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49. Abracadabra in the Northern Hemisphere during 24 hours

APR. 14, 2022


In this episode Ryan roams around the whole of the Northern Hemisphere to find magic and mystery all taking place within 24 hours. Learn the origin of ‘Abracadabra’, discover the delicious dish that takes 24 hours to prepare and find out about the sweating sickness that makes the plague look like a nasty cold.

Ryan takes Pete roaming around the Northern Hemisphere in search of the magic word.
But what is the Northern Hemisphere?
Geographers divide Earth’s sphere along two imaginary lines around the middle of the planet. From top to bottom is known as the Prime Meridian and east to west, is known as the Equator.

The equator splits the Earth into two hemispheres, Northern and Southern.

This half of the planet encompasses 61% of the planet’s total water, and 67% of all the land.

It covers 112 countries in total, including 3 of the world’s largest (by population) - China, India, and the USA

Within this just half of the planet, we can find 90% of the world's total population, 6.4 billion people. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, most early civilisations started in the north. Homosapiens initially migrated from the Equatorial regions into the northern hemisphere before heading south.

It also rains more in the northern hemisphere. The Palmyra Atoll for example, at 6 degrees north of the equator, gets 175 inches of rain a year, while the equal distance south of the equator gets only 45 inches. This is the result of the northern hemisphere being warmer, which is in turn because of ‘ocean circulation’.

Computer models of the Earth’s oceans show a huge conveyor-belt current which moves water north over many decades and as it moves along this belt, it gradually heats up, carrying 400 trillion watts of power across the equator.

Eventually this heated water turns into rain. However, if air pollution and global warming continues, then this ocean circulation might shut down and the rains shift down south - something the UN predicts will ‘very likely’ happen by the year 2100

24 Hours
Splitting the day into 24 hours (one hour into 60 mins and one minute into 60 seconds) seems to be universal. The origins of this practice are the ancient Egyptians.

They used shadow clocks which divided day-time into 10 hours, plus a ‘twilight’ hour and an ‘end of day-time’ hour.
This division likely originates from the number of finger joints on one hand.

For night time, Night-time measurement was based on the position of the stars. Chosen star groups were called 'decans', and they were selected so that on any one night 12 decans were visible during the period of complete darkness.

But this wasn’t precise as daytime hours in the summer were longer than in winter. So Hipparchus created “Equinoctial hours” which divided the day into 24 equal hours.

Today however, the standard for time is no longer based on revolutions of the earth around the sun. Instead, it is based on ‘atomic time’ with one second being defined as "9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom" .


Today this word is something a magician might say before pulling a rabbit out of his hat

But the origins of the word go way back, although opinion is divided as to where.

It might come from the word “abraxas” an ancient Greek word, considered magical because the letters in Greek numerology add up to 365 (days in the year).

It might also be from the Hebrew phase “ab, ben, and ruach hakodesh” which means: “father, son, and holy spirit” – referencing the holy trinity.

Or possibly from the Aramaic phrase, ‘Avra Kadavra’, which means, “As I speak, so I create” alluding to The Creation, where God spoke and the universe came into being.

The first recorded use was from the 2nd Century when a Roman named Serenus Sammonicus wrote a book about curing deadly illnesses.

On a piece of parchment, write the so-called ‘abracadabra’ several times, repeating it on the line below; but take off the end, so that gradually individual letters, which you will take away each time, are missing from the word. Continue until the (last) letter makes the apex of a cone. Remember to wind this with linen and hang it around the neck.

In the 1500s, historian Eva Rimmington Taylor wrote a book called ‘The Troublesome Voyage of Capt. Edward Fenton’, in which she claimed:

Banester sayth yt he healed 200 in one yer of an ague by hanging abracadabra about their necks

And in fact, Abracadabra was still being used as a “cure” well into the 18th century, albeit ineffectively. Robinson Crusoe author, Daniel Defoe, wrote in 1722 about the plague, saying that:
People deceiv’d; and this was in wearing Charms, Philters, Exorcisms, Amulets, and I know not what Preparations, to fortify the Body with them against the Plague; as if the Plague was but a kind of a Possession of an evil Spirit; and that it was to be kept off with Crossings, Signs of the Zodiac, Papers tied up with so many Knots; and certain Words, or Figures written on them, as particularly the Word Abracadabra, form’d in Triangle, or Pyramid…

How the poor People found the Insufficiency of those things, and how many of them were afterwards carried away in the Dead-Carts

But by the 19th century, with a greater understanding of working medicine, the act of hanging an abracadabra-charm around your neck pretty much vanished.

Instead, the word took on a more mystical, symbolic meaning and was adopted by showmen as a means of adding drama to stage illusions.

24 hours to live – Discovering the Sweats

In the mid-14th century Europe was plagued by a deadly contagious disease.

Known as the Pestilence, Plague, or Black Death, this is the most fatal pandemic in human history with the deaths of an estimated 200 million people (60% of the population) in a period of just seven years.

But there is also another epidemic which took many lives. Beginning in 1485, ‘the English sweating sickness’ – or ‘The Sweat’ – was a disease which became famous for victims dying of it within 24 hours - by sweating to death.

A book of British history called Holinshed's Chronicles, published in 1557, described the English sweating sickness as

"so sharp and deadly that the lyke was never hearde of to any manne’s remembrance before that tyme."
Modern researchers think that the first outbreak may be directly tied to Henry Tudor’s victorious coup against Richard III in 1485

The illness was first reported at the Battle of Bosworth, but followed Henry’s men back to London. Within six weeks of their arrival in the capital - The Sweats had killed 15,000 people.

The epidemic was mostly contained in England until 1528 when the Sweat travelled via ship to Hamburg in Germany, where it killed over a thousand people within a month. Then a further 3,000 people died in Danzig. Then deaths were reported in Lübeck and other cities as it spread along the Baltic coast into Denmark, Scandinavia, and Russia.

And then, in 1551, as if by magic - the sweat just.. vanished. It’s not been seen since and no one knows where it came from or why it stopped.

24 hours of Night

Because of the tilt of the Earth, the side of the Earth which is pointed away from the sun receives less direct sunlight and less warmth – in other words, ‘winter’

The closer you get to the pole the more extreme the angle is between you and the sun – and eventually – when very close to the poles - the angle is so extreme that some parts of the year the sun doesn’t fully rise or set for long periods of time.

The winter sun disappears completely and plunges the Arctic Circle into complete darkness for 24 hours of every day.

This darkness can last for anything from 30 days to almost two months.

But there are other lights in the sky, on occasion - the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

These are caused by the interaction of particles from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere, but before that, the Aurora Borealis features prominently in the mythology and legends of people across the northern hemisphere

The name itself, Aurora Borealis, is Greek.. for “sunrise wind”. In Greek myth, Aurora was the sister of Helios and Seline, the sun and the moon, and it was said that she raced across the sky in a multi-coloured chariot to alert them of the dawning of a new day.

Further north, a number of myths sprung up about the lights.

Some Inuit tribes considered the Aurora to be the spirits of dead humans playing a ball game using a walrus skull as the ball. Although the people on Nunavik Island who told the same story but the other way round - for them, the Northern Lights were walrus spirits playing ball with the skull of some unfortunate human.

Makah Indians in today’s Washington state, thought the lights were fires in the north created by a tribe of dwarves who used it to boil whale blubber

The Mandan people in North Dakota also considered the lights to be fires – but this one was for great warriors who were boiling their enemies in huge cooking pots

Icelandic ancestors associated the lights with childbirth, saying that they would relieve the pain of delivery if the mother didn’t look at the Aurora whilst giving birth because the child would be born cross-eyed!

In Greenland the lights were linked to giving birth too, but they were judged to be the souls of still-born babies or babies killed at birth

In Finland it was said that the lights were either caused by a firefox which could run so quickly that his tail caused sparks to fly into the night sky, OR the lights were created from the spume of water ejected from whales
In Sweden, the Aurora was seen as a sign of good news, with the lights being a gift from benevolent gods who were providing warmth and light in the form of a volcano somewhere to the north. Or sometimes they believed the lights to be the reflection of large shoals of herring, boding well for local fishermen.

The Estonians believed the lights were magnificent horse-drawn carriages carrying heavenly guests to a spectacular celestial wedding. Dress to impress.

24 hours before the feast

In this episode Ryan takes Pete on the road to Abrakebabra, a kebab shop, to discover the history of this classic foodstuff

In the west, we generally consider kebabs to have been introduced from Turkey during the 17th century, but the history of the kebab has much more ancient origins.

The 4000 year-old Babylonian word kabbaba, meant ‘burned’. Even further back, the earliest known prehistoric Proto-Afro-asiatic language used the word kab-, as a word to mean ‘burn’ or ‘roast’.

Excavations of a bronze-age Minoan settlement in Greece unearthed stone supports for skewers which were used around 3000 years ago.

The ancient Greek poem The Iliad mentions pieces of meat roasted on spits. The Mahab-harata, an ancient Indian text, mentions large pieces of meat roasted on spits. And, Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller, described seeing kebabs served in the royal houses in India in the 14th century.

It’s thought that the method of cooking small chunks of meat on skewers comes from a practical need to use less food and fuel. Europe was full of forests and animals, so large cuts of meat could be roasted whole – but not so in Asia and Africa.

And the key to a modern kebab – 24 hours of marination in a mixture of of lemon juice, olive oil, milk or yoghurt, onion juice, cinnamon, marjoram, tomato juice and spices.

24 hours of magic

The art of magic has changed a great deal in more recent years, and you will rarely find one pronouncing any magic words at all. More and more performances are of a stunt or escapology type.

These include Zdenek Bradac, who holds records for the fastest time to escape three handcuffs underwater (38.69 seconds), the longest duration juggling four objects (02:46:48), the most handcuffs unlocked in one minute (seven), fastest handcuff escape (1.66 sec) and also the world record holder for the most handcuff escapes in 24 hours.

He achieved this in 2010 when he managed to escape from 10,625 handcuffs.
Criss Angel, another stunt illusionist, submerged himself in a tank of water for 24 hours. He stayed inside the water tank which was the size of a phone box, with his arms and legs chained to his waist and neck.

He used a breathing regulator and mask for his time underwater, except for the final few minutes where he held his breath and escaped his chains and the box. Over the 24hrs, he didn't sleep or eat and prepared by not eating solid foods for three days before the stunt.

In 2007, he was back at it again, this time, sitting in a four-foot (1.2 meter) square box before being slowly encased in cement then suspended 40 ft above the ground for 24 hours before escaping in the final minutes just before the box was dropped to the floor below

Jadugar Mandrake, or 'Wizard Mandrake' was born in India as Chanchal Lahiri and inspired by Harry Houdini, became a lifelong illusionist in India, famous for his escapology stunts.

In 2019, watched by family and fans, he was manacled and suspended by a crane upside down over the river Ganges. The crane lowered him into the river and he was submerged

Time passed and people waited.. but the illusionist failed to emerge. 24 hours later, rescue workers discovered his body.

Don’t try this at home.

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