This post, as many do, began as a series of notes regarding the use of the magic name Αβεραμενθω (“Aberamenthô”) in the PGM. I was surprised to discover that references to this name appear outside the PGM as well. In the gnostic manuscript Pistis Sophia and the untitled work in the Askew Codex, Aberamenthô is used as an epithet of Jesus when performing miracles. Scholars have proposed that the name is a combination of the hebrew phrase abyr mym (“power of the waters”) and the deity Thoth. Indeed, some gnostic studies suggest that it came to represent a syncretic form of Jesus and Hermes-Thoth as masters of the cosmic currents.  Fossom and Glazer argue that Aberamenthô signified “Lord of the waters and [of] the formulas controlling the cosmic powers”; however, it does not appear to have been an inherent title to any one particular deity. A point corroborated in the magical papyri, where the formula is spoken together with the names of various deities including Apollo, Hermes, and Typhon-Set.
Numerically, αβεραμενθω contains ten letters and enumerates to 1013 – for what its worth, this is the same as Σαβαωθ (“Sabaoth”), αρχαγγελος (“archangel”), βασιλευσομεν (“reign”), δενδρων (“tree”), and ευχη (“vow”, “prayer”, or “curse”) among others. Without a doubt there is a deep rabbit hole to explore regarding the mystery of these ten letters alone; however, my interest is in how the name is used in the PGM. In particular, I want to know what to do when instructions state to speak or write the ” ABERAMENThÔOU (formula)” such as in PGM IV. 154-285 and PGM V. 1-53. To sort this out, I tabulated all the spells I could find in the PGM that contain some mention of the formula.
|PGM/PDM Spell||Formula as Written **spaces added for comparison**|
|PGM I. 262-347||ABERAMENThÔ OU LERThEX ANA XEThRENL YO ÔThNEMARAIBA|
|PGM II. 64-183||ABERAMENThÔ OU Th LERThEX ANA XEThREL UO ÔThNEMAREBA|
|PGM IV. 154-285||ABERAMENThÔ OU(formula)|
|PGM V. 1-53||ABERAMENThÔ OU (formula)|
|PGM V. 172-212||ABERAMENThÔ OU LERThEX ENA XSONEL YS ÔThNEMAREBA|
|PGM LVIII. 15-39||[ABER]AMENThÔ OU LERThEX ANA XEThREL Y ÔThNEMAREBA|
|PGM LIX. 1-15||ABERAMENThO OY LERThEX ANA XEThREL YO ÔThNEMAREBA|
|PDM xiv. 675-694||ABERAMENThÔ OU LERThEX ANA XEThREL UÔThENEMAREBA|
|PGM CXXVIa. 1-21||ABERAMENThÔ OU Th LERThEX ANA X[EThREL Th YO ÔThNEMA]REBA|
Without access to the original documents there is only so much we can deduce from the translations. The different variations of the formula can range from intentional alterations of meaning to errors on the part of the translator or even the original author; for example the twelfth letter in PGM LIX. 1-15 is “Y” whereas all the others have “U.” This could have easily been an error in transcribing a capital upsilon (“Y” in Greek) in place of the “U” used to denote the sound.
I’m certain that the first twelve letters are ABERAMENThÔ OU (αβεραμενθωου). Likewise, the last twelve letters should be UO ÔThNEMAREBA (υοωθνεμαρεβα). As has been pointed out by others, there is definitely a palindromic element to this formula. Given the aforementioned explanation of the name as signifying “lord of waters”, a reflection of the name upon itself is therefore symbolically appropriate.
Two of the spells have a theta (θ, Th) immediately following these first twelve letters (PGM II 64-183 & PGM CXXVIa. 1-21). This results in one of the variant spellings of Thoth (Θωουθ, ThÔOUTh) appearing in the formula. Putting that theta aside, the papyri all agree with the next six letters LERThEX (λερθεξ). If we maintain the notion of a palindrome, we would expect to find either XEThREL (ξεθρελ) or XEThREL Th (ξεθρελθ) reflected on the right side. Indeed, this appears to be the case with only a few minor exceptions. It should be noted that the only place where the additional theta appears in the right side of the formula is PGM CXXVIa. 1-21 and this fragment was missing the bracketed section which was a later extrapolation by the translator.
According to the glossary in the Betz edition of the PGM, the formula should contain the two additional thetas and thus the explicit name of Thôouth. However, none of the surviving examples include the theta in the right side of the formula, and only two of the nine have it at the left! I would venture to say that it does not belong in the formula, and the magical phrase to use is:
- Jarl Fossum and Brian Glazer. Seth in the Magical Texts. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 100 (1994) 86–92. (http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/zpe/downloads/1994/100pdf/100086.pdf).
- Roelof van den Brock. Gnostic Religion in Antiquity. (Cambridge University Press, 2013). pp 69 -70.
- See Fossum and Glaszer pp 92.
- See references within Fossum & Glazer.
- Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992). p 331.