abracadabra


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abracadabra

(ăb'rəkədăb`rə), magical formula used by the Gnostics (see GnosticismGnosticism
, dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.
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) to invoke the aid of benevolent spirits to ward off disease and affliction. It is supposed to be derived from the abraxas, a word that was engraved on gems and amulets or was variously worn as a protective charm. Handed down through the Middle Ages, the abracadabra gradually lost its occult significance, and its meaning was extended to cover any hocus-pocus.

Abracadabra

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Healing talismans were of various types, but one of the most common was that which bore a Word of Power. Frequently, the word was repeated a number of times with a letter dropped from it each time. The person to be healed would speak the complete word, then the truncated words, until there was nothing left to pronounce. If the sick person was too ill to speak, then someone else could speak the words on the patient's behalf. This was a form of sympathetic magic: as the word diminished, so did the disease. The paper or parchment on which the decreasing word was written was worn around the neck of the sick person, tied there with flax. The words would be said every day. At the end of a nine-day period, the talisman would be taken to an easterly flowing stream and, with a final recitation of the words, the patient would throw the talisman over his or her left shoulder into the water, allowing the water to carry away both it and the disease.

Abracadabra was used to heal a fever. The earliest known mention of this was in 208 CE by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Roman Emperor Severus. Sir E. A. Budge, however, believes the formula is based on something much older than that.

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Many attempts have been made to explain the meaning of abracadabra. Sir A. E. Wallis Budge thinks it most likely to have been derived from the Chaldean words abbâdâ ke dâbrâ, meaning "perish like the word."

Dr. Moses Gaster, a noted Jewish scholar, gave this formula:

Ab Abr Abra Abrak Abraka

Abrakal Abrakala Abrakal

Abraka Abrak Abra Abr Ab. And the people called unto Moses and Moses prayed to God, and the fire abated. May healing come from heaven from all kinds of fever and consumption-heat to N son of N.

Amen. Amen. Amen. Selah. Selah. Selah.

Budge describes the above as "the perfect Hebrew amulet" since it contains the magical name Abrakala, text from the Bible, a prayer that is the equivalent of a pagan incantation, and the "threefold Amen and the threefold Selah."

There is a similar Jewish spell to banish a demon known as Shebrîrî, believed to cause diseases of the eye. The name is said repeatedly: "Shebriri Briri Riri Iri Ri," with the belief that he will gradually diminish to nothing.

The word abracadabra has been so overused in connection with magic that it has come to be thought of as no more than a nonsense word used by stage magicians, yet it was originally a word believed to have great power. Many magicians and Witches in the Middle Ages employed it on talismans for a great many purposes other than its original one of curing disease. Daniel Defoe, in his Journal of the Plague Year (1722), mentions the use of abracadabra by those wishing to ward off the plague.

Some scholars believe that the word comes from the name Abraxas, claimed by the Basilidian sect of Gnostics as their supreme deity. It was believed that Abraxas ruled over 365 lesser gods and, hence, over the 365 days of the year. In Ceremonial Magic, according to Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal of 1863, Abraxas is depicted as having serpents for feet and sometimes the head of a cockerel.

Abracadabra

cabalistic charm used as an antidote for ague, toothache, etc. [Medieval Folklore: Brewer Dictionary, 3]
See: Charms
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