The Book of Abramelin

The Book of Abramelin, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage

“'The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage' is a mediaeval grimoire that is now widely available in an edition translated and edited by S. L. Macgregor Mathers. It was made famous by Crowley, who borrowed its central concept of attaining “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” as the basis for the whole work of the Adept. The main challenge is to perform the 'Abramelin Operation', a six-month period of seclusion, meditation and asceticism, in order to contact the Holy Guardian Angel, and thereafter compel the obedience of all the demons of Hell.”—Glossary of Commonly Used Terms in the Western Mystery Tradition

One of the most widely studied and appreciated of the ancient “Grimoires” or Books of Magick in the Ceremonial Magician’s library is The Book of Abramelin the Mage, also known as The Jew Abraham of Worms’ Book of the True Praxis in the Ancient Divine Magic and Astounding Things, as they have been transmitted through the Holy Kabbalah and Elohim, supposedly written @ 1350 – 14 50 (in Hebrew, we would assume) and published in German @ 1600. To discover the author, we first determine when it was written. The full titles and publishing history is instructive, the book was published as Des Juden Abraham von Worms buch der wahren Praktik in der uralten göttlichen Magie un in erstaunlichen Dingen, wie sie durch die heilige Kabbala und durch Elohym mitgeteilt worden aka The Jew Abraham of Worms's Book of the True Praxis in the Ancient Divine Magic and Astounding Things, as They Have been Transmitted though the Holy Kabbalah and Elohim, Cologne Germany, 1725. There is a manuscript copy in Wolfenbüttel dated 1608. The two manuscripts in Dresden are dated 1700 and 1750, so one predates the printed 1725 German edition.

Most famously, it was also published as The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage aka Cabala Mystica aka The Mystical Kabbalah of the Egyptians and the Patriarchs, which is the Book of the True, Divine Magic, written by Abraham, son of Simon, for his younger son Lamech aka The Book of the Secret Magic of Abramelin the Mage, as delivered by Abraham the Jew unto his Son Lamech, translated from French, S.L. MacGregor Mathers , 1898 , including the subtitled “The First Book of the Sacred Magic which God gave to Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon and the other Saints, Patriarchs & Prophets, which teaches the Divine Wisdom, left by Abraham to his Lamech his son, translated from the Hebrew 1458 (French title) from the German The Mystical Kabbalah of the Egyptians and the Patriarchs which is the Book of the True Old Divine Magic Written by Abraham son of Simon for his younger son Lamech (German reprint title) theoretically written @ 1379. This edition was popular with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, later OTO and other offshoot occult organizations and Paths. The Mather’s translation was available in a cheap paperback from Dover in the 1970s, and then cheap hardcover from Causeway, 1974, giving it more exposure than even the Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon. The late 60’s and early 70’s were a socially open time for the rediscovery of ancient Magick.

Discovering the identity of the Abramelin, the Mage of Araki or even his disciple Abraham the Jew, may be elusive due to the natural desire during the Inquisition in having some plausible deniability in authoring Magical texts. It was also common to write under the NAME of the Famous and Dead, the hagiological desire to have people read your writing, even if they attribute it to someone else, like Pseudo - Maimonides, Pseudo - Gerber, likely Paul of Taranto, Pseudo - Dionysius the Areopagite, Pseudo - Democritus or Pseudo - Ptolemy.

Scholars have two paths forward. One is to examine the historical record in light of the author’s narrative of the origins of the WORK, following the story Abraham relates in the beginning about his travels, and examine the notable Qabalistic Rabbis of that time for synchronistic but also significant clues of places and dates. For the reasons listed above for falsifying authorship and details, this approach has important but limited use. Clearly, someone who lived after the book was published cannot have been the author. Just as obviously, the magick in this book is built on a long line of historical examples, both Ceremonial and Qabalistic. By examination of the methods Abramelin uses in his construction of the Kamea in Book Three of the Sacred Magic we can compare the published and unpublished WORK of the possible authors for clues.

The most famous Magick in the book are the rituals diffusely instructing a series of prayers and ceremonies for the invocation of the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”. The religious purifications, orations and supplications to the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) are reminiscent of Jewish rituals of the Kohans, or High Priests of the Temple of King Solomon. Many remnants of this strict purity are still in practice in some conservative “Frum”, or close knit Jewish communities.

The most detailed Magick is the talismans, or Letter and Number Squares, which exhibit a NEW variation on existing techniques of the Kamea, or Magick Squares. Using this technique as our Rule and Guide, we can discover some likely candidates and eliminate some others.

This search has produced a Research Paper, The Search for Abramelin, which included manuscript screenshots and tables which cannot be reproduced here, see https://www.academia.edu/.

However, the conclusions are:

In his translation,¤ while discussing the Kamea SALOM /AREPO /LBMBL /OPERA/ MOLAS, MacGregor Mathers explains the above SATOR Square as meaning “The Creator/ Slowly/Maintains/his Creations/as Vortices or wheels within wheels”. Another interpretation is the Seed Sower (Creator)/tears up (plows)/the fertile field/to plant his WORK/ again and again, as a cycle, forever.

As this is the Magick of the Jewish people, from Abraham the Jew, the fact that the letters are in Latin script rather than Hebrew characters seems suspect. The obvious question is were these Latin the original letters of the Magick Square, or are these letters a transliteration of the original Hebrew? One would suppose that sacred Jewish Magick is more likely to be written in Hebrew, especially as there is one written Hebrew language (and two spoken dialects) while multiple European tongues. Thus we can reasonably look for previous examples of Kamea NUMBER Square magick in Hebrew, with hopes we stumble upon an exact match to the Latin above.

So the search for a 5 x 5 Kamea in Hebrew circa or before 1600 with Hebrew letters spelling out SATOR, etc. seems like that for a silver needle in a haystack at midnight, to use a good qabalistic metaphor. And if such proof even exists, could we distinguish an original from which the Abramelin magick is born from a study of the published text in German circa 1600? What might distinguish the original, except perhaps handwritten notes working out this and similar Magic Squares until the Magician managed to work out as many acrostics as might be squeezed out of 25 squares. Horizontal, Vertical and backwards words would be even more valuable with a diagonal line of significant letters or numbers.

There are a number of suspects in our search for Abramelin. Rather than examine the tales told about their Wisdom and Works, we can search for evidence in the WORK itself. Bibliographical information is provided via the web links for each.

When the various Hebrew NAMEs of GOD are subject to such manipulations, the techniques of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, the founder of Prophetic or Ecstatic Qabalah, come to mind. He puts permutations of the Divine NAME into a grid of “Tzeruf combinations * @ 1200. (* The Wisdom of Combinations or ” Hochmah ha-Tseruf by Rabbi Abraham Abulafia.) Meditation, vocalization and visualization are combined to create a Holy, ecstatic State. However, these employ the NAMEs of GOD, and that is the seed of their power. Also, the changes sought are internal to the student rather than in manifestation of specific physical goals.

Another strong contender, the MaHaRaL, or Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, was reputed to be a magician capable of bringing a clay Golem to life. He lives 1520 – 1609, so he could also be Abramelin. More investigation is warranted, especially of Nistar BeLashon Nigleh, or “The Hidden in the Language of the Revealed”. But his known writings are not magical or messianic.

In their new translation of The Book of Abramelin – New and Revised, the authors suggest “Abraham Von Worms, long thought to be a pseudonymous figure, is nearly conclusively proved to be a well-known 14th century Jewish scholar, Rabbi Jacob ben Moses ha Levi Moellin‎, more commonly known as MaHaRIL .” ++ aka Rabbi Yaakov Moelin aka יעקב בן משה מולין @ 1365 – 1427.

Rabbi Moellin, the Maharil, is known primarily as a commentator of the Torah and its effect on daily custom, the Minhagim aka the Sefer ha-Maharil, published 1556. He lives from 1365 – 1427, so he is early enough for both the author’s claimed date and the publishing date of the Book. His comments were much respected, and have recently been collected as “New Responsa of Yaakov Moellin‎”. However, not only is there no trace of NUMBER Squares, even the idea of Magick beyond Prayer seems a stretch for the Maharil. Hopefully there was no confusion with the MaHaRaL, Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague. The introduction to the revised edition doesn’t reveal much about their conclusion.

Similarly, we can mark but eliminate Rabbi Abraham Eleazar, author of Uralter Chymisches Werck by Habraham the Jew, The Book of Hieroglyphic Figures with applications of the Fables of the Poets of the Mysteries of Christianity, of Alchemy, Pharmacy, according to NUMBERs, as at least being published too late to have been Abramelin, in Germany @ 1700, not 1600, theough when it was written is unclear. From his influence on the Alchemist Nicolas Flamel, 1330 – 1418, the images existed earlier. But even the less Christianized parts of his book lack the characteristics of Hebrew thought represented in Abramelin, the entreaties to God, the “double explanations”. He is a Chemist, without much use for the manipulation of Letters to achieve his practical goals, such as gold.

Perhaps the best suspect would be the founder of Practical Qabalah, the Rabbi Isaac Luria’s main disciple, Chaim Vital. The Ari (aka Ashkenazi Rabbi Yishaq or Isaac aka The Lion) was the fount from which sprung the Lurianic School of Qabalah. He wrote virtually nothing, teaching in the qabalistic tradition of that which is whispered from the mouth of the Teacher to the ear of the Student. It was through his student of only a few years, Rabbi Chaim Vital, the defacto leader of “the Little Lions” that we received his teachings, and his activist notion of TIKKUN, the role of human action in the recreation of Paradise. Rabbi Chaim Vital was a traveling scholar, who may have started in Italy before traveling Europe, Israel and finally settling in Damascus, Syria between 1543– 1620 CE. While well versed in Torah, he also was a scientist, astronomer, mathematician, physician, pharmacist and even an alchemist for two years. His published works are well worthwhile, recommended even today, and can be discovered with a little effort.

However, his unpublished manuscripts, many water-damaged or tattered, were collected by Shlomo Moussaieff, a successful Jeweler, and donated to the Bar-Ilan University in Israel. The Museum has digitalized these 204 manuscripts and made them available on line for scholars everywhere.

In these notebooks for his own musings, the great Qabalist Rabbi Vital explores Astrology, Alchemy, Cosmology and displays an understanding of Solomonic and Christian Ceremonial Magick. He switches effortlessly between Hebrew, Arabic and several ciphers (for which he supplies keys elsewhere) and inserts diagrams and notations. We have explored his WORK in the Jewish Kamea of the God NAMEs Shaddai and Eheyah above.

But of particular importance to the subject under review, unpublished manuscript Moussaieff _1223_ page 036a has a transliteration of the Sator/ Arepo/ Tenet/ Opera/Square on the left, while on the right Rabbi Vital rearranges the letters to create a diagonal line of Yods down the center of the talisman on the right side.

First, the Abramelin SATOR Square, analyzed:

Read right to left as Hebrew is written, this seems a good fit for the Latin letters.

The diagonal line would read RPNPR, or Butterfly, 200 + 80 + 50 + 80 + 200 = 610 = the Sea (YM), the number 276 = the Moon (ARHYM), 297 = a castle (NVMDA), while the number 88 = Darkness (PSaCh). One might use this Square for scrying in the night, and sending up a Prayer or Intention.

This comparison not only shows that Rabbi Vital knew of the Abramelin techniques, and that he was constructing Squares in the original Hebrew. But was he just transliterating the German edition, which he might have seen either in circulated manuscript or the 1608 German edition, or is he the source?

It is instructive to examine the other Square on the manuscript page above next to SATOR. Like the SATOR Square, and the SALOM square that MacGregor Mathers discusses, it is a variant and perhaps attempt to refine and augment the 1st Square with a powerful diagonal line, for a “heart”.

This is more of a Classic Kamea, with a significant diagonal line, but using Shin rather than Samach for the “S”, but otherwise using the same letter attributions as in the Square next to it. This Square would read SAOTE / AOTES / OTESA / TESAO / ESAOT. The dominant YOD = the Seed of God, in potential but yet to manifest.

Several pages later Rabbi Vital experiments with two more variations in Hebrew:

These are both SATOR Kamea
The one on the right using Shin and Tet, means “To Guard”
300+1+9+6+200= 516 (perhaps “persona”)
The one on the left using Shin and Tov means “To Explore”
300+1+400+6+200= 907 (?)
Compare to our previous example, using Samach and Tet = 276, The Moon, but doesn’t spell out a Hebrew Word or Name.

In a later unpublished manuscript, designated Moussaieff_1224_on page 014a, Rabbi Vital seems to have settled on the version utilizing Shin and Tet, the upper right version, but changed some of the subsequent lines to get a significant diagonal line.

While the Top line remains SATOR (remember, right to left for Hebrew) spelling out “To Guard”, the next line is ATORS, the next SORSA, then ORSAT, then RSATO. So this is an attempt to “justify” the Abramelin Square by limiting it to normal Kamea rules of limited letters repeated and the diagonal all one letter. The Dominant Resh = Beginnings, a new morning.

So while this is a question for more discussion and further research, one must consider Rabbi Chaim Vital a strong contender as the mysterious Abramelin the Mage. If so, one might consider Rabbi Abraham Cohen de Herrera, his disciple, as the Abraham the Jew, who lived in the correct time frame, 1570 – 1635, and studied with Rabbi Vitale at the ARI’s feet as one of The Little Lions. His Casa de Dios, is a study of angels, so he has a mystical and magical interest, and access to Rabbi Vital and their Master, Rabbi Isaac Luria.

Footnotes

Additional German publications include Die heilige Magie des Abramelin von Abraham, edited by Johann Richard Beecke in 1957 and Das Buch der wahren Praktik in der goettlichen Magie edited by Jeorg von Inns in 1988. There is a new translation by German natives Georg Dehn (as Editor) & Steven Guth (as Translator) in 2016, titled The Book of Abramelin: A New Translation - Revised and Expanded by Abraham Von Worms.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford of Elias Ashmole contains an incomplete Hebrew manuscript, but internal evidence indicates it may be a translation of a German manuscript, rather than the Hebrew original document, according to Gershom Scholem. There was recently discovered an Italian language copy in the 'Legato Martinengo' of the Queriniana Library in Brescia, Italy, but for that we have no date.

Not to be confused with another German book, “Habraham (aka Abraham), the Jew, Prince, Priest, Levite, Astrologer and Philosopher to the Jews scattered in Gaul, author of The Book of Hieroglyphic Figures with applications of the Fables of the Poets of the Mysteries of Christianity, of Alchemy, Pharmacy, according to NUMBERs”, was available by 1760. It is the same as the German edition as above, but reprinted 1760 in Leipzig. An English translation was translated by Hans Nintzel in the early 1980s as part of the RAMS alchemical research effort.

 

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