An Eldritch Miscellany


by Tom East

     Many would say that all words have magical qualities. I wouldn’t for one moment try to dispute this. But, in this short piece, I want to consider the special category of word that conveys more than ‘ordinary’ words like ‘cat’, ‘dog’ or ‘table’.

     The magical power of language itself is something of which we were all aware from childhood.

     It would be impossible for me to try to define a category of ‘special words’ in any meaningful way, so what I propose to do instead is to list some and say something about each. This list doesn’t pretend to be complete and I haven’t tried to do much about the many words outside of traditional British culture. Nor have I included words like ‘supernatural’, ‘magic’ or ‘ghost’ on the grounds that they will be familiar to most.


     If you have any thoughts about other words which deserve inclusion, please let me know.

·        ABRACADABRA: This must be the archetypical magic word, used on stage and elsewhere. Its origins are uncertain, although known from sources as early as the third century CE. The original meaning may have been something like 'I create with the word’. It was used as a healing charm, engraved with the word in triangular form, as shown above. Aleister Crowley, the self-styled prophet of the ‘Thelema’ cult, maintained that the correct word was ‘abrahadabra’.

·        ABRAXAS: An ancient word of uncertain etymology, though it seems to have originated with the Gnostics and may be derived from ‘Abracadabra’. Its meaning is rather fluid but originally it may have been the name of a major Gnostic deity.

·        ALCHEMY: The ancient quest to transform or purify materials. It is best remembered today for attempts to change base metals to gold and to find the elixir of eternal life.

·        BLACK MAGIC: The use of supernatural powers or devices for selfish purposes.

·        CLAIRVOYANCE: The ability to see events outside the normal range. One of the stories in The Eve of St Eligius is titled Clairvoyant.

·        CANTRIP: A minor magic spell. The word is of Scots Gaelic origin.

·        CONJURER: One who can evoke demons, spirits etc. by supernatural means.

·        DEMON: A malevolent spirit, either once-human or incarnate. The word is sometimes spelled as ‘Daemon’ and there are equivalents in many other cultures, like the Arabic ‘Djinn’.

·        ELDRITCH: ‘Other Worldly’, weird etc. The word is thought to derive from ‘Elf Reich’, or ‘Elf Realm’ (‘Reich’ is the German word for ‘realm’). See Ellyllon in The Eve of St Eligius.

·        ELF: From the 1950s, this word has come to be associated with the noble creatures envisaged by JRR Tolkien. Immediately before that, elves, in popular culture, were ‘Santa’s little helpers’ or tiny, dainty creatures like fairies. Originally, they were thought to be the pre-Celtic inhabitants of the British Isles, although the word itself is of Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) derivation.

·        EXORCISM: The act of evicting a Demon or other spirit from an unwilling host.

·        FAMILIAR: A ‘familiar spirit’ which assists in supernatural practices.

·        GOTHIC: See What is Gothic on this website.

·        GRIMOIRE: A book of magic spells.


·        HEX: A curse.


·        HOCUS-POCUS: One of the many expression used in casting spells. These days, it is always used in a derogatory way (c.f. ‘mumbo-jumbo’)

·        INCUBUS: A male demon who preys sexually on women in their sleep. 

·        LEFT-HAND PATH: The route to supernatural practice of a malignant kind.

·        NECROMANCY: Magic involving communication with the dead.

·      NIGHTMARE: Nowadays, this word is used as loosely as 'a bad dream'. Previously, it meat 'the riding of the witch', the witch being the INCUBUS or his female equivalent the SUCCBUS, who attacked women and men while they slept.

·        OMEN: An event signifying future change.

·        OPEN SESAME: Originally used in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, when it was used to magically open a cave. It is intriguing to see how the term has survived and is used in only a semi-jocular way today. A good illustration of the latent acknowledgement of the power of words?

·        Q' ABALAH: The word derives from the Hebrew for ‘reception’ or ‘tradition’ but it now signifies various Western belief systems. The Hebrew Kabbalah is a Western-influenced esoteric belief system

·        SIGIL: A symbol used in magic.

·        SUCCUBUS: A female demon who preys sexually on men in their sleep. 

·        TALISMAN: An object believed to confer protection on the bearer.

·        WICCA: Also called ‘Pagan Witchcraft’. A newer, generally benign, religious practice.

·        WISH MAN (also WISHT MAN or WISE MAN): A magician, Originally it was a by-name for The Devil. The title of the second Eldritch collection is WISH MAN'S WOOD