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Why is Magic Sometimes Spelled Magick?


Everyone has had that moment of curiosity when you're wandering through a bookstore or poking around on the Internet and you stray into the New Age section. Before you can say "Rabbit Hole" you're surrounded by books on Voodoo, numerology, Wicca and even more esoteric subjects ranging from ghost hunting to reading tarot cards. And one thing that a lot of people notice, and wonder about, is why so many of the materials regarding modern New Age and Occult theory and practice insist on using the word magic spelled magick. There is an explanation, but it requires us to travel backwards in time more than 100 years.
Beginning in the mid to late 1800s the Western world seemed to develop an itch for all things occult. This was the height of seances and occult practices, and it's the sort of culture that gave birth to the Ouija board. People were hungry for the bizarre and the unexplained, and secret societies in the style of the Bavarian Illuminati (which had been disbanded in the 1700s) like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were being formed at record pace. It was also around this time that stage magicians, the precursors to the famous and infamous Harry Houdini, began to take up the spotlight. They did what they called stage magic, later shortened to just magic. The original purpose of adding the K to the word magic was to distinguish ceremonial or "high" magic from the illusions performed on stage.

Today this change is generally attributed to the occult philosopher Aleister Crowley (known as the Wickedest Man in the World, the Great Beast and even 666). Crowley, a one time member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, added the K for mystical reasons according to some people. The letter "k" is the 11th number in the alphabet, making it a powerful prime number. Of course this also had the benefit that it meant occult magicians (or magickians) could differentiate in print their arts from stage illusionists.

Oddly enough magick as a spelling is actually found in the English language. In a time before dictionaries had unified spellings magic could be found spelled magick, but also as magique, magict and various other ways. Shakespeare and Milton both used the spelling with a "k" in their times. However, regardless of the historical backing given to spelling magic as magick, it's generally thought of by modern pagans as something that's more than a little pretentious. Sort of like calling your ritual diary a Book of Shadows, or making other fluffbunny "magickal" mistakes.