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Article Specs

Article ID: 11778

VoxAcct: 219240

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 3,558

Times Read: 4,764

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Magic or Magick . . . What's In a Word?

Author: True Pagan Warrior
Posted: July 1st. 2007
Times Viewed: 4,764

Since the day my kindergarten teacher unlocked the secrets of the alphabet for me, I have been a student of words. I read them voraciously and create my own almost as fast. I have seen, sometimes with amazement, the power that words can carry. Spoken and written words have different characters, different strengths and weaknesses, but both can shake the foundations of the world when crafted well. There is no doubt in my mind that words are truly magical . . . or are they magickal?

The debate about the use of the spelling ‘magick’ instead of ‘magic’ isn’t the ‘us and them’ dichotomy I have always imagined, which I discovered with some relief after reading Taylor Ellwood’s article on the subject. I have a knee-jerk reaction against any word that looks like it’s spelled wrong, and my word processor has always agreed with me that ‘magick’ doesn’t look right, but I have assumed all along that, among Pagans at least, I am in the minority.

Before I did any research on the subject, I resisted adding the ‘k’ because I respect the power of words. Too often words are changed or neologisms created by people that lack understanding of what a word is all about (a good example here is ‘herstory, ’ created to give a feminine perspective not contained in ‘his story, ’ i.e. history; the fact that the word ‘history’ comes from the Ancient Greek ‘istoria’, meaning “a learning or knowing by inquiry, ” and is etymologically unrelated to the pronoun ‘his’ in no way stopped the creation of such an ungainly term) .

Adding a ‘k’ does not change the pronunciation, so why do it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to replace the ‘c, ’ a near-useless letter in English regardless, with a ‘k’ if you want to change things up a bit?

Perhaps I’m being intractable, unwilling to change with the times, but I’m a Gaiaped, and so I expect change to be organic. Permitting someone to just add an extraneous letter to a perfectly good word makes as much sense to me as installing a massive irrigation system in Arizona and planting a redwood forest there. Sure, we might be able to pull it off, but it’s not the type of gradual, insistent change that the Earth itself fuels.

People (myself included) coin new terms, the neologisms I already mentioned, all the time; most of these wither on the vine, but some grow into bountiful fruits of their own. The words and spellings are accepted when there is a need for them, generally when new ideas come into the language.

There is no new idea here. We have two concepts that, on the surface at least, are related closely enough that they share a word. It happens so frequently in English that it has a word of its own: homonym. My uninformed opinion was that this new spelling seemed arrogant and pretentious, a view that didn’t change much when I found out where it came from.

I’m also a bit bothered by the sneaky aspect of that ‘k’ being appended. Slipping in a letter that doesn’t (allegedly, anyway) even change the pronunciation is a pretty squirrelly way of setting ritual spell work apart. It doesn’t give any means of telling the spoken words apart. Again, there are plenty of homophones out there, but if we’re going to insist on creating a new word, why not take the effort to make it an entirely new word? When you’re dealing with a discipline that places great meaning on every symbol, it can’t be accidental that the resemblance to the word for illusion and trickery was not entirely excised.

Of course, the ‘k’ only fails to change the word’s sound in certain forms. ‘Magick’ may seem innocuous, but ‘magickal’ makes a bit more impact. Only in Amber K’s work have I seen an attempt at ‘magickian, ’ which not even the most cursory student of the English language would think should be pronounced the same as ‘magician.’ Whenever I see any of these forms, I find myself emphasizing that ‘k’ in my head, because I find it distracting.

Amber K also gave me my first explanation of the purpose of the additional letter. It is indeed intended to change meaning, separating the stagecraft and illusion from the spellcraft and intent of practitioners of the Craft. Ellwood confirms that Aleister Crowley is given credit for this innovation, by his own words:

“I chose therefore the name 'MAGICK' as essentially the most sublime, and actually most discredited, of all the available terms. I swore to rehabilitate magick, to identify it with my own career; and to compel mankind to respect, love, and trust that which they scorned, hated, and feared.”

It’s clear that Crowley understood the power of words, and chose this spelling with care. There is a significant number of people who reserve the trailing ‘k’ specifically for Thelemic magick, since that is what Crowley practiced. After learning more about the subject, I prefer not to label any work that I do with a word that was intended to “compel mankind to respect, love, and trust that which they scorned, hated, and feared.” It’s a personal choice, but one that I no longer make on gut feeling alone.

I do not wish to associate my own craft with the ethics of Aleister Crowley. Mr. Crowley is to be respected for his contributions to the field, but “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” does not, for me, work as an ethical (ethickal?) system nearly as well as “leave no trace” does.

I have a much better understanding of the origins of ‘magick’ now. I still think it’s clumsy, ugly, and, considering its source, arrogant and ethically questionable. I’m glad that I put my own views to the test by educating myself on the subject.

I have no problem with people choosing the six-letter spelling, although I encourage anyone who practices any type of spell work to give thought to the power of this word, and choose a spelling that best meets their own needs.


Copyright: Copyright 2007 by Terence P Ward, all rights reserved. For reprinting permission contact the author directly.


True Pagan Warrior

Location: New Paltz, New York


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Bio: Dak is an easy-to-remember name that Terence P Ward goes by in festival settings. A professional writer and business consultant, his other interests include magical needlework, sacred backpacking, and sporks.

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