Occult knowledge can only remain secret if care is taken to obscure teachings. The best way to preserve secrecy is through initiatory and/or oral traditions. As with the Eleuisian Mysteries the secrets are never written down, only shared with those who had attained initiation and were worthy and only through personal interaction but this is not an overly effective way to share your message and teachings with a wider audience. In a time where travel from one end of the Mediterranean to the other may take a year or more and could be very dangerous (for example) the written word becomes the best method of communication. So long as the sender and reader both know what language is being used meaning is transmitted, adding a layer to any riddle, mythology or similarly being used. Those with the knowledge and eyes to see and all that.
Ciphers and secret codes/alphabets have been used throughout history in order to obscure important writings. Most often we think of spies and the secret service when discussing this but the same need for secrecy exists in occult circles, particularly in the centuries where Christianity sought to control the beliefs of the people of Europe absolutely.
The 16th century was a golden time for secret alphabets and a number appear at this time. This is consistent with the context of the age, where spy networks were flourishing and religious tensions global but it also reflects the Renaissance of Occult study and how people sought to communicate with a higher power.
Types of Magical Alphabets
There are a number of different writing systems, alphabetical, pictographic and logographic that a Witch may choose to use as part of their Craft. It won’t be possible to cover them all today so I have picked out the to look at in a little more detail; the so called ‘Witches Alphabet’ or Theban Script, the Runic Language and Enochian Script. Theban and Runic and possibly the more commonly used languages, particularly in Western traditions whilst Enochian lends itself more towards a ceremonial practice.
Let’s look at them in turn.
Theban Script first appears in the 16th century in the writings of Johannes Trithemius. Trithemius was a Benedictine Abbott from Germany who studied both theology and occultism, publishing many tracts on these subjects. Trithemius attributes Theban Script to Honorius of Thebes the mythical occultist of the middle ages, but it does not appear in the surviving writings of Honorius and according to a composite manuscript held in the British Museum Agrippa is more likely to be the author of the Theban cypher.
This hasn’t stopped this writing system being called Honorian Alphabet or the Runes of Honorius (even though it is not an actual Runic system) and more recently the Witches Alphabet. Though many assume that the system hss been used by historical Witches this is a false assumption. Access to the writings containing this system would have been limited and we don’t have record of its use outside of the refrrences. It isn’t until the modern Witchcraft movement that we see a wide spread use of this latin based script, predominantly in writings that need to be obscured. It is important to note that Theban Script contains no variations for capital letters; although the size can be varied the character remains the same. Also, the system is based on an older form of latin where the letters J, V and W are not represented. Characters are substituted however, I for J and U for both V and W.
Runic Scripts, of which there are many variants, is a Germanic associated with the most northern cultures such as the Norse and Anglo-Saxons. The Norse variants are also known as futhark or fuþark. This name is derived from their first six letters of the alphabet: F, U, Þ, A, R, and K. The Anglo-Saxon variant is futhorc or fuþorc (different due to the sound changes undergone to the same six letters in Old English). These Runic Scripts were specifically designed for carving into solid surfaces such as wood and stone and consist of straight lines which are easier to chisel or carve into these surfaces.
The Runes were no mere writing system, used to record the thoughts, feelings and transactions of mere men. Mythology tells us that the Runes were obtained through the sacrifice of Odin A
ll Father, who received the Runes after hanging for 9 days from the World Tree. The deeds of hero’s and gods were recorded using runes, heroics marked and deaths recorded. It was also a magical system, used in divination and in the naming of objects and intent. various sagas and mythologies make reference to runes being used in spells and staves, each Rune being chosen for its associations and meanings.
Modern pagans use Runes for many of the same reasons however modern practitioners are just as likely to use the Runes to obscure writings as anything else. Different Runic Scripts contain different characters in comparison to each other as well as modern English; in fact many rune systems contain sounds as well as letters so it can be hard to make direct comparison with modern language. My advice, pick your variation and stick woth it and decide your convention before you start.
Enochian script is first recorded in the writings of Dr John Dee in which he cites it as the first language, spoken by God and all his Angels. Dee revived it via his scryer Edward Kelly during their many sessions before the shew stone and he believed it to be the language used by God to bring creation into being and used by Adam before the Fall to name all things. One Adam Fell he lost all knowledge of the language but his vague recollections, says Dee, lead him to develop the earliest forms of Hebrew.
Given it’s connection with God and his Angels Dee and Kelly used Enochian in thier search of occult knowledge, including information about the Philosophers Stone. Dee believed that, through Kelly, he was in communication with “Good Angels” who would reveal this information to him. Dee therefore used the language Kelly had received in his rituals in order to make it easier for his Angelic counterparts to understand his requests and rituals. Modern ceremonial practitioners working with Angelic forces will also use Enochian (as well as other systems) to similar ends.
Enochian was originally called” the Angelic Language” by Dee. The term Enochian comes from Dee’s assertion that the Angelic Language was only revealed to one other man, the Prophet Enoch only to be lost again on the Flood of Noha. The script consists of 21/22 letters depending on which of Dee’ books you are referring to and there are discrepancies between the two published examples however the later and longer example is most commonly used. Modern letters K, J, and U are not represented however substitutions are made. Veh is used to represent both C and K, Ged represent G and J and finally Van for U and V. W does not appear at all in the cypher however Van can also be used to represent this letter.
Why Use a Secret Alphabet?
The primary reason for using any secret alphabet can be found in that operative word; it will allow you to keep things secret. Maybe I only speak for myself but I suspect that very few Witches are fluent in any of these languages. I know one person who is fluent in a number of different types of Runic but that has less to do with Paganism and more to do with their interest in its historical context.
Whilst other Witches may recognise the script used at a glance the exact words will be obscured. This means that it can be used in plain sight and no one will know your meaning or intent. Runic in particular is often used in aesthetic contexts, appearing on rings, pendents, ornaments ect (Thank you Tolkin)
I rarely use this type of alphabet for full writing, using runes on occasion to create bindrunes which is a differ process altogether. The last time I did was in the process of creating a particular spell box and I used Theban to obscure a particular psalm which would give the nature of the box away pretty quickly.
(Sorry, no picture. The box in question is in use at the moment and therefore I don’t want to circulate it’s intent at this time. I will be making one for public consumption for the Spell Box Post and I am planning to use Theban again.)
I cheated. I download a Theban font and I typed my passage in English before ‘translating’ it. I then printed it off and copied it on to the surface of my box. Similar fonts exist for Enochian and some variations of Runic, and here are also websites which translate Runic for you. My personal rule is that if I translate sonething electronically I must rewrite everything in my own hand for magical use, speaking the words in English as I do.
Write in Runes Jarva based translator
Enochian Writing (Not Free! Source Unverified)
Enochian Regular (Free! Source Unverified)
Various Magical Scripts (Free! Source Unverified)