On a still lower level are what may be called babbling inscriptions, consisting of units of one or two syllables varied by using different vowels or different consonants, and often progressively increased by the addition of new syllables. Adolf Jacoby collected examples from the papyri,15
such as ξιχα μιχα, μαρβα καρβα, τουχαρ σουχαρ σαβαχαρ, and cited Erman for an example of similar nonsense (moket poket
) actually dating from the Old Kingdom.16
Certain inscriptions on stone amulets are similar in every respect. A fever amulet Hildesheim has ιβι αβι οβι,17
and a haematite hawk in the Louvre is inscribed with a long Horus charm consisting largely of similar words, ιβει αβει σελτι βελτι and so on.18
The sequence σημεα καντευ κεντευ κοντευ, etc., which sounds much like a counting-out rhyme, is found on both papyri and gems, and has been wrongly supposed to be Mithraic.19
The demotic magical papyrus of London and Leiden has the sequence barzan boubarzan narzazouzan barzabouzath
in an address to the sun-god;20
and another, common on gems, χυχ βαχυχ βακαχυχ βακαξιχυχ, so obviously belongs to the same class that we may disregard the suggestion that the first two syllables are derived from the Hebrew héberbetű, “star.”
Besides the units that simulate words of normal length there are much longer sequences that also depended upon their sound for their effect, yet seem to be quite meaningless. Some of them show affinities for certain gods, or at least certain symbols, that are commonly encountered; others seem to be “names of power” that are applicable to any need. The magicians seem to have treated them as divine in themselves; it is nσt necessary to suppose that they are merely cryptic designations of familiar deities. Here a mummy amulet published by Preisendanz instructive.21
It consists of two fragments of papyrus in which the beings named are called upon to protect the body and the tomb of the dead from desecration. If the gaps at the end of the amulet are correctly supplied, the operator threatens them with punishment by Isis if his adjuration is disobeyed. These beings are as follows:
1. “The slave of the glorious god Ablanathanalba” (a very common palindrome found mostly in connection with solar deities).
2. “The servant of the beautiful god Akrammachamarei” (a common magical word usually associated with solar deities).
3. “The slave of Iaeo Sabao Abrasax Adonai.” Here the Hebrew origin of the first two words and the fourth is obvious, and here also a solar relation seems to be established; although Iao becomes merely a name of power that may be used more widely, and in all probability Abrasax derives its supposed power only from the fact that its numerical equivalent is 365, the number of days in the year.
4. “The servant of the four beautiful and glorious gods.” Here follow four long sequences in the form of palindromes, all of which are found in the magical papyri, and all but the third occur on gem amulets. They will be listed later among the magical palindromes.
15 A. Jacoby, ARW 29, 204 f.
17 Described above, pp. 67–68.
18 A. Dain, Inscr. grecques du Musée du Louvre, p. 178, 204.
19 As will be seen later, it was sometimes, if not always, given an astral meaning; the seven words of the formula were secret names of the seven planets.
20 DMP 4, 12; PGM XIV, 4.
21 Études de papyrologie, 1 (Le Caire, 1932), pp. 19–22.