There are two reasons why we use Magickal Alphabets. The most important
reason is to infuse our magic with greater potency. Words
or names of power written in letters of a magic alphabet are thought to hold a
greater charge of force than those same words or names written in common letters
used for everyday communication.
The second reason is for concealment. Magickal alphabets are usually unreadable
to the average person. A talisman can be written in a magic alphabet, and anyone
who happens to see the charm, unless he or she is a magician, will have no idea
what it means, or even that it is a talisman.
To some degree, this second consideration adds weight to the first, since
magical power is heightened by mystery. The word "occult" means hidden or
unseen. The ritual secrets of the Greek Mystery schools were held to be of great
magical efficacy in large measure because they were forbidden to be disclosed to
the uninitiated. Part of the power of a magic alphabet comes from its
strangeness. Strange is equated with otherworldly, and it is in other worlds
than ours that magic thrives.
Not all magic alphabets were invented by individual magicians. In ancient
times it was the practice to regard old and largely forgotten forms of writing
as occultly powerful.
At the time of the Greek occupation of Egypt, the use of hieroglyphs
had largely been forgotten, even by better educated people. However Greek occultists
looked upon the hieroglyphic writing of Egypt
as magic writing. The Greeks also looked upon
Hebrew as magical. Greek Gnostic charms contain Hebrew letters.
Greeks living in Alexandria during the reign of the Ptolemies employed the
vowels of the Greek alphabet as power sounds in Gnostic amulets and charms.
Greek invocations of the period contain long, unintelligible strings of Greek
vowels. These invocations came alive when the vowels were vibrated on the breath
by the magician.
Hieroglyphs were looked upon as magical even by the ancient Egyptians
themselves. This is why they were always used to decorate the interior of tombs.
The Egyptians used a cursive form of writing for their everyday communication --
hieroglyphs took too long to make to record daily events such as business
transactions and social happenings.
Similarly, Hebrew letters were always regarded as magical by the Jews. The
esoteric system known as the Kabbalah has at its base the premise that each
Hebrew letter is a living spirit or angel. For the Jews, the power of God was
the power of his voice, which shaped and transformed the world. Hebrew letters
are the vital expression of the voice of God in written form.
During the Dark Ages in Europe, when the writing of Hebrew and Greek had
largely been forgotten, both alphabets were used by magicians to embody names
and words of power. Often these names were treated as graphic images -- those
using them had no knowledge of the sounds of the Hebrew or Greek letters. The
most famous of these graphic power words was the Tetragrammaton, the supreme
name of the Jewish god that is composed of four Hebrew letters (tetra
means four and gramma means letter).
Because the knowledge of Hebrew and Greek had been lost by most of the
magicians of Europe during the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, the occult diagrams
preserved in manuscript copies of various grimoires (grammars) of magic contain
cryptic symbols that have a vague resemblance to Hebrew and Greek letters, but
are often unreadable. This has led some who view them to regard them as occult
symbols in their own right. Occult symbols, called sigils, do exist for the
names of demons and stars, among other things, but many of the obscure symbols
in the grimoires began life as letters, and only through copying and recopying
were they corrupted to the point that they could no longer be deciphered.
The ancient Celts in what is now Ireland used a magic script called Tree
Ogham that was composed of groups of straight lines marked or cut at right
angles to an edge or ledger line. Originally this ledger line was vertical and
represented the trunk of a tree. The Ogham letters were each named for a
different species of tree or shrub, and represented the branches of the tree.
Ogham was cut into the edges of squared stone blocks and the corners of squared
staffs in the form of groups of between one and five parallel notches. These
notches might be on the left side of the ledger, the right side, cut
horizontally across the ledger, or cut diagonally across it. In this way twenty
Ogham letters, called fews were distinguished. It is likely the ancient
druids knew of Ogham, which had numerous forms besides Tree Ogham, and used it
in their magic.
the Pagans of Northern Europe a completely separate group of magical alphabets
evolved over a span of some two thousand years. These were the rune alphabets of
Germany, Scandinavia and England. There is debate among
scholars as to whether the first rune alphabet north of the Alps began as
an instrument of magic or of communication. However, as the runes evolved and diversified
into several alphabets, there is no question that they was used for occult
In deed, magick was probably the primary function of the runes in their early and middle
history. It was only later, when their magical use began to be forgotten, did they become
predominantly an alphabet for writing.
It may be that
the runes began as a psychic communication to a shaman of the cult
of Odin (also known as Woden) around 500 BCE. Their origins have been lost to history, but there is a
legend that describes the psychic reception of the runes by Odin during a rite
of voluntary sacrifice.
This is certainly the way the magic alphabet known as Enochian was
communicated to the Elizabethan magus John Dee. The alchemist Edward Kelley saw
the 21 Enochian letters written down by an angel within Dee's crystal ball. When
he complained that he could not copy them accurately, the angels caused the
letters to appear before Kelley on a page in front of him in a light yellow
color. Kelley carefully traced the shapes of the Enochian letters with his pen
before they faded from the page, thus preserving the forms of the Enochian
The Enochian angels also communicated a magic alphabet to Aleister Crowley
that is composed of groups of daggers. Crowley received the vision of this
alphabet when he was invoking the Enochian angel of the Nineteenth Call or Air
-- it is illustrated in his book The Vision and the Voice, which
describes his experiments with Enochian magic. While studying Crowley's Dagger
Alphabet, I was inspired to create an Original Magic
Alphabet, which you can view by clicking on this link.
It is likely that individual magicians created their own magic alphabets to
disguise their magic from prying eyes. Usually they based it on an existing
alphabet such as Hebrew. Several examples of this type of magic alphabet are
preserved in Cornelius Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy --
see Book Three, Chapter 29 and 30. The early nineteenth century magician and
plagiarist Francis Barrett reproduced these alphabets in his book The
Magus, which is largely made up of a portion of an old English translation
of Agrippa's work.
Words of power were not only written in the letters of magic alphabets, but
were also made into graphic charms by combining these letters in visual ways to
create unique symbols or emblems. When this is done with runes, it is known as a
bind-rune charm. Bind-runes are composite rune characters composed of two or
more runes. Similar charms were created by magicians using Latin and Hebrew
It was also sometimes the practice to substitute symbols for letters, and in
this way to create a graphic symbol based upon the letters in a name or word.
The best known of these is the Kabbalistic technique know as Aiq Beker,
the Kabbalah of Nine
Chambers. the 22 letters of Hebrew, along with their 5 final forms that
occur only at the ends of words, are written right to left in the nine cells of
a tic-tac-toe grid. Each cell thus receives three Hebrew letters. Not only are
the letters in each cell assumed to by occultly related to each other, and thus
interchangeable during Kabbalistic manipulations of words and names, but the
letters were also represented by the angles of the grid itself. For example, the
first letter Aleph, written in the upper-right cell, could be represented
by an L-shaped angle. The second Hebrew letter in this same cell, the tenth
letter, Yod, could be represented by this same L-shape with a single dot
in its angle. The third letter in this cell, the nineteenth letter, Qoph,
was represented by the L-shape with two dots in its angle.
In modern Western occultism the most popular magic alphabets are the German
and English rune alphabets, the Hebrew alphabet, the ancient Celtic magic
alphabet known as Tree Ogham, and the Enochian alphabet.