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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






05 May 2007

Abracadabra


Q: I was watching the crime drama CSI and the term “abracadabra” came up. They explained that abracadabra has as its root the three Hebrew names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Would you care to comment on that?

A: There are any number of explanations of the origin of abracadabra. It is found inscribed on ancient amulets, appearing to have been an incantation to cure fevers, inflammations, and the like. Some of these amulets have a series of diminishing characters in the form of an inverted cone:

Abracadabra
As the word diminished, it was supposed to diminish the disease. Some think that Abracadabra was the name of a specific demon thought responsible for certain illnesses and that the charm reduced his power as the number of letters declined.

In looking for answers, I also examined the teaching of certain wiccans (what many modern witches call themselves). They use the word as a conjuring name meaning “I bless the dead” and claim that it comes from the Hebrew ha brachah dabarah (speak the blessing). Another possible source for the word suggests its roots in ha-brachah, meaning “the blessing” (used in this sense as a euphemism for “the curse”) and dabra, an Aramaic (a later language that grew out of Hebrew) form of the older Hebrew word dever, which means “pestilence.”

I also discovered a possible Trinitarian connection, as suggested on CSI. The Hebrew, ab (Father), ben (Son), and ruach akadsch (Holy Spirit) combined would produce a similar form to abracadabra. Even closer, Aramaic used ab for Father, bar or bara for Son, and ruch kaddish for Holy Spirit. Combined, we see that abbararuchkaddish might be distorted into abracadabra.

However, all of this is speculation and no one has yet established definite proof for any of the above theories. What concerns me is that no Christian would use any incantation, charm, or spell but would rely upon our Lord’s providence, grace, and forgiveness and would only call out to the One true God in devout prayer in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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