Hocus-pocus and Oker Boker

In the course of chemotherapy, I found myself contemplating the range of alternative and complementary therapies available, many of them free of charge from local agencies to terminal cancer patients. I tried a healer and hypnotherapist out of interest and because it didn't cost me anything. These weren't for me, but I did decide that a bit of hocus-pocus could be a good thing in situations such as mine - and why not invent hocus-pocus of one's own if you can't find (or afford to find?) hocus-pocus that suits you from a therapist. I decided to begin by finding out exactly what "hocus-pocus" was.

Hocus pocus:

Meaning: Trickery or magic.

Origin: Words used by conjurers and jugglers when performing tricks from the early 17th century. The performer used a string of cod latin to distract the audience - 'Hocus pocus, toutous talontus, vade celerita jubes'. Several jugglers in Tudor England came to be known by this name. There are various attempts at an explanation of the origin: one that it is a parody of the consecration of the Catholic Mass 'Hoc est corpus...'; another that it was the name of a mythic wizard - 'Ochus Bochus'.

Ochus Bocus is said by one Internet source to figure in Norse folklore as "Oker Boker". I decided to assume that Ochus Bochus is a mythic wizard from pre-Christian days and that it was Christians who were responsible for turning hocus-pocus into a perjorative term in order to discredit him (presumably a him given the Latin -us rather than -a name ending). He must have been a good wizard, because those C16-C17 folk were a superstitious bunch. No way would they have invoked the name of Ochus Bochus in their conjuring routines if he was an evil spirit! Similarly because they were superstitious, it's unlikely that they would have dared to parody the Catholic Mass - that explanation of hocus-pocus can therefore to my mind be discarded.

I found myself becoming very fond of Ochus Bochus, and decided that if I ever feel I need to pray to a god personified in male form I will choose him (in the absence of further research demonstrating good reasons why not).

The more I thought about it the more I realised that this Oker Boker is an excellent pray-ee for atheist pray-ers in situations such as mine to address themselves to. As the spirit invoked by magicians to make things disappear etc. he does seem an appropriate choice from whom to request miraculous meltdown of mass. And he also might be seen as the spirit of good humour and fun. He won't mind if I laugh at him. The friend who makes me chuckle most has provided a helpful visualisation in this respect:

I'm getting a picture of a sort of Norse Tommy Cooper, handy with the battleaxe and so forth but really hoping for recognition in the serious magic front. Maybe he's been waiting for somebody like you to come along so he can show Thor and that lot that there's more to the deity business than whipping up the odd thunderstorm. Play your cards right (Does Little John have a statue in Hathersage that could be observed to weep a spot of blood?) and the Catholic church might have to pay attention and claim him as the blessed Bokus, it's what they've always done when a pagan belief has too strong a hold.

And then you could make a fortune serving teas to busloads of nuns who can't get enough time off for the Lourdes trip. I can just see you humming selections from the Sound of Music as you pass the gingerbread you made to that interesting Dutch recipe.

It never does if pray-er fancees pray-ee - which is why I have found the Tommy Cooper image so useful. If all the pictures had portrayed Jesus as a Tommy Cooper lookalike instead of tall, suntanned, muscular and handsome, would nuns still have wanted to take bridal vows to him? Or alternatively, might men whose teeth stuck out then be considered the epitome of good looks in Christian society? And great profits made out of appropriate orthodontics?

The trouble is that you aren't really meant to burst into fits of laughter when you're in meditative mode, and meditation is a central part of my life. But if Oker Boker is the chap I think he is then he'll be very pleased that this is his effect on me. And calling his name is most effective when "visualising" the mass (as the therapists tell you can be greatly beneficial) - "Oker" on the inbreath, then "BOKER!" on the outbreath, as I snort firily down upon my chest...

I explain to my mother: I think I am conjuring up Oker Boker precisely as my version of what you describe as "an ideal figure of a loving, compassionate, benevolent proto-deity to stand for all the ideals which you personally cherish". Christ is ruled out for me because he was firmly rooted in the "One God" - worship no other than me - belief of the old testament and for all the admirableness of his efforts to humanise this, I just can't buy the underlying philosophy.

I tell my mother about the bit of extra silliness which I have added to my Oker Boker thoughts: My latest entertaining vision on the "Oker Boker" front is, as I look up at the sun and the sky, to imagine a "prophets and wise person's co-op" up there in the heavens, where Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed along with various others (Oker on the sidelines to ensure that they don't take themselves too seriously and remain able to laugh at themselves) look down on us benignly and harmoniously wishing us well. When they arrived in heaven they didn't find any God cast in human form as M and J in particular had anticipated, and they also realised that if this person God was behind it all, he had in the human race created a Frankenstein which was outside his control. So, the others twigged that Buddha was sensible not to put his eggs in the basket of a single external God who must be worshipped to the exclusion of all others, and that his emphasis on the "god" within ourselves waiting to be found now in the present, not in "future worlds of bliss", was the correct one.


A friend asked her Nordic scholar daughter to do some research on Oker Boker. She reported: "I'm afraid the scholars came up with zilch on the Norse front, except repeated unattributed quote on internet." I really don't mind at all if he remains somebody whose persona is completely made up by me! In fact I'm pleased that the ugly but very genial spirit who I have invented can exist unchallenged in my mind...

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