Nowadays, “abracadabra” is a word used by stage conjurers when performing their magic. However it has a lengthy history as a protective amulet and lucky charm.
This word is extremely ancient and originally was thought to be a powerful invocation with mystical powers. This ancient word may well have been inspired by the Aramaic: “Avra Kedabra” which means, “I create as I speak” or words to that effect. Its origin is unknown, but Cabalists were using it in the second century CE to ward off evil spirits.
It is most often used magickally as a charm, and written as a triangular formula:
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
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 fevers, toothache, warts, and a variety of other ailments. It would also protect the wearer from bad luck. The word was written eleven times, dropping one letter each time.
Sometimes letters would be sequentially removed from each end of each line, making for a shortened version consisting of just six lines.
The idea was that as the word vanished, so would the fever. 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.
The best way to do this was to toss it backwards over your left shoulder before sunrise into a stream that flows from west to east. The reason for this s that the left side was believed to be related to the devil. Tossing the amulet into a river that flowed in the direction of the rising sun symbolically banished the evil, and replaced it with the good created by the rising sun that banishes darkness.
Daniel Defoe wrote about these charms in his Journal of the Plague Year (1722), saying that they were worn to protect people from the plague.
Even saying the word “abracadabra” out loud was believed to summon powerful supernatural forces. This is probably why magical entertainers still use it as a magic spell today.
It does matter which direction the Abracadabra is pointed. Pointed downwards, it will help you to rid yourself of evil and misfortune, when pointed upwards, it will bring good fortune.
It was first recorded in a Latin medical poem, De medicina praecepta, by the Roman physician Quintus Serenus Sammonicus in the second century AD. Serenus Sammonicus said that to get well a sick person should wear an amulet around the neck, a piece of parchment inscribed with a triangular formula derived from the word, which acts like a funnel to drive the sickness out of the body.
Theories about the origin of this word are as follows:
It was derived from the Hebrew phrase “Abreq Ad Habra” meaning “Hurl your thunderbolt unto death” or “Strike dead with thy lightning;”and is associated with a thunderbolt deity who perished by throwing himself on the planet so that the creatures of earth could live. In this case its efficacy as a charm to ward away illness would make sense.
It originated with a Gnostic sect in Alexandria called the Basilidians and was probably based on Abrasax, the name of their supreme deity (Abraxas in Latin sources).
It may have come into English via French and Latin from a Greek word abrasadabra (the change from s to c seems to have been through a confused transliteration of the Greek).
It could be from the Aramaic “Abhadda Kedabhra” meaning “Disappear as this word,” which accurately reflects exactly what happens in the charm. As the word diminishes and finally disappears, so would any malevolent energy.
The first letters of the word could be derived from the initials of Hebrew words for Father (Ab), Son (Ben), and Holy Spirit (Ruach Acadsch).
Chances are that this is such a powerful symbol because all of these theories make sense, so it would have universal appeal.
Although most accounts say that the charm was in use until the Middle Ages, there’s curious proof of its efficacy in a small thirteenth-century church in a remote valley in Wales in the U. St. Michael and All Angels Church at Cascob on the edge of the Radnor Forest has an Abracadabra charm engraved on a tablet on one of its walls. In the seventeenth century a local girl, Elizabeth Lloyd, was apparently possessed of evil demons, and this symbol was used to drive them away, along with the astrological symbols that are carved below. There’s even a possibility that this tablet was made by the alchemist Sir John Dee, who was an astrologer to Queen Elizabeth 1, and lived nearby.
Fans of the Harry Potter books will know the killing curse, Avada Kedavra, in which J K Rowling seems to have combined the Aramaic source of abracadabra with the Latin cadaver, a dead body.
- The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols
- The Encyclopedia of Superstitions