra.
It apparently has a religious meaning. Myths from the lower
regions of the Northern Hemisphere around and near the
mediterranean have had a lot of influence in History and
human culture due to the fact that in antiquity the majority
of people of the world lived in this area. That's why myths
from futher up North aren't as influential and South of the
Equator there is very little land and thus, very little
population for their myths to be that important.
Well, the sacred myths in the most populated areas of
antiquity were mostly of a solar character. It is not that
these civilizations worshiped the sun as God but rather,
that they saw in the sun the visible manifestation of God,
which, when one thinks a little bit, seems perfectly
logical. The sun, or rather, the sun's passage through the
zodiac as the year unfolds gave rise to many ancient
religions many of which involved some kind of Man-God who is
born on Earth, usually from a virgin mother or conceived
through divine intervention and then he walks the Earth
teaching, healing and predicting everlasting life.
These myths vary, of course, having evolved along hundreds
and even thousands of years, but they have many points in
common, one of them being the death and resurrection of the
Man-God, in the same manner as the sun "dies" on the
Northern Hemisphere on December 22 when you get the shortest
day of the year (and the longest night... remember: darkness
equals evil). The sun is then apparently still, "dead,"
until December 25 when it begins to apparently raise by
1/10th its circunference, thus beginning on this day its
"re-birth" for a new yearly cycle.
If all the above sounds familiar it is because these things
were common knowledge in ancient and not so ancient times
and a lot of it was absorbed by the cult of Jesus of Galilee
whom theologians of the nascent faith identified with the
character of the KRST or Christ of other ancient religions,
notably the Egyptian cult.
All the above is not said here with any intent to polemize
or discuss anybody's faith of beliefs. I have just stated
some historical facts that are out there for anybody to
check out. I just needed to tell you a little bit of this in
order to explain the probable origin of "Abracadabra".
Among the ancients the sun, and thus the Man-God, was
usually symbolized by the figure and nature of the
constellation through which it, the sun, passed at the
vernal or spring equinox. In our own times the sun has
crossed the equator at the Spring equinox in the
constellation of Pisces (so the fish symbol to represent the
figure of Jesus-Christ adopted very early in Christianity
when these ideas were still fresh and in use). For the 2,160
years before that it crossed through the constellation of
Aries (the Ram) and Man-God figures were symbolized by
goats, sheep and sheperds. Prior to that the vernal equinox
was in the sign of Taurus (the Bull). That's why a little
more than 4,000 years B.C. Man-God figures were symbolized
by bulls and one such was Apis, the sacred bull of the
But centuries march by and astrological eras change and a
new symbol becomes attached to the sun. Sampson Arnold
Mackey, in his book "Mythological Astronomy of the Ancients"
says the following in regards to Abracadabra:
"(....) the slow progressive disappearance of the Bull is
most happily commemorated in the vanishing series of letters
(....) For ABRACADABRA is The Bull, the only Bull. The
ancient sentence split into its component parts stands thus:
Ab'r-achad-ab'ra, i. e., Ab'r, the Bull; achad, the only,
&c.--Achad is one of the names of the Sun, given him in
consequence of his Shining ALONE,--he is the ONLY Star to be
seen when he is seen--the remaining ab'ra, makes the whole
to be, The Bull, the only Bull; while the repetition of the
name omitting a letter, till all is gone, is the most
simple, yet the most satisfactory method that could have
been devised to preserve the memory of the fact (....) This
word (Abracadabra) disappears in eleven decreasing
The above sequence arranged in the form of a triangle was an
ancient charm. It is clear from Mackey's explanation that
our most common magic word was originally a praise to God or
Man-God when he was simbolically represented by a bull in
those ancient times before astrological ages changed and he
came to be represented by sheep and an astrological age
later by fish.
Another very common magic words, at least for English
speaking magicians are Hocus Pocus. It seems they also have
a religious origin but whereas Abracadabra is a praise to a
vanishing symbol of God, Hocus Pocus is, according to one
source, a corruption of the Consecration of the Roman
Catholic Mass in Latin; in other words, a mockery. The words
mocked seem to be: "hoc est corpus meum" which means: "this
is my body," the Latin equivalent of the words spoken by
Jesus, according to Gospel, when he offered bread to his
disciples during the Last Supper.
Another probable origin of the term might be that there
existed a magician named Hocos Pocos, Hocas Pocas, or Hocus
Pocus and his name was taken later as magic words by
populace and magicians alike. However this theory doesn't
eliminate the previous one, because the said magician might
have come to be called Hocus Pocus because he used those
words and then they might be a mockery of the Roman Catholic
ritual as stated before. I have seen this very same
phenomenom happen here in Panama: a very popular kid show
magician here who uses the magic words "Sacarina Bombay" and
even though his stage name is Leo Zardoz, nobody calls him
that. Instead they know him as, you guessed it: Sacarina
Other magic words include "Gali-Gali" which, I have read
somewhere, is a call for chicken to "come and get it" when
they feed them in the Arabian nations of North Africa, where
Gali-Gali is also a name for magicians there. Why a chicken
call? Because Gali-Galis perform the Cups and Balls using
baby chicks and some other tricks using the same creatures,
like splitting one into two and producing them from the
clothing of a male spectator. There have been some famous
Gali-Galis. One performed in the US mid-20th century. I met
another one in Barcelona in the 80's. Here is another
instance of the magic words becoming the name of the
magician or, in this case, magicians.
The Great Dante used the magic words "Sim Sala Bim" taken,
it seems, from a Danish drinking song. I don't know if he
was the first one to use them as magic words but he
certainly was not the last one. The German magician Kalanag
used them too. The idea is using some strange sounding words
to trigger the magical event.
Sigfrid and Roy coined a new one a few years before the
premature end of their performing career: Sarmoti, which I
understand is some kind of acronim of which I can only
figure out the first three letters: Sar, meaning "Sigfrid
and Roy," no doubt, but I don't know what the rest might
mean. If anybody knows the rest I will be most grateful for
Professor Hoffmann has in one of his books the following
I learned it while still a teen from a small Robert-Harbin
book in which he taught the way to learn it: split it into
three separate words like:
Aldeborontico Fosfico Formico
and it is easy to learn! I use this one a lot for comic
effect. The other magic word I use is "aguli guli" repeated
thrice. It has a comic sound to it, at least in Spanish. It
is a variation of Gali-Gali, of course.
Many magicians don't use any magic words at all and it seems
magic words will finally go the way the magic wand went,
that is, they will be relegated to the dusty place where we
keep relics of the past, but I continue to use them as a
connection to the tradition of magic which makes me feel I
have bonds of brotherhood with the magicians, conjurers,
jugglers, acetabularii, that extend back in time for
centuries or maybe millenia.