“It sounds like we need some kind of ancient word of wisdom?”
“Abracadabra” Teabing ventured, his eyes twinkling.
~Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code
Abracadabra is probably the most widespread term associated with magic, and considered by many to just be a nonsense-term for magic.
It may be derived from the greek word Akrakanarba used on magical papyri from the 2nd century BCE to the 5th century CE. Or, it may be associated with a Hebrew-Armanic expression, ibra k’dibra which can be translated “I create through my speech” or any number of other similar phrases.
The word may also be connected with Abraxas, the supreme being in Gnosticism, often associated with magical charms used to ward off evil beginning in the 2nd century. Belief in Abraxas evolved in a group of Christians who followed a teacher named Basilides. It is unknown what the name Abraxas actually stood for, possibly the 365 days in the year since the numbers associated with the Greek letters add up to 365. The seven letters may also stand for the seven planets known in antiquity.
There may also be a connection to various charms against disease;
Ab Abr Abra Abrak Abraka
Abrakal Abrakala Abrakal
Abraka Abrak Abra Abr Ab
And the people called unto Moses and Moses prayed to God and the fire abated. May healing come from heaven from all kinds of fecer and consumption – heat to N son of N.
Amen Amen Amen. Selah Selah Selah.
This text was hung around a patient’s neck, and was believed to cause the fever to build up and then dwindle away. Similarly, the word “Abracadabra” was written in an upside-down pyramid, dropping the last letter in each line. This paper was also tied around a patient’s neck. Presumably, the idea was that as the word dwindles away, so will the fever.
For more information, see Craig Conley’s Magic Words: A Dictionary (2008) and Rosemary Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alcemy (2006).