In the modern world, the rather arcane but somewhat popular word “abracadabra” is used a lot in the entertainment industry by stage magicians and screenwriters, but it actually comes from a long line of serious mystics dating back to the ancient Middle East. Abracadabra is an old incantation, and the spell can be spoken, written, sung, or chanted. It has been used this way by magi for millennia.
There are several folk etymologies associated with the term. For instance, the Phoenician phrase “abra kadibra”, meaning “it will be made like it is said”. Similarly, Aramaic “avra kedabra” translates to “I create like the word”. Of course, it could also be from the Aramaic “abhadda kedabhra” meaning “disappear like this word,” thus making it a banishment spell exclusively. In that instance, as the word diminishes and finally disappears, so would any malevolent energy.
Then again, there are words in Latin and Greek such as abraxas (ΑΒΡΑΞΑΣ), a word of mystic meaning in the system of the Gnostic Basilides. It originated with a Gnostic sect in Alexandria called the Basilidians and was probably based on Abrasax, or Abraxas in Latin, which was the name of their Supreme Being. This came into English via French and Latin from a Greek word “abrasadabra”, and the change from “s” to “c” seems to have been through transliteration of the Greek.
The first known mention of the incantation was in the 2nd century in a book called Liber Medicinalis written by the Roman Serenus Sammonicus. The ritual in mention is from a strange medical treatise of around 1,200 dactylic hexameters. The reference is in chapter 51 wherein malaria sufferers are advised to wear an amulet containing the word written in the form of a triangle, as such:
In the Middle Ages, many people believed wearing parchment amulets with the word “abracadabra” written in the form of an upside-down pyramid would cure a variety of ailments. It would also protect the wearer from bad luck. The word was written eleven times, dropping one letter each time. The idea was that as the word vanished, so would the illness, such as a fever. This spell enjoyed wide use during the Great Plague of London in 1666, of all years.
An amulet of this sort was attached to linen thread and worn around the neck. It was usually worn for nine days and then discarded, being tossed back over the left shoulder before sunrise into a stream that flows from west to east. This symbolically banished the evil and replaced it with the good created by the rising sun. Plus, it matters which direction the abracadabra is pointed, either up or down. When it faces downwards, it will help rid oneself of evil and misfortune, and when it faces upwards, it will bring good fortune.
Abracadabra just keeps reemerging, because the word calls to people. For instance, in a small 13th-century church in a remote valley in Wales on the edge of the Radnor Forest, there is an abracadabra charm engraved on a tablet on one of its walls. It was put there in the 16th century by Sir John Dee, who lived nearby and served as the royal astrologer to the Queen. Then, in the 17th century, Elizabeth Lloyd was possessed of evil demons, and the symbol was used to drive them away.
The incantation is a servitor with a life of its own. The spell just keeps showing up in one grimoire after another, century after century. Ceremonial magi just can’t seem to get enough of the word. As a perfect example of what I mean, The Lesser Key of Solomon offers a variation of abracadabra in the conjuration of the sword used in magical operations, stating “Abrahach, Abrach, Abracadabra”. This spell is found again in the Wiccan “Consecration of the Athame” in The Book of Shadows.
In the 20th century, Aleister Crowley replaced the ‘c’ in abracadabra with an ‘h’, which the Golden Dawn linked with the ancient Egyptian god Horus in their Neophyte ritual. Abrahadabra first appeared in The Book of the Law in 1904. He described it as “the Word of the Aeon, which signifieth The Great Work accomplished.” With that being said, Goddess only knows what the 21st century has in store for the time-honored word of power.
Abrasadabra! Abracadabra!! Abrahadabra!!!