The CBd
Bonner, SMA, 207.

in the process.128 Such a view is not easy to disprove; but one circumstance argues against it. In the commoner magical formulas the differences that appear upon collating one text with another are on the whole rather slight. They are of a kind that can easily be explained by errors in copying, or else by different ways of representing a sound in which previously distinct sounds have been fused together, as in itacism and the loss of distinction between omicron and omega. If these often recurring formulas were corrupt versions of ancient hymns or prayers, we should expect other differences — variations in the choice of words and in their order; the establishment of a norm for a given formula would not be merely a matter of orthography and palaeography. I incline to think, therefore, that, where no elements drawn from known languages can be detected in magical names or formulas, we must believe them to have been invented by master magicians, of whose stock in trade secrecy and mystery formed no small part.

The conclusion that has just been put forward on the basis of a few striking and curious examples may, if correct, apply to a great number of magical names and sound sequences. It may not seem to fit the babbling inscriptions, nor would it apply so aptly if we could imagine that the long formulas made up of meaningless syllables had once been uttered in frenzy by a prophet or a magician and piously noted down by a disciple. Yet even in such a case as that, the deliberate, methodical perpetuation of this jargon in writing is the important point. Whatever its origin — various possible sources have been indicated above — there can be little doubt that masters or schools of magic continued to use words and formulas most of which they themselves did not understand, but which, none the less, they represented as sacred or magically powerful. How far their procedure is to be charged to deliberate deception and how far to blind following of an older tradition is a question about which opinions will probably differ.

128 Compare Kipling's amusing fancy in the story “Namgay Doola.” An Irish soldier marries an Indian hill woman and ends his days in isolation from his own kind. His descendants make a ritual of chanting a strangely garbled version of “The Wearing of the Green,” which the old soldier used to sing.

Last modified: 2012-11-01 22:50:06