Spelling Things Out: The Magic of Words

If someone told you that they believe in magic, you might think that they were ignorant and/or delusional. That judgment likely stems from a misunderstanding of what magic actually is. Magic is the creation of something as if out of nowhere. The power of magic is harnessed in the words we use. Words are magic. Literally. It is not simply a coincidence that the word “spell” refers to both, the action of constructing a word (e.g., a spelling bee), as well as the technique to bring about magic (e.g., casting a spell). Furthermore, when one is good with words they are said to be “charming.” What is another word for a spell? That’s right: a charm.

The connection between words and magic does not stop there. On the darker side of language, It should not be surprising that our bad words are called curse words, or if we invoke these bad words we are said to be “cursing.” Furthermore, let us take a moment and reflect upon the job of a critic or satirist. These two types or writers are essentially performing black magic for a living. When one writes a critique or a satire they are for all intents and purposes performing a dark spell, or "black magic" in order to bring harm upon their target (i.e. the object of their verbal ridicule). In other words, if the critic or satirist “spells” things out correctly, then what he says and the words he uses will exert a very real power over his opponent. Think of any satire show, be it Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show, or a host of other comedic political entertainment. The way in which they present an idea or a particular politician can have a very real impact on public opinion and policy.

Some of you may be thinking. So, the words associated with magic have a connection with words and language as a whole, what does that matter? Magic is still not real.

Magic is located in the ill-defined space between religion and science. Religion and science are often said to be at odds. This, however, is not the case. This belief comes from a misunderstanding of the purposes of each. Religion and science are each answering two different questions. Religion is answering why and science is answering how. What question is magic answering? Magic is the question itself.

To most intellectuals, science is the truth, religion is superstition, and magic is make-believe. It is my intent to undermine that “scholarly” opinion. For you see, these three approaches to understanding the world, share more common ground than most people either know or care to acknowledge. By looking through the lenses of science and religion, the magic of words becomes more evident.

I recently wrote a post entitled “The Way You See the World Affects the World You See,” and in it I describe a physics experiment from the early 1800’s that proves that we, as observers of the world, create/define objects with our thoughts. Quantum physics proves that we literally create/define matter just by thinking about it. Or to put it another way, we think things into existence.

The most popular scientific example of our thoughts affecting the world around us is the placebo effect. It is the mind-over-matter phenomenon where our belief in a medicine’s effectiveness causes the medicine to actually work despite the fact that unbeknownst to us that medicine was not actually real. This proves that we think things into reality, and our thoughts shape the world around us.

Connecting this back to words, it is easy to see how words, which are just a more concrete extension of our thoughts, must also create the world around us - but even more definitively. Understanding the world in this way, we can see how words create everything in our world, figuratively and literally, as if out of nowhere. This is magic. This is science. These are words.

Moving on from science, religion also adds a layer of meaning here that helps to fill in the gap in our understanding. Have you ever thought about where the word “Gospel” comes from? Many will say that gospel means “good news.” Maybe it means that too, but first and foremost, it refers to magic. That is to say, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "gospel" is made up of two parts, “God” and “Spell” respectively. In other words, the Gospel is literally God’s spell.

SOURCE: Oxford English Dictionary App

John’s Gospel ("God Spell") opens with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This line harkens back to the first lines of scripture in Genesis at the time of creation. So what happened “In the beginning” that needs to be highlighted? God said, “Let there be light.” How did God create light? He said let there be light and spoke it into creation. This sounds an awful lot like the description of casting a spell. Magically, God used his “Word” to create light as if out of nowhere.

This is the definition of magic I have been discussing all along. And it is by no means, the only place in scripture where this power of words is highlighted.

In Exodus 3:14, Moses asks God who he is, and God responds by saying that he is “I am.” There is no definitive scientific proof for what I am about to tell you, but lack of evidence does not mean inauthenticity. Anecdotes abound provide proof of the following theory: Whatever you say after the phrase “I am” you become. Through this action, you have literally defined yourself through God (or “the universe” or however you need to label things in order to understand).

For instance, by saying the words “I am a writer,” I have defined my soul. The God part of me is the “I am” and the “writer” is the object towards which the divine energy inside of me is directed. Allan Moore, the writer and self-proclaimed magician, clarifies this power when he explains the connection between words and magic and why he was worried about proclaiming that he was in fact a magician. Moore understand that just saying such a thing it has the power of turning him into one. Think about it this example practically. If Moore does in fact make a video saying that he is a magician - even if he doesn't mean it and deletes the video shortly thereafter. He still said it, and perhaps someone like me heard it, and put it in an essay, through which I defined him and now others call him a magician simply because he said it. Magic is often disregarded as illogical, but the magic that I just described makes logical sense to me.

I know this all sounds very “new age” but I believe mainstream science -- which does have small glimpses into this mind/word power by means of Young’s double-slit experiment or the placebo effect -- will eventually catch up with what, at this point in time, can only be referred to as “magic.”

For all the academics I will step back into the familiar world of scholarly, rational debate as I conclude this post. I know discussions of the spiritual realm and/or magic make you very uncomfortable because they are difficult to ground in “scholarly fact.” Let us finish up this discussion with some interesting information you can use.

A common spell that is invoked in our pop culture magical lore is the phrase “hocus pocus.” Interesting to note, this phrase started off as an insult to Catholics and their “magical” beliefs. “Hocus pocus” is simply a bastardization of the Latin phrase hoc est corpus meum, which is said during the Catholic mass at the moment of transubstantiation: when Catholics believe the bread is turned into the body of Jesus Christ. Hoc est corpus meum means: “This is my body.” “Hocus pocus” was a way for Protestants during the Reformation to undercut and deride what they deemed to be superstitious Catholic beliefs, from which they were trying to distance themselves.

The point I am trying to make here is that to label something “magical” is oftentimes to deem it silly or laughable; nonetheless, there is a hidden irony here.

The fact that these critics-of-magic manipulate words for their own devices, reveals that they do in fact believe in the unseen magical power of words after all. For why would one choose to use their words, if not to change minds, influence the world, and to make something happen as if out of nowhere? If that's not magic, then I don't know what is. Perhaps you could spell it out for me.

* For more on this subject watch "Allan Moore on Magic"