Betsy Whitt

I read. I write. I think. I live.

(Wo)man Overboard!

I’ve been swamped. Matt’s been sick, youth group kids are having crises, there’s writing and editing goals and deadlines piling up, and the house is a mess, which doesn’t help anything.

As such, I’ll make it clear right now that this post contains very little in the way of original thought and analysis. However, I will leave you with another tidbit of the excellent From Homer to Harry Potter:

What comes to mind when you think of a spell? For most people, it has the connotation of magic or enchantment… The World English Dictionary defines a spell as: “a word or series of words believed to have magical power, spoken to invoke the magic.” For those in a Christian tradition, therefore, a spell is thus likely to be viewed as a thing of evil…

In the Old English, however, the word spell had a somewhat different meaning. Originally the word spell meant “story.” Hence, gód spell is “good story”–the close translation to Old English of the Greek evangelion, or “good message.” Thus, when Christians came to England, they called the evangelion the gód spell, which later became the gospel: the good story.

So how did the word change meanings? How did a story become magic? The change is not so dramatic as it might first appear. After all, a good story (or Old English spell) really does cast a spell (in the more modern use of that word). The best sort of story enchants the listener or reader; while he or she is hearing the tale–listening to the “series of words” used to tell the tale–the characters seem real for a time. Indeed, the mark of a successful writer is the ability to make characters so real to us that we care about them.

Discuss as you will. This stuff fascinates and excites me.



  1. Think about this for a moment…Isn’t there another word that is a name for a set of words designed to “evoke the magic?” Isn’t this another phrase that could be interpreted as “divine intervention?” What else is magic if it isn’t changing the outcome of something through some sort of otherworldly intervention. There is another word, isn’t there? Isn’t that word “prayer?” Couldn’t it be logically argued that “spell” and “prayer” are essentially the same things, just with different stigmas and prejudices attached to them? Think about what you are doing when your head is bowed in prayer…You are calling on a higher power, and outside power that exists outside of nature, to help you in some way, or even (dare I say it) to influence things to your will. Isn’t that exactly what a spell is as well?

    You stated “For those in a Christian tradition, therefore, a spell is thus likely to be viewed as a thing of evil…” but I think that’s a falicy and something that goes completely against the whole Christian idea of loving others. Remember, that which we call a rose would by any other name would smell as sweet, and that which we call prayer, by any other name, is still a person attempting to exercise not only their spiritual side, but also their constitutionally-protected freedom of religion.

    Just my unsolicited $.02…

  2. It’s funny how language twists around on itself, isn’t it? I agree with the quote from Dickerson and O’Hara here, that the word “spell” has been twisted into something that it wasn’t originally meant to be, and with you that certain kinds of prayers can indeed be seen as spells. Certainly to an outside eye, if someone prays for something (say, medical healing, just to pick a relatively universal desire) and it happens against all “natural” odds, it looks a lot like magic. Miracles of all varieties happen “just like magic”.

    For me, there is a fundamental difference between the two. Many Christians would believe with me, but (I feel) take it rather too far by saying that since they attach a negative connotation to things like spells and magic and all the other things you might find in a fantasy story, such a story cannot convey valid truths about the world in which we live. I violently disagree with that notion.

    In terms of use in a fantasy world, I think there’s a distinct difference in the attitude toward “magic” use (often culled from latent energies in the world around, or from some internal strength/reservoir/power that is not supernatural in the sense of being bestowed by a deity but is simply there, like blood in the veins) as opposed to some supernatural power acquired through association with a demon or deity. In the simplest terms, one is commanded, while the other is requested.

    I’m not sure I’ve got the brainpower right now to get into a real-world religious debate with you – but my immediate response is that the Christian idea of loving others doesn’t equate to accepting all paths as right or good. I believe in absolute truth, unpopular as it is in the midst of all this post-modernism.

    I hope I’ve never said anything that implied I advocated violating anyone’s constitutional rights – I’ll even go on record saying that I disagree with those who are trying to get Christian values written into law for everyone. Do I wish everyone would believe as I do and live as I understand God wants us to? Sure. Do I pray for them? Yes. Am I going to force them into it? No. Has force ever worked before? Charlemagne, the Spanish Inquisition… the list of unsuccessful attempts to force religion on whole groups of people could go on and on.

    My job is not to tell others how to live; my job is to live as well as I can based on my faint understanding of this world and the next, and the God who oversees all of it, and help others where I can. I study and read and work out my faith day by day. I am no better than anyone else. I won’t shut out anyone who wants to share their world view with me; I’ll give it the full benefit of the doubt. So far, though, I have found nothing that satisfies reason, logic, emotion, and spirit like the story of Christ.

    I believe Christ came to release us from bondage to rules as a means of reaching heaven and communion with God. And for more than one reason, one of the central verses of my faith is this one: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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