abracadabra, magical formula used by the Gnostics (see Gnosticism) 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 (sometimes spelled Abrakadabra) is a word used as an incantation.


The word is now commonly used as an incantation by stage magicians. In ancient times, however, it was taken much more seriously as an incantation to be used as a cure for fevers and inflammations. The first known mention was in the 2nd century AD in a poem called De Medicina Praecepta by Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Roman emperor Caracalla, who prescribed that the sufferer from the disease wear an amulet containing the word written in the form of an inverted cone:

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

This, he explained, diminishes the hold of the spirit of the disease over the patient. Other Roman emperors, including Geta and Alexander Severus, were followers of the medical teachings of Serenus Sammonicus and are likely to have used the incantation as well.


The occult movement of Thelema spells the word "Abrahadabra", and considers it the magical formula of the current Aeon. The movement's founder, Aleister Crowley, explains in his essay Gematria that he discovered the word (and his spelling) by kabbalistic methods. He appears to say that this happened before his January 1901 meeting with Oscar Eckenstein, one of his teachers. (At this meeting, Eckenstein ordered him to abandon magick for the moment and practice meditation or concentration.) The Word Abrahadabra appears repeatedly in the 1904 invocation of Horus that led to the founding of Thelema. (The Equinox I, no. 7. 1912) It also appears in a 1901 diary that Crowley published in The Equinox.

The essay Gematria gives Hindu, Christian, and "Unsectarian" versions of the problem that Crowley intended this magick word to answer. He also gives a kabbalistic equivalent for each phrasing, and a brief symbolic answer for each. The unsectarian version reads, "I am the finite square; I wish to be one with the infinite circle." Its equivalent refers to "the Cross of Extension" and "the infinite Rose." Crowley's numerological explanation of ABRAHADABRA focuses mainly on this last formulation and the answer to it.

Jamrach Holobom, quoted by Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

   By _Abracadabra_ we signify
       An infinite number of things.
   'Tis the answer to What? and How? and Why?
   And Whence? and Whither? -- a word whereby
       The Truth (with the comfort it brings)
   Is open to all who grope in night,
   Crying for Wisdom’s holy light.

   Whether the word is a verb or a noun
       Is knowledge beyond my reach.
   I only know that 'tis handed down.
           From sage to sage,
           From age to age --
       An immortal part of speech!

   Of an ancient man the tale is told
   That he lived to be ten centuries old,
       In a cave on a mountain side.
       (True, he finally died.)
   The fame of his wisdom filled the land,
   For his head was bald, and you'll understand
       His beard was long and white
       And his eyes uncommonly bright.

   Philosophers gathered from far and near
   To sit at his feat and hear and hear,
           Though he never was heard
           To utter a word
       But "_Abracadabra, abracadab_,
           _Abracada, abracad_,
       _Abraca, abrac, abra, ab!_"
           'Twas all he had,
   'Twas all they wanted to hear, and each
   Made copious notes of the mystical speech,
           Which they published next --
           A trickle of text
   In the meadow of commentary.
       Mighty big books were these,
       In a number, as leaves of trees;
   In learning, remarkably -- very!

           He’s dead,
           As I said,
   And the books of the sages have perished,
   But his wisdom is sacredly cherished.
   In _Abracadabra_ it solemnly rings,
   Like an ancient bell that forever swings.
           O, I love to hear
           That word make clear
   Humanity’s General Sense of Things.

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