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Magic Words: A Dictionary

Magic Words: A Dictionary

by Craig Conley

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Magic Words: A Dictionary is a one-of-a-kind resource for armchair linguists, pop-culture enthusiasts, Pagans, Wiccans, magicians, and trivia nuts alike. Brimming with the most intriguing magic words and phrases from around the world and illustrated throughout with magical symbols and icons, Magic Words is a dictionary like no other. More than seven-hundred


Magic Words: A Dictionary is a one-of-a-kind resource for armchair linguists, pop-culture enthusiasts, Pagans, Wiccans, magicians, and trivia nuts alike. Brimming with the most intriguing magic words and phrases from around the world and illustrated throughout with magical symbols and icons, Magic Words is a dictionary like no other. More than seven-hundred essay style entries describe the origins of magical words as well as historical and popular variations and fascinating trivia. With sources ranging from ancient Medieval alchemists to modern stage magicians, necromancers, and wizards of legend to miracle workers throughout time, Magic Words is a must have for any scholar of magic, language, history, and culture.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Despite its undeniable appeal to New Age audiences, Conley's (One-Letter Words) book of more than 700 words and phrases is just as relevant to the linguist and language enthusiast as it is to Occult followers. A vividly written introduction includes contemplations on ritual and pronunciation, and each multi-paragraph entry explains meanings, origins, and literary references. Like an academic work, the text is liberally footnoted, citing pop culture, literary, or Internet uses of the word or phrase-although it occasionally omits significant references. Recommended for pop culture, New Age, and language libraries.

—Savannah Schroll Guz

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A Dictionary


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2008 Craig Conley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-050-8




Mystique: The four aces, so often coaxed from a deck of cards by a magician's skillful fingers, actually spell out an ancient magic word discovered in the "Greek magical papyri." Dating from the second century BCE, these scrolls collected hymns, rituals, magical spells, and mystic formulae from Greco-Roman Egypt. Modern scholars have failed to find a definitive translation of the incantation aaaa, but there is no doubt how the word was used: aaaa was a sacred word of power, sometimes chanted in conjunction with the name of a deity. The vibratory sound of Egyptian priests chanting vowel sounds was said to be "so euphonious that men listen[ed] to it in place of the flute and lyre."

It's little wonder that aaaa sounds like our word awe. Aaaa is an expression of wordless wonder, when language fails and yet one feels compelled to cry out. Aaaa is a magic word that always finds its way into performances of magic, whether intoned by the magician or gasped by the amazed audience.


People soon forget the meaning, but the impression and the passion remain. —Edmund Burke, "A Letter to Richard Burke, Esq." (1793)

Figure 4. The four aces spell the Egyptian magic word aaaa, a universal expression of awe in the face of something incomprehensible.

Egyptologists and linguists may be misguided in their quest to interpret cryptic words like aaaa. One compelling theory suggests that the ancient wonder-workers who transcribed the magical scrolls were "hymning and naming a deity whose true nature is inexpressible silence," and their "language [broke] out in abstract vowel chanting and glossolalia ['speaking in tongues']."

Facts: The letter a, called ITLαITL in the Greek alphabet, has historically been symbolic of beginnings. Like the famous Sanskrit mantra om, alpha "is the sound that brings into being all of creation."

In The Greek Qabalah (1999), a study of the alphabetical mysticism and numerology in the ancient world, Kieren Barry explains that ITLαITL "appears frequently in Greek and Coptic magical papyri, not only in conjunction with the other vowels, but also by itself as having special power. In a Christian Coptic spell from about 600 CE, it is set out in 'wing' formation" as shown on page 52.

In The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus, Marvin Meyer notes that "In texts of ritual power ... vowels may be arranged for visual effect" (2005).

The ITLαITL state of brainwave activity is that of relaxed awareness, as in daydreaming or meditation.

In Literature: Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (1986)


Meanings: The "eleventh hour" is a figure of speech referring to a decisive moment at hand.

Origins: Aalacho is a name that appears in the Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis or The Lesser Key of Solomon (17th century). It means the eleventh hour of the night.


Origins: Ab is a divine name associated with Saturn. It appears in Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Of Occult Philosophy, Book II (1533).


Origins: Abab is a divine name associated with Jupiter. It appears in Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Of Occult Philosophy, Book II (1533).


Origins: Ababaloy is an angelic name discussed in the Grimorium Verum (1880).

Facts: Ababaloy is part of an incantation to dispell "all illusion" from a conjuror's quill pen.

Ababra Abrakakraka

(see also abracadabra)

Origins: "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]).


(see also abba and abracadabra)

Mystique: Reminiscent of the quintessential magic word abracadabra and an equally-rich alternative to it, Abacaba-Dabacaba represents a fractal pattern, "one of the fundamental patterns in our universe" that structures such things as our music, art, poetry, and geometry. Fractal diagrams often look like trees, with offshoots branching out progressively. "It's fun to think about how every decision we make leads us in a new direction, as if our lives are an infinite fractal tree," suggests fractal expert Michael Naylor. He explains the pattern inherent in the word Abacaba-Dabacaba:

Instead of using numbers to describe the ... marks on [an English] ruler, let's call the shortest lengths "a," the next longest "b," then "c," and so on. The pattern then becomes ... "Abacada-Dabacaba!" This word sounds very much like the magician's phrase "abracadabra," a very apt resemblance given the seemingly magical properties of this pattern. To understand the pattern a little better and see how to continue it, let's see how this pattern grows. Start with an "a." This is the first step, the "tree trunk" if you like:

1. a

To grow the pattern, add the next letter in the alphabet and then repeat everything that has gone before (which is just the letter "a" in this case.) The next step, then, is "aba," which is like a trunk ("b") with two branches ("a").

2. aba

Continue by adding the next letter, "c," and repeating the "aba."

3. abacaba

The fourth step adds the letter "d" and repeats the pattern: abacabadabacaba! The next few steps are shown:

4. abacabadabacaba

5. abacabadabacabaeabacabadabacaba

6. abacabadabacabaeabacabadabacabafabacabadabacabaeabacabadabacaba

It's fun to see how much you can say aloud. How long would it take to say the word all the way to "z"?

Facts: While abracadabra is historically a "shrinking word" (see the entry for abracadabra), we have seen in the above quotation that Abacaba-Dabacaba is a growing word.

In music, the alternating pattern displayed in the letters of abacaba is called a "sonata-rondo"—"'A' stands for the refrain, and the remaining letters, for couplets of differing material." This pattern is also called "chiastic," named after the X-shaped Greek letter ITLχITL, as its form is "symmetrically organized around a central axis."

In Literature: "Rushes are not straighter, and ermine is not white, sheep are less gentle, eagles less proud, and deer less nimble, than Abacaba."

—Voltaire, The Ingénue (1767)


(see also abracadabra)

Mystique: The magic word abba indicates that a magical effect will occur on the authority or with the assistance of a higher power. This power could be of divine origin, or it could be the forefather who handed down the secret through the generations.


• Divine connection to the creator

—Peter Terpenning, "Sacred Unity, Giving Birth to the World" (2004)

• Father; parent

—Wayne A. Meeks, The HarperCollins Study Bible (1997)

"Since 'Abba' refers to the earliest form of a child's address to father, I discuss [Jesus'] appeal to the power of Abba's name in light of Freud's comment in his defense of the 'talking cure' ... that 'words were originally magic' ... This statement has bearing on the controversy in contemporary Jesus studies whether the word 'magician' applies to him, and moves this discussion from its exclusively sociological locus to a more psychological one."

—Diane E. Jonte-Pace, Teaching Freud (2003)

• God; holy name

—Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531)

• King

—Norman Davies, Europe: A History (1998)

• Miracle worker

—Richard Lee Kalmin, Jewish Culture and Society Under the Christian Roman Empire (2002)

• Primordial father, supernal father

—Kala Trobe, Magic of Qabalah (2001)

—Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn (1971)

• Sound of the wind

—Peter Terpenning, "Sacred Unity, Giving Birth to the World" (2004)

• Term of endearment

—Zondervan, Revolution (2003)

• Unity of all things

—Peter Terpenning, "Sacred Unity, Giving Birth to the World" (2004)

Origins: Abba is of Aramaic origin.

Facts: Some etymologists consider the root ab, meaning father, to be the first part of the magic word abracadabra, translating that word as a sentence: Ab, Ben, Ruch a cadasch (reading as father, son, and holy spirit).

In the Bible, Jesus uses the word Abba to address God, marking what religious scholar Rufus Goodwin calls a "psychological leap" in the sphere of prayer as well as a social reform. The spoken word Abba marks "a turning point in time, indeed, of the evolution of consciousness. In prayer, Jesus does not propitiate a tyrant—he is not a slave, but a son. This is a shift in consciousness for humankind, a sign of a new personal, conscientious ego in a personal relation to God." "'Abba' is a very intimate word," explains Abbot Thomas Keating. "Apparently, it expressed Christ's consciousness of the Ultimate Mystery, as a paternal-maternal, loving, intimate, and tender presence—all the things that might be summed up when one says 'Poppa' to a very dear earthly father." Jesus' use of the "homely family word" Abba in his invocation of God was unprecedented in the immense prayer literature of ancient Judah.

Variations and Incantations:

• Aba

This is the name of an angel mentioned in a work attributed to Peter de Abano, Heptameron, or Magical Elements (13th century).

• Abba Abba Abba Ablanatha Nafla Akrama Chamari Ely Temach Achoocha

This unusual summoning spell from ancient Egypt conjures the divine power of God's tattoos. On the original Coptic manuscript is "a rather exotic image [showing] the seven holy vowels of the Greek alphabet ... tattooed across god's chest. We also have forms of the names Ablanathanalba and Akramachamari."

—Marvin W. Meyer, Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (1999)

• Abba zabba

• Abba zabba cadabra

Beefheart.com (2002)

In Literature: "'[I]t's a magic place, just like the forest is magic,' Daffonia said. 'Abba made it that way.'"

—Rosemarie E. Bishop, Noah's Garden (2000)


(see abba, abba-dabba-ooga-booga-hoojeegoojee-yabba-dabba-doo, and abracadabra)

Ever and ever on an abbadabba. —Carl Sandburg, "The Abracadabra Boys" (1970)

Mystique: Abbadabba suggests a casual kind of manipulation of life in which one can operate outside the rules or break the rules with a deceptive flourish, leaving even the victim feeling a sort of admiration for the perpetrator's gift.


• Abracadabra

"[F]rom the gangsters of the 1930s, particularly Dutch Schultz's legendary financial handler, Otto Berman (whose nickname 'Abbadabba' was derived from 'abracadabra'), came a recognition of exactly how the numbers could be manipulated; Abbadabba used quadratic equations and probability formulas to rig his boss's illegal gambling rackets, increasing gross profits by more than 50 percent."

—Art Kleiner, The Age of Heretics (1996)

• Gibberish, incomprehensible language

—Jim Bouton, Ball Four

• I love you

—Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan, "Aba Daba Honeymoon" (1914)

• Jargon

Facts: Abbadabba is a palindrome.

Aba daba is monkey chatter for "I love you" in the old ragtime song "Aba Daba Honeymoon" by Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan (1914):

"Aba, daba, daba, daba, daba, daba, dab,"

Said the Chimpie to the Monk,

"Baba, daba, daba, daba, daba, daba, dab,"

Said the Monkey to the Chimp.

Variations and Incantations:

• Aba Daba

• Abba Cadabra

• Abba Dabba

• Abba dabba cadabra

BrothersJudd.com (2004)

• Abbadabba dabbadabba

—Jim Bouton, Ball Four (1990)

• Abbadazoola

See mitchakaboola abbadazoola

• Abba zabba

In Literature: The magic word abbadabba appears in the Carl Sandburg poem "The Abracadabra Boys." The boys in question have been hanging around "the stacks and cloisters" and have "been to a sea of jargons and brought back jargons." They "make pitty pat with each other" in a sort of "private pig Latin." Sandburg asks, "Do they have fun? Sure—their fun is being what they are, like our fun is being what we are—only they are more sorry for us being what we are than we are for them being what they are."


(see also abba, abbadabba, abracadabra, ooga-booga, and yabba-dabba-doo)

Mystique: Seemingly nonsensical rhythmic sounds can indicate that the speaker hears his own beat and is in touch with a mysterious and joyous reality unknown to the listener. Scholar of metaphysics Raymond Buckland suggests that all magic words "must be spoken rhythmically. Chants and spells should either rhyme or, at the very least, have a repetitive, heavy, sonorous beat to them. This can, and should, contribute to a gradually rising state of excitement within the magician, adding immeasurably to the amount of power produced."

In Literature: Edward Allen, Mustang Sally (1992)


(see also abba and zabba)

Facts: Abba Zabba appears in a Captain Beefheart song of the same name (1974). The lyrics are a sort of nursery rhyme about childhood rituals and seem to suggest that the primal syllables abba zabba are "song before song before song."

Abba Zabba is the name of an old-fashioned peanut butter taffy candy bar.

Variations and Incantations: Abba zabba

In Literature: Tracy Jarobe, 26 Easy and Adorable Alphabet Recipes for Snacktime (2002)


Mystique: Abbibibitywhurl is a conglomeration of cultural references, melding the Biblical abba, the magic word bibbity popularized by Disney's film Cinderella, and the wild turning of a carnival tilt-a-whirl ride into a cry of exhilaration and abandon.

In Literature: Anonymous, "The Kids on the Net Spellbook" (1998)


In Literature: "I met Jundugio in my first tour of the interior provinces of Panama. He was not a great magician but he had a couple of effects he could sell very well. One of these was the stunt of eating a drinking glass which he did to the accompaniment of a weird dance while he shouted 'Abdubia!' his own magic word which he used in all his effects instead of the more common 'Abracadabra' or 'Hocus Pocus.'"

—Marko, "Jundugio and the Runaway Girl," The Learned Pig Magic eZine (2000)



• Arranged alphabetically

• Elementary

• Novice

Origins: The late Latin root word abecedarius (meaning "alphabetical") is the origin of abecedarian.

In Literature: "The magician spoke the word 'abecedarian' and pulled the rabbit out of his hat."

GotApex.com (2004)

Ablanathanalba Sisopetron

Origins: Ablanathanalba sisopetron is a "widespread magical charm" appearing in a group of Cypriot magical curses. The first word, Ablanathanalba, "is usually conceded to be derived from the Hebrew (Aramaic), meaning 'Thou art our father.'" The second word presumably means "rock-shaker" (see open sesame, perhaps the most famous rock-shaker).

Facts: "The magic word 'Ablanathanalba,' which reads in Greek the same backward as forward, also occurs in the Abraxas-stones as well as in the magic papyri." (See Abraxas.)

In an ancient Egyptian invocation, Ablanathanalba is identified as a "'griffin of the shrine of the god which stands today.' (A griffin is a mythical animal with the body and mane of a lion, the head and face of an eagle, two front lion-legs with talons, and the wings of an eagle.)"

Excerpted from MAGIC WORDS by CRAIG CONLEY. Copyright © 2008 Craig Conley. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

When it comes to his research Craig Conley has often been called a "language fanatic" by gossip columnist Cindy Adams and a "cult hero" by Publisher's Weekly. His exhaustive research led him to compile Magic Words: A Dictionary. He is also the author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary and a regular columnist for Pentacle magazine. He lives in Florida and Wales, UK.

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