A few newsletters back I wrote about how the word Abracadabra had an actual magical origin, being used centuries ago on amulets a doctor would give a patient to wear to help ward off disease. This sparked curiosity and a reader discussion about some other well-known conjuring words and where they came from. The exact meaning of many of these magic words has been lost to the march of time, but here are some theories about the origins of some of the more well-known magic words:
- Hocus Pocus: In the Catholic Mass, the Latin phrase “Hoc est corpus meum” (this is my body) is said during the consecration. It’s believed that as this phrase moved from Church usage into magic and alchemy, it was adapted into “hocus pocus”.
- Open Sesame: From the famous story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, this was the incantation spoken by Ali Baba to open the gateway to his hidden cave of treasure. One great use of it today is at the world-famous MAGIC CASTLE in Hollywood. Upon your visit you will discover that these words actually open a secret door to give you access to the club!
- Presto: From the Italian and meaning “quickly”, a lot of times this word is used as part of a rhyming phrase, such as “presto-change-o”. You can also see it in the word prestidigitation, another expression for performing magic.
- Sim Sala Bim: This phrase could possibly be based on the lyrics of a Danish nursery rhyme. Another theory is that it comes from an Arabic phrase meaning “The lion is king of the desert”. The famous magician Dante (Harry August Jansen) used it as not only his catchphrase, but as the title of his exotic Broadway revue. Some of you will also recognize this as the phrase that the boy Hadji used from the 1960s animated series JONNY QUEST.
- Alakazam: This one is really shrouded in mystery… no one is exactly sure where this catchy incantation came from. Some think it might be connected to the Hindu word for “perfect”, or a variation on the Arabic word for “oath”.
- Om Mani Padme Hum: This is an actual Buddhist mantra with deep meaning and many interpretations. Not only just the phrase itself, but each syllable has a separate meaning for study and reflection. Its use in stage magic is mainly for its exotic sound and does not carry over any of the associated spiritual interpretations and symbolism.
- Shazam: One of the more recent magic words, this is the designation spoken by the boy Billy Batson to transform into the mighty superhero Captain Marvel. A wizard named Shazam gave the phrase to Billy; it is an acronym to summon up the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury. Captain Marvel first appeared in the comics in February 1940, and soon became the most popular superhero of the 1940s, outselling even Superman.
So there you go! It’s amazing how magic words and phrases can summon up powerful feelings and images. I’ll be curious to hear if you know of any other fantastic incantations out there!