ABRACADABRA and the Occult

ABRACADABRA! The Ancient Occult Origins of The Magic Word

Jun 06, 2024

Rapper Eminem's new song "Houdini" has brought fresh attention to the word: abracadabra. The track prominently features a sample from the Steve Miller Band's 1982 hit "Abracadabra." Miller's original introduced the cryptic phrase to many modern listeners, becoming one of the rock band's biggest chart successes. With its catchy tune and famous lyric - "I wanna reach out and grab ya," the song became a big hit and is still one of my personal favorites from one of my favorite rock bands.

The cover art can be obtained from Capitol Records - Fair use

Long before it echoed through radios and earbuds, "abracadabra" had already entranced people for centuries. To understand the true meaning behind this famous incantation, we need to trace the occulted history behind this ancient incantation.

The exact origin of the word "abracadabra" is still a bit of a mystery, but most scholars trace it back to ancient Mesopotamian magic; specifically to the phrase in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) "avra kehdabra," meaning "I will create as I speak" (Pickover, 2009). References to "abracadabra" first appeared in the 2nd century writings of Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Roman emperor Caracalla (Sammonicus c. 210 AD). He described it as an amulet or magical charm to be worn on the body as protection against illnesses like malaria and other fevers (Ibid.). Such amulets have also connected to the Gnostic deity Abraxas, who was often invoked on ancient amulets and charms.


The word "abraxas" (or "abrasax") itself is numerologically equivalent to 365, the number of days in a year, and was associated with the 365 emanations of the supreme deity in Basilidean Gnostic cosmology. Each letter in "abraxas" also corresponded to one of the seven classic planetary deities. By speaking or inscribing this word, one was symbolically harnessing the power of the entire cosmos.

The way to activate the healing powers of "abracadabra" was very specific. It had to be written out repeatedly on a piece of paper or parchment, with one letter removed each time to form an inverted triangle. Wearing this talisman around the neck was believed to cure the wearer of disease. As the letters disappeared, so supposedly would the illness, until both vanished entirely:



From these early origins, the mystical word "abracadabra" spread throughout the Western occult tradition over the centuries. It frequently shows up in ancient Gnostic texts and magical grimoires as an invocation of great power. The Gnostic understanding of "abracadabra" and "abraxas" points to the secret knowledge (gnosis) that could free one's divine spark from the prison of matter and the tyranny of the false creator god or "demiurge."

Additionally, the figure of Abraxas bears some striking similarities to another entity that has captured the imagination of occultists and conspiracy theorists alike: Baphomet. This goat-headed, androgynous figure first appeared in the trial records of the Knights Templar in the 14th century, where it was allegedly worshipped as an idol.

In the 19th century, the French occultist Éliphas Lévi famously depicted Baphomet as a "Sabbatic Goat," incorporating various esoteric symbols like the caduceus, pentagram, and torch of illumination. Lévi's illustration has since become the definitive image of Baphomet in popular culture.

While the exact origins and meaning of Baphomet remain disputed, some modern esotericists have drawn connections between this figure and the Gnostic Abraxas. Both are seen as representing the union of opposites, the reconciliation of light and darkness, and the ultimate source of spiritual power. For those interested in digging deeper into the mysteries of Baphomet, my upcoming book "Baphomet Revealed" offers a comprehensive exploration of its history, symbolism, and occult significance.

Just as Abraxas was invoked in ancient spells and talismans, the name of Baphomet has been chanted in occult rituals and inscribed on magical seals, hinting at the enduring potency of these cryptic entities. Whether we see them as literal beings or archetypal symbols, Abraxas and Baphomet continue to exert a powerful influence on the Western esoteric tradition, an influence that can be traced through the works of many great occultists and magicians, like Aleister Crowley, who discussed the power of "abracadabra" in his 1929 magnum opus Magick in Theory and Practice. Crowley claimed this word holds a numerological significance related to the Great Work of spiritual attainment (Crowley, 1929). He saw it as a key to unlocking the secrets of the universe and achieving ultimate mastery over the forces of nature.

In the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, "abracadabra" is connected to the mystical Tree of Life. Early Kabbalists believed it represents the path from the material world of Malkuth to the divine realm of Kether, with each letter corresponding to one of the ten sephirot or emanations of God (Gonzalez-Wippler, 2004). By meditating on the letters and working one's way up the tree, a practitioner could achieve spiritual enlightenment and union with the divine.

Over time, "abracadabra" entered into common usage as a kind of catchphrase said by stage magicians when performing a trick, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. This is the most familiar meaning to many people today when they ask the question "what does abracadabra mean?" In this context, it's seen more as a fanciful exclamation than a word of true power. However, this association with stage magic and illusion obscures the deeper spiritual and occult significance held by "abracadabra" for many centuries.


The Magician's Costume: Freemasonry, Comics, and the Fashioning of an Archetype

The popular image of a magician decked out in a black cape, top hat, white gloves, and brandishing a magic wand has its roots in the clothing worn by 19th-century ceremonial magicians, many of whom were Freemasons (Greer, 2003). This style of dress was adopted by Masonic lodges for their rituals and was heavily influenced by the Victorian fashion of the time (Macnulty, 2006). Ceremonial magicians like Éliphas Lévi and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn incorporated elements of Masonic garb and ritual into their own magical practices, which often involved the invocation of "abracadabra" and other words of power.


The rabbit that so often accompanies the stereotypical magician also has occult symbolism. In many ancient traditions, rabbits were seen as lunar creatures associated with fertility, rebirth, and magic (Cirlot, 2015). The act of pulling a rabbit out of an empty hat could be seen as a symbol of manifesting something out of nothing, echoing the original Aramaic meaning of "abracadabra" - "I will create as I speak." As stage magic became more popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many performers drew upon this pre-existing imagery associated with ceremonial magicians and Freemasonry (Macnulty, 2006). Figures like Alexander Herrmann and Harry Houdini helped to cement the popular archetype of the magician in the public imagination, complete with cape, top hat, and rabbits. Though these modern conjurers used "abracadabra" more for theatrical flair than genuine invocation, they helped to keep the word alive in our cultural consciousness.

One notable figure who embodied this archetype was Leon Mandrake (1911-1993), an Italian-American magician who began his career in vaudeville at the age of 11. In the 1940s, Mandrake adopted the persona of "Mandrake the Magician," a clear reference to the comic strip character created by Lee Falk in 1934.

The choice of the name "Mandrake" for both the real-life magician and the comic strip hero was no coincidence. The word "mandrake" has long been associated with magic and mystery, deriving from the Greek "mandragoras," which is related to the Sanskrit word "mandros" meaning "sleep" or "intoxication." This etymology hints at the plant's soporific and psychoactive properties, which made it a popular ingredient in magic potions and witches' flying ointments during medieval times. The mandrake's anthropomorphic root and legendary screaming also contributed to its occult allure. By adopting this name, both Leon Mandrake and his fictional counterpart tapped into a rich vein of esoteric lore. 

Mandrake's act included classic stage illusions like levitation and escape tricks, but also featured mentalism, ventriloquism, and even trained doves. His striking appearance and varied skills made him a popular performer on the vaudeville circuit and later in nightclubs and television appearances. 

Though Leon Mandrake was not the first or only magician to adopt the formal black-tie outfit, his popular act helped to cement the connection between this style of dress and the practice of stage magic in the public imagination. Combining the look of the comic strip hero with the trappings of secret societies and ancient mysticism, Mandrake created a compelling image of the magician as a suave, sophisticated master of arcane arts. From the real-life Leon Mandrake to his comic strip counterpart, the figure of the top-hatted magician has become an iconic representation of the golden age of stage magic. While the Masonic and occult origins of this image may have faded from memory, it continues to evoke a sense of wonder and mystery for audiences around the world.

Whether inscribed on a healing amulet, intoned in a ritual invocation, or belted out in a rock anthem, "abracadabra" continues to enchant and mystify us, hinting at the transformative power of language itself. As the French occultist and illustrator of the icon Baphomet image, Éliphas Lévi wrote, "He controls the elements who can pronounce, according to science, the incommunicable name of God." Perhaps "abracadabra" is one key to unlocking that power, or at least tapping into a rich vein of esoteric lore of transformation with a touch of showbiz pizzazz. 

If you want to learn more about the connection between magic and music, check out Episode 7 of The Midnight Academy.





Cirlot, Juan Eduardo. A Dictionary of Symbols. Routledge, 2015.

Crowley, Aleister. Magick in Theory and Practice. Lecram Press, 1929.

Gonzalez-Wippler, Migene. The Complete Book of Amulets & Talismans. Lewellyn Publications, 2004.

Greer, John Michael. The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. Llewellyn Publications, 2003.

Macnulty, W. Kirk. Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol. Thames & Hudson, 2006.

Pickover, Clifford. Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Sammonicus, Serenus. Liber Medicinalis, c. 210 AD.


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