- The Book of Abramelin
"The Book of Abramelin" tells the story of an
Egyptian mage named Abramelin, or Abra-Melin, who teaches a system of magic to Abraham of Worms, a German Jewpresumed to have lived from c.1362 - c.1458. The magic described in the book was to find new life in the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to Mathers' translation, "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage", its import within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and later within the mystical system of Thelema(adapted from the philosophy of François Rabelaisin 1904 by Aleister Crowley). Unfortunately, Mathers used the least-reliable manuscript copy as the basis for his translation and his translation contains many errors and omissions. The later English translation by Georg Dehnand Steven Guth, based on the earliest and most complete sources, is more scholarly and comprehensive. Dehn attributed authorship of The Book of Abramelin to Rabbi Yaakov Moelin(Hebrew יעקב בן משה מולין; ca. 1365–1427), a German Jewish Talmudist.
The provenance of the manuscript
The grimoire is framed as a sort of
epistolary novelor autobiographyin which Abraham of Worms describes his journey from Germanyto Egyptand reveals Abramelin's magical and Kabbalistic secrets to his son Lamech. Internally the text dates itself to the year 1458.
The book exists in the form of six
manuscripts and an early printed edition. The provenance of the text has not been definitively identified. The earliest manuscripts are two versions that date from about 1608, are written in German and are found in Wolfenbüttel["Abraham eines Juden von Worms untereinander versteckte zum Theil aus der Kabala and Magia gezogene, zum Theil durch vornehme Rabbiner als Arabern un anderen so wie auch von seinem Vater Simon erhaltene, nachgehend, aber meisten Theils selbst erfahrene un probirte, in diese nachfolgende Schrift verfaste und endlich an seinen jüngeren Sohn Lamech hinterllaßene Künste: so geschehen ud geschrieben circa Annum 1404". Wolfenbüttel Library, Codex Guelfibus 10.1.] [ Abraham ben Simon bar Juda ben Simon. "Das Buch der wahren praktik von der alten Magia". Anno 1608. Wolfenbüttel Library, Codex Guelfibus 47.13.] Another two manuscripts are in Dresden, and date from about 1700 and 1750 respectively. ["Cabala Mystica Aegyptiorum et Patriarchum". Anonymous. Staxon State and University Library, Dresden. MS N 161.] ["Magia Abraham oder Underricht von der Heiligen Cabala". Signatur TS. Saxon State and University Library, Dresden. MS M 111.] The first printed version, also in German, dates to 1725 and was printed in Cologne by Peter Hammer. [Abraham von Worms. "Die egyptischen großen Offenbarungen, in sich begreifend die aufgefundenen Geheimnisbücher Mosis; oder des Juden Abraham von Worms Buch der wahren Praktik in der uralten göttlichen Magie und erstaunlichen Dingen, wie sie durch die heilige Kabbala und durch Elohym mitgetheilt worden. Sammt der Geister – und Wunder-Herrschaft, welche Moses in der Wüste aus dem feurigen Busch erlernet, alle Verborgenheiten der Kabbala umfassend". Köln, 1725.] A partial copy in Hebrew is found in the Bodleian Libraryin Oxford, and dates from around 1740. ["Sefer Segullot Melachim". Anonymous. Oxford University, Bodleian Library. MS. OPP.594.] A manuscript copy existed in French in the " Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal" in Paris, an institution founded in 1797. The French copy has since disappeared, but is available on microfilm.
All German copies of the text consist of four books: an autobiographical account of the travels of
Abraham of Wormsto Egypt, a book of assorted materials from the corpus of the practical Kabbalah(including some which is duplicated in the German-Jewish grimoire called "The Sixth and 7th Books of Moses") and the two books of magic given by Abramelin to Abraham. The well-known English translation by S.L. MacGregor Mathersfrom the French Manuscript in Pariscontains only three of the four books. The Hebrewversion in Oxford is limited to Book One, without reference to the further books.
Of all the extant sources, the German manuscripts in Wolfenbüttel and Dresden are taken by scholars to be the authoritative texts. According to respected Kabbalist
Gershom Scholem, the Hebrew version in Oxford was translated into Hebrew from German. ["Book of Abramelin: A New Translation", Abraham of Worms, edited by Georg Dehn, Introduction, pg. XXV.] An analysis of the spelling and language usage in the French manuscript indicates that it dates to the 18th century, and that it was also likely copied from a German original. Although the author quotes from the Jewish Book of Psalms, the version given is not from the Hebrew; rather, it is from the Latin Vulgate, a translation of the Bibleemployed by Roman Catholics at that time.
The Abramelin operation
The text describes an elaborate
ritualwhose purpose is to obtain the "knowledge and conversation" of the magician's " Holy Guardian Angel." The preparations are elaborate, difficult, and long. All of the German texts describe a duration for the operation of eighteen months before any divine contact is known. In the Mathers translation, the initial phase of working the system lasts only six months.
During the period of the work, the magician must daily pray before
sunriseand again at sunset. During this preparatory phase, there are many restrictions: chastitymust be observed, alcoholic beverages refused, and the magician must conduct his business with scrupulous fairness.
After the preparatory phase has been successfully completed, the magician's guardian angel will appear to reveal to the magician magical secrets. Once this is accomplished, the magician must evoke the twelve Kings and Dukes of Hell (Lucifer, Satan, Leviathan, etc) and bind them. Thereby, the magician gains command of them and removes their negative influence from his life. Further, these spirits must deliver a number of familiar spirits (four principle familiars, and several more associated with a set of magickal word-square talismans provided in the Abramelin's Book Four).
The magical goals for which the demons can be employed are typical of those found in grimoires: the practitioner is promised the ability to find
buried treasure, cast lovecharms, the ability of magical flight, and the secret of invisibility- to list a small number of examples.
Magic squares feature prominently in the instructions for carrying out these operations, as does a recipe for an anointing oil (taken from Exodus 30), popularly used by
ceremonial magicians under the name " Abramelin Oil". There are also several further tools - such as a holy Lamp, a Wand made of an almond branch, a recipe for incense known today as "Abramelin Incense" (also taken from Exodus 30), various Robes, a square or seven-sided plate of silver or (bees) wax, etc.
Because the work involves evocation of demons, the Abramelin operation has been compared to Goetic magic, especially by European scholars. However, the text's primary focus is upon the invocation of the guardian angel, and modern works on the subject tend to focus upon this aspect as well.
Magick Word Squares
The practical magick of Abramelin (found in both Book III of the French text, and Book IV of the German original) centers around a set of talismans composed of magick word squares. These are similar to traditional
magic squares - though the latter are usually composed of numbers, while Abramelin's squares contain letters. Commonly word squares are used as puzzles or as teaching aids for students. In the context of Abramelin, the focus becomes mystical - so that each square "should" contain words or names that relate to the magickal goal of the square. A parallel is found in the famous Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotasword square, an altered version of which is also found among Abramelin's squares.
A square for "Traveling in the air, on a cloud" contains the word
NASA. The bulk of the squares are based on apparently intentional choices of words from Hebrew, Abrabic, Latin, Greek, Chaldean and other languages.
For example, a square entitled "To walk under water for as long as you want" contains the word MAIAM, the Hebrew and Arabic word for "water". A square for recovering treasures of jewelry begins with the word TIPHARAH, which can mean "golden ring" in Hebrew and is also the name of the sphere of "Beauty" on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
Abramelin and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
In 1897, "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" was translated into English by the British
occultist Samuel L. MacGregor Mathers. The magic described in the grimoire was influential in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which Mathers was the head.
occultist Aleister Crowley, at the time a young member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, started preparations for seeking the angel by following Abramelin's instructions, but he abandoned this plan to assist Mathers during the Golden Dawn schism of 1901.
Abramelin and Thelema
"The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" was to have a profound effect upon Crowley, the eventual founder of
Thelema. As he developed the mystical system of Thelema, the Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA was to become the fundamental task of every adept. This was attached to the central concept of Thelema, True Will, which can be described as one's sacred destiny or path in life, which cannot be fully known in consciousness until the HGA is contacted. Although Crowley was to go on to create his own ritual for attaining this, while also saying that an adept could more or less achieve this mystical state in any number of ways, the fundamental concepts remained consistent with Abramelin.
In 1906, Crowley decided to alter the Abramelin operation so that he might perform it during a trip he and his wife
Rose Kellyand their infant daughter were taking through China. He reported first a vision of a shining figure who admitted him to the Order of the Silver Star, and later a more drastic mystical experience that he considered to be the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel. However, he showed ambivalence about the role that his use of hashishhad played in this experience, so in October 1908, he again performed the operation in Pariswithout the use of drugs. (See John St. John, in external links.)
In later years, Crowley claimed to have successfully completed the Abramelin operation, but the outcome of his experiment was not the advertised powers of treasure-finding, invisibility, flight, and love-drawing. Rather, he attributed to the Abramelin operation the revelation of "
The Book of the Law" and the proclamation of the "Aeon of Horus", which he received while he was sojourning in Egyptin 1904.
Abramelin and contemporary eclectic occultism
Since the time of Mathers' translation, "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" has remained popular among English-speaking ceremonial magicians and occultists interested in
Hermetic Qabalah, Christian Kabbalahand grimoires. A paperback reprint during the renewed rise of interest in hermeticismduring the 1970s placed the book before a new generation of readers, and one offshoot of this was that a number of people, both within and without the Thelemic and Golden Dawn communities, claimed to have either undertaken the Abramelin operation "in toto" or to have successfully experimented with the magic squaresand Abramelin oilformula found in the text.
There are several important differences between the original manuscripts and Mathers' edition. First, one of the four books was missing entirely from the French manuscript with which he worked. Second, Mathers gave the duration of the operation as six months, whereas all other sources specify eighteen months. Third, possibly due to a mistranslation, Mathers changed one of the ingredients within the recipe for
Abramelin oil, specifying galangalinstead of the original herb calamus. The oil in the German manuscript sources also contains cassiaand is nearly identical to the biblical recipe for Holy anointing oil. The differences between the recipes cause several notable changes in the oil's characteristics, including edibility, fragrance, dermal sensation, and spiritual symbolism. Fourth, there are 242 word squares in Mathers' translation, while the original German has 251. Most of the squares in Mathers are not completely filled in, and those that are differ markedly from the German sources.
A German translation, credited to Abraham of Worms and edited by Georg Dehn, was published in 2001 by Edition Araki. In the Dehn version, the fourth book is included and Mathers' galangal substitution is reverted back to calamus (though not in the English translation — see
Abramelin Oil). All 251 of the word squares are completely filled in. An English translation of Dehn's edition was published 2006 by the American publisher Nicholas Hays.
* "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" translated by S.L. MacGregor Mathers (1897; reprinted by Dover Publications, 1975) ISBN 0-85030-255-2
* "Die heilige Magie des Abramelin von Abraham", edited by Johann Richard Beecken (Schikowski,1957) ISBN 3-87702-017-8
* "Das Buch der wahren Praktik in der goettlichen Magie" edited by Jeorg von Inns (Diederichs Gelbe Reihe, 1988)
* "Abramelin & Co." by Peter-R. Koenig (Hiram-Edition, 1995) ISBN 3-927890-24-3
* "Buch Abramelin das ist Die egyptischen großen Offenbarungen. Oder des Abraham von Worms Buch der wahren Praktik in der uralten göttlichen Magie" (Editions Araki, 2001) ISBN 3-936149-00-3
* "Book of Abramelin: A New Translation" by Abraham von Worms, edited by Georg Dehn (Nicholas Hays, September 2006) ISBN 0-89254-127-X
* [http://www.araki.de/index.php?id=98&backPID=156&tt_products=16 Historical and critical background to the new translation by Georg Dehn, with information about Abraham of Worms]
* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/grim/abr/index.htm "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" translated by S.L. Macgregor Mathers]
* [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/abramelin/ "Abramelin Yahoo group."]
* [http://kheph777.tripod.com/art_HGA.html "The Holy Guardian Angel: Exploring the Sacred Magick of Abramelin the Mage" by Aaron Leitch]
* [http://kheph777.tripod.com/abrasquares.pdf "Abramelin's Magickal Word Squares- Compiled and Corrected for the First Time" by Aaron Leitch]
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