Tag Archives: parchment

It’s Magic!

© Judi Birnberg

Illusionists and magicians often exclaim, “Abracadabra!” as they perform their tricks. In earlier eras, the word served as a magic incantation to ward off evil spirits and aid in healing.

According to John Ciardi in A Browser’s Dictionary, the word was often written over and over on parchment, which was then folded in the form of a cross or other geometric shape, hung on a string, and dangled around the necks of ailing people. They were instructed to wear the talisman for a specific period of time and perform certain magical rites to bring about the desired healing. Chances are those afflicted were instructed not to open the folded packet. If they complied with all the steps,—abracadabra!—they would be healed.

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A Word I Love

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Although it’s not a word one hears or reads every day (it’s more like twice a year), I love the sound of the word “palimpsest.” It refers to a manuscript (literally, something written by hand) that has been written over with a new text.

A thousand and more years ago when monks wrote on parchment, it was difficult and laborious to prepare the animal skins, and they often ran out. The monks then had to use a piece of parchment again. They would either write between the existing lines or turn the parchment at right angles from the original and write the new text directly over the old. The sad part is that so many times the original text became undecipherable and lost to history. But I still like the sound of the word.

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