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Thursday, January 8, 2009


Superstitions abound from many cultures and many eras, and continues to flourish around the globe even in the most technologically advanced societies. The startling array of old wives' tales, saws and warnings that survive to this day are a reflection of many preoccupations, ranging from largely historical fears about the welfare of animals and portents of coming weather to psychologically telling omens of marital discord, mistrust of new innovations and magical ways of probing what the future holds.

Since superstitions played a large part in the historical era, I thought I might do a series of blogs about the role different superstitions played in various socities. Perhaps this information will serve as a source of research for you-the reader/writer.

Let's begin with "abracadabra." The word "abracadabra" is a magical invocation that is associated chiefly with stage conjurors and pantomime witches but in fact has a long history as a cablistic charm. The charm was said to have special powers against fevers, toothache and other medical ailments as well as to provide protection against bad luck. Sufferers from such conditions were advised to wear metal amulets or pieces of parchment folded into a cross and inscribed with the word repeated several times, with the first and last letter removed each time until the last line read just "A". According to the thinking behind the charm, the evil force generating the illness would decrease as the word grew shorter. Once the charm had proved effective (after a period of nine days), the wearer was instructed to removed the parchment cross and to throw it backwards into an eastwards flowing stream before sunrise.

Such charms were, according to Daniel Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Year (1722), widely worn in London in the seventeenth century as protection against the plague. Simply saying the word out loud is also said to summon up strong supernatural forces, hence its use by contemporary stage performers and entertainers throughout the West.

Well, this is certainly a curious, if not entertaining belief. Stay tuned for a fascinating journey in to the world of superstitions.


Vicki said...

Very interesting post, Loretta. I didn't know the orgin of abracadabra, nor the part about writing it until you were left with only the letter A.

I'm looking forward to reading more. :)

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Thanks for dropping by, Vicki. I hope to have more interesting tidbits about superstitions.

Jen Childers said...

I love the blog!
There was a Hungarian emperor who made disbelief in werewolves illegal, back in the 1500's. I love tidbits and trivia like this.

Gwyn Ramsey said...

A very interesting subject and well written. Never had any idea how 'abracadabra' came about or what it was actually used for. I love trivia. Thanks.

Teresa Reasor said...

I found this very interesting. I had really thought that the word came from a middle eastern origin. Didn't I read it in The Arabian Nights. Too long ago to remember. I'll be coming back to learn about more superstitions.
Write on,
Teresa Reasor

Helen Hardt said...

What a great idea for a blog! I love it. I write historical, too, (as well as contemporary, paranormal, and erotic) and this is all fascinating. I'll be sure to visit often!


Anonymous said...

Very informative and interesting, Loretta! I'll definitely be checking back to see what the Historical Hussies are up to.


Anonymous said...

I was a 20th Century European History major with a focus on the Holocaust. One of my professors was a Daniel DeFoe. He taught U.S. history at the University of California at Davis. I wonder if it's the same person.
Happy New Year,
J. Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer

Martha Eskuchen said...

Interesting article - thanks! I never associated "abracadabra" with the plague! It is fun to learn where superstitions came from and how they were used.

Anonymous said...

This entire section was plagerized from a book titled
The Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering.