Magic Spells, Deconstructed


Magic spells are power words.

We modern people are not the only ones who know that the written word is extremely powerful.  People in ancient days also understood this very well.

For a not-so-ancient Taobabe, whether words are written in my native language Vietnamese, or in my third language, English, doesn’t really matter.  They are all powerful, not because of the letters themselves, but because of the meanings that the words convey.

stopHow powerful are words?

They are powerful enough that books have been banned, burned, and buried.  As for the people who know how to read books, they have also been banned, burned, and buried (sometimes while still alive and screaming).

For those who understand the power behind the written words, it hardly takes any convincing.  It is generally accepted that power words make up power documents—the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, world bibles and prayer books.

Even road signs that say STOP!  They are so powerful that inanimate objects like cars will blindly obey without question, at every corner of every roadway that this STOP sign can be found.

We all understand that words convey ideas, which are what hold the bulk of the power.  This power is then transferred to the various entities that are within the immediate surroundings, and their belief in the power of the words is what gives the word(s) its power.

But what if those words are written in a foreign language?  What if it’s written in a dead (or lost) language?  If you can’t read the words and don’t know what it means, it’s just some squiggles that you have been told, hold some mystical virtue ascribed to magic and the supernatural.  After being told for thousands of years that spells hold indescribable power, the squiggles and odd characters suddenly take on a life of their own, and power is infused into them by sheer mental energies of those who believe that the power exists.

This was how spells were invented.

Deconstruction of the Spell

Bua 9

Here is a random typical spell taken from one of my spell collections.  It is broken down into 3 different parts.  The first part is the Sanskrit (or in this case, Chinese) characters.  The second part is the Vietnamese ancient characters.  And last but not least, the red seals of the organization and the signature stamp of the person writing the bùa (spell).

Before I get into the actual words themselves, I need to touch briefly upon the paper with which it is written.  Because let’s face it.

The image on the left, which I photo-shopped onto official looking yellow bùa paper, just looks so much better than the same exact spell placed on the notebook paper on the right.

OK so now that we have established that to win the hearts of man, you have to get the official yellow paper rather than make do with basic notebook paper.  Next is the red color of the stamp.  Before you go off on me and say that the ancient people used red because that’s what they had, allow me to remind you that they had access to just about any color you can imagine.

Red though, looks official.  It’s what you would see on official documents back in the day when an emperor could send entire armies marching with just the one scroll of official paper with his red stamp on it. The bùa also needs to look official in order to garner the seriousness and command that a spell should have.

pinkgirl66Now, the Spell Master can do one of several things.  He can use the language that he is familiar with to write these words, like Chinese Han characters or Sanskrit. Or he can copy them, as they are written in whatever lost or dead language they were originally written.

Why these words?  Most Spell Masters come out of Buddhist temples and the likes, and they usually have to  master one of the several languages used in the holy scriptures and kinh or mantra prayer books in order to read them.  They will also have access to ancient scripts that are thought to be powerful spells for various things.

Regardless of the writing choices, it will look more mystifying than simply writing everything out in alpha-numeric  long hand.  The words themselves can be anything really.  Mostly, the Spell Master will ask you for your name and birth date, and that’s what he will write somewhere on the paper, and then he will draw a few squiggles to make it look more spell-like.

He may also write a few power characters, like FIRE, or THUNDER, or LAKE, or MOUNTAIN that might help address the situation.  For example, if he wanted to cremate a soul to cleanse it, he would write the word FIRE on the spell.  If he wanted to scare the soul, he would use the word THUNDER.  Sound familiar?  That’s because those words come from the I Ching.  Remember this?


Any serious student of the Tao would be very familiar with the characters for Heaven, Earth, Fire, Water, Wind, Thunder, Mountain, Lake.  These are the I Ching gotta-know basics.

Quite often, there will also be parts of a well-known mantra or liturgy, like the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā (aka Heart Sutra).  This type of sutra is well-known for its protective energies and is quite often used at exorcisms and other such activities requiring protection (more on this later).  It also helps that the Sanskrit words look mystical and very cool, when drawn with squiggles and circles surrounding it.

And then, there will often be pictographs or very basic drawings, which denote the fact that pictures are parts of power spells too.  For example, here is a compatibility spell that I got from UHN.  Top portion is just the rough sketch of two people.

Bua 1

Notice the ‘power’ portion of the spell is where you would normally place your signature seal.  It’s the same idea as a command scroll coming from the emperor.  If it’s missing the emperor’s red seal, it is just a piece of paper and has no power of command.

Taobabe Spell

Here is a spell I created today to explain the various parts.  Also, it’s fun to look at.  On the top of the bùa, I have my stamp.  Since I’m a Taoist, and I like cats, I made a Tao cat stamp.  Then I grabbed a spell from one I found in my stash and altered it a bit.  Since I like flowers, I added four of them onto the hands of the people in the characters.  At the bottom is my seal.


As you can see, the pink words reflect my love for the color pink.  Flowers convey beauty and the vessels that carry seeds, the beginnings of life.  Cats are just fun creatures that give the ultra serious tao symbol a cheerful and whimsical touch.

The square seal is one that I threw together on the spur of the moment.  I’m sure I could create one that is a bit more serious, but for the purpose of this exercise, it’s good enough.

Taobabe Seal


The seal itself is made with my pen name in the middle.  It’s actually readable since it’s just TAO BABE written in a fancy script.

Then, I added my first name ‘Mai’ written in ancient Viet Tadpole script on the four corners of the seal.


And finally, the two little symbols that are on either side, in the middle, is just the verb ‘is’.


So the seal reads Mai is Tao Babe.  How cool is that.


University of Languages Ha Noi

7 thoughts on “Magic Spells, Deconstructed

  1. Interesting read. I don’t know much about this subject and would love your opinion:

    I’ve heard it said that all words are spells, that we are all ‘spell’ing’ when we write. Do you subscribe to this idea?

    Also, you seem to suggest that words which command you, are all spells (such as modern law, contracts, and regulations?), is that the case?

    Finally, do you believe the chicken or the egg came first: Does a spell have innate power due to the intent of the writer, or solely when the reader accepts it?

    Thanks for an intriguing read!


  2. Hi Ben, thanks for visiting my blog. 😀

    In my humble opinion, words are just symbolized annotations of individuated phonetic sounds strung together to relay an important piece of information. The power is not in the letters themselves. Nor are they in the individual words that make up the letters. The power is in the intent of the writer and is ONLY as powerful as the intent behind it, as well as the intention to utilize it. For example, my current shopping list, written in Vietnamese shorthand, that has laundry detergent, dog biscuits, and fresh eggs, is only as powerful as my need to remember them the next time I go to the market. Once my need has been met, the power of that shopping list goes away, ie. its power has been used up, and the list goes into the paper recycling box.

    It is the same with that written emperor’s command to go to war. It has the seal of the emperor on it, along with some very important decrees written into the scroll, and it is so powerful that it will move entire armies. But how powerful is that written document, years later, after the war has been won or lost? Its power is gone. It’s the same with a modern contract, such as a house deed or a marriage certificate. When the house is sold or the divorce happens, document’s power has been used up. It is powerful only insofar as it is needed, by the PEOPLE with whom it is relevant to.

    We are in a current conflicting time period right now, as a nation (I live in the USA, so this applies to US citizens) where the laws of the nation are not being strictly adhered. The power of the constitution and its laws are starting to falter because the people who were placed into positions of power are currently flaunting it. The more it breaks, the less power it wields, until one day, it is completely ineffective, and we need new laws put into place. The new laws could be more of a monarchy, dictatorship type of law, or it could be something different. This is real time experience we are having with your idea of words being spells, and how powerful the spells are.

    It all comes down to the people involved. We are the deities, so we can create and wield the powers. The spells is only one of our methods to create power, and spells only have whatever innate powers we are capable of infusing into them. A spell is only an inert reagent, a catalyst, so to speak, until it hits something that triggers it. That something, be it another human being from this reality or someone from the spirit world, needs to add the dual element of the Tao, the equal-but-opposite reaction, in order to activate the power within the spell.

    So in essence, it is a yin~yang thing. Both sides have power, but it only activates when supply meets demand. Weak yin attracts weak yang and produces weak reaction. Strong yin attracts strong yang and produces strong reaction. I hope that helps.


  3. Cool seal. Do these play a role in ceremony and ritual too, like in recent posts with the trance and possession sessions? Or for representing the 64 figures, etc.? I’ve read a bit about some Chinese talismans and spells but I don’t know how much of that overlaps with Vietnamese tradition. I was wondering if you could describe further but it already sounds like that could be another post in itself.


  4. hi Mai. i needed to do some research on Dia Viet period war flags this week. Now i understand why an i Ching symbol kept reoccurring . ‘fire’ on a war flag. Makes sense now. Scares me. Thanks 4 another useful post. Paul Rowe, lost in VN.

    Liked by 1 person

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