The invocation of magical powers. All peoples, civilized as well as savage, have believed and still believe in magical influences and effects. The chief means of harming or of protecting from harm was the utterance of some word or words invested with the highest magical power; and whoever knew the right word had influence over gods and demons; for they could not resist the command, spoken under certain necessary and auspicious conditions. Magic pervaded the religions of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and in a still higher degree the religions of primitive peoples. According to the Bible the nations which lived in the same country as the ancient Israelites or in that surrounding it practised all sorts of superstitions forbidden to the Israelites (Blan, "Das Altjüdische Zauberwesen," pp. 16-19). The nature of these superstitions can not always be determined. Probably the original meaning of , the root-word by which magic is indicated in Hebrew, is "to murmur" or "to mutter" (Fleischer, in Levy, "Neuhebr. Wörterb." ii. 459). Hence, the magician () was a person who muttered magic formulas; but no example of such formulas has been preserved in the Bible.Talmudic Formulas.
Rabbinical literature, however, contains a large number of these formulas, the majority of which, designated as "heathen" (Amoritic), are forbidden, while a small number are recommended. Thirty-two incantations in Hebrew and Aramaic are enumerated in Blau, l.c. pp. 65-86. In some there are unintelligible words, which are the characteristic mark of magic formulas; in others there are Persian words, pointing to a Persian origin of the formula. The exclamations "Jammia and Bizia"; "Dagan and Kedron"; "Healing" (on sneezing; see Asusa); "Abundance and remainder, drink and leave a drop" (ib. p. 66) are Amoritic; that is, they originated among the primitive heathen inhabitants of Palestine. When a teacher of the Law had taken an excessive quantity of wine, his palm and knee were rubbed with oil and salt, while these words were pronounced: "As this oil evaporates, so may the wine evaporate from A. son of B." (ib. p. 72). Several observances were followed in the case of ague, one of them being as follows: The person took a new earthen jug to a river, turned it around his head seven times, poured out the water backward, and said "River, river, lend a jug full of water for the guest who has come to me" (ib. p. 73) If a person is choking with a bone, another bone of the same kind is laid on his head, while some one utters the words: "One, one, it goes down; swallow, swallow, it goes down; one, one" (ib. p. 76). This formula consists of four words, which in the second part are repeated in inverse order. The same remedy is also mentioned in Pliny's "Historia Naturalis," xxviii. 49. The following abracadabra is pronounced against the demon of blindness:
During the Hellenistic period of Jewish history Hebrew incantations were used among both the Jews and the pagans, as appears from the magic papyri published by Wessely (Vienna, 1888, 1894). The Tetragrammaton and the divine names "Eloe" and "Adonai" were most frequently used (ib. pp. 102 et seq.). But there are other words, which it is difficult to identify on account of the obscurity in which the formulas were enveloped. The Greco-Roman world was acquainted with the barbaric words of the "Chaldeans" (magicians), and in the famous inscription on the pedestal of a Greek oracle altar several Hebrew words may be recognized. The "Sword of Moses" ("Ḥarba de-Mosheh"), published by Gaster, which also contains incantations, is connected with Judæo-Hellenistic magic.Medieval Formulas.
The literature of medieval mysticism likewise presents formulas for incantation. These formulas are an essential part of the so-called practical Cabala, which has still its adepts in eastern Europe and in Asia. Jewish folk-lore also furnishes examples of incantation, some of which are noted in "Mittheilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," published by Grunwald (see No. vii., s.v. "Beschwörungen, Besprechungen, Feuerbeschwören"). The "Revue des Ecoles de l'Alliance Israélite," published by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, contains valuable material relating to incantations from the folk lore of all countries of the East.