Of all of the magick words the one that is probably best known is abracadabra. This generic word of power that is invoked by prestidigitators to bring their magic tricks to their culminations has a long history with far more esoteric beginnings. It is also an excellent example of how modern Hermetic magicians have re-crafted an old magick to fit a contemporary discipline.
The dictionary defines abracadabra as:
A cabalistic word, formerly used as a charm, and believed to have the power, when written in a triangular arrangement, and worn round the neck, to cure agues, etc. Now often used in the general sense of a spell, or pretended conjuring word; a meaningless word of mysterious sound; jargon, gibberish1.
This only touches on the meaning that was once ascribed to this word and to understand how it has been repurposed it is necessary to understand where it originated.
Abracadabra, Abraxas and Alchemy
It is generally agreed that the first mention of this word was in De Medicina Praecepta Saluberrima- Carmen de Morbis et Remediis, a didactic medical poem by the Roman scholar Quintus Sammonicus Serenus2 from the 3rd century AD. In the work abracadabra is cited as a charm for relieving fever and ague. It was to be inscribed on a triangular amulet in eleven lines, each with one less letter than the last so that it ended with only the letter A being written. The incremental decrease in the letters of the word was linked to the gradual recovery from the malady that it was being used to cure.
Thou shalt on paper write the spell divine
ABRACADABRA called in many a line,
Each under each in even order place,
But the last letter in each line efface,
As by degrees the elements grow few,
Still take away but fix the residue,
Till at the last one letter stands alone,
And the whole dwindles to a tapering cone.
Tie this about the neck with flaxen string,
Mighty the good ’twill to the patient bring,
Its wondrous potency shall guard his head
And drive disease and death far from his bed.3
The word was next adopted by the Gnostic sect of Christianity who associated it with Abraxas (ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ), the ruler of heaven and it was used on charms to ward off the evil eye. It had become the word by which the protective power of the absolute unity was invoked. From a simple medicinal charm it had developed into a glyph of the gnosis, no doubt due to the classical graphic representation of its acrostic and the fact that it is composed of eleven letters, a number associated with the Light in the Qabalah.
By the 16th century it had become a popular charm against illness again and it is mentioned in Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy where he says that “it will cure the Hemitritean Fever or any other, if the sheet of paper or parchment be hanged about the neck, and the disease will by little and little decline and pass away“4. It was also used during this period as a talisman to ward off the effects of the plague and Daniel Defoe mentions that during the plague of London in 1665 that the people were “wearing charms, philtres, exorcisms, amulets, and I know not what preparations, to fortify the body with them against the plague; as if the plague was not the hand of God, but a kind of possession of an evil spirit, and that it was to be kept off with crossings, signs of the zodiac, papers tied up with so many knots, and certain words or figures written on them, as particularly the word Abracadabra, formed in triangle or pyramid“5.
Origins of the Word
While the exact origins of abracadabra remain obscure there is speculation on several potential sources for it. One popular source is that it is derived from the Hebrew words Ab, Ben, Ruach Ha Qadesh (הקדוש רוח, בן, אב); the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit6 but as this trinity is a Christian conception it is unlikely that it derives from these particular Aramaic words.
Another possible source is the Aramaic words Ha Brachab Dabarah (דבר הברכה), “Speak or pronounce the Blessing”; “Blessing” standing for “The Blessed One,” being equivalent to invoking the Holy Name of Jehovah7. There is also some speculation that it is derived from an Arabic phrase Abra Kadabra, meaning ‘let the things be destroyed’ but this is definitely not the case8.
Whatever the origins of the word, it had entered the occult vocabulary and was a standard part of the magick of the Victorian occult revival, most especially among the members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It became the focus of a great deal of speculation among those adepts, so much so that the young Aleister Crowley bent his not inconsiderable scholarly abilities to discovering its secrets.
That the letters contain a hidden spiritual or mystical meaning is doubtless true. … Much speculation has been expended on the word and the supposition that it comprises the initials of several sacred words is as reasonable as any other.- Albert C. Mackey M.D.6
From Ancient Charm to Modern Magick Word
In his opus Dogma et Rituel, Eliphas Levi give a convoluted and unconvincing explanation of the word abracadabra, mentioning that it is the key of the pentagram. The source of this connection seems to be derived from the shape of the letter A. Levi’s work was very influential on the Golden Dawn adepts, most especially Crowley who had translated Levi’s Key of the Mysteries, mimicking A.E Waite’s translation of Transcendental Magic.
One puzzle that Crowley was unconvinced had been solved was the true attribution of the word of power in his magickal order which derived its symbolism from Levi’s description. The Beast applied his knowledge of the Qabalah to this word and renovated it into a glyph of the Great Work itself.
One of my results demands detailed record, because it proved later to be one of the foundations of the Great Work of my life. The word Abracadabra is familiar to everyone. Why should it possess such a reputation? Eliphas Lévi’s explanations left me cold. I began to suspect that it must be a corruption of some true “word of power”. I investigated it by means of the Cabbala. I restored its true spelling. Analysis showed it to be indeed the essential formula of the Great Work. It showed who to unite the Macrocosm with the Microcosm. I, therefore, adopted this word and its numerical value, 418, as the quintessentialized expression of the proper way to conduct all major Magical Operations.- Aleister Crowley9
The clue to how he arrived at this conclusion is that he used the Qabalah to solve the riddle. By straight transliteration there are three alternative spellings of the word abracadabra; אבראקאדאברא,
אבראכאדאברא and אבראחאדאברא10. None of these spellings produces a numerical value of any significance and so it seemed that the true spelling has either been corrupted or, as Crowley would later assert, had remained hidden until it was the appropriate time to discover it.
Hey Presto! The Solution
The solution that the Beast found involved altering the spelling of the word, replacing the ‘C’ with ‘H’ to make the word ABRAHADABRA. In Hebrew this spelling is אבראהאדאברא which equals 418, a number that Crowley attached some significance to as it is the numerical value of חית: Cheth (418) the letter of the path on the Tree of Life that connects the Ideal World with the driving force of the material world. By this he interpreted the word to be a glyph for the Great Work as the perception of this pure motive force equates to transcending personal perception for a more universal perspective.
He further developed the arcanum that Levi had established around this word and elevated it to the level of a magickal formula for the Great Work in operation. In An Essay on Number Crowley explains the full development of the symbolism of this magick word using his fullest powers of interpretive Qabalah. His work on this word is notable enough but the new word of power was to have a further development only a few years later when Crowley received the Book of the Law from his Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass.
Abrahadabra! The Aeon of Horus
The Third Chapter of the Book of the Law begins with the words:
Abrahadabra! The reward of Ra Hoor Khuit.11- The Book of the Law, Third Chapter, Verse 1
And with this utterance the magick word Abrahadabra became a significant symbol of the newly announced Aeon of Horus. On the back of this Crowley further evolved his thinking on this word so that by 1929 when he wrote Book 4, Magick in Theory and Practice he regarded it as the archetypal formula of ceremonial magick.
ABRAHADABRA is a word to be studied in Equinox I, V.,“The Temple of Solomon the King”. It represents the Great Work complete, and it is therefore an archetype of all lesser magical operations. It is in a way too perfect to be applied in advance to any of them… the formula of Abrahadabra concerns us, as men, principally because each of us represents the pentagram or microcosm; and our equilibration must therefore be with the hexagram or macrocosm.- Aleister Crowley12
The Key to Abrahadabra
The word Abrahadabra is also listed in the Book of the Law as one of the keys to the order and value of the English Alphabet that is concealed within its text.
This book shall be translated into all tongues: but always with the original in the writing of the Beast; for in the chance shape of the letters and their position to one another: in these are mysteries that no Beast shall divine. Let him not seek to try: but one cometh after him, whence I say not, who shall discover the Key of it all. Then this line drawn is a key: then this circle squared in its failure is a key also. And Abrahadabra.- The Book of the Law, Third Chapter, Verse 4711
When I found the values of the Latin letters in the Book of the Law13 I found that it has a numerical value of 72, the number of the Shemhamphorash, the Name of God of 72 letters from which the identities of the angels are derived. It comes by the manipulation of the letters of three verses in Exodus 14:19-21 and is associated with the fullest expression of the word Tetragrammaton.
In addition I noted that ABRA adds to 28 which, when doubled for its repetition in the word produces a value of 56. In the First Chapter Nuit designates ‘six and fifty’ as Her number. The remainder of the word is Had, the ‘manifestation of Nuit’. Taken together these components make the word a typographical representation of the union of Nuit and Hadit and so it shows the Great Work complete even on the Macrocosmic scale. The key that I discovered also revealed that the letters of the word Abrahadabra mark the stages in a magickal ceremony that is intended for general use and, most specifically for the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel.
The Magick Formula of Abrahadabra
4 6 3 8 A B K 2 4 A L G M O R 3 Y X 24 89 R P S T O V A L. What meaneth this, o prophet? Thou knowest not; nor shalt thou know ever. There cometh one to follow thee: he shall expound it.- The Book of the Law, Second Chapter, Verse 7611
In his commentaries on the Book of the Law, Crowley gives his interpretation of this cryptic verse from the Second Chapter saying; “This passage following appears to be a Qabalistic test on the regular pattern“14 and implied that it would be a simple yet significant problem to solve once the correct key was discovered. This was indeed the case and I have explained the magickal formula that it reveals in full in The Key to the Order & Value of the English Alphabet15. This ceremonial formula applies a letter from the word abrahadabra to each one of the groups of characters in the cipher and together their Qaballistic qualities indicate a step in a simple and sublime ceremonial performance.
Just as the mythology of the ancient world and the occult literature of the Age of Enlightenment had been repurposed by the Hermetic magicians of the Victorian occult revival, so too had the Great Beast reworked this old magick spell to revive its power in the Aeon of the Child God that he had initiated. The explanation of its intricate symbolism that is given here is merely the beginning of what can be done with this universal glyph of ceremonial magick.
3. Carmen de Morbis et Remediis of Q. Serenus Sammonicus
4. Three Books of Occult Philosophy, or of Magick; Written by that Famous Man- Henry Cornelius Agrippa, 1533
5. A Journal of the Plague Year- Daniel Defoe, 1722
6. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences- Albert C. Mackey M.D.
7. The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems- William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, 1922
8. for an explanation of why this is so see:
9. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Aleister Crowley, edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant, 1969
10. The values are: אבראקאדאברא=513, אבראכאדאברא=431, אבראחאדאברא=421
11. The Book of the Law, Aleister Crowley, 1904
12. Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley, 1929
13. For a full explanation of the Key to the Order & Value of the English Alphabet see: A Comment on the Verses of the Book of the Law, D.G. Mattichak, 2010
14. The New Commentaries to Liber Al vel Legis, the Book of the Law, Aleister Crowley, 1912
15. The Key to the Order & Value of the English Alphabet, D.G. Mattichak, 2009