An Anagrammatical Ancestral Spell
(As published in the May 2018 issue of Fiddler’s Green.)
by Craig Conley
When a first anagram appears,
it seems like a flash of light.
Here we reveal a very hands-on magic spell that summons the guardianship of a long-forgotten ancestor. We’ll use letter tiles or cubes from word games like Scrabble or Boggle. Recall that books of magic spells are called “grimoires,” and that word derives from the root “grammar” (the “art of letters”). So the actual spelling of words — the arrangement of letters — is inseparably intertwined with magic. It’s been posited that the mere presence of an anagram, especially one that contains the potential for a celestial or infernal adjuration, is sufficient to ensure the efficacy of magic.1 (By the way, collecting anagrams of magic words would constitute an “anagrimoire.” That term is a Googlewhack, but feel free to use it!) Our ancestral spell will invoke an invisible yet powerful presence, for a primogenitor was vital in securing one’s very existence.
Note that to conjure your relative in a formal, ritualized setting need not be equated with ancestor worship. As in Japan’s Shinto belief system, it’s more accurate to call it ancestor “veneration.” To venerate is to regard with great respect. Even the most devout skeptic can genuinely revere a departed link in the chain of one’s existence.
Begin with letter tiles or cubes that spell the word “ANCESTOR.” Arrange them thusly on a table in front of you, under the light of a single candle. This is the opening word of your spell. Gaze upon the word for several moments, looking at the letters as if they aren’t familiar symbols but rather mysterious glyphs from another time and place. That’s actually the secret of how poems are conceived, and you’ve already begun to unlock the poetry inherent in your magic spell. Here’s an explanation of how an anagram is a “prototext” for magical poetry; you can substitute the word “magician” for “poet,” the word “spell” for “poem,” and the word “magical” for “poetic”:
The poet begins not with an articulated meaning, not even with key words; . . . the most rudimentary step in a poem’s composition involves the spontaneous emergence in the poet’s mind of fragmentary sound clusters, whose shapes vaguely allude to a nascent poetic idea without yet articulating it. An anagram then constitutes a prototext out of which the text of a poem is born. An anagrammatic effect emerges in a poem not because the poet deliberately sought words that would contain certain sound combinations; on the contrary, it was those primary sound combinations at the core of the poetic idea that ‘sought’ words in the poet’s memory fitting the nascent poem’s prearticulated design. (Jean Starobinski, in Beyond Pure Reason by Boris Gasparov, 2012)
Your next letter arrangements will respectfully specify how you regard your ancestor. Rearrange the letters to spell “AN ESCORT,” meaning you desire protection, and then, “ONCE STAR,” to specify that you call upon a luminous being.
The next three arrangements will represent three offerings. You may choose to keep the offerings symbolic, the words standing for the things, or you may lay the three items by the candle. First, rearrange the letters to spell “SET ACORN,” then “SCANT ORE,” then “TAR CONES.” So the three offerings are an oak fruit (in honor of your family tree), a small piece of iron (like an old nail or a tablet of a mineral supplement), and an incense cone. These offerings cover all the elements: the acorn for wood, the iron for metal, the tar incense for earth while its smoke is ether, the candle for fire, and the gift of your own presence being mostly made of water. If you choose to offer these gifts in physical form, light the incense at this point.
The next part of your spell will specify what you wish from your ancestral spirit. Rearrange the letters to spell “CARE TONS” and then “SCARE NOT,” for you surely desire warm-hearted assistance with nothing overtly spooky.
The final two parts of the spell will close the proceedings. Rearrange your letters to spell “SO RECANT” and “NO TRACES.” You are now abjuring the spell and wishing the encounter to remain a private concord. Blow out the candle.
If you”d like to associate the word “ancestor“ with a particular forgotten relative, you can find a strange and wonderful name in your family tree. Use online resources like Ancestry.com or Geni.com and go back a good many generations. Going back four generations in my own family tree, to the mid-1800s, I begin encountering names like Mortimore, Powhatan, Eleazer, Temporana, and Jepthoth. It will be a real coup to find the name of the seventh son of a seventh son, as folklore tells us that such a person possesses special powers (such as healing, enchantment of snakes, the ability to detect precious metals, and the propensity to transform into a werewolf.) A seventh son of a seventh son isn’t necessarily so rare in your family tree, as families tended to be bigger in olden times.
Now: how do you lend power to your ancestor’s name? First, consider what exactly is the source of primal amazement. Language has the power to reawaken vestiges of humankind’s earliest communication—our ancient ancestors’ savage cries of anger or love. All such cries were commands, originally bound up with the act and indeed inseparable to the primitive mind. Much in the way that a small child learns to conjure up a parent from the unseen void of an adjoining room, simply by employing a magic word like “Mama,” we can reflect that the savage called a friend’s name and saw that friend turn and answer; what more natural to conclude than that the name itself in some way compelled an answer? Eons later, words are still magic. As the poet said, Dipped in the wisdom / Of our ancestors / Words pluck strings / reaching far through time.
It has been said that the “secret” of magic words is this: “It doesn’t matter what you say as much as it matters how you say it”2. Naturally, each magician must make a magic word his or her own, so that its utterance flows comfortably and seamlessly — though nonetheless impressively and mysteriously — from the lips. Vocalize as much vibration as possible. The key is to emphasize each syllable, so that you can hear it resonate and feel it vibrate within you. The sound of any power-name seeks and harnesses that power. When this sound is combined with concentration and visualization, you stir the energy and power to which you are heir as a magician.3 The very act of speech is the “Open Sesame,” the magical power.4 Note that the act of speech is where the magic is. Kabbalah scholar Phillip Cooper reminds us that “No word or statement contains power—power lies within the mind of the person who speaks those words.”5
But what if you come to regret conjuring the ancient spirit of an ancestor? That’s where mumbo jumbo comes in — literally! Mumbo Jumbo is the name of a magician who makes the troubled spirits of ancestors go away. The phrase refers to the belief of some Mandingo peoples in the western Sudan that a high priest called the “Mumbo Jumbo” had the power to protect his village from evil spirits.6 (The priest’s title is derived from the name of the deity “Mama Dyambo,” literally meaning “ancestor with a pompon” or tuft on his hat7).
Thank you for bringing the grammar back into the grimoire with me. May your no-longer-forgotten ancestor lend you the fortitude and radiance to light tomorrow’s way.
[Some of this text is derived from the introduction to Magic Words: A Dictionary (Weiser Books). The anagrammatical ancestral spell is exclusively revealed for Fiddler’s Green.]
- Wade-Sirabian, Elizabeth I. “Fifteenth-Century Medicine and Magic at the University of Heidelberg.” Fifteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 32, 2007
- Max, Joseph, qtd. by Azaz Cythrawl, 1999
- Harris, Eleanor L. Ancient Egyptian Divination and Magic, 1998
- Van Ripper, C. and L. Emerick, qtd. in Everybody Belongs by Arthur Shapiro, 1999
- Esoteric Magic and the Cabala, 2002
- Morris, William and Mary. Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, 1977
- Hendrickson, Robert. Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 1997
Craig Conley, author of The Young Wizard’s Hexopedia: A Guide to Magical Words & Phrases. www.MysteryArts.com