Magic(k)

mag·ick: n. In Wicca and certain other belief systems, action or effort undertaken to effect personal transformation or external change. Variant of magic. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition)

Years ago, I thought Wicca and Paganism had made a great advance when their definitions appeared in mainstream dictionaries. Now, not only the names of the religions but some of their terms are considered common enough to merit entries. I was delighted to find magick is in the dictionary. If only the word itself didn’t annoy the heck out of me.

Like many children, I grew up with the standard Western fairy tales, and magic was common to most of them. Fairy godmothers, witches, mysterious beings who granted wishes for a price: every tale had magic in it and magic captivated me. As I grew older, I moved on to fantasy novels, still my favorite genre. The stories were more intricate, the characters better developed, but there was still that wonderful, impossible magic running through them. So you can guess how I felt when I discovered Wicca. Indeed, many of you may have had similar experiences. There were real witches in the world. There were wands and (sighs happily) magic. Except magic was misspelled for some reason.

It didn’t take long to learn that reason: the whole bit about how this was to show the difference between stage magic and, well, magick. (For some reason, the magic I’d grown up with, the magic in the fairy tales and the fantasy novels, was never mentioned.) This spelling had existed for centuries, but it looked as if Aleister Crowley was responsible for bringing it to prominence in the 19th and 20th centuries, and Pagans had adopted it enthusiastically.

I understand the reasoning, but I don’t agree with it, both for my own idiosyncratic reasons and because of what I think this says about Pagans as a whole. Personally, I just don’t like what magick looks like—yes, the appearance of the written word. It reminds me of other words with “ick” in them that don’t have positive connotations for me: ick, of course, and icky, as well as sick, panicked, and dick. If I’m trying to entice Younger Self, my inner child, or whatever, then I want to do magic, the stuff I’ve loved since those earliest fairy tales. On a larger scale, the Pagans I’ve met over the years could understand the difference between stage magic and magic(k) without a visual hint (and it’s only a visual cue: magick is pronounced the same as magic). It does the Pagan community no credit to act as if we casually confuse these two unless constantly reminded of the difference. I’m wondering if stage magic was more common in Crowley’s time; maybe he did need to differentiate between them. But nowadays, magic is more likely to bring up images of Harry Potter or Gandalf, not Penn and Teller.

I know I’m going against the current here. Even my beloved dictionary sees magick and only magick as the Pagan/Wiccan practice. Although the definition above says that magick is a variant of magic, the definition of magic doesn’t include magick. Nevertheless, I persist. We understand what modern witches are, what historically witches were, and what the Halloween stereotype of witches is without different spellings; why not with magic(k)?

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2 thoughts on “Magic(k)

  1. Agreed. The added _k_ just seems…twee. Like, “Look, we’re special! We need to misspell words to put us apart!” I did not always feel this way, but I’m firmly in your camp, now.

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  2. Yes, yes! [laughing] You understand!

    There’s a scene—I think it’s in one of Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde novels—where one of the characters remarks that the _k_ in “magick” seems pretentious to them, and says, “What are you supposed to call someone who practices magick? A magickian?” I shuddered in horrified agreement.

    Well, that’s you, me, and Mercedes Lackey. It’s a start. 😉

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