Monthly Archives: January 2018

Words Are Magic


A sorcerer can invoke a magic incantation and enchant you with a spell. All they need is to speak some well ordered words, give voice to a crafty verse and the tale is told. I am not speaking figuratively, I mean it literally.


In Old English a spell meant a “story, saying, tale, history, narrative, fable; discourse or command”. A speller was somebody who read out words and the title was most often applied to preachers who would read the “good spells”, or good stories, which became the God spells and finally the gospel. It is from the action of “spelling”, reading out the story word by word, that the term changed it’s meaning and became attached to the letters rather than the narrative.

An open book exuding energy and power.

Being enchanted is also far less weird than you are probably thinking. The “en” means “in”, the “chant” bit is just that, some poetic words. Chant goes back through French and latin all the way to a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root word: *Kan- meaning “to sing”. This is pretty easy magic to be honest, all you have to do is sing a well known song and if people join in then they have become “sung in”, you have enchanted them.

An incantation, for all its portentous sound, is exactly the same thing, “in” and “cant” having come from the same roots as “en” and “chant”; it is another “in song”. To “invoke” it you only have to speak it, or put it “in voice”.

But what about magic? There is a postulated PIE root *Magh-, meaning “to be able, powerful”. By the time of the early Greeks we have “Magos”, a noun which means “a learned person of the priestly cast”. The powerful capability lies in the learning but you can only get access to that knowledge if you are born in to the right tribe. The power this tribe of capable people wielded became known as “magike” and, since they weren’t sharing, it was obviously very mysterious.

I realise I have just explained where the word “magic” comes from but not what it actually is. Bear with me and I shall unravel this final part of my spell. There is another Proto-Indo-European root I would like to introduce you too: *Ser-, which has survived in our own words series, serried and sermon amongst others and means “to line up, put in a row, or thread together”. It has also come down to us through the Latin for “one who influences fate or fortune”, which in English is a Sorcerer. So, somewhen between these two ancient lexical points, someone was exerting influence on things, effecting change, by putting something in order, by arranging something in lines.

Given everything we have just been talking about, it seems clear to me that the magic power of the bygone Magos was sorting secret symbols in to charms and spells. Yes, charm is another word from that *Kan- root. Or to translate from magical language into mundane: the mystery capability of the first sorcerers was lining up letters to make words and arranging words into songs and stories. The carefully guarded learning of the earliest magicians was poetry, storytelling, writing and reading.

So if you sometimes yearn for a more mystical life, remember you too can type some terms in to a tidy row or organise some expressions in an exciting order then speak or sing your scintillating spell, who knows what effect you might have?
Words are magic, in every sense, and in every sense magic is words.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman

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Santa’s Little Apologist


Right on the edge of the Cliff Of Heaven sits the small hamlet of Last Ditch. Here live the Gods of Lost Causes. Doomed with each turn of the moon to once more plunge in to the abyss as the cliff crumbles beneath them. The next weeks see their re-constituted forms drifting from the Mists of Defiance to build again their hovels of forlorn hope either side of the undrinkable waters of the Stub Bourne. Sometimes the other gods will break the tedium of eternity by going down to try and save the inhabitants, begging them to leave while they can. It is of no avail. The hands that reach across the cracking earth, though stretched for, go unclasped. The rope that is thrown as the rocks break away goes un-grasped. They are not rich gods, their worshippers, often newly converted, by definition have nothing to give and much to ask. Although their prayers are fervent enough to make their deities solid and well formed, their inherent pessimism does not empower the mythical symbols of their plight to actually come to their rescue. Besides which, like most gods, they have problems of their own.


With great power comes great responsibility, which makes your average immortal pretty busy. Think how big the Met Office is, how many people it takes to work out what is likely to happen with the amazingly complex business of predicting the weather. Now think about how much more hard work is involved in making the weather! Very few celestial beings have only one area of duty, usually seeing to a portfolio of natural and human activities which can be as diverse as irrigation, textile production and the beach tree. Most of them have some part to play in the battle between good and evil, Odin being famously hard at work building an army to take on the giants, thieves and monsters at the final battle.

As we approach the worldwide annual festival of god bothering, in which solar deities are begged to return, storm gods are begged to hold off, sky gods to bring snow – but only the pretty sort and only for a couple of days and can it be lovely for the rest of the year please? The god of Abraham is entreated to bring peace to the world by the three most heavily armed religions on the planet, and the god of presents receives his annual tall order.

Come December the 25 Santa will have 80 million more presents to deliver than he had last year and a whole heap of requests from confused children asking him to take away their little siblings, for their estranged parents to be reunited and/or their dead gerbil to be alive again. Whatever you have asked for, there is chance Father Christmas will turn up with something else. If he does please cut him some slack, he’s got as lot of stuff going on.

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