Four Sigils. Four puzzles. Four prizes.

Heavenly languages

Dr. Dee claimed the angels gave him a heavenly language, the primordial – first ever – speech form that pre-dated all human languages. This so-called ‘Enochian’ language was channelled by his assistant, the medium Edward Kelley, during many, very long, highly focussed spiritual practises that may have included the use of mind-altering substances. Modern linguists who have researched this language do agree it has a structure that accords to the basic rules for language – it is coherent and not just gobble-de-gook or glossia (‘speaking in tongues’). In other words, you could learn this language and converse with others who have also learned it.

Whatever system Kelley employed for getting out of his own head and accessing angelic intelligence, the idea that there could be a language based on sound-shapes that have magical agency is very ancient. Jewish mystics have always claimed that the sounds – and letters – of Hebrew have vibrational potency that can be utilised for promoting changes in the material world. This concept appears in Middle-Eastern folklore in stories such as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, in which the hero overhears the magic passphrase, ‘Open Sesame’, which will open the entrance to a cave of treasure. The other famous magical command, ‘Abracadabra’, means ‘speak the blessing’, but the efficacy is in the sound vibration, not just the meaning.

Dr. Dee and Edward Kelley were practising their divination techniques during the Renaissance period, in sixteenth-century England. Earlier in the Renaissance, in the late fifteenth century, European scholars had been delighted to receive Jewish wisdom texts, exchanged by refugees expelled from Spain and Portugal. The Italian philosopher, Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), was an early adopter of kabbalistic ideas, although he used the letter ‘C’ for ‘Cabala’, instead of ‘K’ for ‘Kabbalah’, because he wanted to suggest this mystical tradition confirmed Jesus was the Messiah. It was part of an attempt by Pico and his fellow Christian scholars to convert Jews to Christianity.

Another scholar, Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), collated an enormous amount of magical information in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Beth and Dan get to see a very old copy of this text when they visit the museum in Boscastle in Sigil I. Both Pico and Agrippa acknowledged they were entrusted with this wisdom by Jewish mecubals – kababalists.

It is in Agrippa’s work that the Writing of the Malachim (angels), used for The Angels Script cards, and the Celestial Writing, which Naomi painted on to her priestess gown, are set out clearly for esoteric enthusiast. These magical alphabets use characters made up of small circles and lines, with each one named after a Hebrew letter. You would be hard pressed to spot any resemblance between the characters in the Writing of the Malachim and the original Hebrew letters. Also, this alphabet has twenty-three letters, not twenty-two, as in Hebrew. If there is some historical or practical reason for this anomaly, I haven’t yet discovered what that might be. However, if you look closely at the Celestial Writing, which does have twenty-two characters, you can see similarities with Hebrew. Many of these characters are found in ancient magical texts, including the Sefer ha’Malakh Raziel. Sometimes called ‘ring letters’ or ‘eye-writing’, no one knows for certain where or when they were derived, but similar characters have been found in Greco-Egyptian texts of late antiquity. They certainly pre-date mediaeval Kabbalah and are non-Jewish in origin. In the late centuries BCE and the early period after Christ they were adopted by Jewish magical practitioners – possibly as codes – in order to avoid using the original Hebrew letters, which were regarded as the sacred province of priests.

It is more correct to call these letters ‘characters’, rather than ‘symbols’, because they have historically been called charactêres. The technical term ‘characters’ in Aramaic was kalqtitaria*, from two words kol (‘all’) and qtitaria (‘knots’). Knots, of course, are associated with the idea of ‘binding’, which is closely associated with magical practice. – as also is the concept of ‘spelling’: to say a magic word is to cast a spell, and the spell can also be written, but you must get your spelling right! So, we can assume that the circles, or rings, on the characters are knots – decisive and precise points that ‘tie’ the otherwise unlimited flow of the straight lines.

Here are the two alphabets, the Writing of the Malakhim and the Celestial Writing, as I discovered them through Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, along with the Hebrew alphabet:

Writing of the Malakhim — AgrippaWriting of the Malakhim

The Celestial Writing — Agrippa

The Celestial Writing

* This term sometimes turns up in later Islamic magical texts as qalafteriat.

Heavenly languages