The possible religious meaning of abracadabra

  • Question from RS, United Kingdom

    I’ve been told that magicians used ‘Abracadabra’ as the name of God, because it means ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. Is this true?

    ‘Abracadabra’ has a convoluted history as a ‘magical word’, but it has been claimed that it was used in medieval cabbala (or kabbalah) and derived from the initials of the Hebrew words Ab (Father), Ben (Son) and Ruach A’Cadsh (Holy Spirit).

    It was apparently used as a charm against fevers and toothache and may have formed part of incantation rites among the cabalists, a secret society which incorporated both Jewish and Christian ideas and used ritual magic, charms and mystical anagrams. They claimed to be able to converse with the dead and were often grouped in with alchemists and pseudo-Christian sects.

    Kabbalah has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance recently, helped by a number of high profile celebrities adopting it. ‘Abracadabra’ is now most commonly used as a nonsense word by stage magicians, most of whom it can be assumed are not trying to invoke the power of God to make their ‘spells’ work.

    Popular children’s author JK Rowling used a variant spelling ‘Avada Kedavra’ as the ‘last and worse’ cursing spell, ‘the killing curse’, in her book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [published by Bloomsbury, 2000, p.190] and may have been drawing on other traditions regarding the origin of the word.

    Thanks for your question, RS.

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