Mystique: The four aces, so often coaxed from a deck of cards by a
magician's skillful fingers, actually spell out an ancient magic word discovered
in the "Greek magical papyri." Dating from the second century BCE,
these scrolls collected hymns, rituals, magical spells, and mystic formulae
from Greco-Roman Egypt.1 Modern scholars have failed to find a definitive
translation of the incantation aaaa, but there is no doubt how the word was
used: aaaa was a sacred word of power, sometimes chanted in conjunction
with the name of a deity. The vibratory sound of Egyptian priests chanting
vowel sounds was said to be "so euphonious that men listen[ed] to it in place
of the flute and lyre."
It's little wonder that aaaa sounds like our word awe. Aaaa is an
expression of wordless wonder, when language fails and yet one feels com
pelled to cry out. Aaaa is a magic word that always finds its way into perfor-
Figure 4. The four aces spell the Egyptian magic word aaaa, a
universal expression of awe in the face of something incomprehensible.
1 Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (1997)
2 Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes (1986), quoted by Laurel Holmstrom in "Self-
Identification with Deity and Voces Magicae in Ancient Egyptian and Greek Magic"