Proper Spelling

I spell it “magic”.  Not “magick”, not “magik”, not “majiq” (which I have seriously seen used before, probably by some McWiccan tween on reddit).  No K, no lack of C, no Qs or Xs.  “Magic”.  I understand it’s a really minor, trivial quibble to have, but I just wanted to make my own thoughts known.  As usual, I like to resort to etymology and historical usage to inform my choice.  From Etymonline.com:

magic (n.): late 14c., “art of influencing events and producing marvels using hidden natural forces,” from Old French magique “magic, magical,” from Late Latin magice “sorcery, magic,” from Greek magike (presumably with tekhne “art”), fem. of magikos “magical,” from magos “one of the members of the learned and priestly class,” from Old Persian magush, possibly from PIE *magh- (1) “to be able, to have power” (see machine). Transferred sense of “legerdemain, optical illusion, etc.” is from 1811. Displaced Old English wiccecræft (see witch); also drycræft, from dry “magician,” from Irish drui “priest, magician” (see druid).

Only in Greek do we find the use of a K in magic, only because Greek doesn’t have the letter C.  We find the use of a Q in French, only because the phonological evolution of French uses “que” to indicate a hard C or a K sound.  Latin uses “magia” or “mageia”, depending on how Greek it wants to seem, since it got the word from Greek, which got the word from ancient Persian.  You know, the home of the old astrologers, Chaldaeans, and the like, the Urheimat of most Western occultism.  Only in some nonstandard spellings in older texts do we find the variant “magick”; this doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it’s definitely not my preferred spelling any more than “shoppe” is for “shop” or “ich” is for “I” or other Middle English spellings today.

The distinction between “magic” and “magick” that I’ve seen is that “magick” is reserved for the “real” stuff, i.e. conjuration, alchemy, theurgy, thaumaturgy, and energy work.  This spelling was invented (or supposedly “revived”, depending on whom you ask) as a reaction to the use of the word “magic” to refer to prestidigitization, stage magic, optical illusions, and other practices that are often tied up with swindling, begging, and fraud.  This supposed debasement of a holy word to something common and vulgar is tripping us up from being the established, respected wise people we should be seen as.  Heavens forbid that people take us for some conjurers of cheap tricks!  We’re not trying to rob you, we’re trying to help you!

So what?

I don’t find the difference between magic-like-conjuration and magic-like-stage-magic to be that important, really.  In fact, working with illusions, tricking people, and providing them shocks is part and parcel of the work of the magician, no matter the altar or stage or field he chooses.  Magicians have always played the role of wise sage and street performer, providing help or harm as needed to people in any number of ways.  Keep in mind that, especially for Hermeticists, magicians fall at least partially under the archetype of Hermes and definitely within that sphere’s power.  Even the powerful and mystical Gandalf had fun and trickery with his fireworks for idle entertainment, despite that he was tasked by the gods of Middle-Earth for one of the gravest tasks of all.

Consider Trump I of the Tarot, often called the Magician in modern decks.  In older decks, like the Marseilles Tarot, he was called le Bateleur, “the Juggler”.  He had his Sword, his Cup, his Coins, and his Wands on the table, sure, but he also had his dice, his hat, his magic bag of holding.  With his baton he points out what to look at, distracting us from his hands while he juggles things behind the scenes before us.  He’s a trickster, and he’s inviting us to a show.  He sets up his altar, his portable playing-card table, out on some random spot on the road that’s natural, rugged, and completely real.  He wears brightly-colored, fun, and floppy clothing, wild hair tangled about in his lemniscatesque hat, partially to draw crowds, partially to distract, both of which are sources of his power in addition to the holiness of his garb.  He’s a holy fakir and wholly a faker, and that’s the whole point of being a magician.  When you’re wielding the forces of the cosmos, you need to have some way to relate it to other people here on Earth, whether it be through insightful metaphor or playful card trick.  Then again, what else is Tarot but both metaphor and trick played out on the same deck of cards?

It’s only later when the professionally fraudulent theurgic magicians wanted to separate themselves out from the fraudulently professional stage magicians that people started affecting a difference in appearance and spelling.  It corresponds more-or-less with trying to keep the occult science a science, much how astrologers have wanted to keep their art up to speed with discoveries in astronomy.   Thus we see an evolution from Marseilles’ Bateleur to Rider-Waite’s Magician: instead of a wild mane, we find a well-maintained solemn coif; instead of a roadside stand, we find a to-spec altar in a trimmed garden; instead of tools and gimmicks and toys filling the table, we find just the bare minimum and duly consecrated Weapons; instead of a playful hat indicating his connection to the cosmos, we find only symbolic metaphor.  We find utter seriousness where before we had fun.  This isn’t wrong, but it cuts out the liveliness and livelihood of the magician in the process for trying to obtain priestly acceptance and sacrosanct privilege.

Even in religious settings where the lines between priest, shaman, and magician are blurred, vulgar illusionry and divine experience both have their place.  Using hidden gears and wires to cause statues to move, pipes through walls to make rooms boom with unseen voices, and even ancient primitive batteries to provide devotees and dedicants with a shocking experience in multiple senses.  Jedi mind tricks and other mental stimuli can help produce trances, sometimes by brief distraction and sometimes through powerful hypnosis.  These illusions help move people out of the day-to-day, drawing them off the well-worn path just for a second to see that whole fields and lands exist besides just their already-familiar destination.  They might be for profound revelation of the spirit or for a brief distraction from daily toil, but illusions help people break out of their normal headspace and into a wider, more magical one.

We shouldn’t forget that just as stage magicians work in a world of illusions, so too do “real” magicians work in a cosmos of them.  We have to build and destroy illusions for both other people and ourselves, for profit greater than mere coin but by no means excluding it (the Weapon of Earth is, after all, the coin and all that it implies materialistically).  We aren’t necessarily priests, authorities, or establishment, and we don’t need to follow suit by filling the suit they expect their people to wear.  We need to do our own thing, use our own set of tools, and start playing games with the world and cosmos, wherever we may find ourselves.  Just as God made the planets to fly around the spheres, we need to learn to juggle those forces just as we juggle our own affairs down here.  All this isn’t even touching on those who live in more dangerous parts of the world for occultists, where magicians need some way to disguise themselves so that their phenomenal cosmic powers can fit into itty-bitty living spaces and social roles that push them to the social role of “silly entertainer” instead of “dangerous heretic”.

Still, it always trips me up when I read someone using the spelling “magickian”, because then I end up pronouncing it “mah-jik-kee-an” instead of “magician” and it crashes my train of thought.  I think we should just all use “magus” or “magos” instead, and save ourselves the keystrokes and quibbling.  (Kalagni, hon, you get a pass because you’re Canadian.  Nobody else has an excuse.  ♥)

Also, it’s spelled “altar” (n., a raised or prepared surface for worship and sacrifice), not “alter” (v., “to change or make something different”).

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

6 Responses to Proper Spelling

  1. Satyr Magos says:

    Although I use the “k” for “Chaos Magick” (a proper noun coined by someone else, which, as such, is permitted the conceit of idiosyncratic spelling), and occasionally to be pretentious, I thoroughly agree.

  2. Actually, Satyr, Google says usage is about equally divided between “Chaos Magic” and “Chaos Magick.” The “k” is pretty much completely Crowley’s fault, as far as I can tell; Gardner didn’t use it, so I don’t know why Wiccans, many of them severe Crowley-haters, do.

    The other reasons Crowley gave were that the magic of the mere human is a five-letter word, so that of the divine realm should have six letters (pentagram/hexagram), and the “k” is there for kteis, since he regarded sex magick as a primary way to get there.

    So they say. I gave up the k a few years ago. I’m hoping to influence the rest of the OTA to do so as well, but it’s a hard habit to break.

    This is another great Polyphanic rant, thank you. I actually ran stats using Google’s ngrams lab and found that the spelling “magick” *had completely died out* by 1780, and didn’t start showing up again until the late 1980s in enough quantity to detect.

  3. craigdberry says:

    Actually, Crowley used the spelling “magick” because, in typically tortured Crowley-style gematria, it enumerates to 93 in Hebrew: mem gimel yod caph caph.

    Without the second caph, it enumerates to 73, which is sacred to Sheldon Cooper, but few others.

  4. runeworker says:

    and what about being a mage? I’m also partial to spellslinger myself.

  5. Pingback: Proper Ritual Terminology | The Digital Ambler

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