Adventures in Wortcunning: Spelling as Witchery

Adventures in Wortcunning: Spelling as Witchery September 4, 2015

Long ago, long before we were surrounded with the written word and books, printing, file cabinets, ledgers and all the rest that came later, there were a few magical markings made on stone and clay and wood and parchment. And what made them magic was that, if you knew how to read the markings, this secret code, you could say the words exactly as they had been engraved. You did not need a master to recite the tale and teach it. You could read it alone.

By Anne Druthers
Anne Duthers

But the oldest of the clans, the Wise Ones who had always chanted their stories to first learn, then teach the histories were strong in their memories and could tell 300 tales verbatim to pass the bardic apprenticeship. Then there were the genealogies and longer ballads they had learned to speak and recite on command. Years of training and their brains were exceeding sharp.  These old and wise ones feared that this new magic would weaken humanity in the long run, despite the obvious advantages it offered.

You didn’t have to be at a place to know of the event or experience. If you knew the code, you could make the markings, tell the tale, and roll the story up again. Your page, your sheet of parchment, as a silent bard would wait. The story might travel across miles and years to deliver the message to new and eager eyes. Decoding the message was a magic too. Piecing together letter, word and syntax to read about things that happened far away, or years ago,  or never happened at all.

Yet the story, written thus was no whisper game. It would remain the same from first reading to the last. No matter who read it, no matter how often or when, it would be unchanged.

“I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling-book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.” ~Mark Twain

During Mark Twain’s life a lot of fuss was made over codifying the English language. An effort was made to take the language that had been Celtic and French and German all jumbled together in high and low forms, to make that language stand still and behave.  It was a time when everything had to be done “correctly” and most of life was looked at in a right vs. wrong sort of way. The way words were spelled was no longer a personal choice. Close was not good enough for the new standardized school master and his spelling book.

In documents writ before CE 1880 or so, you will see various spellings for a word often on the same page and by the same hand. Sometimes, (though not usually) these odd little distinctions in a word or two were more than a personal quirk of the quill. Sometimes there was another layer of code, hidden in the quirk.

Old Witches know that each letter in every alphabet has a hidden meaning. It is hidden in its past. Each word came from a place and a people and a thing and still carries this story in the letters of its word. There is a magic in putting the letters and words together for precisely the effect you mean – whenever it is read.  This is the real spelling.

We may have guessed the Old Ones would still be right in the end. As the magic of spelling became the convenience of the written document, we collectively forgot our memories, ballads, tales and genealogies told from before and before times. And worse yet, today it seems few take the time to even read the tales (let alone commit them to memory). Our magic code has become the chore of schoolchildren and we forgot why it was so cool to begin with.

The question is now, if the letters are always the same, can Witches still spell? Can a thing still be magic if it is common place? Of course! This is where the best magic always is.

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