The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hocus Pocus

Source: William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832. December 19

Ady, in his “Candle in the Dark,” speaking of common jugglers, that go up and down to play their tricks in fairs and markets, says, “I will speak of one man more excelling in that craft than others, that went about in king James’s time and long since, who called himself the king’s majesties most excellent Hocus Pocus, and so was he called, because that at the playing of every trick, he used to say hocus pocus tontus, talontus, vade celeriter jubeo—a darke composition of words to blind the eyes of beholders.”

Butler, in his Hudibras, has the following

...with a slight
Convey men’s interest, and right,
From Stiles’s pocket into Nokes’s
As easily as hocus pocus.

Archbishop Tillotson, in his “Discourse on Transubstantiation,” says that “in all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus,” used in the catholic ceremony of consecration.

Vallency, speaking of hocus pocus, derives it with less probability from the Irish “Coic an omen, a mystery; and bais, the palm of the hand: whence is formed coiche-bas, legerdemain; persice, choko-baz: whence the vulgar English hocus pocus.’

Another phrase, “Hiccius doctias” is a common term among our modern slight of hand men. The origin of this is, probably, to be found among the old Roman Catholics. When the good people of this island were under their thraldom, their priests were looked up to with the greatest veneration, and their presence announced in the assemblies ‘with the terms hic est doctus! hic est doctus! and this probably is the origin of the modern corruption hiccius doctius. M. F.” (Citing Brand)

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