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ABRACADABRA:

Magic word or formula used in incantations, especially against intermittent fever or inflammation, the patient wearing an amulet upon his neck, with the following inscription:

The underlying idea was to force the spirit of the disease gradually to relinquish its hold upon the patient. It is first mentioned by Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the emperor Caracalla, whose work, "De Medicina Præcepta," was admired by the emperors Geta and Alexander Severus. He prescribes that the word be written in the form of an inverted cone, the whole word being written out at first, then with one letter less on each line until one letter stands alone (see King, "Gnostics and Their Remains," p. 317). The explanation that it is a corruption of Ha-Bracha and Dobar hardly deserves consideration. The Jewish Cabala probably had nothing to do with it. But it finds a striking parallel in Pesaḥim, 112a, which recommends the same means of gradually reducing the power of disease by an incantation formula which subdues the invoked spirit of the disease. The person who is in danger of becoming a victim of the spirit Shabriri ("Blindness") is told to say: "My mother hath told me to beware of

It is, therefore, probable that the word was originally the name of a demon which is no longer recognizable. It has been the subject of the following stanza (King, l.c.):

"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."

K.
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