SACRED SOUNDS, SECRET SIGNSAdded: 08 June 2017
Everything in the Universe has its own frequency, its own vibration. The human ear cannot hear some of these frequencies, but they exist nevertheless. A simple example is the dog whistle that is heard by dogs but seldom by their human owners. Some frequencies are so powerful that they can destroy physical objects; again, a good example is the soprano whose top note is so pure that it can shatter glass. In the Bible story, the walls of Jericho were destroyed not by physical force as such, but by the power of sound. Certain very low frequencies can destroy matter by scrambling molecules.
Each planet emits its own frequency, as does the Earth itself. The natural harmonic of our home planet is said to be F sharp, an idea that was agreed by ancient peoples including the Egyptians (the Great Pyramid “plays” this note) and the Chinese, who called it Hu; interestingly, Native Americans tune their flutes to this note.
Does all this mean that our most secret and sacred symbols are inspired by something that cannot be seen, but only heard? Sounds can only be interpreted by us as written squiggles, and like the wind, we can only gauge this phenomenon by its effect on something else. Arguably, the most important symbol in the world is something that cannot be touched or seen.
Many faiths seem to be in agreement with one thing at least: the notion that the primal resonance of a word, or sound, gave birth to the Universe. Understandably, the source of this primal sound is held to be divine. In the Bible it’s described like this:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [John I:I-3]
In the Qu’ran is written:
Words of Truth that have the power to express the Truth are like flourishing trees whose roots, or branches, or direct meanings are established deep in the earth of the heart, and whose branches, or subtle meanings, reach high into the sky of mystical knowledge. The power of a word is such that it is considered to be the very seed of creation. The old saying “sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never hurt me” does not take into account the potency of a curse; whether or not its power lies in superstition does not make its consequences any less real. Similarly, a blessing carries with it wishes that are a powerful force for good.
For the Greeks, logos-“word”-meant not only the spoken word or phrase, but it was also inextricably linked to the intellectual faculties and ideas. The gift of eloquence belonged to the Gods, or gave God-like status to those who had mastery of it. A politician without the skill of oratory will never be a powerful leader. The Druids, for whom the oral tradition lasted long after the “invention” of the written word, had all sorts of charms and rituals guaranteed to confer eloquence: a cinquefoil leaf under the tongue, for example. Learning by repetition was considered the purest way of gaining information; the transference of words from one person to the next was to retain the purest intention of the words, unsullied by the “middle man” of writing.
LETTERS AND WRITING
The journey from primal sound to a deliberate word to written symbol is a mysterious one. In the same way that children learn to draw before they can write, early Man’s first “writing” was symbolic, a pictorial representation of ideas. The history of writing is well-documented elsewhere, but the sacred and momentous nature of the alphabet is indicated by the universality of stories of its divine invention: Thoth for the Ancient Egyptians, Hermes/Mercury in the Greco-Roman tradition, Odin in the Norse myths, and Ogma of the Celtic pantheon. Letters, along with numbers, are the most potent secret signs and sacred symbols of all; their secrets so ingrained into our consciousnesses that we tend to take them for granted.
The letters of any alphabet carry great power; they are not just letters, but calendars, calculators, symbols, and concepts of divinity. It is worth remembering that, not so very long ago, reading and writing were arts reserved for the powerful and priestly castes, because with these gifts came the power of knowledge. These people had the power to transcribe the very Word of God. The first printed texts were religious ones. Once man could read and write-and could therefore decide which ideas he preferred-in certain ways, the power of the secular and religious authorities were considerably weakened. Although writing is a fantastic tool, in some ways it “kills” ideas by giving them a permanent form. Ideas change; revolutionary theories become everyday fact. As with any of the signs and symbols in this book, it is as well to be aware of this when investigating the hidden meanings behind the alphabets themselves.
This ancient word may well have been inspired by the Aramaic “Avra Kedabra”-“I create as I speak”-or words to that effect. However, there are other theories about the origins of this word. In no particular order, then:
It was derived from the name of Abraxas.
It was derived from the Hebrew phrase “Abreq Ad Habra,” meaning “Hurl your thunderbolt unto death” or “Strike dead with thy lightning” (in this case, its efficacy as a charm to ward away illness would make sense).
It could be from the Aramaic “Abhadda Kedabhra,” meaning “Disappear as this word,” which accurately reflects exactly what happens in the charm (because as the word diminishes and finally disappears, so would any malevolent energy).
The first letters of the word could be derived from the initials of Hebrew words for Father (Ab), Son (Ben), and Holy Spirit (Ruach Acadsch).
Chances are that this is such a powerful symbol because all of these theories make sense, so it would have universal appeal.
Although most accounts say that the charm was in use until the Middle Ages, there’s curious proof of its efficacy in a small thirteenth-century church in a remote valley in Wales in the UK. St. Michael and All Angels Church at Cascob on the edge of the Radnor Forest has an Abracadabra charm engraved on a tablet on one of its walls. In the seventeenth century a local girl, Elizabeth Lloyd, was apparently possessed of evil demons, and this symbol was used to drive them away, along with the astrological symbols that are carved below. There’s even a possibility that this tablet was made by the alchemist Dr. John Dee, who was astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, and lived nearby.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
These are the names of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Alphabets in general are believed to hold within them all the secrets of the Universe, so the Alpha and Omega encompass these secrets within a circular whole, a beginning and end, a completion. The Book of Revelation contains the following:
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,” saith the Lord, “which is and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”
These letters are often seen in association with other Christian symbols, inscribed on altars and crosses, for example.
The Aum, or Om, is a living symbol and exists, in varying forms and names, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Sikhism. Sometimes it translates as “So be it” and in this, it is similar to the Hebrew “Amen” or the “Awen” of modern Druidry. The Aum is the symbol of the Word, the sound that was present at the Creation of the Universe. This concept is expressed in the yoga sutras of Patanjali, which state “God’s voice is Aum.” The Aum is used at the beginning and the end of prayer and is a chant which, when used consciously, helps the chanter to become a part of the All. The notion of such a primal sound is universal.
In the same way that there are three parts to the symbol that contribute to the whole, the Aum symbolizes the three Gods: Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. In yoga, the sound is used as a meditation on the breath and the nature of the Universe, and involves all parts of the lungs as it is chanted.
This last symbol, the Upkar, shows how the Sikh “Ek Onkar” symbol has been slightly altered to encompass a sign that has universal meaning as one of healing and protection. Here, the symbol is also the logo for the northern Indian hospital that shares its name. It means “the welfare of all” and combines the symbol of the Red Cross (physical and medical welfare) with the spiritual aspect of the Aum.
There are different variations of this beautiful symbol, which hides within its curlicues and flourishes the sacred name of God. Bismillah, in Arabic, means, literally, “In the Name of Allah,” and it is the first word in the Qu’ran. Islamic law forbids representations of animals or people, so the calligraphic form has been developed to a high art, as in the Bismillah symbol. “Bismillah” is spoken as a sign of respect before prayer, before meals, and before important undertakings.
BLAZES, TRAILS, AND TRAVELERS’ SIGNS
Blazes are symbols that mark trails or tracks. Sometimes the blazes are, as the name would suggest, overt and easily understood; sometimes necessity dictates that the signs are covertly hidden within the landscape so that only the initiate will be able to follow the track.
The former kind of blaze tends to be visually arresting and transcends boundaries of nationality or culture, often used, for example, in tourist destinations. In forests these route indicator signs will usually be at eye-level, perhaps painted onto a tree. Of course, it’s important that this type of sign can withstand the elements. So there’s nothing particularly secret about this kind of everyday signage.
The other kind-the covert kind-is different. Often used by hunters, these signs might emulate methods used by Native Americans. One of the most basic of these signs is a small nick of bark taken from a tree, which marks the trail. The size of these axe blazes vary according to the skill of the maker. The idea is to make them as small as possible yet noticeable to anyone knowing what to look for.
In areas where there are no trees and a trail still needs to be made, inventive use is made of the natural environment. A popular device is to snap a twig on a bush and leave the broken part dangling, connected by a slim thread of bark. This indicates the trail. If the twig is broken off, the torn end of the twig might indicate the direction to be followed. If the trail is to cover an area of open grassland, a clump might be twisted into a knot; significantly, sometimes more than one knot might be used. Otherwise, stones might be stacked on top of each other or next to each other in a particular way.
A highly effective although highly visible sign, smoke signals can nevertheless carry secrets, and are primarily used by Plains Indians. Making a smoke signal seems to be the dream of every child but it takes time to create the fire needed to make a decent amount of smoke. Here’s how to make your own smoke signals.
First, make a very hot and clear fire from as much dry material as you can muster. When the fire is burning well, cover it with damper, green material. Rotten wood is good, too. Then, three or four people each need to take a corner of a blanket, using it to cover and uncover the fire, releasing smoke at intervals prearranged with the people you are communicating with.
Although a funnel of steady smoke will indicate where a camp is, other signals are possible: a steady sequence of double puffs is the equivalent of an SOS.
Throughout history, there have been times when people have needed to cover their tracks or otherwise hide the route they were taking. Romany and nomadic travelers of any sort have each used their own systems of signs and signals to communicate with each other over distances, telling of routes or passing on news. Latterly, the cheap availability of mobile phones has meant that traveling people have no problem in meeting up with one another. This wasn’t always the case, and not so very long ago it was necessary to have a set of secret signs and symbols, which would enable communication whilst on the road. Patrin, or patteran, is the name given to the indicators made by Romany people along their chosen routes. Coming from a Romany word meaning leaf, a patrin could be a drawn sign or a sign constructed discreetly from natural objects found in the landscape; a bundle of twigs, a feather, or a snapped twig.
During times of extreme economic depression, it has often been necessary for people to leave their homes and take to the roads to find employment in order to survive. Times were particularly desperate during the Depression in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century. Although many saw these destitute people as vagrants, most hobos were desperate for any work they could get; indeed, a hobo differentiated himself from a tramp, who was seen to be unwilling to work. Despite poverty (or maybe because of it) there was a strong bond between fellow travelers and this bond resulted in a series of symbols that could be interpreted by those following, and which could provide hints and tips gained from the experience of those who had gone before.
Although it is hard to date such symbols precisely, it seems that they started from the 1880s and had died out by the Second World War. The signs were drawn on fence posts, on the sides of the railroad, on paths; in short, anywhere where those on the lookout would notice them. They were usually written in chalk or coal or marked with anything that was readily available.
Often seen these days on souvenirs and artwork from Israel, the Chai is the secret symbol that consists of the Hebrew letters Het and Yod. Together these letters spell “chai,” which means “living” and refers not only to God but also to the Jewish people.
The Jewish system of numerology, the Gematria, shows that these letters add up to eighteen, which is considered to be a favorable number. Therefore the Chai symbol is also a lucky charm.
Literally meaning “summons” or “call,” the Da’wah is a secret method of incantation, a “call” to a whole mystical tradition, in a similar way that the Hebrew alphabet is far more than a simple series of letters.
Using the Arabic alphabet, each letter has finely tuned associations with the names of God, numbers, the elements, perfumes, planets, spirits and angels. Each letter also has its own nature.
To master the Da’wah the adept must follow a strict moral code and diet. Once the esoteric mysteries of the Da’wah are mastered, they confer a God-like power over the Universe.
The Gematria is a system of numerology where letters and numbers are linked and although this method is used elsewhere, Gematria applies specifically to the Hebrew language, and is explained in many mystical Jewish writings.
Although there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, 27 numerals are needed to express each number up to 999 (one through nine, 10 through 90, and 100 through 900). The mystical Hebrew numeric system notes that the missing final five letters of the numeral system match exactly with the alphabet’s five word-final alternate forms.Some interesting correspondences can arise; in Math for Mystics, Renna Shesso points out that the numerical values for “lion,” “cheetah” and “tiger” all reduce down to 5. Other words that have the same numerical value share the same qualities, and can be used to reveal still other aspects of the Divine.
The Greatest Name generally refers to the most holy and secret name of God, the name that carries the entire essence of divine power. This idea is common throughout many faiths. This name usually encompasses the notion of “light” or “glory.” In the Bahai faith the symbol of the Greatest Name is a calligraphic rendering of the phrase “Glory of Glories,” or “Ya Baha’ul-Abha.”
At the heart of many magical practices, whether they belong to a conformist religious belief or more pagan tradition is the idea that calling a name can invoke the spirit or entity that is connected to that name.
An invocation can take the form of a supplication, or a command. Most faiths have a standardized form of invocation-the Lord’s Prayer, for example, in Christianity. However, sometimes the invocation of a spirit is an invitation for it to take up residence for a time in a physical host, i.e. possession. This form of invocation or “inviting in” is sometimes the desired outcome of Voudon ceremonies where the spirit, or “loa,” is summoned into the body via a series of ecstatic rituals that involve chanting, dancing, and drumming. In the case of spirit invocation, these entities need to be “bound” or otherwise constrained by means of magical seals or symbols.
Sometimes, magic is spelled with a “k” as in “magickal.” This final “k” was a conceit introduced by Aleister Crowley at the beginning of the twentieth century, in order to differentiate stage magic and conjuring tricks of a purely mechanical nature with the intentional ritual magic of a supernatural nature that can allegedly cause changes and alter the course of events.
For Crowley, the fact that the “k” is the eleventh letter of the alphabet gave it even more magic(k)al significance. According to the laws of Gematria, where each letter has its corresponding number, eleven is the number that corresponds to the realm of the Kabbalah concerning the forces of evil that have to be conquered before the magic(k)al practitioner can truly call himself an adept.
People who are aware of the provenance of this conceit may choose to use it or not, depending whether they wish to align themselves with the teachings of Crowley or any of the mystical orders that he was affiliated to.
This is a beautiful, elaborate, and evocatively meaningful symbol, a major device within Tibetan Buddhism. It can be seen in monasteries and other holy places and in itself is emblematic of the arcane and occult knowledge into which relatively few lamas are initiated. The meaning of the Kalachakra exists on many levels.
The seal is comprised of a calligraphic rendering of letters, using a script called Lantsa or Ranjana. This secret and sacred script was developed from Sanskrit and is used only for religious scripts, texts, mandalas, and mantras. Many holy documents written in the Ranjana script were destroyed when China invaded Tibet.
The Kalachakra Seal, which is also called the Tenfold Powerful One, contains many elements. Hidden within its curlicues are the seven syllables of the Holy Mantra called the Kalachakra. The mantra is “Ham Ksa Ma La Va Ra Ya.”
The remaining three elements that give the symbol its tenfold nature are the crescent Moon, the disc of the full Moon or the Sun, and the flame of fire.
But what does the Kalachakra actually mean?
Both the symbol and the sound of the letters that comprise it are inextricably linked. It is also often drawn in color, as the colors are important symbols in themselves. The syllables are written one on top of the other, and interlock together. The whole stands on a stylized lotus (symbolic of the heart), with the character for “emptiness” and “bliss” set to the left and right, respectively, of the Kalachakra symbol. The framework of the Kalachakra is important, too, and represents a mandala made of flames. This is called the Circle of Wisdom.
If we examine each aspect of the Kalachakra, then, here’s what we find. First, many symbols have an element that is not drawn or shown in any way, but is implied. Here, it’s the letter A, which is emblematic of space.
Next, the syllables, including the colors that they might appear as:
Ham (blue): indicative of formless realms; the vacuum; the spiritual world; bliss; enlightened wisdom; the Gods
Ksha (green): represents the world of form and desire; the material world. This syllable means the body, the mind, and the power of speech
Ma (multi-colored): a reminder of the Holy Mountain, Mount Meru. It relates to the spinal column of the body, which, like the mountain, ascends towards the Heavens
La (yellow): the grounding Earth element
Va (white): the element of water
Ra (red): the element of fire
Ya (black): the element of air
Collectively, the elements within the Kalachakra represent the spiritual and material life of Man; the elements; the Wheel of Time; the emptiness of the void, and the pregnant seed of creation. It has inspired the calculations of calendars and astrologers.
A particular kind of magic square that is intended to incorporate a sigil. The whole is used as a charm or talisman or as a tool in casting a spell. The kamea is a Kabbalistic invention.
This is a name given to a newly initiated member into a magical group or cult. A “magical” name is necessarily that which belongs to a magical society, but adherents of many religions will change their name or add a new name to their existing one. Catholics and Muslims, for example, follow this practice, symbolic of belonging and acceptance by the religious community as well as a rebirth into the chosen faith.
In Tibetan Buddhism, a Mani stone is a stone, pebble or rock inscribed with a mantra, or prayer. The stones are to be found everywhere and serve as devotional offerings. Mani stones appear singly or stacked up in large piles. The most common mantra to be found painted or carved onto the stones is Om Mani Padme Hum, the same mantra which is found on the long pieces of paper inside prayer wheels.
This is a sacred phrase or series of sounds that, when repeated over and over, is believed to effect a corresponding spiritual vibration. The mantra has similarities to a prayer except that it tends to be specific to the Dharmic faiths. Whoever chants a mantra becomes unified with the greater cosmos. “Aum,” “Om Mani Padme Hum,” and “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” are all examples of mantras. The visual symbol for the mantra is the Yantra.
The mantra does not work if it is translated. It’s important that the syllables of the original phrase are pronounced correctly. Like a magical spell, the correct mantra, it is believed, can accomplish anything provided the person chanting it is in the correct frame of mind, mentally and spiritually prepared. The power of certain mantras means that they are taught only with great care to those who are worthy of using them.
Music is truly divine, and legends from all over the world and from all faiths agree that it was invented by the Gods.
Pythagoras, like the Chinese before him, knew that music carries the harmony of the cosmos, encompassing the vibrational values of numbers, shapes, and sounds. He called this theory the “Music of the Spheres,” a universal symphony of interconnectedness. If sound is the most common unifying factor, then music is the sublime aspect of this connection. The same mathematical rules that underscore sacred geometry also apply to the measurements that rule the harmonic or discordant vibrations of strings played together.
Music can reflect our mood, or can alter it. In myth, music can bring enchanted sleep as well as rousing soldiers to battle. It has much in common with perfume; it is invisible and yet all-pervasive and can be experienced by many people at the same time. Like the scented smoke given off by incense, music plays an important part in sacred and magical rituals, a unifying factor in orthodox religious ceremonies as well as in pagan ones. In the same way that certain music heralds a change of scene, mood, or action in a film, sometimes music needs to symbolize the presence of evil. The Devil’s Chord, or “Diabolus in Musica,” consisting of a dissonant and spooky sounding interval such as an augmented fourth, is so evocative of menace that it was allegedly banned from Church music in the Middle Ages. An example of what this sinister chord sounds like? Try the opening bars of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”
Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, site of much mystical conjecture, recently added a new discovery to its trove of secrets. There is a series of carved stone cubes in the Chapel, each with a particular pattern etched onto it. The patterns equate to Chladni patterns. If sand, salt, or some other fine powder is poured onto a taut surface (such as the skin of a drum) which is then subjected to a tonal frequency, the vibrations cause the powder to make symmetrical patterns, including the diamonds, rhomboids, flowers, and other designs that appear on the stone cubes.
The discovery was made after twenty years of research by Thomas Mitchell, whose son, Stuart, has written a piece of music called “The Rosslyn Motet” that is based on the notes encoded in these stones.
A rose, by any other name, as Shakespeare pointed out, may smell as sweet; but would it really still be a rose?
A name carries the essence of the power and spirit of its owner, hence in many faiths the true Name of God is a great mystery, shrouded in oblique references and rarely spoken aloud. In the Jewish faith, only the High Priest pronounces the Name of God. The belief is that the power of the name of God is such that the whole world will be struck dumb if it were shouted out loud, hence the vital necessity to keep it a secret. In Islam, too, there are 99 names of God plus one more, unknown name, the Greatest Name. God and the Name of God are identical, and to know all these names enables a person to enter Heaven.
The Ancient Egyptians felt that the name was a living thing, an inextricable part of the person it described. Often, when people become affiliated to a religion, they are given another name as part of their initiation, a sign of their rebirth, a new identity conferred by allegiance to the faith.
The power of the name is also the reason why, in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, the name of the arch villain Voldemort is rarely said, replaced instead with “you know who.” In the fairy tale, knowledge of the name of the gnome Rumplestiltskin will buy power over him. It’s an old superstition that a child without a name is somehow without a soul, and is therefore at risk of exposure to evil influences. In the Celtic lands, the name of a person and their job, occupation, or function was the same. This tradition lives on today, particularly in parts of Wales where the person is described by both name and occupation; Dai the Post, for example.
A kind of acronym, this is a method, in Hebrew, of using the letters of a word as the initials for a phrase. This “hidden” phrase generally gives a different way of interpreting the word. Sacred words or the secret names of God were given this treatment, which was a way of hiding their true meaning. These codes are often embedded into sacred texts, hence the importance of preserving the original written form. A simple example of a Notarikon is the word “Amen,” which is constructed from the initial letters of the phrase “the Lord and Faithful King.”
OM MANI PADME HUM
This is the most important and profound mantra in Tibetan Buddhism, and the words are engraved onto Mani stones as well as written on the scrolls of paper contained within prayer wheels. The phrase means, “Aum, to the Jewel in the Lotus, hum.” These six seemingly simple syllables have a deeper meaning that lies at the very heart of the faith. The resonance is affected not only by the physical components of the mantra but also by the intent of the acolyte. Buddhists believe that not only does the chanter add to his own enlightenment in the process of repeating this magical phrase, but that the consciousness of humanity is raised at the same time.
This is a special sigil, used to invoke the Gods (or Orishas) peculiar to the specific magical practices of Brazil. It seems that supernatural beings respond well to such symbols, since they are similar to the magical sigils used by such illustrious luminaries as Aleister Crowley and John Dee. Each entity has its own particular sigil, which is drawn on the ground in special colored chalks as part of an invocation.
SATOR WORD SQUARE
This word square is an ingenious palindromic construction, and can be read in any direction: forward, backward, top to bottom, and bottom to top. The oldest example of it that has been discovered so far is in the ruins of Herculanaeum, an ancient Roman city that was destroyed in the volcanic eruption that also overwhelmed Pompeii in the first century AD. Thereafter, it crops up in all sorts of places: in the cathedral in Siena, in a small chapel near Rennes-le-Château in France, in Malta, Syria, and the UK. It appears on the front cover of the infamous magical tome The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra Melin the Sage, which is considered to be the ultimate guide to the Kabbalah. Both the meaning and the provenance of the SATOR square are a mystery. The left-over pairs of A and O can be taken to mean Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.
The literal translation of the square is:
SATOR: sower, planter
AREPO: could be a proper name
TENET: to hold
OPERA: work, effort
Therefore, “Sator, the sower, holds the wheels by his work,” or “The sower, Arepo, holds the wheels with effort.”
This meaning can be interpreted in several ways, its relevance squeezed into the preferred ideology. The implications of some kind of analogy to sowing and harvesting, death and rebirth cannot be ignored. Scholars have puzzled in particular over the word “Arepo,” since it appears nowhere else; it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the inventor of this word square put it there because it “fitted” and simply gave it a meaning later. However, it is close to a Celtic word meaning “plow,” which aligns nicely with the agricultural references.
Many people believe that the SATOR square is imbued with magical protective properties, the net of elegantly placed words having a depth of meaning that transcends the literal. Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania used it as an invocation to protect their cattle.
Magical seals are used in invocations, to bind or otherwise harness the power of an entity or spirit. A seal is a sort of signature for the spirit and the understanding of it by the conjuror is akin to knowledge of a name.
There are dozens and dozens of such symbols, many of them listed in grimoires such as the Lesser Key of Solomon or Lemegton Clavicula Salomonis that was compiled in the seventeenth century from much earlier sources. Curious and decorative, these seals are used in ritual magic, often in conjunction with amulets.
Although a sigil is the name applied to a signet or seal that belongs to a fraternity order, as a magical symbol it is less straightforward. A sigil is a symbol that belongs in particular to the Western tradition of magic. The word itself has its origins in a Latin word, sigilum, meaning “seal,” and it is a personalized glyph or emblem that carries a specific meaning or intent. The Monad of Dr. John Dee, for example, is a sigil.
There is a Hebrew word, segulah, which may or may not be related to the sigil, but which describes very well what a sigil actually is. Segulah means “a word, action, or item of spiritual effect.” This has similar meaning to that of “talisman.” Sigils generally appear in a drawn or written form although it is possible for them to be rendered in sound or as a solid three-dimensional object.
The sigil itself sometimes looks simple, sometimes more elaborate, but in either case its design and creation will have a complex series of meanings attached to it. Sigils are frequently made up of lots of different elements; the Norse Binding rune is an example of a particular kind of sigil. Astrological signs and their corresponding planets also have their sigils.
The magicians of medieval times used sigils to call up angels, demons, and other diverse spirits. Each of these entities had its own sigil that represented its “essence,” a sort of spiritual autograph or signature, so the sigil was a powerful tool in the right hands-or the wrong ones. Pages and pages of these signatures appear in grimoires and other magical texts, notably in the Lesser Key of Solomon. This anonymously written seventeenth-century work contains a handy at-a-glance guide to the personal sigils of the 72 Demons of Hell; for the adept, this would be the equivalent of a telephone directory to dial up entities from another dimension. Command of the sigil, combined with correct attention to ritual detail, gives the conjurer power over the being that he is calling upon. Self-professed adepts Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare famously used sigils in their personal quests of mystical exploration, but the use of sigils is not a thing of the past. Latter-day practitioners of magic also employ them, and the method of doing so is strikingly simple given their purported efficacy.
Sometimes small and puzzling marks can be spotted on the sides of old buildings and stone structures. These are stonemasons’ marks. In the same way that a painter marks a canvas, a stonemason “signs” his work by means of such a symbol.
Stonemasonry is one of the earliest trades, and any ancient stone building is testimony to the skills of these artisans, whose names might largely be forgotten but whose legacy remains. The Pyramids, the Parthenon, the Pantheon, Ziggurats, temples, churches, and cathedrals-all were built by stonemasons.
Despite the difficulty of leaving a signature on a building, the stonemason did not remain entirely anonymous. He often carved a personal symbol into his work, a secret sign that acted not only as an autograph but also as a form of quality assurance.
The object of the exercise is to cast a spell that attracts the object of your desire, a sort of tool for cosmic ordering. The sigil provides the focus for this spell.
Decide what the desired object actually is. Precision is vital. For example, it’s not enough to simply ask for money: what if the fortune comes as a result of the death of a loved one, for example?
Write down a sentence that expresses the outcome that you want.
Now reduce the sentence so that no letter is repeated.
Here’s the fun part. Reduce the letters down further into shapes. It doesn’t matter if some of the letters are upside down, and upper or lower case is of no significance either. For example, the letter P also contains within it an I, lower-case L, a C, an F and a lower-case D (if you flip it upside down).
Once you have accounted for all the letters, arrange them in a design that pleases you. If you can draw it in one single stroke and contain it in a circle, so much the better.
Next you need to write your sigil on a piece of paper or parchment, with as much due ceremony as you choose to muster.
The final part of this kind of sigil magic requires the symbol to be “charged.” This can be done by using the symbol as a focus for meditation, and then burning it or otherwise forgetting all about it.
The sigil illustrated on page 461 is the result of the following desire: “The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols helps people understand one another and makes the world a better place.”
This lengthy sentence reduces down to the letters THELMNCY-OPDIAFSRGUKWB These letters can be rendered down in lots of different ways but the final sigil can be drawn in one continuous movement and wrapped in a circle.
were generally quite angular; sometimes runes or runic shapes were used since straight lines are generally easier to scratch into stone then more rounded forms.
In the Middle Ages, most craftspeople had their own guild. These guilds had their own systems of organization that included a certain amount of ritual and ceremony. Each separate guild of stonemasons had a “mother mark” and the individual mason used this as the basis for his own personal signature, which he had to swear not to change.
Like Gematria and Notarikon, Temurah is a way of rearranging the letters of certain words and sentences in the Bible to give an alternative, mystical meaning. Atbash, for example, is a Temurah cipher.
Words carry a great power, and to speak a word out loud “enables” the word. Names in particular carry the most power, and there is no more potent name than the Tetragrammaton.
This magical name is sometimes drawn in the form of the earlier Pythagorean Tetraktys, a sign that represents the Universe.
Quite literally, Tetragrammaton means “four-letter word” in Greek (although it mustn’t be confused with the popular slang meaning “expletive”) and refers to the secret name of the God of the Israelites, written in Hebrew. This name is so holy and powerful that it can never be spoken, apart from just once a year at Yom Kippur by the High Priest within the Holy of Holies. To avoid using this name it is referred to as “The Name” or “Elohim” or “Adonai.”
The letters of the name are yodh hev vav hev, and God is said to have explained to Moses that the name means “I Shall Be” or “I Am.” These letters are pronounced “ee ah ou eh” (hence Jahweh), and will often be seen as a part of magical amulets or talismans. The actual Name of God is said to be 72 letters long and was written on a long slip of paper secreted inside the High Priest’s jeweled breastplate. When the Name was invoked, the jewels would light up in a certain sequence, thereby allowing the priest to communicate directly with God.
Sometimes, certain terminology is so familiar that we seldom stop to think of its origins. Foolscap paper is a case in point. This commonly used size of paper, known less exotically as A4, is so-called because of the symbol of a fool’s cap that used to be embedded into the paper in the form of a watermark, and its use can be traced back to 1479.
As a way of hiding a symbol there can be few better ways than the watermark. It is likely that the method of making watermarks was the result of a happy accident. Methods of making paper by hand have altered very little over the centuries; a thin layer of wet pulp is spread over a sieve and left to dry, when the resulting sheet of paper can be peeled from the mesh. If a piece of wire is placed on top of the sieve before the pulp is spread over it, then the image of the wire shows up when the paper is held up to the light because the paper is very slightly thinner at that point. This method is believed to have been discovered by the paper makers of Fabiano and Bologna in late thirteenth-century Italy. Papermakers quickly realized that their paper could be protected (from theft, for example) by the use of such a mark, which could also be used as a sign of quality assurance and as an identity for the maker. At the same time, the watermark might be used to convey a secret message of some kind. Henry VIII of England, for example, commissioned a watermark for his own supply of paper that showed the image of a hog wearing a miter, to show his contempt for the Pope.
Although it is almost impossible to prove the mystical use of certain watermarks, it seems as though certain symbols speak for themselves. These include the paper branded with Rosicrucian symbols that was used by Francis Bacon in letters and in editions of his books that were published privately. Specifically, his book The Advancement of Learning shows his Rosicrucian sympathies in the watermark which includes the initials C.R., standing for the legendary founder of the Order, Christian Rosenkreutz.
Papermaking skills were brought to Europe from the East by the Knights Templar and other crusaders returning from the Holy Land, although, as we have seen, the discovery of making watermarks was an accident that happened in Europe. The Cathars-a sect deemed by the Church to be heretical because of their dualist beliefs-were persecuted to the point that they were forced to flee their homeland in France, and were scattered around Europe where they had to make a living in any way they could; papermaking was one of their skills. They allegedly identified one another and kept track of their supporters by means of a watermark used on their “Lombardy Paper.” The meanings of these marks are difficult to analyze but their distinctly mystical-looking nature would seem to support this theory.
SECRET SCRIPTS AND CIPHERS
As soon as the majority of us were able to convey information to one another by means of reading and writing, we began to invent different sorts of alphabets so that we could still keep some things a secret. It seems that the desire to keep certain information concealed comes naturally to us; even children invent certain changes to their speech or writing that are designed to hide their true meaning.
Necessarily, these secret alphabets and ciphers were often invented by closed societies, such as the Freemasons, or practitioners of magic who wanted to keep information within their own circle of trust. Many of these secret alphabets are mere substitution ciphers, that is, they replace the existing letters of an alphabet with different symbols whilst retaining the underlying rules of grammatical construction. Others, such as the Enochian script, are true languages in their own right.
Secret scripts, codes, and ciphers are not only the province of sorcerers and magicians. Codes are essential tools during times of war to keep information safe from the enemy. For example, Navajo was used as a code during American operations in the Pacific during the Second World War. The complexity and rarity of the language, which was never written and was spoken only by the Navajo tribes and perhaps some thirty others at the time, meant that the Japanese never cracked it. The author Beatrix Potter kept her wry observations about the society and politics of her time to herself, since she invented a code that she used to write her journals from the ages of fifteen through to thirty. Her code was so complex that it was only deciphered some twenty years after her death. It’s worth bearing in mind that our “normal” alphabets are replete with arcane secrets that go way beyond them being mere visual symbols of sounds.
AIQ BKR ALPHABET
This is a substitution, or Temurah cipher, based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The 22 letters of the alphabet are put into a grid of nine squares, meaning that each square will have two characters and some will have three. The letters can be substituted for any in the same square; a simple cipher, but comprehensible only to those that know what to look for. Aiq Bkr is also called the “Kabbalah of Nine Chambers.”
Secrecy was a fundamental part of any alchemical operation, and the substances and processes of this ancient art were deliberately veiled by sequences of symbols and pictures designed to convey information without using words. Several different alchemical alphabets appeared in the sixteenth century, simple substitution ciphers based on Roman lettering.
ALPHABET OF ARROWS
This alphabet is a substitution cipher based on the letters of a mystical alphabet that actually appears to have a proper grammar and syntax all of its own-Edward Kelley and John Dee’s Enochian language. The alphabet of arrows appears in a work by Aleister Crowley (see alphabet of daggers).
ALPHABET OF DAGGERS
A substitution cipher using the letters of the Roman alphabet as a base, this script has little dagger symbols that combine to spooky effect. It first appears in Aleister Crowley’s work The Vision and the Voice, in which Crowley takes a visionary journey into the realms, or “aethyrs,” inhabited by the angels of John Dee and Edward Kelley. The alphabet of arrows follows the same pattern but is a substitution cipher for the Enochian alphabet, and is found in the same book.
The angelical script shown here is a simple substitution cipher, created by Cornelius Agrippa in the sixteenth century. However, the Enochian script-which is a “proper” grammatical language-is also sometimes called “angelical writing.”
ATBASH CIPHER-ZGYZHS XRKSVI
The unpronounceable words in the heading shows “Atbash cipher” written as it would be in its own code. Atbash is a substitution cipher, simple enough to understand but confusing to look at. Imagine the Roman alphabet written normally, left to right, on one line. Then write the alphabet again underneath, this time starting at the right and placing the A beneath the Z. Atbash was originally based on the Hebrew alphabet. One of its uses was to confound any casual enquiries into the inner workings of the Kabbalah.
Among the alphabets that Cornelius Agrippa wrote about, the celestial script is one influenced by the Hebrew alphabet. This script was used to communicate with angelic beings, a use which some students of the occult still practice today. The letters are also used in making charms and amulets.
Coffin texts were the magical symbols and spells written by Egyptians on the coffins of the deceased, their primary function to ensure the survival of the soul in the Afterlife. However, the advent of coffin texts marked a profound social change. Their predecessors, the pyramid texts, essentially fulfilled the same purpose as the coffin texts but were the exclusive domain of royalty. The appearance of the coffin texts meant that almost anyone could have the benefit of the magical commands that carried such power. The consequences, for a society who believed so fundamentally and profoundly in an Afterlife, meant that the prospect of a nonexclusive Heaven now existed, even if the offer was still only open to those who could afford it.
As well as spells of protection (which might show serpents and other dangerous creatures being stabbed in the back) and charms for a “blessed existence” after death, the coffin texts consisted of maps and descriptions of the Land of the Dead, a sort of guidebook to the Afterlife. Perhaps the most famous of the coffin texts was the Book of the Two Ways, which describes the complete journey between the two worlds.
This Arabic script is first mentioned in a book written in AD 855 by an Arab scholar of magical lore. The title of this book translates as the awe-inspiring Book of the Frenzied Devotee to Learn about the Ancient Scripts.
Also called Dambudi, the Davidian script is named for King David of Israel whose son, Solomon, was renowned for his wisdom. Even now, thousands of years after his death, Solomon is held in reverential awe by Arabs, and many others, as the greatest magician who ever lived.
The alphabet is imbued, by association, with Solomon’s powers. Said to be the Father of Freemasonry, Solomon’s polymath skills included the ability to understand the language of birds. Stylistically, the alphabet is derived from Hebrew letters. The letters of the Davidian script are believed to be so infused with occult meaning that they are the very embodiment of mystical power. The Arabs that used it referred to it simply as rihani, meaning “magic.”
Many magical scripts used in grimoires and other manuscripts as a way of ensuring the secrecy of their contents, are actually no more than a cipher, using different symbols to represent the letters of an existing alphabet. Even where Roman and Hebrew letters are used in such a “magical” alphabet, the underlying language is still usually English or Hebrew. However, there are a few exceptions, and the Enochian tongue is one of these. In the sixteenth century Dr. John Dee (a renowned mystic who was the astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I) and Edward Kelley claimed that angels imparted both the script and language to them. Dee was an extremely well-read and learned scholar, conversant with languages and with a passionate interest in the angelic realms. He was also an extensive diarist, and in his journal, he mentions the angels that God sent to communicate directly with his prophets. Dee was inspired to try to find his own angels since knowledge of their language would be the most powerful tool that any magician could have in his kit. He set about this extraordinary task with the help of Edward Kelley, an alchemist and clairvoyant medium or “seer.” Kelley saw the letters in a vision while scrying with a crystal ball. Apparently, when Kelley complained that he could not see the letters properly, the angels caused them to appear on a piece of paper, where they were easy for Kelley to trace before they faded away.
Dee himself didn’t refer to the script as “Enochian.” He called it “Angelical” or “The Celestial Speech,” or sometimes “Adamical,” since the angels told him that the language had been taught by God to Adam, who used it to communicate with both God and the angels. It had also been the language used to name all things. The epithet “Enochian” came about because Dee believed that the great biblical patriarch Enoch had been the last person to understand the language.
This arcane tongue had apparently been lost when Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden, a myth that carries a powerful symbolic punch-if mankind can no longer communicate with a divine creative spirit then he is lost indeed, truly cast out. Adam’s vague memory of the language is said to have resulted in an early form of Hebrew. During this time, Enoch was the only person who could fully understand the language, but the book he wrote describing it was lost in the Great Flood. This notion, that a divine language existed prior to the Deluge, was a popular one at the time of Dee and Kelley. There are 21 alphabetical characters in this arcane language and, in common with other angelic scripts, it is written from right to left, although the letters demonstrated above are used as a left-to-right cipher.
Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, suggested that Enochian script be used to flush out evidence of a Nazi conspiracy within Britain during the Second World War, but the plan never came to fruition.
There could be a strong argument in favor of teaching the Enochian script in schools today, though, since exponents of Enochian magic claim to be able to use it to summon angels and to work with them. There is a downside, though: both the spoken and written language was used extensively by Aleister Crowley’s Golden Dawn organization until they deemed it too dangerous. It was therefore abandoned.
In common with the Hebrew alphabet, the Greek alphabet is commonly used in magical ritual, although since this classical language isn’t taught as frequently as it once was, where it appears in latter-day grimoires it is more likely to be used as a simple substitution cipher rather than as a fully functioning language system. Here are the correspondences of the letters of the Greek alphabet with numbers and conceptual meanings.
Whereas the Hebrew alphabet is believed to have been gifted to humankind by God via Moses, the provenance of the Greek language is subject to several different legends. Perhaps the most colorful is that the God of Communication, Hermes, invented it after he was inspired by the shapes of the wings of a flock of cranes in flight. Another story says that the three Fates invented the five vowels and the letters B and T. Palamedes, whose other inventions included counting and currency, invented the next eleven letters, while the rest were added by Epicharmus of Sicily, and Simonides.
The Greek alphabet has been extremely influential and is the origin of most European alphabets. It is also the oldest alphabet that has been in continuous use; the Ionic form still in use today was standardized 400 years before the birth of Christ. Each Greek letter has embedded into it a sound, a meaning, a number, and a corresponding part of the human body. The esoteric correspondences of the letters of the Greek alphabet mean that it is an effective tool in ritual and in divinatory practices in much the same way as the runes. Gematria, the art of interpreting the numerical correspondences of the letters, shares the same root as the word “geometry,” therefore it’s not surprising that so many Greek letters are used in the mathematical formulae that are also an essential part of sacred geometry. Like the Hebrew alphabet, the Greek alphabet is believed to hold within it all the secrets of the Universe.
The Kabbalah calls the Hebrew alphabet the “letters of the angels.” Its sacred provenance is explained in the legend that Moses received it on the top of Mount Sinai in an instance of direct communication with God. In common with other lettering systems such as the Greek, Runic, and Ogham alphabets, each Hebrew letter has specific concepts embedded into it, both mundane and esoteric. Each letter also relates to a number, giving rise to yet another mystery tradition called the Gematria. There is an even more profound aspect to the Hebrew alphabet, though; it is an inseparable part of the cohesive philosophical system of the Kabbalah. The lettering system of the Hebrew alphabet contributes to the encoding of this profound mystery tradition, itself a deeply rooted component of magical custom with tendrils that extend, web-like, throughout diverse esoteric disciplines. Because of the dual meanings attached to the twenty-two Hebrew letters, it means that they act as a useful everyday tool of communication while having another facet for the initiate. Thus, each letter has secrets hidden within it. These secrets are related not only to the allegorical aspects of the Kabbalah and of the Tarot system (the Major Arcana of which relates to the letters of the alphabet) but also includes the planets, the seasons and elements, the days of the week, the stages in the life of man, and his concerns. Additionally, the Hebrew alphabet notably gives the means for the spelling and pronunciation of the Names of God.
From all this we can gather that Hebrew was “invented” with mystical intent, each letter representing far more than the sum of its parts. Hebrew reads from right to left, and knowing this makes the letters look a little more accessible for the neophyte. If the meaning of the letters is known then the shapes start to suggest these meanings; for example, the second letter, Beth, means “house,” and the letter clearly resembles a picture of a house. However, “house” carries with it other concepts, such as the ideas of “home,” “mother,” and “domesticity.”
Because the Hebrew alphabet carries with it a resonance born of almost three thousand years of mystical use, it is frequently used in magical texts and grimoires, a handy device for concealing occult knowledge. However, sometimes the authors of these texts are not quite as erudite as they might appear to be, and often Hebrew isn’t used as a language but only as a series of symbols, the English language transcribed into Hebrew characters.
The pyramid texts are considered to be one of the earliest examples of symbols used with magical intent, employed to inscribe spells that would guide the soul of the deceased into the Afterlife. Hieroglyphs are still widely used in magical scripts at least five thousand years later.
The word comes from the Greek, meaning “sacred carvings” and the symbols were called the “Speech of the Gods” by the Egyptians. Hieroglyphs consist of pictorial motifs which were used initially for magical purposes, as described above, hence the name. Mastery of hieroglyphic writing was a complex matter since there were 900 pictorial symbols, and in general it was only the priestly caste that had the skills to access their mysteries. There was a script reserved for common, more secular use called “demotic.” This was a simplified form of the hieratic scripts used exclusively by the priests. In AD 391 the Roman Emperor Theodosius closed all non-Christian temples, providing the final nail in the sarcophagus for hieroglyphs, whose use had dwindled rapidly even before this time.
The Rosetta Stone, discovered by Napoleon’s troops in 1799, served as an invaluable aid to the translation of both hieroglyphic and demotic writing since the same text appeared on the stone in both forms and with a version in Greek, which provided the key to translating the first two.
Many hieroglyphs work according to the principle whereby the sound of the word is symbolized by a picture; for example, both “I” and “eye” could be represented by a picture of an eye. This appears to be relatively simple since it’s the kind of code that’s seen in children’s puzzle books. However, start to compound these pictograms to create longer words and then add in the cultural context of the symbol and the obstacles to the full comprehension of hieroglyphics start to become apparent.
Many of the symbols used in Part 1 of this encyclopedia were originally hieroglyphics whose use as part of an Ancient language has expanded into a universal meaning; the ankh, for example, is globally accepted as a symbol of eternal life and of protection. This meaning transcends the barriers of spoken language and culture.
The commonly used hieroglyphic alphabet is based on the values given the hieroglyphs by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, the renowned Egyptologist. The symbols can be used as a cipher, and appear on magical talismans and amulets.
The Illuminati are notoriously well known for a supposedly secret society, despite the fact that an atmosphere of mystery clings to the very name, and there is still speculation about many aspects of the organization. The Society, founded by Adam Weishaupt in Bavaria in 1776, is arguably the subject of more controversy and hysteria than any other closed organization. However, an understanding of the social, religious, and political climate at the time of its founding, and Weishaupt’s reasoning behind the tenets of his order, might serve to clarify some of the known facts about the Illuminati.
Weishaupt was a former Jesuit and a professor of law at Ingoldstadt University. He has been called a Kabbalistic magician, an ungodly atheist, a fascist, and an anarchist. Thomas Jefferson, however, called him an “enthusiastic philanthropist.” Weishaupt founded the Illuminati from within existing Masonic orders, so effectively it was a society within a society. New and progressive ideas were spreading through Europe at the time, and Weishaupt hoped that the Illuminati would foster an environment for debate and discussion, and chose the name to reflect this ideal of enlightened individuals determined to make the world a better place.
Membership of the society grew slowly, due in no small part to the rigorous study that was demanded of its adherents. However, the idea was that members would rise to positions of power well versed in philosophy and the new progressive ideas, and would therefore be able to influence the creation of an idealized society, and by 1784 the order had extended its influence throughout most of central Europe.
Necessarily, secret scripts and ciphers had a large part to play within the organization, given the Illuminati’s known opposition to the religious and political ideals of the time. Members had secret names: Weishaupt was known as Spartacus, for example, and other nicknames included Cato, Hermes Trismegistus, Menelaus, and Agrippa. They even had their own calendar system, based on an ancient Persian system. Initiates were instructed in a relatively simple substitution cipher, and had to correspond with their teachers in this cipher until such a time as a more elaborate code was taught to the initiates. It is this more complex code that is illustrated on page 477.
In 1785 the Bavarian government banned secret organizations, specifically naming the Illuminati. Weishaupt fled, and instructed the existing lodges to go underground; many members were incarcerated by the authorities. The Illuminati’s current-day fame owes its existence to two factors: first, that the Bavarian government published some of the papers it had seized from the Society in 1786; and second, the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the suggestion that the Illuminati might have had something to do with the troubled political climate of the time.
KAMA SUTRA CIPHER
The encryption code is an ancient device, and one of the first recorded instances appears in the Kama Sutra, which was written in the fourth century BC. As well as the well-known records of sexual positions, the Kama Sutra lists 64 useful skills for women; the housewifely arts, such as cooking and dressing, are listed alongside more unusual talents, including chess, conjuring, carpentry, and perfume making. Also listed is something called “Mlechitta Vikalpa,” the art of secret writing, designed so that ladies could conceal their liaisons.
The Kama Sutra cipher is personal to the user, substituting letters of the same alphabet for one another, so is easy to devise but almost impossible to decipher without the key.
KNIGHTS TEMPLAR ALPHABET
The Knights Templar, whose original mission was to protect pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land, soon amassed terrific wealth. They invented an alphabet based on the segments of the Templar Cross, and used this secret code in their letters of credit.
A 22-character alphabet inspired by Greek and Hebrew letters, the Malachim alphabet is mentioned by Cornelius Agrippa in his Book of Occult Philosophy. Malachim is a Hebrew word meaning “angels” or “regal” and although not much else is known about it, the alphabet is used among some high degrees of Freemasonry.
OGHAM TREE ALPHABET
The clue that the Ogham Tree alphabet is a set of sacred symbols is in its name. It is named after the Irish Celtic God Ogma, the deity of learning and poetry who was said to have invented the alphabet itself. Ogham actually means “language.”
The alphabet has 25 characters that are all associated with trees and shrubs, hence the alternative name, the Tree alphabet. These “letters” are broken down into sets of five, and the whole is grouped together as a “grove.” This is symbolic not only of a collection of trees but also of the sum of knowledge contained in each tree, each smaller part making a greater whole-it is no coincidence that the Celtic words for “knowledge” and “wood” sound the same. There seems to be no definite evidence as to the actual origins of the alphabet. Some believed it was based on the runes, and the letters do look similar, although this may be simply because straight lines are easier to engrave onto wood. Several examples of Ogham inscriptions can be found in the British Isles, and all date between the fourth and seventh centuries AD although it’s likely that the alphabet is from an earlier date. The only surviving records of it are left on enduring stone, since leather or bark would have decayed over the centuries. There are also some stones showing the Ogham symbols next to Latin letters. These stones were generally used to define ownership and boundaries of land. The inscriptions are read by starting in the bottom left-hand corner, working up, then across the top to the next vertical line of writing. Sometimes the Ogham script is referred to as the Beth-Luis-Nuin alphabet, in the same way that we use A-B-C. Looking at the chart, it would be easy to suppose that the most obvious name would be Beth-Luis-Fearn; however, the Beth-Luis-Nuin is a throwback to an earlier sequence of trees/ letters.
Although the individual Ogham symbols are simple, they represent a more complex whole. As well as having a tree associated with each letter, there was a hand signal, a spirit, and a concept also embedded into it. Like the runes, the Ogham letters are also used as a tool of divination.
Robert Graves extrapolated the idea of the Tree alphabet to make a tree calendar. Because the Druids gauged their months according to the phases of the Moon there are 13 months in this particular system of measuring time.
PASSING THE RIVER
One of the magical scripts based on the Hebrew language and known in Latin as Transitus Fluvii, this script is among those described by Cornelius Agrippa in his sixteenth-century work on occult philosophy.
The name may refer to the passage of the Jewish people across the Euphrates River when they returned from Babylon to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. Like Hebrew, the alphabet has 22 characters.
PICTISH SWIRL SCRIPT
Another simple substitution cipher based on the 26-letter Roman alphabet, some sources claim that this script is part of some “forgotten” Pictish writing system, but this is unlikely to be the case. It is more likely that Pictish swirl script is a recent invention inspired by the spiral patterns seen on ancient Celtic stonework, for example at Newgrange. The script is given more weight and importance by being linked, spuriously, with an ancient culture. However, Pictish swirl script is used by latter-day practitioners of Wicca in spell-casting and is a good example of a secret alphabet.
Also called the Masonic or Freemason’s cipher, the peculiarly named pigpen cipher is so-called because letters are laid out in a grid pattern that resembles a pigpen. The letters are exchanged for the symbol defined by the part of the pen they sit in. The code was devised by Freemasons in the seventeenth century to keep their accounts and correspondence private.
To the uninitiated, the cipher looks rather like a simple graphic design. A good example of it can be seen on the gravestone of one Thomas Brierley, which also contains other Masonic symbols. Although the stone has been damaged in the years since Thomas was buried in 1785, the script appears to read “Holiness of the Lord.”
The Ancient Egyptians were obsessed with the idea of an Afterlife, a concern that informed many rites and rituals. Uppermost in the minds of these people was the idea that the soul should be protected in its journey to the Afterlife. As well as the mummy being swathed in an arsenal of charms, amulets and other prophylactic devices, the Pyramids in which the pharaohs were interred were encrusted with magical spells too, all designed to protect the soul on its epic voyage and to appease the gods and other creatures it might meet along the way. Many of the passages in the pyramid texts describe the glories to be enjoyed by the pharaoh in the Afterlife.
Among the spells and charms is a curiosity called the Cannibal Hymn that seems to have been designed to warn the very Gods themselves about the powers of the pharaoh; this song tells of the pharaoh devouring the deities.
Although the pyramid texts have proved difficult to date with complete accuracy, it is possible that they go back to 3000 BC. This makes them the oldest magical and sacred texts in the world.
Also known as the Masonic alphabet or the Rose Cross cipher, this is a straightforward replacement code. The symbols represent the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet. The alphabet is used by both Masonic and Rosicrucian societies in order to keep certain information a secret to the uninitiated.
Each letter is represented by the part of the grid in which it is contained. This is straightforward enough with the first letter in the grid, for example, A. The second letter is denoted by the same part of the grid except with the addition of a dot. The third letter is given two dots.
ROYAL ARCH CIPHER
One of the cipher alphabets based on a grid system, the Royal Arch cipher is possibly the best known of these types of codes. Its name refers to one of the degrees within Freemasonry. It is based on a grid of nine squares with two letters in each square, with the remaining eight letters occupying the spaces in an X-shaped figure.
Also known as the Futhork (or Futhark) alphabet for the same reasons that the sequence of letters on a keyboard is sometimes called Qwerty (i.e. because the order of the first few letters spells the word), the divinatory properties of the runic alphabet have been explored extensively, although the letters were used for secular as well as spiritual purposes. The oldest script symbols of the ancient Germans, runes were used in Britain, Scandinavia, and Germany before the Latin alphabet superceded them. Unfortunately, the early Christian Church destroyed many runic inscriptions, although there are still fine examples of markings on ancient artifacts, standing stones, etc.
The word “rune” comes from an Old English or Norse word meaning “mystery,” “secret,” or “whisper.” There’s also a Finnish word, runo, meaning “song.” The runes themselves were considered to be of divine origin, in common with other alphabets.
The Scandinavian epic poems, the Eddas, describe how the God Odin brought the runes to mankind after a strange ritual whereby he hung from the great ash tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days until he saw the runic symbols reflected in the water below. This story has parallels with the tale of Edward Kelley’s discovery of the Enochian script by scrying with a crystal ball. Such was the power of the runes that it was said that they could bring the dead to life. Therefore it’s likely that knowledge of the runes was an esoteric matter initially restricted to an elite few, in common with other alphabets, the knowledge of which gave great power. Ancient texts, in which runes are given magical powers, confirm this theory. The supernatural powers of Odin himself, which included the ability to fly, shape-shift, bring the dead back to life, and to see into the future, were all a result of his ability to understand the runes.
The shape of the runes is very distinctive. They are constructed of upright parts called staves, and diagonal lines. Notably, runes have no horizontal lines. This is because they were initially scored onto wood, and horizontal lines are more difficult to cut into the grain. Later, the symbols would be engraved onto rock and stone. Tacitus, the Roman historian, wrote a book in AD 98 called Germania about the lands and customs of the German people, and in it, he mentions the tradition of augury or divination by “lot,” which happens to be another meaning of the word “rune.” It would appear likely that Tacitus is describing runes when he speaks of small pieces of wood, generally cut from fruit trees, which were scored with distinguishing marks and tossed onto a white cloth. The pieces were then analyzed to decide the will of the Gods, although, it has to be said, the available information as to just how the runes were used as a tool of augury is sketchy.
There are several different runic systems but the one which is seen most often is the oldest version, known as Elder Futhark. The alphabet consists of 24 symbols, each of which encapsulates a small universe of meaning. Every rune carries not only a sound and a shape and a name of its own, but also has both a mundane and a mystical meaning (which enables the alphabet to be understood on many levels) and is connected not only to a God or spirit but also to an idea or concept.
Adding to the layers of complexity in understanding the runic code is the fact that each individual rune can translate into a word or phrase that would have carried significant conceptual meaning to the people who invented them. For example, whereas “a,” “b,” and “c” are nothing but symbols that indicate a sound, the first three letters of the runic alphabet-“faro,” “gurus,” and “purses”-are complete words in themselves, meaning “cattle,” “aurochs,” and “giant” respectively. In order to understand the runes, the skilled reader needs to step back in time and intuit the concerns of the people that invented them; top of the list of priorities would be basic survival, food supply, and protection from enemies and the elements. On top of this, each rune also has a complete story associated with it.
The material used for making the runes had significance, too. Ancient man believed that everything on the Earth was alive and animated with a spirit, and so the stone, wood, or leather on which the runic symbol was engraved would itself have contributed to the sacred status of the object. The runes were used for spell-casting, to bring healing and fertility, and to influence the tides and the weather. They were used to curse and to remove curses, to protect, and to assist in both birth and death.
Runes are arranged in groups, called aett, plural aettir. The Elder Futhark consists of three aettir of eight runes.
Here is the list of correspondences and meanings for the characters of the runic alphabet. The first group of 24 runes is the Elder Futhark, arguably the most used runic system. The next set of runes, the fourth aett, is called “the aett of the Gods,” and is sacred to the Norse deities called the Aesir. This particular set of five (not eight) runes was developed in Britain.
So far, we have 29 runes. Around AD 800, the Northumbrian Anglo-Saxons added four further runes: Cweorth, Calc, Stan, and Gar. These form the first four runes of the final group, which is sometimes referred to as the fifth aett.
The final five runes have known meanings, but are rarely used.
The bind rune is constructed for specific magical or ritual purposes. It is a combination of two or more runes that together make a sigil or symbol that is more than the sum of its parts. The Skulds Net, or Web of Wyrd, is a bind rune.
The Sig or Sigel rune is also called the Sun rune and represents a sunbeam. However, when it is tipped slightly it resembles either the letter S or a lightning bolt shape. As such, it was doubled up and used in Nazi insignia and its meaning changed to “Victory” from the German Sieg.
WEB OF WYRD
A bind rune comprised of three upright staves, with two sets of three diagonal lines criss-crossing to form an orderly trellis, the Web of Wyrd holds within it every single rune symbol and, therefore, all possibilities for the past, the present, and the future. The Web of Wyrd is a reminder of the laws of cause and effect, or karma. It tells us that all actions, however small, affect each other and that everything is connected. The Web predates the coming of Christianity in the West, and is related to an era when time was thought of as cyclical rather than linear.
Although it is a commonly held misconception that “wyrd” means the same as “weird,” meaning strange, it doesn’t. Wyrd carries the same root as the word for “worth,” or “to become.” Latterly, certain scientific theories have been expounded which seem to prove the interconnectedness of every single thing in the Universe. James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis is a notable example, showing that this Norse concept, which is so ancient as to be impossible to date, is as valid today as it was several thousand years ago.
The Theban script or Alphabet of Honorius is also called the witches’ alphabet because of its popularity in Books of Shadows, where it’s used to encode magical spells. The alphabet is first mentioned by Johannes Trithemius in his Polygraphia, published in the early part of the sixteenth century. Cornelius Agrippa, a student of Trithemius, also describes it in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy published in Antwerp in 1531. The Honorius in the alternate title is Honorius of Thebes, who wrote a learned tome on magic called The Sworn Book of Honorius.
Trithemius was an interesting character. Made a Benedictine abbot at the age of 21 in 1483, he also had a reputation of being a magician, a reputation borne out by his book Steganographia. This remarkable work was about black magic and the use of spirits as a means of long-distance communication. The book itself was written in code, and the works of Trithemius formed the cornerstone of the Golden Dawn society almost five hundred years later.
It’s possible that the witches’ alphabet started out as a Latin cipher used by early tenth-century alchemists to keep their discoveries secret. The 26 letters of the alphabet are substitute symbols for the Latin alphabet and so anyone conversant with the script-most likely to be another witch or wizard-would be likely to be able to translate it with no problems, thus rendering questionable its efficacy in disguising certain spells or charms.
WRITING OF THE MAGI
Said to have been invented by Paracelsus in the sixteenth century. Paracelsus was an alchemist and occultist who, like Cornelius Agrippa, was an acolyte of the influential Trithemius (see Witches’ alphabet). The script was used by its inventor to inscribe or engrave the names of angelic beings on amulets, which were used for healing or protection. Not much is known for certain about how Paracelsus invented this script but it is likely that it was inspired by other occult alphabets of the time.