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ABRAMELIN OIL

A KABBALISTIC OIL THAT BECAME A HOODOO OIL

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Abramelin Oil is a famous formula for ritual oil whose name came about due to its having been described in a medieval grimoire called "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" written by Abraham of Worms, a fifteenth century Jewish Kabbalist. The recipe is adapted from the Jewish Holy Oil of the Tanakh, which is described in the Book of Exodus attributed to Moses. There is quite a bit of controversy concerning one of the ingredients, due to translation issues surrounding a French manuscript of the book, several German manuscripts, an Aramaic manuscript, an error in the late 19th century English translation by S. L. McGregor Mathers (from the incomplete French manuscript), and the Hebrew scripture from which the recipe obviously derives.

INGREDIENTS AND METHODS OF PREPARATION

There are, especially among English-speaking occultists, four variant forms of Abramelin Oil.

In the original manuscripts, the recipe for Abramelin Oil is as follows:

You shall prepare the sacred oil in this manner:
Take of Myrrh in tears, one part; of fine Cinnamon, two parts;
of Calamus half a part; and the half of the total weight of these drugs of the best Olive Oil.
The which aromatics you shall mix together according unto the art of the apothecary,
and shall make thereof a balsam, the which you shall keep in a glass vial
which you shall put within the cupboard (formed by the interior) of the altar.

Those familiar with the recipe for Jewish Holy Oil will at once recognize the derivation of this formula, right down to the catch phrase "according unto the art of the apothecary." Here is the recipe for Jewish Holy Oil from the Bible:

Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred [shekels],
and of sweet cinnamon half so much, [even] two hundred and fifty [shekels], and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty [shekels],
And of cassia five hundred [shekels], after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin: And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment,
an ointment compounded after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil. (Exodus 30:22-33)

The Bible lists five ingredients: Myrrh, Cinnamon, Cassia, Calamus, and Olive oil.

The four ingredients listed by Abraham of Worms in "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" are Myrrh, Cinnamon, Calamus, and Olive oil.

Since Cinnamon and Cassia are two species of the same Cinnamomum genus, their doubling up into one name by the medieval author Abraham of Worms is not unexpected. His reasons for doing so may have been prompted by a pious decision to avoid duplicating true Holy Oil, or by a tacit admission that in medieval Europe, it was difficult to obtain Cinnamon and Cassia as separate products.

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SAMUEL MATHERS' MISTAKE

According to the S.L. MacGregor Mathers English translation, which derives from an incomplete French manuscript copy of the book, the recipe is as follows:

You shall prepare the sacred oil in this manner:
Take of myrrh in tears, one part; of fine cinnamon, two parts; of galangal half a part; and the half of the total weight of these drugs of the best oil olive. The which aromatics you shall mix together according unto the art of the apothecary, and shall make thereof a balsam, the which you shall keep in a glass vial which you shall put within the cupboard (formed by the interior) of the altar.

The four ingredients listed by Mathers in his translation of "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage" are Myrrh, Cinnamon, Galangal (Little John to Chew), and Olive oil.

Mathers' substitution of "Galangal" for "Calamus" was a poor translation on his part; the word that he translated from the French is actually the word "Calamus." All of the other extant manuscripts, in German and Aramaic, also list "Calamus" as the ingredient. This mistake by Mathers was to have repercussions in the works of later occultists, especially Anglophones.

RECIPE #1: ABRAMELIN OIL, MADE BY MACERATION

English-speaking occultists who are aware that Mathers badly mistranslated the French manuscript, as well as others who have never consulted the Mathers version because they have read the text in the original German, French, or Aramaic, make a macerated version of Abramelin Oil as follows:

The mixture is macerated for one month, then decanted and bottled for use, producing a fragranced oil suitable for anointing any portion of the body. It may be applied liberally, after the manner of traditional Jewish Holy Oils, such as the one which was poured on Aaron's head until it ran down his beard. It is not, however, made "according unto the art of the apothecary", for it is not distilled after the maceration, merely decanted into bottles.

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RECIPE #2: ABRAMELIN OIL, MADE WITH ESSENTIAL OILS

Those wishing to make a version of Abramelin Oil in the original form, with Calamus, but using a modern substitution of essential oils for raw plant matter, might be tempted to use this formula:

However, this is incorrect, for if one follows the proportions above and weighs out the proportions of essential oils according to the recipe specified by Abraham of Worms for weighing out raw materials, there will not be enough carrier oil in the final result to make a proper dressing oil. Therefore, in recognition of the fact that ancient perfumers and apothecaries never compounded their fragrances by mixing essential oils in such large ratio with respect to carrier oils (because the original formula was to be distilled after maceration, not before), one should restore the proportions to something like what they would have been if maceration and distillation had occurred "according to the art of the apothecary":

This is a highly fragranced oil that may be applied to the body after ancient, medieval, and modern traditions of both folk magic and ritual magic. It is a close, modern approximation of the oil described by Abramelin to Abraham of Worms. This version of the oil is sold by The Lucky Mojo Curio Company.

RECIPE #3: MATHERS' FALSE ABRAMELIN OIL, MADE BY MACERATION

Some people who make Abramelin Oil according to the English mistranslation in Mathers' book compound their Abramelin Oil from raw ingredients, as Abraham of Worms (and Mathers) specified. They use the ratio given in the book, but substitute Galangal for Calamus:

This mixture is macerated for one month, then decanted and bottled for use. The result is a fragranced oil suitable for anointing any portion of the body, and it will not burn the skin. This version of the oil is sold by a number of occult shops in America.

RECIPE #4: CROWLEY'S FALSE ABRAMELIN OIL, MADE WITH ESSENTIAL OILS

Early in the 20th century, the British occultist Aleister Crowley created his own version of Abramelin Oil. It was based on Mathers' mistaken substitution of Galangal for Calamus. Crowley also abandoned the book's method of preparation -- which specifies blending Myrrh "tears" (resin) and "fine" (finely ground) Cinnamon -- instead opting to pour together distilled essential oils with a small amount of olive oil. His recipe reads as follows:

Crowley weighed out his proportions of essential oils according to the recipe specified by Abraham of Worms for weighing out raw materials. He did not correct this error, as was done with Recipe #2, above. The result is to give the Cinnamon an overwhelming presence, which he justified by claiming that, when placed on the skin, "it should burn." This formula is unlike the Jewish grimoire recipe and the Jewish Holy Oil from which it derived. It cannot be used according to traditional practice, where the oil may be poured over the head or rubbed upon the body for purposes of healing and giving spiritual insight.

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ABRAMELIN OIL IN MODERN OCCULT TRADITION

The popularity of Abramelin Oil rests on the importance magicians place upon Jewish traditions of Holy Oils. The oil is highly esteemed by those who wish to follow the course of ritual activities outlined in the book by Abramelin the Mage in order to obtain the outcomes he promised those who successfully applied his system of "Divine Science" and "True Magic", namely, the gifts of flight, treasure-finding, and invisibility, as well as the power to cast effective love spells.

Because it derives from the formula for Jewish Holy Oil, Abramelin Oil also finds use among Jewish and Christian Kabbalists who are not specifically performing the works described by Abraham of Worms.

More recently, due to blind adherence to Mathers' mistranslation of "The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage," a number of American and English occultists have come to believe that Abramelin Oil exists in many "legitimate variants" or that Mathers' error was indicative of the fact that Abramelin Oil had not been derived from Jewish Holy Oil. In particular, Mathers' erroneous recipe was virtually canonized by Aleister Crowley, the founder of a religion called Thelema. His skin-burning version of the oil is currently used in several ceremonies of the Thelemic church (the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica). The Thelemic Gnostic Mass includes the eating of a eucharistic host, called a "Cake of Light", that includes this oil as a flavouring agent.

THE SHIFTING SYMBOLISM OF THE INGREDIENTS

Many traditions of magic work with plant materials, and most also assign some symbolic meanings or ascriptions to these botanical ingredients.

In the Jewish tradition, from whence came the original Biblical recipe upon which Abramelin Oil was based, the Olive is a symbol of domestic felicity and stability, Myrrh (which contains opioids) is sacred to the Lord, Calamus is known for its sweetness and phalliform fruiting body and stands for male sexuality and love, while Cinnamon is favoured for its warming ability.

In hoodoo folk magic, these symbolisms are somewhat changed: Myrrh and Olive remain the same, but Cinnamon is for money and luck, and Calamus is used by both men and women to sweetly control others. (The Matherian alternative, Galangal, is employed in protective work, especially that involving court cases.)

Aleister Crowley had his own symbolic view of the ingredients that he found in the Mathers translation. He wrote:

This oil is compounded of four substances. The basis of all is the oil of the olive. The olive is, traditionally, the gift of Minerva, the Wisdom of God, the Logos. In this are dissolved three other oils; oil of myrrh, oil of cinnamon, oil of galangal. The Myrrh is attributed to Binah, the Great Mother, who is both the understanding of the Magician and that sorrow and compassion which results from the contemplation of the Universe. The Cinnamon represents Tiphareth, the Sun -- the Son, in whom Glory and Suffering are identical. The Galangal represents both Kether and Malkuth, the First and the Last, the One and the Many, since in this Oil they are One. [...] These oils taken together represent therefore the whole Tree of Life. The ten Sephiroth are blended into the perfect gold. ("Magick, Book 4", Part Two, Ch. 5)

This ridiculous mish-mash of Greek, Jewish, and Christian fabulizing was typical of Crowley's scholarship. Worse, due to a persistent racist bias in Crowley's works, he repeatedly appropriated Jewish sources in Kabbalah while simultaneously proclaiming his belief in the blood libel against Jews, namely, that they commit ritual murder and cannibalism. There is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that Crowley's peculiar version of Abramelin Oil burns the skin; let that pain serve as a warning to those who would follow him that he was a sadist and one who was fundamentally inept in the realms of perfumery and botanical magic, both of which he so conspicuously defiled by his deep-seated anti-Semitism.

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SIDE-EFFECTS OF MATHERS' MISTRANSLATION
AND CROWLEY'S MIS-USE OF ESSENTIAL OILS

Those who make Abramelin Oil according the recipe given by Abraham of Worms are working well within the Jewish and Christian occult traditions of the Middle Ages. Mathers' mistaken substitution of Galangal for Calamus, coupled with Crowley's innovative use of essential oils rather than raw ingredients in weighing out the proportions, has resulted in some interesting repercussions to those who work with various formulas for Abramelin Oil:

Acknowledgements


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