Abracadabra!’ cried the magician and with wave of his hand he manifests a pure white dove from his silk handkerchief. We all know the word “abracadabra,” but is it just a word that magicians say to create drama, or does it have some other meaning lost to modern society?
We know abracadabra as the ‘magic’ word used by stage magicians to cast the spell that makes their tricks work. It is the spoken incantation of the word that invokes the spell into action.
The Earliest Recorded Mention of Abracadabra
Its earliest known recorded mention was by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, the physician to Caracalla, an emperor of Rome. It is recorded in his book Liber Medicinalis (or, De Medicina Praecepta Saluberrima) as an aid to healing and warding off sickness.
How Abracadabra Was Used
He recommended that people suffering from malaria should wear an amulet with the word inscribed upon it to form a triangle:-
A – B – R – A – C – A – D – A – B – R – A
A – B – R – A – C – A – D – A – B – R
A – B – R – A – C – A – D – A – B
A – B – R – A – C – A – D – A
A – B – R – A – C – A – D
A – B – R – A – C – A
A – B – R – A – C
A – B – R – A
A – B – R
A – B
The word was spoken repeatedly but each time leaving the last letter off (as above). As the word diminished so did the illness.
During Medieval times it was believed to be a word of power and was also spoken to protect against witchcraft and written on paper or cloth and carried around or sewn into clothing.
Origins: Hebrew or Aramaic?
There are many conflicting beliefs as to its origin. Some think it originated in the Aramaic language meaning, ‘avra kadavra’, meaning ‘it will be created in my words’.
Others think it may be Hebrew of origin from a phrase which means, ”I create what I speak” (I create’ (A’bra) ‘what’ (ca) ‘I speak’ (dab’ra).”)
Alternatively, it may be a Hebrew incantation to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ( ‘ab’ (father), ‘ben’ (son), and ‘ruach hakodesh’ (holy spirit).
The Gnostic sect of Basilidein also used it as a magic incantation using it to invoke beneficial powers to ward against illness and bad luck. It was also inscribed on Abraxas stones which were sometimes worn as amulets.
Loss of Power
It became degraded as a positive magical incantation when an influential American Puritan Minister named, Increase Mather (associated with the Salem Witch Trials) was contemptuously dismissive of the use of the word.
During the Great Plague of London people wrote it on doors and over entrances in a desperate attempt to keep the Black Death out of their homes. Daniel Defoe, the famous writer, was dismissive of such futile attempts.
In course of time ‘abracadabra’ became associated with conjurers and ‘false’ magic tricks. The term ‘legal abracadabra’ was used to describe how clever, smart talking lawyers could confuse jurors during legal trials. Eventually stage magicians and conjurers began using it to add spice and drama to their acts. From its ancient roots abracadabra changed from being a word of power and healing to become synonymous with the world of trickery and illusions.
© 12/05/13 zteve t evans
References and Attributions © 12/05/13 zteve t evans Abracadabra – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Image - File:Poster Final.jpg – From Wikimedia Commons - Author: Chambermagic – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.