Review by Bonnie Cehovet
“Magical words … are a prism of the universe; they reflect, decompose, and recombine all its wonders. The sounds imitate colours, the colours merge into harmony. The rhyme, rich or strange, swift or lingering, is inspired by poetic insight, that supreme beauty of art and triumph of genius which discovers in nature all secrets close to the human heart. - Madame de Stael, “Corinne, or Italy” (1807), translated by Sylvia Raphael (1998) from “Magic Words – A Dictionary”
To a writer, all words are magic. To have a dictionary of magic words – does it get any better than this! Craig Conley (One Letter Words – A Dictionary, Trump L'Oeil - The Tarot of Portmeirion) has presented us with a journey through the world of words – specifically, words of magic.
Some words have been included as amusing trivia, some are gone into in depth, with their origins, history, and sometimes multiple meanings being discussed. While this is a very unique type of reference book (how many books reference Harry Potter!), it carries interest for magicians, writers, and those who are simply interested in life.
Aside from the simple joy of reading a work like this, it does act as a reference for the importance of words in ritual and magic, and as good background for both fiction and non-fiction writing. Conley notes in his introduction that the words in this book are from different time periods, as well as from different civilizations. Some come from the world of magic, some from the world of literature, and some from everyday life.
The intent of the word is also important – Conley refers to this as proper placement. Used in a certain manner, any word can be a magic word. Commonplace words, such as moonlight, buttermilk, and old mill work their magic through memories and nostalgia. Then we have magicians words, and the vocabulary of ritual.
I was intrigued to read about the four “archetypes” of the magician – the four ways in which a magician may choose to present themselves – Trickster, Sorcerer, Oracle, and Sage. Think back to magicians that you have seen on stage, screen, or TV – at any given time they will have exhibited one or more of these archetypal personalities. And each personality had a distinctive way of using words to get their point across. Conley does an excellent job of describing each of these personalities, and how they function.
One could spend hours upon hours ruminating over this book. Some words will be new to the reader, some will bring back fond memories. All are engaging. We learn about magical words from the stage, from Abracadabra, Alakazam, Alpha and Omega, Behold, and Hocus Pocus to Now You See It, Now You Don’t, and Voila.
If we think back to our childhood, we will remember words that truly were magical to us as children, but that we simply smiled at as we entered adulthood. Through Conley’s work, we can retrace our steps through an imaginary world that included such things as Abbadabba, Abra-dee, Abra-do, with a Hay and a Ho and a Nonny Nonny No, Bibbidy-Boddidi-Boo; Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe; Shazam, and Wam, Bam, Alakazam.
On a more esoteric note, we see words such as Abba, Abraxas, Aemaet (and its connection with sacred geometry), Agla (with examples of hand signing and use as an amulet), Aum, Benatir Cararkau Dedos Etinarmi (and its use as an invisibility and penetration talisman), Breath, Egg (and Cosmic Egg), Helion Melion Tetragrammaton, Magick, Mystery, Om, Rat-Atar, Ridas Talimol, and Xatanitos.
Part of this book is meant for sheer enjoyment – to bring a smile, to bring pleasant memories. Part of this book reminds us of the place of magical words in literature – of how a seemingly everyday word can carry such great weight. Part of this book is for those who have a serious interest in the esoteric use of words. Origin, history, multiple meanings and more give us a totally new look at the world of words. Whether you use this book for enjoyment, for research, or for help with ritual and/or ceremony, you will find it to fill a void and act as a significant venue for reference.
© October 2008
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.