Monday, July 4, 2011

Latin Magic

Somehow, Latin has become the defacto language for magic in literature, television, and movies. (I recall Giles' admonishment to Xander: "Don't speak Latin around the books!")

The Harry Potter books probably have the best-known examples today. For example:
  • Patronus is a term for a protector or benefactor.
  • Accio, used to call items to the wizard's hand from a distance, is simply Latin for "I summon".
  • Harry's signature move - expelliarmus - comes from two Latin words: "expellere" or "to drive out" and "arma" for "weapons". That makes sense considering that the spell disarms an opponent.
One of my favorite Latin derivatives from the books is the Fidelius Charm. The name is very close to the Latin word fidelis meaning "faithful" or "loyal". (The Christmas hymn O Come All Ye Faithful, in Latin, is "Adeste Fideles".) In the world of Harry Potter, the spell protects a location from being found unless the "secret-keeper" betrays its location. In other words, it hinges on the absolute faithfulness of one person.

Interestingly, the "torture curse", crucio, comes from the Latin "crux". This is the same root found in "excruciating" pain or "crucifixion". This makes all the more chilling the instruction from Bellatrix to Harry, that to use the crucio curse "you really have to mean to hurt someone". To commit a mortal sin, you have to know that it's wrong and intend to do it. It is chilling, too, to think that in each mortal sin, you have to mean to hurt Christ.

While these spells don't work in the real world, let's not forget that their are "magic spells" that do work. Words do have power - in Latin, English, or any language. In the Mass, the words of consecration spoken by the priest are efficacious - they actually accomplish what they signify. Jesus said - and says, through each priest - "this is My Body" and "this is My Blood" and so it is. The words spoken at Baptism or a wedding, the prayers we offer, these are more than just words.

In one Word, the world was made.

The words we say have consequences - not just as mirrors or precursors to our actions, but by themselves. If you have ever felt the words "I love you" or "I hate you", you know what I mean. In Harry Potter's world, the wizards know from early on that certain words have a "magic power". In our world, we must constantly remind ourselves to think before we speak because our words really have power as well. They have real power to hurt, to heal, to change hearts, and to bring people to Christ.

(In hindsight, the title Latin Magic sounds a bit like a spice blend, but I like it anyway.)

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