Hocus Pocus! Poof! You’ve just been turned into a frog! No words provoke more imagination and magic than the words Hocus Pocus. This short incantation has become a very common phrase used by magicians and entertainers to announce a mystical change. Did these words come from the book of a great witch? The truth is that Hocus Pocus has an interesting and debatable history. Some theories of its origin are:
Hax pax max Deus adimax – Derived from a pseudo-Latin phrase used as a magic formula by conjurers.
Hovea Pwca – This is Welsh for a goblin’s trick or hoax. The goblin is a shape-shifter whose name is associated with the devil and Ochus Bochus.
Ochus Bochus – Hocus Pocus may also have come from the Ochus Bochus who was a magician and a believed demon of the north. There is speculation the Bochus is actually a corruption of the name Bacchus who is the god conjuration who turned water into wine. Christ also turned water into wine which is considered his first miracle.
Hoc est corpus - Some believe that Hocus Pocus was used as a parody of this phrase taken from the transubstantiation part of the Roman Catholic mass. The words mean “this is (my) body)” . For those who are not Catholic, transubstantiation is when the priest symbolically changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
Whether Hocus Pocus is said by an entertaining magician or an authentic conjurer, there is a common thread linking all of the possible origins together and that is a change. The magician changes a bird into a bouquet of flowers. It can be called an illusion or a hoax. The priest symbolically turns the water and bread into the body and blood of Christ. Water is turned to wine miraculously by Jesus.
The most interesting and ironic aspect of the origins, however, surrounds the connection to the Catholic Church who condemned witches and magic. Remember the next time your hear a little child say “Hocus Pocus” as they wave their wand that their magic conjuring words are not wholly attributed to witches but derived from Catholicism. Very ironic!
Kerri L. Schultz