Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Monday 12 April |
Saint of the Day: St. Teresa of the Andes
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Is the phrase “hocus pocus” a parody of the priest’s words at Mass?

AKBAR THE MAGICIAN,MAGIC

Local History & Archives Hamilton Public Library | CC0

Philip Kosloski - published on 10/30/17

It has been used by magicians around the world for hundreds of years.

The popular Halloween phrase “hocus pocus” is strange in the English language and generally thought to be a nonsensical set of words. However, the phrase has been used for hundreds of years and many claim that its origin was a play on the priest’s words during a Catholic Mass.

The phrase was first used during the 17th century by public magicians and conjurers as well as jugglers. The phrase was meant to confuse the audience and provide the performer the distraction needed to play a trick. It also provided more “credibility” to their feat, making the audience believe that some other power was involved.

During this same time period John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, claimed that, “In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation.”

According to most historians, this proposition by Tillotson does not appear to have any historical basis. The Word Detective explains, “All available evidence, however, indicates that ‘hocus pocus’ first appeared as a proper noun, the stage name of a particular magician who attained wide renown in England during the reign of James I (1567-1625). Mr. Hokus Pocus evidently took his name from the nonsensical incantation he repeated during his act, something along the lines of ‘Hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubeo,’ which didn’t really mean anything but effectively distracted his audience’s attention from his sleight of hand. Such was this fellow’s fame that magicians have used his incantation ever since, and ‘hokus pokus’ has become a synonym for trickery or deception.”

Essentially, while hocus pocus does sound similar to the Latin words of a priest at the Consecration, there is no strong evidence that the phrase was ever meant to be a parody of the Catholic Mass.




Read more:
Abracadabra! Is that Hebrew?

Tags:
Halloween
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
PRINCE PHILIP
Cerith Gardiner
11 Interesting facts about the late Prince Philip
2
Archbishop Georg Gänswein
I.Media for Aleteia
Gänswein: Benedict XVI expected to live only a few months after r...
3
JESUS
Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ
A simple test to see if you really believe Christ is risen
4
Philip Kosloski
Why you can eat meat on Easter Friday
5
DIVINE MERCY
Aleteia
Here’s how to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at home
6
Sister Bhagya
Saji Thomas-ACN
Catholic nun faces conversion charges in central India
7
TABLICA POŚWIĘCONA PAMIĘCI OFIAR PRZEMOCY SEKSUALNEJ
John Burger
N.Y. Cardinal: “For God’s sake, get back to Mass̶...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.