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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bewitching Spells

An Analysis of Bewitched© Incantations

It has been said that magick is all about defining what you want and then letting it happen. In my personal practices, I often define my goals with the incantation, or spoken element, of my spells. In fact, my spells often begin with a written incantation around which I design my spell.

Over the years I have developed a formula for the construction of my incantations. They usually consist of four lines in the AABB rhyme scheme, although sometimes they will fall into the ABAB scheme. The first two lines usually describe the situation or problem while the second two lines state what is needed or wanted to address the problem. In addition, each line will contain the same number of syllables, or within one or two syllables of being the same number. For example,

A Spell to Remove Obstacles

This obstacle before me,
simply can no longer be;
I crush it now with magick force,
that I may resume my course!

However, I didn’t always have my magic down to a science. My first exposure to the (fictional) world of magic and witchcraft was probably Bewitched©, an American sitcom which ran on the ABC network from 1964 to 1972. The premise of Bewitched is centered on a witch named Samantha who marries Darrin, a mortal, and who attempts to live the life of a normal, suburban housewife.

Samantha’s mother, Endora, served as the main antagonist of the show. She disapproved of her daughter’s “mixed-marriage” and unsuccessfully attempted to drive Darrin away each week. A typical show has Endora, or some other relative, cast a spell on Darrin ensuing chaos and upsetting his life and the lives  of their nosey-neighbor, Darrin’s boss, his parents, and his various clients. By the end of the show, Samantha is able to convince Endora to reverse the offending spell as well as to use her own wits and magic to make it work to her advantage.

Many of the spells in the earlier season seem to be simply made up such as the spell Samantha unsuccessfully used to send her mother away in the first episode:

One re or re ickery Anne
Phillison, follison Nicholas John
queevy qavey, English navy
Sticklum, Stacklum Buck
B-U-C-K spells “Buck” and out goes you!

Some spells appear to be a form of Latin as in this spell Samantha used to freeze people,

“Lindor, ramamanthas, insectus”

In other cases the spells are quite clever and sophisticated as in the following spell Endora cast upon Darren to make him indecisive.

Indecision will now be your state,
in matters small and matters great;
a plague of “ifs” and “ands” and “buts,”
will descend to drive you nuts!

As you can see, there seems to be no real rhyme or reason to the construction of the spells used during the course of the show. However, a closer look at some of these incantations may help us to understand the logic behind them.

For example, the first spell quoted above

One re or re ickery Anne
Phillison, follison Nicholas John
queevy qavey, English navy
Sticklum, Stacklum Buck
B-U-C-K spells “Buck” and out goes you!

This old rhymes dates back to at least the late 1800’s and is one of many variants of a “counting off” game used by children to determine who is “it” or “out” (think eenie meenie miney mo). However, evidence suggests that the rhyme has its origins in very old magic spells. Here Samantha intended to use it to send Endora away, so in effect she was counting her mother “out”! Perhaps this spell may be appropriate the next time you cast a banishing spell?

In other cases, the witches call upon magical lore to empower their spells. Take this spell to give a mortal three wishes, for example:

Stars of lightning, sons of fire.
Harken to the hearts desire.
Set your potent power free,
And give this mortal wishes three!

Here we can make a connection between this spell and the age-old belief of wishing on stars. Typically a person wishes upon either a falling star, or the first star which can be seen in the night sky saying:

Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
have my wish come true tonight!

In addition, the phrase 'sons of fire' may be a reference to Jinns (genies) who legend states were born of fire and who have been know to grant wishes to human in certain circumstances. 

In some instances, the witches will invoke the spirit of inanimate objects directing them to produce some change or effect. Consider this spell cast by Aunt Clara to repair a faulty lamp.

Hark ye witches who live in lamps,
power of watts and oomphs and amps;
Wizards of AC/DC transmissions,
send to me an electrician!

or this one to summon a painter

Colors harsh and colors mellow,
Kumquat orange and lemon yellow,
Turpentine and brush of sable,
Send to me a painter able!

It may seem silly to us to call upon a lamp or a paint brush to power a spell. However, Aunt Clara was simply acting in accordance with the belief in animism, which is the belief that all non-human entities have a soul. The concept of animism was formed during the Prehistoric Age, when humans believed that everything was inhabited or controlled by a spirit. For example, there was a spirit which controlled fire, or thunder, spirits inhabiting lakes, streams, trees, rocks, etc... As you can see, it is no sillier than you or I calling upon the power inherent in an herb, or a stone to drive our spells.

It should also be noted that in the Bewitched universe witches are seemingly immortal and age at a much slower rate than humans. Overtime their powers dwindle and when that occurs, the will often turn themselves into something useful such as a lamp or a doorknob. Therefore, it was entirely possible that the lamp was once a witch or warlock.

In earlier seasons many of the spells appear to be nonsensical words intended to sound like Latin such as this spell used by Samantha to summon her mother.

Quadramus invecta expedia!

In some cases the spells consist of made-up words used in conjunction with everyday words that rhyme. A spell to manifest a feast, for example.

Webus, willibus, tootles, flick!
Eat all this and you'll be sick!

In other cases everyday words which rhyme are used, but make no sense for the purpose of the spell. Consider this spell to make Darrin agreeable.

Bees knees and bells nell,
Harken to my tricky spell.
To prove your brain's the size of a pea,
With all you hear you will agree!

In later seasons, many of the spells cast became less vague and more sophisticated. Such as this spell to make Darrin more ambitious,

A mogul, a magnate
a ruthless big deal.
Ambition and power,
is now what you feel!

or this one to turn a monkey into a human.

A monkey you are,
a monkey you'll be,
In human form
when I count to three…
1 - 2 – 3!

The witch’s ability to move across time and space was a theme often touched upon over the course of the series with characters going back in time or historical figures coming to the present. In the case of the later it was often the result of a spell gone awry. In these cases, the language of the spell often mirrors the language of the time or place in question.

For example when Aunt Clara cast a spell to send herself to the Victorian Age she accidentally brings Queen Victoria to the present. After a bit of trial and error she cast the following spell to send the Queen back.

Eye of newt,
leg of spider
Queen Victoria, tally-ho
I cast my spell and off you go!

The phrase tally-ho is distinctly British and is used in fox-hunting to denote when a rider has spotted the fox. The spell succeeds in sending back the Queen of the British Empire but also results in bringing forth Prince Albert, to which Aunt Clara replies “maybe I didn’t put enough English into it?” Curiously the episode ends without resolving the issue.

In another episode, Endora casts a spell to make Darrin speak fluent Italian incorporating Italian into her spell.

Uno, due, tre,
I wish he might, I wish he may,
Speak like an Italian,
At the break of day!

In another episode Uncle Arthur attempts to produce a dessert known as a Napoleon with the following spell,

Bon soir mes et me,
And viva la France!
A scrumptious Napoleon
Now gets a chance – a chance!

The spell backfires bringing the historical Napoleon to the present.

However, even this rule isn’t hard and fast. In one episode a witch sends Samantha back in time one-hundred years, saying

Blow ye winds and thunder crack,
roll the years a century back.
Vixen be gone and make the switch,
be gone with the wind you little witch!

This results in Samantha appearing in New Orleans just after the Civil War (circa 1865) which is also roughly the same time-period in which Gone With the Wind is set (see the last line of the spell above).

The witches of Bewitched make casting spells seems easy, however, un-doing them is another matter entirely. It is easy to understand how an aging witch such as Aunt Clara, whose powers are waning in her twilight years and who often has difficulty remembering her spells, has a hard time reversing her spells when they go awry. However, it isn’t always easy for powerful witches in their prime to reverse a spell that has turned sour. In the Bewitched universe there are a few rules concerning the reversing of spells. They are:

A spell can only be reversed by the witch or the warlock who cast it. In an early episode, Samantha explains to Darren that a witch who cast a spell on a person has the witch’s equivalent of squatter’s rights and only he or she can reverse it. As is the case with other instances, there are a few episodes where this rule does not apply. For example, in the season eight episode How Not to Lose Your Head to King Henry the VIII, Part One Samantha is inexplicably able to zap a nobleman out of a painting in which he was cursed to remain for one thousand years. Similarly, when Samantha is crowned Queen of the Witches, she is able to undo the spells cast by her predecessor.

Another exception to this rule appears in the season two episode Nobody But A Frog Knows How to Live, in which a frog who has been turned into a man petitions Samantha to turn him back into a frog. She explains that only the witch who turned him into a man can change him back into a frog. However, once Samantha learns that the frog asked the witch to turn him into a man, Samantha is able to restore his original form because it was a product of his wish.

A spell can not be reversed if you do not know or cannot remember the words used to cast the spell in the first place. Examples of this rule occur several times throughout the course of the series. For example, in the season four episode Samantha’s Secret Saucer, Aunt Clara cast the following spell to retrieve a toy flying-saucer that has flown out the window.

Flying saucer in darkest night,
hark ye land within my sight.

The spell results in Aunt Clara summoning a real flying-saucer from another galaxy into the Stephens’ backyard. After several attempts at reversing her spell, Aunt Clara is able to do so upon remembering that she rhymed the words ‘night’ and ‘sight’.  Her successful spell is as follows:

Flying saucer from out the night,
return ye now and leave my sight!

In addition, when Uncle Arthur accidentally summons Napoleon when attempting to conjure a dessert he makes several attempts to reverse his spell. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he speculates that he is using the wrong hand gestures and reverses the gestures he used when originally casting his spell.

A spell cannot be reversed if the subject of the spell does not wish the spell to be reversed. In the season eight episode Samantha’s Caesar Salad, Esmeralda accidentally conjures up Julius Caesar when she attempts to manifest a Caesar salad. Caesar, angry that history has labeled him a tyrant, refuses to return to his own time until he can remove the stain on his reputation. Ultimately, Samantha is able to convince Caesar to return to his own time by tempting him with Cleopatra. 

Debuting in the late 1960’s, Bewitched was one of the earliest supernatural sitcoms and continues to be seen the world over enchanting new generations of believers with each passing year. A product of its time, Bewitched may seem less sophisticated than later series such as Charmed or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However the magic of television will ensure that Bewitched will always be more than “quicksilver… a fleeting shadow”. 

Carolina Dean


Spellbound at Harpies Bizarre


Anonymous said...

Very interesting stuff. I always loved Bewitched, simple and as Hollywood as it may be, it was fun. I still long for that ability to twitch my nose and my housework would be done!

Carolina Dean said...

Try twitching your nose to change traffic lights! It's fun and makes you feel powerful when they actually change!