I was gifted with some wonderful books for my reference library at Christmas, among them the book The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols by Adele Nozedar.  As I explored the book, it inspired me to start a new series, “Did you know?” as a way of sharing some of the fascinating tidbits that I find on my book shelves.

Most of us are familiar with the word ABRACADABRA. I remember this word from childhood, the first “magickal” word I knew… even today, we expect – perhaps with some amusement – magic to happen when we say the word. Little did I know that it is a real word and actually has some power. It was used as a charm, to ward off illness and evil spirits.

From Wikipedia, comes this information: 

“The first known mention of the word ABRACADABRA 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 a triangle.



This, he explained, diminishes the hold over the patient of the spirit of the disease. 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.

It was assumed by some that the term might be of Semitic origin.[1]

According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica it was used as a magical formula by the Gnostics of the sect of Basilides in invoking the aid of beneficent spirits against disease and misfortune. It is found on Abraxas stones which were worn as amulets. Subsequently its use spread beyond the Gnostics, and in modern times it is applied contemptuously (e.g. by the early opponents of the evolution theory) to a conception or hypothesis which purports to be a simple solution of apparently insoluble phenomena.

The word is now commonly used as an incantation by stage magicians and their imitators.

From The Christian Churches of God comes this useful tidbit: 

When we hear the word Abracadabra, what do we conjure up? This is a name used by magicians and illusionists to make objects or animals and people: appear, disappear or change shape and colour. “Presto Changeo” sleight of hand.

It is, however, a word of Kabbalistic (Cabbalistic) significance that was, and still may be, used for incantations. It was declared that when written as shown, folded so as to conceal the writing, sewn with white thread and worn around the neck, your ailments would subside. Sometimes you were required to remove letters and this would further cause the illness to diminish.

Abracadabra: This word was in frequent use during the Middle Ages as a magic formula. It is derived from the Hebrew phrase abreq ad habra, meaning “hurl your thunderbolt even unto death”.

The earliest written record available of the word is in a second century poem Praecepta de Medicina by Serenus Sammonicus a celebrated Gnostic physician. He gave instructions for using the letters of this magical triangle which he used for curing agues and fevers. It was to be written on paper, folded into the shape of a cross, worn for nine days suspended from the neck and, before sunrise, cast behind the patient into a stream running eastward.

It was also a most popular charm in the Middle Ages. During the Great Plague of 1665, great numbers of these amulets were worn as supposed safeguards against infection. It is one of the most famous of all talismans, and was used as a magical formula by the Gnostics in Rome for invoking the aid of beneficent spirits against disease, misfortune and death.

From  the book The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols comes this information:

This ancient word may well have been inspired by the Aramaic “Avra Kedabra” – “I create as I speak” – or words to that effect. However, there are other theories about the origins of this word. In no particular order, then:

It was derived from the name of Abraxas

It was derived from the Hebrew phrase “Abreq Ad Habra” meaning “Hurl your thunderbolt unto death” or “Strike dead with thy lightning” in this case, its efficacy as a charm to ward away illness would make sense).

It could be from the Aramaic “Abhadda Kedabhra,” meaning “Disappear as this word,” which accurately reflect what happens in the charm (because as the word diminishes and finally disappears, wo 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 UK. St Michael and All Angels Church at Cascob on the edge of Radnor Forest has an Abacadabra charm engraved on a tablet in one of its walls.  In the 17th century a local girl, Elizabeth Loyd, was apparently possessed of evil demons, and this symbol was used to drive them away along with the astrological symbols that are carved below it.

Inspired by the book The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols by Adele Nozedar


  1. Great post! So interesting to know where these things that have infiltrated our consciousness come from, and their power.

    Thanks – love learning about symbolism.


  2. You are right about the Semitic origins of the phrase abracadabra. It means “I create as I speak” in both Hebrew and Aramaic. It is a combination of the words “abara” (I create) “ke’adabra” (as I speak). The Aramaic or Hebrew roots are bara (to create) and dabar (to speak).

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