A to Z Challenge Folklore

Occult: Magic and Glamour #AtoZChallenge #folklore

O is for Occult.

occult adj relating to the supernatural the occult knowledge or study of the supernatural

Collins English Dictionary
Learn more here.

Everyone has an opinion about magic. Though, for the most part, no-one really has anything to back up the knee-jerk reaction they have. Some are okay with the fairy godmother in Cinderella

while being outraged by Harry, Ron and Hermione’s use of magic in the Harry Potter series.

Magic is as old as the world itself. Traditionally, it is the use of actions, rituals, gestures, symbols and language to evoke and use supernatural forces. It’s a belief and practice that’s been present since the earliest cultures and continues to have an impact on many cultures today (sometimes in spiritual, religious and even medicinal roles).


The Brothers Grimm Folktales are filled to the brim with magic. Rapunzel has a witch. Briar-Rose has thirteen fairies. The Fisherman and his Wife has an enchanted prince who grants wishes in his flounder form. Rumpelstiltskin can spin straw into gold (for a price). The list goes on. Perhaps this serves to show that magic is an easy solution with severe consequences. Even if death was the alternative…

Gorgeous cover! Image credit.

The Magus by Francis Barrett London, 1801

IN this Work, which we have written chiefly for the information of those who are curious and indefatigable in their enquiries into occult knowledge, we have, at a vast labour and expence, both of time and charges, collected whatsoever can be deemed curious and rare, in regard to the subject of our speculations in Natural Magic–the Cabala–Celestial and Ceremonial Magic–Alchymy–and Magnetism; and have divided it into two Books, sub-divided into Parts: to which we have added a third Book, containing a biographical account of the lives of those great men who were famous and renowned for their knowledge; shewing upon whose authority this Science of Magic is founded, and upon what principles. To which we have annexed a great variety of notes, wherein we have impartially examined the probability of the existence of Magic, both of the good and bad species, in the earliest, as well as in the latter, ages of the world. We have exhibited a vast number of rare experiments in the course of this Treatise, many of which, delivered in the beginning, are founded upon the simple application of actives to passives; the others are of a higher speculation.

NATURAL MAGIC is, as we have said, a comprehensive knowledge of all Nature, by which we search out her secret and occult operations throughout her vast and spacious elaboratory; whereby we come to a knowledge of the component parts, qualities, virtues, and secrets of metals, stones, plants, and animals…

Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, [1911]

The word “magic” is out of fashion, though its spirit was never more widely diffused than at the present time. Thanks to the gradual debasement of the verbal currency, it suggests to the ordinary reader the production of optical illusions and other parlour tricks. It has dragged with it in its fall the terrific verb “to conjure,” which, forgetting that it once undertook to compel the spirits of men and angels, is now content to produce rabbits from top-hats. These facts would have little importance, were it not that modern occultists—annoyed, one supposes, by this abuse of their ancient title—constantly arrogate to their tenets and practices the name of “Mystical Science.” Vaughan, in his rather supercilious survey of the mystics, classed all forms of white magic, alchemy, and occult philosophy as “theurgic mysticism,”  and, on the other side of the shield, the occultists display an increasing eagerness to claim the mystics as masters in their school.  Even the “three-fold way” of mysticism has been adopted by them and relabelled “Probation, Enlightenment, Initiation.”

In our search for the characteristics of mysticism we have already marked the boundary which separates it from magic: and tried to define the true nature and intention of occult philosophy.  We saw that it represented the instinctive human “desire to know more” applied to suprasensible things. For good or ill this desire, and the occult sciences and magic arts which express it, have haunted humanity from the earliest times. No student of man can neglect their investigation, however distasteful to his intelligence their superficial absurdities may be. The starting-point of all magic, and of all magical religion—the best and purest of occult activities—is, as in mysticism, man’s inextinguishable conviction that there are other planes of being than those which his senses report to him; and its proceedings represent the intellectual and individualistic results of this conviction—his craving for the hidden knowledge. It is, in the eyes of those who really practise it, a moyen de parvenir: not the performance of illicit tricks, but a serious attempt to solve the riddle of the world. Its result, according to a modern writer upon occult philosophy, “comprises an actual, positive, and realizable knowledge concerning the worlds which we denominate invisible, because they transcend the imperfect and rudimentary faculties of a partially developed humanity, and concerning the latent potentialities which constitute—by the fact of their latency— the interior man. In more strictly philosophical language, the Hermetic science is a method of transcending the phenomenal world and attaining to the reality which is behind phenomena.”


CEREMONIAL magic is the ancient art of invoking and controlling spirits by a scientific application of certain formulæ. A magician, enveloped in sanctified vestments and carrying a wand inscribed with hieroglyphic figures, could by the power vested in certain words and symbols control the invisible inhabitants of the elements and of the astral world. While the elaborate ceremonial magic of antiquity was not necessarily evil, there arose from its perversion several false schools of sorcery, or black magic.

*More can be read in the book.

The belief in faeries is strong all over the world. The folklore involving them is rich and quite entertaining.

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper

Boggles, Bloody Bones, brownies, black dogs, Shellycoats, barguests, Robin Goodfellows, hags, hobgoblins, dobies, hobthrusts, fetches, kelpies, mumpokers, Pans, sirens, nymphs, incubuses, Kit with the Cansticks, Melsh Dicks, knockers, elves, Rawheads, Padfoots, pixies, dwarves, changelings, redcaps…

These are just some of the fairy creatures listed in a series of nineteenth-century folklore pamphlets by a Yorkshire tradesman named Michael Denham, later published as The Denham Tracts, edited by James Hardy (London: Folklore Society, 1898-1895).

This snapshot of the fairy realm in the British Isles of the not-so-distant past introduces us to a world in which nursery bogies, such as Bloody Bones, lurked in the cupboard under the stairs, and mischievous pranksters Puck and Robin Goodfellow cavorted in the countryside, likely to transform at any moment into flickering lights and lead unwary travellers on a merry dance through briars, ditches, bogs and streams.

This brief peek into fairyland reveals a colourful cast of denizens, wildly different in appearance and characteristics, before we have even ventured further afield than the British Isles. Fairies have appeared in various guises in cultures around the world since ancient times, from the dryads and nymphs of ancient Greece to the noble Sidhe of Ireland, and from the Australian arawotya to the zinkibaru of Africa.

Traditionally, fairies have assumed a number of different roles, as guardians, guides, gatekeepers, muses and messengers, exerting an influence over human lives that may be by turns benevolent, malevolent or mischievous.

*More can be read in the book.

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane


In Hungarian lore the Tündér are a type of beautiful nature spirit; exclusively female these fairies are immensely wealthy and live atop mountains in luxurious castles surrounded by exquisite gardens. They spend their nights dancing beneath the moon. In lore the Tündér look after the destitute and orphans, gifting them with priceless pearls they use as adornment in their hair. Additionally, the breast milk, saliva, and tears contain magical properties that are used in spell casting. The Tündér themselves are skilled magic users and have many magical herbs and jewels.

*More can be read in the book.

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

Amulet (symbolic magical object): wards off evil spirits and bad luck.

Talisman (symbolic magical object): draws good luck or the blessing of the gods to the owner.

Witchcraft (cosmological concept): many popular books continue to claim that witchcraft is an ancient religion, practiced continually and without alteration; more serious practitioners recognize that the rituals of contemporary witchcraft (see Wicca) arose in the mid-20th century in England and represent an attempted reconstruction of European paganism. In addition to this contemporary usage, there is a long-standing belief in Celtic lands that witches can cause distress and mischief, but such witches were seen as magically gifted individual who did not need a coven to work their spells.

Rose (symbolic plant): the fragrant flower of midsummer, the rose was used in divination and magic. Just as it represents romance today, in Celtic lands it was connected with love and loyalty. In the British Cotswolds the rose was used in making magical spells to attract love or capture the wandering interest of a lover.

Sympathetic magic (cosmological concept): in many cultures and mystical traditions throughout the world, it was believed that objects of a specific shape or form affected other similar objects; thus a girl combing her hair at home in the evening could attract the attention of a dangerous mermaid, who also used a comb at that hour and liked to drown sailors. Another form of sympathetic magic was the supposition that parts always remain connected to the whole; thus discarded hair and nails had a subtle power over the person from whom they originally came.

Spells (ritual action): the use of verbal magic has a long history in Celtic lands, for bards were believed to have the power to transform the physical world by the sheer power of their speech. In folklore this belief was translated into the idea that rhyming spells can bring healing (when the words are used to bless) or pain (when cursing is intended). Sometimes brief ceremonies accompanied the repetition of the rhyme – dipping stones in water, rubbing parts of the body – but these were less important than the rhyme or recitation itself.

Protection against fairies (folkloric motif): [faeries are mischievous and one needs protection from their pranks] …filling one’s pockets with bread or salt was a good idea. Iron, too, was dreadful to fairies… four-leaved clovers exuded oil that, if rubbed on the eye, could remove any fairy enchantment; other useful plants were St. John’s wort, daisies, and red verbena. Most effective of all was rowan or mountain ash, whose berries the fairies could not endure. Actions could also break the fairy spell. The most common was turning one’s clothing inside out or wearing it backward, the latter presumably based on the idea that the fairies fail to torment someone who seems to be departing rather than approaching.

Prophecy (religious ritual): the difference between a prophecy and an omen (or portent) is that the first is the result of a ritual embarked upon to find information about the future, while the second is an unsought gift. Omens such as the flight of birds simply existed, like acts of nature, although interpreting their meaning was a skill learned by the Celtic priestly class of druids. Prophecy, by contrast, could be courted by initiates, and the druids practiced various ritual techniques that produced a trance or altered state that permitted a view into hidden matters.

Second sight (folkloric motif): in the ancient Celtic lands we find a common superstition that some people can see things invisible to the physical eye. …da-shealladh does not translate literally as “second sight” but as “two sights”, for it was believed that everyone can see the ordinary reality through “one sight”, but only gifted people can see the otherwise invisible world [ghosts, faeries, etc.]. Like other unusual traits, second sight was not necessarily believed to be a gift; it was rarely envied, and seers often wished to be rid of it. It was generally hereditary but could make its appearance in anyone who suffered a trauma or spiritual awakening.

Magic (cosmological concept): magic is classically defined as actions or words performed or spoken with the intention of effecting a change., usually in the external world. The distinction is further made that magic is typically an individual pursuit rather than a communal one; when the group performs a ritual or chants special words, it is usually defined as religion rather than magic. In the case of the Celtic Druids, the boundary between individual and communal pursuits becomes somewhat slippery, as individual action might be taken for a communal good.

Glamour (folkloric motif): a glamour is a spell, cast by a fairy or witch that caused humans to imagine things that are not there and see things as they are not.

Framing spell (Scottish magical belief): crossing two threads, in a way they would be interwoven on a loom, was an occasional spell in Scotland.

Geis (Irish ritual vow): magical vows or pledges were often required of kings and other heroes in Irish literature, apparently reflecting a real religious custom. Breaking such a vow meant death.

*More can be read in the book. [Things I shortened for convenience in my own words]

The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous

Thorns, etc. are credited with having certain magic power owing to their capacity to lay hold of a thing.

*More can be read in the book.

Encyclopedia of Wicca and Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi

Drawn power is the attracting, collecting, and focusing of energy from a source outside of oneself. Typically this involved drawing power from the moon, sun, planets, stars, deities, or spirits. This act is different than raising power, an act that call upon something within an individual. Drawing power typically involves offerings, chants, gestures, invocations, and the creation of a sacred space.

*More can be read in the book.

Essence of Nature. Image credit.

The Witch’s Familiar by Raven Grimassi

Like everything in magic, the practitioner must believe in not only the system one practices but also in his or her own personal power. At the core of one’s personal power is the connection between deity and the self. This is sometimes referred to as the “divine spark within”. The occult teaching indicated that we bear within us the divine spark of that which created our souls.

According to ancient lore, a spirit from the Otherworld was believed able to dwell within the physical body of an animal or creature. The traditional vessels for such spirts were the cat, mouse, ferret, hare, bat, snake, hound, or bird – particularly a raven or an owl. The lore surrounding the Familiar spirit indicates that a Witch received one following initiation into the Witches’ sect.

Possessing a Familiar spirit allows the Witch to merge with the instincts of the animal and thereby interface with the intelligence of Nature. The physical senses such as hearing and smell are more acute in animals than in human beings. From an occult perspective, the psychic senses of animals are stronger as well. A close rapport with the Familiar spirit enhances the psychic abilities of the Witch. The Familiar also benefits from having a relationship with the Witch. Merging with human consciousness provides the Familiar with an expanded view of reality, and intensifies the energy pattern of the Familiar. The alien worlds of human consciousness and “natural order” consciousness join together to form a magical consciousness. In this the Familiar becomes the mediator.

The magical consciousness of the Witch and the Familiar can open portals to other realms, and can accomplish works of magic in the material realm as well as the astral plane. This is the basis of legends in which we find the magical servant of the Witch, and tales of shapeshifting by Witches. In reality, the Familiar is a magical partner and companion for the Witch, and vice versa.

*More can be read in the book.

Further Reading:

The Folklore of Magic in a Nutshell by Ronel

Magic is as old as the world itself. Traditionally, it is the use of actions, rituals, gestures, symbols and language to evoke and use supernatural forces. It’s a belief and practice that’s been present since the earliest cultures and continues to have an impact on many cultures today (sometimes in spiritual, religious and even medicinal roles).

People have different definitions of magic, ranging from being an illusion, wishful thinking, superstition to self-hypnosis of those who believe it to be true. People also have different definitions of the word occult, most of it erroneous (connotations with evil): the real definition can be found in a dictionary if you only open your eyes and look.

A longer definition from the Collins English Dictionary: Occult adj 1 a of or characteristic of magical, mystical, or supernatural arts, phenomena, or influences b (as noun): the occult 2 beyond ordinary human understanding 3 secret or esoteric

Magical practices have been kept secret for good reasons over time. Where once magical practitioners were welcomed to openly practice their craft, times change and they were subject to torture, persecution and oppression. (And not just in fiction, like in BBC’s Merlin.)

Magic is, at its core, about the science of Earth’s hidden powers. No matter the “type” of magic you look at, it is all about the energy radiating from the Earth and all living things. Think about the four elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Wind. Now and “Soul” to the equation to factor in living creatures. There’s the basis for the energy used in magic, “magic power” or “glamour”.

Harnessing this power is much like using Feng Shui (literally meaning “wind and water”): manipulating objects to create good fortune and eliminating disaster, while paying attention to natural formations such as valleys and mountains to harmonise one’s own energies with them for maximum benefit. For example: roses on their own are powerful enough on their own to work as a tool of seduction, while other flowers might need the presence of lavender (something that theoretically empowers other materials).

Witches can use grimoires (spell books) to enhance their powers – we’ll look at grimoires and witches in a later post. Witches can also bond with a Familiar to become stronger. Familiars are supernatural entities who appear in the guise of an animal to assist Witches in their practice of magic.

The moon can also be harnessed for power. Using moon cycles, various types of magic is performed and power is drawn from the moon to enhance spells. (We’ll look at the moon in a later post.)

Witches and others can draw power from nature – or from other creatures. If not careful, they draw all magical power from themselves. Magical power is constantly being generated in every individual and all the elements, plants, etc.

And though it might seem ludicrous, modern science is the offspring of magical arts – especially alchemy – and things that seem impossible at one point in time becomes commonplace in the future. Magic cannot be seen or touched, but its effects can be felt – much like radioactive energy. No-one believed Marie Curie while she laboriously worked on her experiments, until everyone felt the effects of radioactive energy for themselves. Magic and science have a lot in common. Yes, science demands consistent replication of results and magic prefers unique and individual results. But both refute the concept of coincidence: there is something that causes something to happen and should be paid attention to and be analysed.

Which means that magic is neither good nor evil – it all rests in the hands and intentions of the practitioner. In folkloric an occult tradition, magic can be divided by colour: black magic and white magic. This usually serves well to show the dichotomy of good and evil. “White magic” is what we call magic used for selfless purposes. Practitioners of white magic are usually called wise men/women, healers, white witches/wizards. White magic is also often referred to as “natural magic”. “Black magic” is the opposite of white magic as it is used for selfish advancement of an individual. Black magic is usually used in vindictive and destructive ways.

Magic in Modern Culture

Where does magic come from? Fictionally, speaking of course.

There are different ways writers give their characters magic.

An innate talent. (The character is usually born with this “curse” and has to learn how to deal with it.) E.g. Title character in BBC’s Merlin.

Through studying. (Somehow the character can learn how to control and use magic by studying books.) E.g. Gaius in BBC’s Merlin.

Bestowed by another. (Magic can be gained if given. Usually through a pact with the devil/spirits/faeries as is common in folklore.) E.g. in CW’s The Originals the witches can get their magic from their ancestors by either interring the bones of a powerful witch in their cemetery or by killing a couple of chosen teenaged witches.

Enchanted objects. (Something magical gives the person magic or a way to control magic. Wands, staves, amulets, bracelets, the list goes on.) E.g. in CW’s The Vampire Diaries, the Salvatore brothers have magical rings that protect them from the sun.

Magical places. (Battlefields, execution spots, places of great tragedy, enchanted forests, homes of magical creatures and other places filled with strong emotion and magic can fuel the magic of the character.) E.g. in CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Bonnie harnesses the magic left by a hundred executed witches to make herself stronger so she can kill Klaus.

Language. (This includes the casting of spells and usually needs a spell book (grimoire) to be successful.) E.g. In the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, the characters use special spells to do what they need to.

Though, sometimes, a simple spell can explode if Seamus Finnigan is involved…

Of course, magic is a key component in a lot of fantasy books.

In the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, the entire forest bends to the will of the king. Also, wizards can be melted by lemon juice and soap water.

In the Bloodlines novels (and the Vampire Academy novels that preceded it) by Richelle Mead, various kinds of magic is used. The Moroi (good vampires) have power over the elements and can compel others to think what they need them to. The Strigoi (bad vampires) can make anyone do anything, feel anything, want anything with the power of their compulsion. And then there’s the witches… Though they use different spell books (grimoires) for different types of spells, the magic is a lot like what the Moroi use and then some.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last two decades, you know about Harry Potter. In the Harry Potter books (and movies, games, etc.) Harry is a wizard who goes to a special school for witches and wizards. They use wands, potions and spells to perform magic.

And then there’s Faery magic.

In the Wicked Lovely books by Melissa Marr, the most powerful magic comes from the monarchs of the different Courts (Summer, Winter, Dark and High Courts). The High queen can bend reality. The Dark king can summon horrific things. The Winter queen controls everything to do with winter (including creating ice). The Summer queen makes plants grow (and other summery things). Though all Fae have a bit of magic in them to keep them hidden from humans, none are as powerful as the monarchs.

In the Wings series by Aprilynne Pike, faeries are plants. Spring faeries are a dime a dozen and used as servants and bodyguards. Summer faeries are the entertainers. Both Spring and Summer faeries have power over basic glamour (magic). Autumn faeries are rather rare and live in a greenhouse (or magical school) where they learn everything about making potions and being awesome. They are much more powerful than the previous group. Winter faeries are the rarest and most powerful of all. Most magic used by these faeries involve nature.

In The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, faeries and Faerie is only strong while humans believe in them and remember them. The summer court is ruled by Oberon and Titania (from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and the winter court is ruled by Mab (also from Shakespeare’s play). And then they find that there’s a third court: the iron fey (dreamt up by humanity from the Industrial Evolution and on). All of these faeries use glamour to shape the world around them. It’s a matter of pulling the magic to them to change leaves into money (and other things).

And magic is regularly used in TV shows.

In the very first episode of BBC’s Merlin, a witch uses representative magic to kill someone and take her identity (face, voice and all).

Witch (Mary Collins) kills Lady Helen. Image credit.

She also uses magic in a sleep-spell while singing in order to make everyone fall asleep so she can kill Arthur. (And, of course, there’s loads of other types of magic used throughout the series. We’ll look at Merlin and his powers in a later post.)

As Lady Helen, Mary Collins uses a song to make everyone fall magically asleep. Image credit.

In The Vampire Diaries, there are various types of magic that can be practiced.

“It’s not meant to be fun. It’s real and it’s serious, and you must understand it before you practice it.” — as Sheila Bennett explains witchcraft to her granddaughter, Bonnie.

Ancestral Magic is practiced by most witches in New Orleans, Connective Magic helps witches to augment their own powers with that of another witch, Dark Magic and Black Magic is one and the same, Expression is the most malicious type of magic that draws on something dark and dangerous that most witches try to ignore, Kemiya helps witches destroy the elemental power of an object and is much like alchemy, Necromancy is about talking to and reanimating the dead, Sacrificial Magic is as taboo as Expression, Spirit Magic is much like Ancestral Magic but with limits on the witch using it, Traditional Magic is magic in its purest form using the forces of Nature, and Traveler Magic practiced by the Travelers specialising in spirit possession.

Bonnie Bennett practicing Spirit Magic. Image credit.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, magic is part of everything: Buffy’s Slayer abilities, demon realms, talismans and other things at the Magic Box, and what the witches use to ward off evil.

You can read about all the different aspects of magic in Buffy’s world here.

Tara creates magic. Image credit.

Magic and Glamour in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Magic and Glamour

The Mist is what we call the all-consuming, all-powerful magic that runs raw through Druids and Cù Sìth. Other humans with magic need talismans to tap into the Mist. Normal Fae can fashion Glamour – weaker magic than that of the Cù Sìth – out of their connection with the Mist. All Fae can store Glamour in plants, crystals and wind-orbs/light-orbs for later use.
Humans can use magic in various forms: harnessing it from Nature; storing it in amulets, crystals and talismans for later use; siphoning it from other beings (usually other witches and wizards); or using incantations along with talismans to use The Mist in its rawest form.
Magic must be earned or inherited for humans to wield it. Some go on quests to earn the right to use magic while others are born with it in their blood.

magic glamour English Afrikaans
magic wand magic sketch
tattered tales book extract
Get it here.

What do you think of the different types of magic in folklore and modern tales? Do you believe, as some do, that someone is by default a creature of darkness if they’re curious about the arcane? If you could, what type of magic would you like to have? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free ebook. I won’t share your information and I’ll only email you once a month with updates on new releases, special offers, and a bit of news.

12 thoughts on “Occult: Magic and Glamour #AtoZChallenge #folklore”

  1. Goodness, there are some idiots out there, fussing about the Harry Potter books! Especially because they mostly haven’t read them. You just need to use the word “witch” in a book and they think you’re encouraging kids to worship Satan.

    The impression I get from these books is that you are born with magical abilities and need to be taught to use them properly. That’s what Hogwarts is for. Wands are tools, to channel the magic, and potions, spells, etc. are also tools.

    Have you read Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London books? In these books, the rivers have guardian spirits who mostly started off as humans. You can learn magic “like playing the guitar” as the hero, policeman Peter Grant, says, but it’s dangerous and can kill you if you overdo it. So you store it in a wizard staff, like a battery, till you need it, to save you from ending up with a Swiss cheesed brain. Magic also wrecks technology, so you have to turn off your mobile phone before using magic.

  2. Fascinating chapter today. In a general sense I knew a lot of what you’re saying here, which I guess means I know more about it than I thought. I know there are board games that get into a lot of these concepts. One of Chuck Palahniuk’s books, Lullaby, is about a lullaby that kills if a person hears it. I think magic is an umbrella term under which anything we don’t understand (yet!) falls.

  3. Really really enjoyed this post. I particularly enjoyed the excerpts from the 1911 and 1928 books… you’ll probably won’t be surprised 😉
    The relationship between humans and magic may be such a complex matter. You gave us a glimpse of it.

    The Old Shelter – Living the Twenties

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *