Abraham the Jew (ca. 1362–ca. 1460)
Little biographical information exists concerning this German
Jew, who was an alchemist, magician, and philosopher, ca.
1400. What is known is mostly derived from a manuscript in the
Archives of the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal, Paris, an institution
rich in occult documents. Written entirely in French, the manuscript
purports to be translated from the Hebrew, and the
handwriting style indicates that the scribe lived at the beginning
of the eighteenth century or possibly somewhat earlier. A
distinct illiteracy characterizes the French script, with the punctuation
being either inaccurate or conspicuously absent.
Abraham was probably a native of Mayence, and appears to
have been born in 1362. His father, Simon, was something of
a seer and magician, and the boy took up his occult studies initially
under parental guidance, then later under another teacher,
Moses, whom Abraham describes as ‘‘indeed a good man,
but entirely ignorant of The True Mystery, and of The Veritable
Abraham thereafter decided to continue his education by
traveling. With his friend Samuel, a Bohemian by birth, he wandered
through Austria and Hungary into Greece, and next
into Constantinople (now Istanbul), where he remained two
years. Abraham then traveled to Arabia, in those days a renowned
center of mystic learning, and afterward to Palestine
and Egypt.
In Egypt he became acquainted with Abra-Melin, a famous
Egyptian philosopher, who entrusted certain documents to him
and confided to him a number of invaluable secrets. Abraham
then left Egypt for Europe, where he settled eventually at Würzburg
in Germany, became deeply involved in research on alchemy.
He married a woman who appears to have been his
cousin, and had three daughters and two sons, the elder named
Joseph and the younger, Lamech.
He instructed both sons in occult affairs, while on each of his
three daughters, he settled a dowry of 100,000 golden florins.
This considerable sum, together with other vast wealth, Abraham
claimed to have earned by traveling as an alchemist. He
was well known and was summoned to perform acts of magic
before many rich and influential people, notably Emperor Sigismund
of Germany, the bishop of Würzburg, King Henry VI
of England, the duke of Bavaria, and Pope John XXII. No details
exist about the rest of Abraham’s career, and the date of
his death is uncertain, but it is commonly supposed to have occurred
about 1460.
The previously mentioned manuscript which yielded this
biographical information is entitled The Book of the Sacred Magic
of Abra-Melin, as delivered by Abraham the Jew unto his son Lamech.
This title is rather misleading and not strictly accurate, for
Abra-Melin had absolutely no hand in the opening part of the
work, which consists of an account of Abraham’s own youth and
early travels in search of wisdom, along with advice to the
young man aspiring to become skilled in occult arts. The second
part, on the other hand, is either based on the documents
that Abra-Melin handed to Abraham or on the confidences the
Egyptian sage disclosed to Abraham. This part of the manuscript
deals with the first principles of magic in general, and includes
such chapters as ‘‘How Many, and what are the Classes
of Veritable Magic?’’ ‘‘What we Ought to Take into Consideration
before the Undertaking of the Operation,’’ ‘‘Concerning
the Convocation of the Spirits,’’ and ‘‘In what Manner we ought
to Carry out the Operations.’’
The third and last part of the document is mostly derived
straight from Abra-Melin, and the author, ignoring theoretical
matter as far as possible, gives information about the actual
practice of magic. In the first place he tells how ‘‘To procure
divers Visions,’’ ‘‘How one may retain the Familiar Spirits,
bound or free, in whatsoever form,’’ and how ‘‘To excite Tempests.’’
In other chapters he discusses raising the dead, transforming
oneself into ‘‘divers shapes and forms,’’ flying in the
air, demolishing buildings, discovering thefts, and walking underwater.
The author writes about the thaumaturgic healing of
leprosy, dropsy, paralysis, and various common ailments such
as fever and seasickness. He also offers advice on ‘‘How to be
beloved by a Woman’’ and how to command the favor of popes,
emperors, and other influential people. He addresses the question
of summoning visions in ‘‘How to cause Armed Men to Appear,’’
and he tells how to evoke ‘‘Comedies, Operas, and all
kinds of Music and Dances.’’ Many of these feats are achieved
by employing Kabalistic squares of letters. The manuscript details
many different signs of this sort.
Abraham’s personality and temperament as revealed in this
work indicate a man heaping scorn on most other magicians
and speaking with great derision of nearly all mystical writings
other than his own and those of his hero, Abra-Melin. Abraham
fiercely criticizes all those who recant the religion in which they
were raised and contends that no one guilty of this will ever attain
skill in magic. Nevertheless, throughout the manuscripts,
Abraham manifests little selfishness and seems to have worked
toward success in his craft with a view to using it for the benefit
of mankind in general. His writings also reflect a firm belief in
a higher self existing in every man, and a keen desire to develop
it. (See also Nicholas Flamel)
The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Sage. Translated
by S. L. MacGregor-Mathers. Chicago: De Laurence, 1932. Reprint,
New York: Causeway Books, 1974.

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