This is not particularly Cabbalistic (a misnomer anyway, for oh so many reasons), and predates the Cabbala (in its medieval form, which is probably the original) by many centuries. Abrasax? If so, it is filtered through many centuries of variants, including the medieval grape-cluster charm:

a
ab
abr
abra
abracal
abracala
abracal
abraca
abrac
abra
abr
ab
a

It seems clear, whatever the exact linguistic origin (it's doubtful whether that is proveable) that its intended use was in this sort of crescendo/decrescendo formation, found already very early in the Greek Magical Papyri, representing the disappearance of a (sometimes named, often not) malady or strength (if the papyrus is a curse or in an agonistic context) by persuasive analogy. As such, it is a common feature of Semitic magic (I include Egyptian).

Abracadabra may have been done originally by the Steve Miller Band, but I was really surprised when I found out that Sugar Ray had remade the song.

I was more surprised when I found out that they'd done a good job of it (well, I at least enjoyed it). I thought it had more in it than anything else they'd put on that album (yeah, it was more enjoyable than that "Every morning when I wake up... halo... flah flah flah" song). I rue the fact that I hadn't even heard this song till a year before I heard the remake of it. So maybe I missed getting attached to the original, but Sugar Ray put out a reputable version, without any major rape-age done to the song (find the country/western tribute to the Beatles and I'll show you a filthy, filthy joke gone bad).

Maybe it helps that Mark McGrath had some firm grounding in rock music. I mean, I don't know this for a fact, per se, but I saw him on Rock Jeopardy, and he was just tearing the ass out of older men who'd frikkin' lived through the era that all the questions were about. So... him, his band, they've gotta have respect for the genre. It shows in this. Honestly.

ABRACADABRA
ABRACADABR
ABRACADAB
ABRACADA
ABRACAD
ABRACA
ABRAC
ABRA
ABR
AB
A





Healers travelling with the Roman legions used the ancient Hebrew name of power, Abracadabra, to make a fever-conquering spell. The letters were arranged in an inverted triangle, beginning with the whole word and ending with a single letter. The word was begun anew on every line, each time losing the last of its letters until only one, "A", remained. The fever was supposed to imitate the decreasing number of letters by gradually waning away.

To effect the cure, the physician set the spell, written on a parchment, around the invalid's neck for nine days. At the end of that time, it was removed and flung over the victim's shoulder into an eastward-flowing stream. The rushing waters drew the heat of the infection away from the patient and back to the rising sun, source of all warmth, thus completing the treatment.

The magic word 'Abracadabra' has been around a very long time. However, its meaning and origins are uncertain. this doesn't stop anybody speculating on them, though.

Whet we do know is that it appears in the Second century CE in a poem called Praecepta de Medicina in Liber medicinalis, a medical textbook possibly written by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus who may have been the doctor of emperor Septimus Severus. But the book does mention abracadabra as a healing charm, worn round the neck of a sick person and discarded after 9 days.

The word seems to have been fairly popular and survived, written in "word triangles", in charms used throughout the middle ages and possibly even as late as the Plague of 1665.

In the 19th Century, 'abracadabra' was occasionally used as an adjective to mean fake or charlatan. Today, it is an all purpose magic word for use by amateur and professional conjurers alike, as a way of building dramatic tension or distracting the audience.

Possible origins

Well, possible is a funny word, but here are some of the suggested origins of 'abracadabra'. Some are more plausible than others.

Options from Hebrew / Aramaic

Partly because of its supposed Gnostic origins, and also the sound of the word, it has often been thought or suggested that 'abracadabra' is a Hebrew term of some kind. However, to a Hebrew speaker 'abracadabra' sounds Aramaic, as it's full of 'a' sounds. some suggestions of its meaning are:

One major argument against all of these is that 'abracadabra' is the anglicization of the original word, which had a soft 'c' sound (via French) and was in the original form something like "abraSadabra".

Other possible origins

The most common non-Hebrew/Aramaic origin suggested for 'abracadabra' is that is some form of the Greek name Abacax or Abraxas. This was a Gnostic name of God, especially used by the Egyptian Basilideans. The gematria of this name is 365 and it was believed to hold power.

Another theory is that it is a word a bit like "Alphabet", made up from the first four letters in Phonecian: "A, Bra, Ca, Da". This is a bit dodgy too, as the third Phonecian letter was probably a 'g'-sound, like Gimmel and Gamma.

In conclusion, 'abracadabra' has been around so long nobody can remember where it comes from. But it's a funny word. Say it to yourself four times, and you'll see what I mean.

http://www.quodlibet.net/brabazon-jung.shtml
http://home.earthlink.net/~ddstuhlman/crc55.htm
http://www.logon.org/english/s/p240.html
The Oxford English Dictionary (online)

Ab`ra*ca*dab"ra (#), n. [Of unknown origin.]

A mystical word or collocation of letters written as in the figure. Worn on an amulet it was supposed to ward off fever. At present the word is used chiefly in jest to denote something without meaning; jargon.

 

© Webster 1913.

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