Monday, 25 March 2013

The Mandaean Alphabet

Written by  E.S. Drower
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various Middle Eastern alphabets various Middle Eastern alphabets

The alphabet is called by the Mandaeans the abaga. Each letter according to them represents a power of life and light, and the first and last letters, the 'alpha and omega', are the same and represent perfection of light and life. Yet they say this perfection was itself created, it did not create itself. 'When the a o (according to another narrator 'Melka d Anhura') was created, he cried, "There is none mightier than I!" As he said this, he saw on the face of the waters the twenty-four' letters of the alphabet, like a bridge, and said to himself, "Who created these? I did not, therefore there must be one mightier than I!"' A legend says that the letters were written originally on the ksuya or robe of Mara d Rabutha. Another represents Hibil Ziwa as teaching Adam his letters.

Hence, Mandaeans look upon their alphabet as magical and sacred. Writing is under the especial protection of the planet Nbu (Enwo in pronunciation). Letters of the alphabet, inscribed on twenty-four scraps of silver or gold, are placed under the pillow of a person who desires heavenly guidance in some matter of difficulty. Each night one is removed, and if the sleeper has a dream bearing upon the matter about which he is troubled, he considers that the spirit belonging to the letter which he has singled and taken out that night has given him a revelation and is willing to come to his aid. The letter is henceforth worn as a charm round his neck. Most magical scrolls begin with the letters of the alphabet given in their order, and often with their vowel modifications as well. The reading of letters aloud is a charm to keep off evil spirits. This reading of the letters, or exorcism, has its own verb-- 'to abaga'. Abaga is equivalent to 'he read a spell'.

The first and last letters have as their sign a circle, possibly representing the sun-disk as a symbol of light. They are pronounced like the vowel a. It is worth remembering that the Phoenician 'aleph' 4 (our A) is the ox-head, alpha meaning 'ox', and that the Bull was symbolical of the sky and of the sun.

The vowels are modifications of this circle and, similarly, may represent the setting and rising sun, the angular shape having been adopted for the purpose of clarity.

The pronunciation of
is precisely the same as it would be if it had been written separately

Mandaean explanations of the inner meaning of the symbols are interesting as being traditional, though in some cases the original symbolism has obviously been forgotten. Over some letters there was disagreement and doubt, over others none. One of my informants was a priest, the other a member of a literate and priestly family. "

O (A) - the Highest of all - Perfection, Light and Life, the beginning and end of all things

Ba - (Ab). The Great Father

Ga - (1) : Gauriil Ishliha - Gabriel the Messenger
(2):Gimra anat Gmira - Perfection thou art Perfect

Da - Dirka - the way or law

Ha - (1): Hiia rbia. The Great Life
(2): Hibil Ziwa.

Wa - Weyli! (written Wailh). Woe to him who listens not to the language of light!

Za - Ziwa--The word means radiance or rather active light active. The character is evidently a pictograph of the sun above the horizon or he sun as a life-giver

Eh - This Letter is so sacred that it is not much employed. It represents the Eye of God.

T'a - (1) Tab - Good (pronouned Tau)
(2) It is the bird (tayr) representing the soul leaving the body to return (to the World of Light). This is clearly the pictograph of a flying bird, symbol of the freed soul, the mana winging its way back to the Great Mana.

Ya - (1) Yowmono -the day
(2) Yamin - the right - the right is symbolic of Light the left of darkness, the right of being and the left of non-being.

Ka - (1) Klila - The Myrtle Wreath
(2) Kushta - Truth, right-dealing, righteous

La - Lishan - the tongue which praises

Ma - Mana Rba Kabira. - The Great First Mind or Soul

Na - Nhura - Light

Sa - Simat Hiia - the mother of all life

' - Ain - the Eye or Fountain (not a guttural in Mandaic merely a vowel)

Pa - Pira anat Haiy - Thou art the tree of Life

S'a - S'auta abar qadmaiia. Thou art the First Voice (sound)

Qa - Qala anat qadmaiia d' Hiia -. Thou art the first cry of Life

Sha - Shamish (sun spirit)

Ta - Toba - repentance

Adu - this is counted as a letter always though it is the possessive particle

A - O first letter.


The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran By E.S. Drower Leiden: E.J. Brill: 1962 Pges 240 & 241




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