The most significant fact revealed by this amulet is that certain magical words and phrases were thought of as possessing themselves the character and status of supernatural beings. Since this is true, inquiry into their meaning becomes a matter of minor interest. Even the glyptic designs with which they occur do not prove conclusively that they belonged to this god or that, or that their supposed power lay in any particular field of human activity. Contradictory conclusions are likely to be reached if one argues strictly from either the designs or the divine names with which given magical words or sequences happen to be associated. One must remember that power may be imputed to them regardless of the connection in which they are used.
The generally recognized numerical significance of Abrasax (365) prepares us for the possibility that other number words are to be found among the voces magicae
, and Mithras, spelled Meithras, was recognized antiquity as isopsephic with Abrasax; A. D. Nock, however, tells me that the spelling with ei
seems not to be found in Mithraic inscriptions. The most striking example of numerical significance in magical words is the sequence χαβραχ φνεσχηρ φιχρο φνυρω φωχω βωχ, which occurs on several Harpocrates amulets, as well as on a few other, but still solar, types. It was discovered, by a chance trial, that the numerical equivalent of these five words is 9999, and that an inaccurate version of them occurs in a magical papyrus, where it is said of a sacred name that its number is 9999.22
The attention that was given in early Christian times to tricks with letter numerals is well known; the number of the Beast in the Apocalypse, 666, a disguise for some name abominated by the Christians, is the most widely known illustration of it. There may be other examples among magical words.
Occasionally the extreme secretiveness of the experts who directed the making of amulets led them to disguise even a frequently written magical word by constructing another with the same numerical value as the original. Two quite similar gems represent Harpocrates seated on his lotus flower in a papyrus boat, under which is the word αβιμιωχωσσως; one is in my possession, the other in the Museo Borgiano.23
Both have on the reverse face and bevel the long palindrome beginning αβεραμενθω. The only difference of importance is that the Borgia stone has on the reverse face a representation of the cock-headed god. In mine, which probably smaller, the reverse side is completely occupied by the inscription. The word αβιμιωχωσσως proved upon examination to be only an isopsephic equivalent of the very common βαινχωωωχ; the number is 3663. A simpler disguise is the anagram αβωχωνιωχ.24
Even more elementary mystifications by transposition are ιμχηαλ (Μιχαηλ), which has been mentioned before (p. 12), οροθορρει (ορωριουθ), and ιαωσαρασβωθαβα (Ιαω σαβ‹α›ωθ αβρασαξ).25
These last manipulations of magical names depend for their effect, not
22 JEA 16, 6–9. Another formula with the same numerical value is mentioned on page 9.
23 Museo Borgiano, p. 441, 41; cf. D. 201.
25 B. M. 56159, 56223 (rev.); Chiflet, Pl. 16, 67 = Montfaucon, II, 2, Pl. 164.