The Theosophical Society in America

Local Groups

President’s Diary

Printed in the Winter 2017  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: BoydTim, "President’s Diary" Quest 105.1 (Winter 2017): pg. 34-35

After we returned from Adyar at the beginning of July, it was time for our semiannual board of directors meetings. All eight members of the board were present for the three-day meeting. As usual, the board had a chance to review reports from the various departments and meet with department heads. From time to time the suggestion arises that it might be more efficient to conduct these meetings by Skype or some other conferencing software. I have always resisted this idea. Almost 60 percent of our members are “members at large,” meaning that they are not affiliated with a group. For most, this condition is unavoidable, as so many people live at a distance from any TS group, but it does have some consequences. The study of Theosophy necessarily involves more than reading and thinking. At its core, it is about relationship. For the leaders of the TSA, the interaction with each other and immersion in the mission and functioning of the organization is vital.

Immediately following on the board meeting was our 130th annual Summer National Convention, this year celebrating the 125th anniversary of HPB’s passing. The theme for the conference was “The Legacy of H.P. Blavatsky: Inspiration, Influence, Implications.” As has become the custom, our members filled every seat in the place. Our presenters were a stellar group of international speakers. After an absence of several years, we had invited Stephan Hoeller, author and Gnostic bishop, to address the conference. In addition to his two talks, he conducted a special ceremony of blessing at the shrine to Mother Mary on the Olcott grounds. In that ceremony, Stephan presented a figurine of the divine feminine to my wife, Lily, in recognition of her work in restoring the shrine.

Other speakers at the convention were author and lecturer Ed Abdill; Trân-Thi-Kim-Diêu, past president of the French TS; Doss McDavid, professor of medical physics; and Michael Gomes, Theosophical historian par excellence. Mitch Horowitz, vice-president and executive editor at Tarcher Perigee books, made his first appearance at one of our conventions and was truly impressive. Mitch is also the author of Occult America and One Simple Idea, two excellent books that give an historical perspective on esoteric and New Age movements in the U.S. He contributed an exciting, inspiring, and thought-provoking examination of HPB’s monumental contributions. We look forward to having him back again.

As is the norm, at this year’s SNC we also had an evening of music, but not just any music. Five years ago, when I first came into the role of TSA president, my first major activity was hosting the Dalai Lama’s TSA-sponsored visit to Chicago. At that time a number of people were reaching out to contact me about becoming involved in the occasion. One of them was a man named Michael Fitzpatrick. He had played cello for His Holiness to open his presentations at a number of venues worldwide. By the time Michael had gotten in touch with me, our event was already tightly scheduled. He flew in from Los Angeles anyway to support the Dalai Lama and our efforts in hosting him. He introduced himself to me at the event, and I invited him to come out to Olcott and play for our members. He accepted, and his performance was spellbinding.

This year, when I was thinking about whom to invite for our musical evening, I reached out to Michael. He is a world-class musician, and as might be expected, he is a very busy man. His schedule was booked. In talking with him, I told him that this would be my last convention as TSA president, that he had played me into office, and I wanted for him to play me out. He said he would try to arrange his schedule. Long story short, coming directly from a private engagement for Pope Francis, he arranged to perform at our convention and treated us to another magical evening.

In mid-August Lily, my daughter, Angelique, and I left for Italy for a much-needed holiday. While in Rome we had an opportunity to spend an afternoon with Antonio Girardi, president of the TS Italy, and Patrizia Calvi, his right hand. They had taken the train down from Vicenza in the north so that we could have some time together. It was a very good meeting done in true “dolce vita” style.

After a truly relaxing several days in Italy, it was on to Naarden in the Netherlands for a weeklong series of meetings. Four events coincided with our visit: (1) a meeting of the council of the European Federation of Theosophical Societies, composed of the general secretaries (presidents) and presidential representatives of the various nations in Europe; (2) Europe Day, hosted by the International Theosophical Centre (ITC) in Naarden; (3) a meeting of the council of the ITC; and (4) a brainstorming and planning meeting with the European leaders. Obviously, it was a high-energy time.

One of my discoveries upon being elected as TS international president was that I was the head of the ITC in Naarden. Since that time I have been traveling to the center annually for a variety of meetings. The first year the Dutch section organized a “Dutch Day” with the president that drew about 100 members. The next year they resisted the urge to call it “Double Dutch Day,” which has negative connotations, going back to some differences with the British. Instead it was called “Another Dutch Day.” This year, with the presence of so many representatives from across Europe, they went for “Europe Day.” It was another well-attended event, with members coming from England, France, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia, Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

When I returned from Europe, it was time for Olcott’s biggest single event of the year—TheosoFest. TheosoFest is our annual open house for the local community. We have been doing the event each year for the last eighteen years. Many families and individuals look forward to it. We invite vendors with a variety of products and services related to health of body, mind, and spirit—artists, massage therapists, spiritual movements, books, crystals, etc. During the course of the day we present more than forty Theosophical and related talks and meditation sessions. Last year, we finally broke the mythical attendance number of 2000. Because of our growing success, it was clear that this time around we would certainly exceed all previous numbers, and we did. Attendance was almost 3000; more members joined in a single day that ever before (forty, in addition to numerous membership renewals); bookstore sales hit an all-time record; we had 140 vendors (up from last year’s 100) and had to turn away another twenty; the talks had a higher attendance that ever before; and our staff and volunteers parked over 1300 cars (up from 1000). Next year we will have to decide just how big we want it to be—a nice position to be in.

Next up was a visit to our Besant Branch in Cleveland, Ohio. The Besant Branch is one of our most solid longtime groups in the Midwest. They are a wonderful example of the possibility for strong people with diverse opinions to work together for a common cause. I had not visited the group for about twenty years. Since my last visit, they have expanded their space to include the neighboring quarters in the mall location that they occupy. It is a lovely spot, with an ample library, meeting room, reading and meditation room, kitchen, and small bookstore. As guests, we were well-hosted for the three days that I presented programs.

Then it was time to head back to Adyar. When I arrived, the first order of business was an early morning get-together with the young crew from the Chennai Trekkers Club, who have been diligently working to clean up the accumulated trash along the riverbank from last year’s flooding. About sixty of them gathered at 6:30 a.m. for some snacks and tea, which we served at our Leadbeater Chambers kitchen. I had a chance to talk to the group.

Later in the week I inaugurated a photo exhibition at our Adyar Library and Research Centre. For the past twenty years, Dr. A. Chandrashekar has been coming to our campus almost daily, photographing the flora and fauna of the place. Over that time he has accumulated some incredible nature photos. One of our members arranged to frame 233 of them for the exhibition. They will be on display through the International Convention in January.

Next we traveled to the city of Alleppey in the state of Kerala for the Kerala Federation’s annual meeting, a one-hour flight south and west from Chennai. It was a good series of meetings in a city that has been described as the “Venice of the East” because of its many natural canals.

From Alleppey we drove to Kochi to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Shree Sankara Lodge. They had arranged a big event with an outdoor tent to accommodate around 100 people. The first night there was live music with a group of musicians trained by one of India’s great musical gurus. The next day was the formal celebration, with greetings, gifts, and speeches. All in all a joyous and productive trip.

Tim Boyd

Viewpoint: The Human Project

Printed in the Winter 2017  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: BoydTim, "The Human Project" Quest 105.1 (Winter 2017): pg. 8-9

By Tim Boyd, President

Tim BoydAt this point in my life I have done a significant amount of travel, yet there are still certain things that never cease to amaze me. Often I find myself waking early in the morning to go to the airport. Within a few hours I am getting off of a plane in a place whose flora and fauna, geography, climate, language, and customs have shifted dramatically from those of “home.” The outfits people wear, the ways they recognize and celebrate divinity, the foods they eat, even the way they eat their foods can seem so different. While visiting with my wife’s family in the multicultural and cosmopolitan city of Singapore, more than once I have had the experience of eating breakfast with my fingers, lunch with a spoon and fork, and dinner with chopsticks, depending on whether I found myself in an Indian, Eurasian, or Chinese community.

One side effect of travel is that you find yourself exposed to a host of differences, but also to similarities. Just scratch the surface, and shared, even universal, qualities appear. The costumes we wear are made of different materials and have different styles and colors, but we all wear clothing. The foods and the instruments we use to feed ourselves differ, but we all eat. The names, symbols, and imagery for the local concepts of divinity vary widely, but everywhere people attempt to reach out to something beyond their limited selves.

One of America’s dubious gifts to the world is the modern shopping mall. Beginning in the 1960s, this phenomenon swept across the U.S. and Europe and now has taken root in the rest of the world. It may be surprising to some, but originally the shopping mall was conceived as a community center where people would converge not only for shopping, but also for cultural activity and social interaction. In Chennai, India, where I spend a good deal of time these days, the phenomenon is relatively new. On those occasions when I have found myself at one of Chennai’s glittering new Western-style malls, I have been impressed, not with the products or shops, which closely mirror those of the rest of the world, but with the people and the vitality. Except for the oldest and the poorest, all types of people find their way there.

For someone like me, the vision of humanity on display is both fascinating and awe-inspiring. Thousands of people stream through the place on weekends and holidays. From one of the upper levels, looking down at the movement of people, their collective motion literally resembles a river—a flow of humanity. Although each person and family has their separate thoughts and particular destination, collectively all are moving as one body. Like a river, the human flow has its eddies where families break away from the motion and the children play their games or dance alone, oblivious to the surrounding crowd; or where young couples sit simply talking and enjoying a “private” moment together before rejoining the flow.

As much as we cling to the idea of ourselves as separate, self-determining individuals, when we actually look, it becomes apparent that we are subsumed in some larger life. What is so impressive is the solidarity of the human experience. However much we may cherish a sense of independence and individualism, our participation in a greater whole is undeniable and at times breaks through to our normal awareness.

Since its founding, the Theosophical Society has espoused a worldview that embraces the unity of the human family. Its First Object, “to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity,” has been emphasized again and again from the Society’s early days until now. Like anything that is profound, this unity of the human family, expressed as “universal brotherhood” in the language of the late 1800s, must be understood on many levels.

In our times it is easy to lose sight of how radical the idea of a universal brotherhood “without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color” was in 1875, when the Objects were first formulated. In the U.S., the Civil War had ended in 1865, so, just ten years prior to the TS’s founding, laws in the U.S. permitted slavery. At least in the southern part of the country, any person who could afford it could purchase another human being of African descent and own him or her as his personal property. In his inaugural address for the TS delivered on November 17, 1875 in Mott Memorial Hall in New York City, Henry Steel Olcott referred to this condition, saying that thirty years from that time, Americans would be “ashamed . . . of ever having owned a slave or countenanced human slavery.” It would take another forty-five years before it would be legal for women to vote in the U.S.

After the holocaust of World War II, and the genocidal struggles preceding it, the newly formed United Nations adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration expanded on the language of the TS’s First Object in stating that human rights were unaffected by “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

This level of understanding of the human fraternity has since been accepted and encoded in law worldwide. This rapid evolution in the collective worldview should be considered remarkable progress. Yet from the perspective of the First Object, it is superficial. The changes of the last century and a half relate merely to rights and legislation. The universal brotherhood of the First Object relates to being. In Buddhism, and in H.P. Blavatsky’s The Voice of the Silence, there is the concept of paramitas, or “perfections.” The last of these perfections is Wisdom—the direct perception of reality or truth. One component of this elevated state of seeing is the recognition of “dependent arising,” which is to say that there is nothing that exists that is not composed of countless other things and conditions. Everything arises (comes into being) dependent on other things.

One example that is sometimes given is a simple thing like a chair. The question is asked, “What is a chair?” Whether it is a three-legged stool, an elaborate throne, or some interpretive modern art rendition, we all can recognize a chair when we see one. But what makes it a chair? Is it the wood? The glue or nails used to construct it? Is it the rain and sunshine that made the wood grow? Is it the carpenter? The idea in his mind? Carried to its logical extreme, the existence of a chair, or anything else, ultimately depends on everything there is. At a fundamental level all things are interdependent. Buddhist monk and noted international teacher Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term interbeing to further stress this idea.

The Theosophical perspective on human interdependence adds some specificity to this idea. In The Secret Doctrine, HPB makes the point that our habit of regarding ourselves as independent units needs rethinking. HPB depicts the human condition from the point of view of consciousness—that humanity as a whole and its component units (us) are composed of gradations of intelligence. The human being “arises” dependent upon the interblending of three evolutionary streams (spiritual, intellectual, and physical) and upon the hierarchies of intelligent beings that guide and direct those streams. She writes, “Each of these three systems has its own laws, and is ruled and guided by different sets of the highest Dhyanis or ‘Logoi.’ Each is represented in the constitution of man . . . and it is the union of these three streams in him which makes him the complex being he now is” (The Secret Doctrine, 1.181).

From the perspective of the Ageless Wisdom, humanity, and we human beings, are more like a cooperative project than independent entities.

While this way of looking at ourselves may seem challenging, it is not as unfamiliar as we may think. At the most basic level, we are all aware that our physical bodies are composed of literally trillions of individual cells, each with its own needs, direction of growth, and expression of consciousness. Within the body, these individual cells join together to form the organs, the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, etc., each organ having its own needs, function, and consciousness that is significantly more expansive than are those of the participating cells. With the addition of the “soul,” or spiritual consciousness, this combination of diverse lives and functions becomes that greater life described as “me” or “I.”

The universal brotherhood at the heart of the Theosophical movement is rooted in oneness. There is no road to a genuine spirituality that does not lead us toward a deepening awareness of our shared experience. The Bible describes the human condition in this way: “In him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).That Divine Consciousness is everywhere present, expressing itself in us and as us. Our role is to know it, not as a mere idea or concept, but as the essential truth of our being. The motto of the Theosophical Society is “There is no religion higher than Truth”—and there is no truth higher than oneness.

Twilight Language: An Appreciation

Printed in the Winter 2017  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Levenda, Peter, "Twilight Language: An Appreciation" Quest 105.1 (Winter 2017): pg. 26-31

  Reflections on the mysterious punning language behind much of medieval art—and alchemy.

By Peter Levenda

Peter LevendaThe idea that words in foreign languages—especially ancient languages—contain great power is not new. One only has to examine the great magicians’ spell books—the grimoires—of the Renaissance era and earlier to see that Hebrew and Greek were used extensively in magical diagrams and spells composed by persons who did not have much understanding of the languages themselves. What we know as “abracadabra” or voces magicae were often nothing more than real words in foreign languages that were garbled, misspelled, and mispronounced. Popular grimoires such as the Keys of Solomon and some of the texts that can be found in truncated form in such classic works as Francis Barrett’s The Magus (1801) contain inscriptions in pidgin Hebrew and Greek alongside invocations in Latin. Often Hebrew characters themselves are poorly copied from other sources by persons with no knowledge at all of that language, so that the result is often an indecipherable scribble.

Of all the texts that comprise the Western esoteric “canon,” however, the ones most inaccessible to modern readers are those of alchemy. The alchemical authors did not need to resort to voces magicae in order to encode their work: they wrote in the vernacular. Yet the language of alchemical texts is deliberately obscure, meant to be understood only by those who presumably already know their secrets. They are texts that, at first glance, seem to be intended to deceive and confuse. Like the patter of such comedians as the American “Professor” Irwin Corey and the Mexican actor Cantinflas, they use recognizable words with appropriate syntax and grammar, but the result is meaningless speech that only sounds real but which, upon closer inspection, seems devoid of any real content.

At least that is how alchemical texts are often regarded. Commentators such as the Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung have compared alchemical language to the language of dreams and have insisted that they represent unconscious psychological processes. In a sense, that position relieves alchemical authors of the responsibility of being precise or clear in their writings. It also reduces the expectation that a nonpsychologist would be able to interpret an alchemical text. Viewing alchemical works as dream journals (to put perhaps too fine a point on it) requires us to see alchemists as a kind of secret society of people suffering from some form of mental instability who are exchanging reports of their dreams and then arguing with each other about them! While this may seem like an unkind interpretation of Jung’s work, it’s reasonable when one realizes that his informants when it came to dream interpretation were his psychotherapeutic patients.

Other observers have suggested that alchemical texts are written in a coded language that enjoys an ancient pedigree—an argument that insists on a logical context for alchemical texts rather than a purely psychological one. Robert Graves has written about a Druidic “language of the trees” that he believed to be the true language of poetry and myth, a thesis he expanded to book-length form in The White Goddess. The twentieth-century alchemist Fulcanelli has described coded instructions that are embedded in the design and ornamentation of the Gothic cathedrals in his enormously influential books The Mystery of the Cathedrals and The Dwellings of the Philosophers. More recently, in The Secrets of Nostradamus, David Ovason has examined the “green language”: the code in which the quatrains of Nostradamus are written (texts often as obscure as any alchemical treatise). In Hamlet’s Mill, Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend have gone to great lengths to suggest that the myths of Europe, Africa, and Asia are coded texts describing ancient astronomical events.

In the fourth century CE Leyden Papyrus—a Greek occult text with alchemical elements—we read of something called the “language of the birds”:

I invoke You in the names which You have in the language of the birds, in that of the hieroglyphics, in that of the Jews, in that of the Egyptians . . . in the hieratic language.

It is this ancient source that provided the inspiration for Fulcanelli’s use of the same term to refer to the “hieratic language” of the Gothic cathedrals. The classical literature of Greece and Rome refers to persons who had the ability to speak with birds and animals, an idea that presupposes a form of consciousness among the beasts that is capable of being understood by humans. It is a kind of metalanguage that does not depend on a vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, as do human languages, but which can transmit information through other means.

The citation above associates the language of the birds with hieroglyphics, Hebrew, and Egyptian: in other words, with written texts that were deemed mysterious or resistant to interpretation. Alchemical texts are written in the vernacular, however. They are written in Arabic, Latin, Greek, and eventually in modern European languages such as German and English. The type of allusive language that Fulcanelli invokes as examples of the “language of the birds” is in the vernacular as well. It employs puns as a kind of Kabbalah that relies more on the sound of words than on their dictionary meanings.

Fulcanelli’s most famous and often-repeated example is that of ars gothique as the homonymous argotique: in English, “Gothic art” as “argot”: slang or cant. To him, words that sound alike mean the same thing and can be used to explain and expand the meanings of each other.

Fulcanelli said that this secret alchemical language permeated medieval symbology and iconography. One comparatively simple example is the Crusaders’ motto Dieu le veut, “God wills it.” To Fulcanelli, this has a hidden meaning, whose pronunciation is virtually the same —Dieu le feu, “God the fire”—which, he says, “explains and justifies the badge adopted by the crusader knights and its color: a red cross borne on the right shoulder” (Fulcanelli, Dwellings, 201n.; emphasis Fulcanelli’s).

Although French is peculiarly well-suited to puns of this kind, they extend beyond the bounds of the French language. Another example cited by Fulcanelli is the name of the famous fifteenth-century alchemist Nicolas Flamel, whose “very name speaks like a pseudonym chosen on purpose.” Flamel evokes flamme, “flame,” the alchemical fire, whereas Nicolas harks back to the Greek níkē, “victory,” plus lâos, “stone,” alluding to Flamel’s alchemical success as “conqueror of the stone” (Fulcanelli, Dwellings, 265).

Fulcanelli values the type of slang known as cant, which was used as coded language by marginalized or specialist populations. It was a debased form of the vernacular which was employed by criminal gangs, for instance, as a kind of in-group jargon. The term cant—which derives from the Latin root cantus, “song”—is used to describe language that is insincere or hypocritical: in other words, deceitful communications. The example of the singsong pleas of beggars is the usual example of this usage.

Fulcanelli’s work is replete with examples of this type of communication. Moreover, he points out that this argot is used in a visual sense as well. In other words, the artistic details of the Gothic cathedrals—statues, ornaments, orientations—are a kind of slang in stone. To Fulcanelli, there is no way to extricate the visual aspect of the cathedral from the purely auditory quality of the spoken words used to describe it, and this multivalent approach is the key to understanding alchemy and its peculiar terminology. What one sees in the stonework of the cathedrals, and other medieval buildings, are clues that are decipherable only to those who speak its associated language, a language, that, moreover, requires a grounding in the classical literature of mythology, religion, and popular folklore. This connection between symbols and texts is as modern as anything by Eco or Derrida.

To take another example, there is a carving on a fifteenth-century building in the French city of Thiers. It is known as the Man of the Woods. Here is Fulcanelli’s description (in part): “This simple man with abundant, disheveled hair, and unkempt beard, this man of nature whose traditional knowledge lead [sic] him to despise the vain frivolity of the poor insane people who think they are wise, stands above the mound of stones which he tramples underfoot. He is the Enlightened one for he has received the light spiritual enlightenment” (Fulcanelli, Dwellings, 251; emphasis Fulcanelli’s).

Nevertheless, the idea that important information needs to be encoded in some form, and made inaccessible to the general population, is problematic. It is a challenge to the general notion of communication as the transfer of information. The coded works of the alchemists seem to argue for a system of communication that is the transfer of deception: a system that undermines the social contract implicit in the idea of communication.

Had the alchemical texts been written in a real code—a substitution cipher, for example, in which one letter equals another, or letters are represented by numbers—then the authors’ intention would have been more obvious. The problem with alchemical texts is that the code is not obvious from the start. The authors of these texts seem to be saying something, and using language “in the clear” to do so, and that is where the real deception lies. One reads along waiting for the text to become clear—waiting for the key to the code, so to speak—and finishes by realizing that there is no key, and that the text remains as inaccessible at the end as it was at the beginning. It seems like a trick, an elitist sort of ludibrium at the expense of the unsuspecting reader. It is a work of deception, certainly, but, paradoxically, is not a lie.

Recent approaches to the problem of language and its sudden development among primates suggest that the initial function of language was to deceive. The lie, according to these studies, is at the heart of language. Language is a symbolic system that uses symbols to represent things that may or may not exist in “reality.” Language is a medium that is based on fiction: the mere fact of tenses—past, present, and future, not to mention all the variations of these basic three, for instance, the subjunctive mood or the future perfect tense—suggests an imaginal realm of possibility rather than a report on tangible events occurring at this precise moment: “He will have bought that car by then” as opposed to “I am hungry” or “there is danger.”

Other aspects of language are also enablers of deception. Metaphors, for instance, are themselves false statements which are intended to be taken as false even though they are used to describe real events or conditions. Their utility as a form of communication is based on the general acknowledgement by the audience—the consensus—that the metaphor is not true in any kind of real sense, but is only an imaginary statement that nevertheless points towards the truth. Metaphor, as the carrier of a kind of mini-myth, serves as shorthand for the truth.

Indeed, the philosopher Sallustius (also of the fourth century CE, the same period as the Leyden Papyrus) wrote, “One may call the world a myth,” a sentiment that has gained popularity recently in the relatively new field of consciousness studies. From this perspective, the world we experience with our physical senses is a fabrication, a construct, that is not representative of reality but only of a model of reality. This idea is at the heart of alchemy, and of the twilight language employed by alchemists to reinforce that idea using the best tool at their disposal.

In an article published in this magazine a few years ago, Cherry Gilchrist addressed the idea of esoteric orders and secrecy. She pointed out that one of the usual reasons given for secrecy in occult lore was the desire to protect sacred and powerful knowledge from the profane in order to protect the world from amateur magicians. Another reason given was the necessity of maintaining a degree of security as a safeguard for the practitioners themselves, for their “psychological well-being” and to provide an environment conducive to the operations of the work (Gilchrist, 93). The article revolved around the idea of esoteric orders and secret societies and the social organization of occult practices and initiatory bodies—in other words, around ritual and ceremonial secrecy. Indeed, in England and Ireland, a jargon called Shelta was discovered among a class of Irish “gypsies” called Tinkers. It has been linked (see Sinclair) to the original stonemasons as a secret language that apprentices had to learn before they could progress to the third degree of their craft: a craft that eventually developed into today’s most famous secret society, Freemasonry.

The idea that language itself evolved out of ritual is a relatively modern one, but one that has attracted some academic attention (see Knight, 68–91). Music, dance, and mime were employed to communicate ideas: that is, something intangible but nevertheless important to the group. These cumbersome and time-consuming methods were gradually replaced or enhanced by language, which sought to do the same thing.

In fact language was used to reinforce an insider/outsider dichotomy in which “we” know what our language/words/symbols mean but “they” don’t. In some cases, this was made necessary by political or cultural considerations. Ritual practices that society would consider blasphemous, obscene, or even criminal would have to be concealed, not only during the operations themselves, but also in any discussion of them. So strategies such as cant or argotique or even Shelta were employed as a spoken code. In India, where Tantra was considered an antinomian and transgressive practice, the same need for a coded language obtained.

But there is no alchemical secret society. Alchemists in the West were not initiated, did not belong to groups that met underground, and did not derive their training in a structured way from other alchemists. So the usual reasons given for ritual secrecy do not apply in this case. Alchemists, in fact, learned their art from texts, and in this way they were peculiarly modern.

With alchemy, we have a rich literature that is full of both language and art. These media are equally obscure, with alchemical art often being described as “surreal,” and indeed the Surrealist movement of the twentieth century embraced alchemy as a kind of proto-Surrealism. But alchemical literature and art seem to insist on using communication to create distance between the author and the reader, an approach that seems counterintuitive. Why did it become necessary or desirable to employ language to render communication less rather than more effective?

The answer to this question is to be found in the very nature of language itself and in particular a subset known as “twilight language.”

Twilight language is the medium in which the texts of Indian alchemy and Tantra are written. It is a language that exists in the realm between what is “real” and what is “imaginary.” In my book The Tantric Alchemist I have shown how the twilight language of India can be used to great effect when applied to European alchemical texts, but for now we will focus on the nature of that language itself.

The term “twilight language” comes from the Sanskrit sandhyā-bhāṣā, which some scholars also have translated as “intentional language.” This is an interesting idea in light of the above, for it implies a language that defeats the purpose of language: a text that is composed of metaphors, obfuscation, and misdirection but which paradoxically is intended to reveal a hidden truth.

Speakers of a common language collaborate in the multitude of deceptions that are present in their speech. We use language to disguise our feelings, to conceal our true natures, to present ourselves in the best possible light. We deceive—ourselves and others—to such an extent that when giving evidence in a court of law we are required to take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—as if only the penalty of perjury would inspire in us a desire, finally, to be truthful about anything. (Interestingly, the word sacrament comes to us from the Latin root sacramentum, meaning “oath,” a word that also came to mean “mystery.” Fulcanelli would approve.)

When this is the case, how does one present knowledge in such a way that there can be no mistaking either the intent of the author or the truth of the subject? If one writes a text the way most authors write texts, it can be assumed that there will be something left out, something embellished, something extraneous to the matter at hand. We expect this, without even being conscious that we do. We write the way we speak, and we read the way we write. Most of the time that speech is unintentional: it comes naturally, fluidly, but full of the possibility of error, exaggeration, metaphors that can be misunderstood, and even deceptions of which the author herself or himself may not be aware. If, however, we write with intention—with knowing how each word will be recognized, understood, and interpreted—then writing transcends the normal function of language. It becomes a kind of mathematics or scientific notation, in which emotion and psyche play no role. It strives to tell the truth.

In order to do that effectively, new terms and concepts need to be introduced that will strain the normal function of language. Just as hallucinogenic drugs strain the senses and reorganize their operation, the hallucinatory texts of the alchemists force the reader to find new meanings and significance for everyday words. To make matters worse, alchemical texts often contradict each other, which only adds to the general confusion and the exasperation with which many observers treat the entire field. Yet, while one alchemical text may contradict another, each text itself is internally consistent.

Alchemical works are replete with terms such as “our mercury” and “our gold,” which are ways of signaling that the elements we know by these names are not the ones intended by the authors. This forces the reader to abandon any notion that it is possible to derive chemical compounds through a simple reading of the text. The search for a formula to turn lead into gold seems doomed to failure from the very start when terms are not defined or identified. Add to that the confusion created when impossible concepts are introduced, such as the Green Lion or Red Dragon, and you are reduced to considering the entire subject one of fancy and imagination that has no relevance to the “real,” or at least to the physical, world.

The twilight language of Indian and Chinese alchemy, however, does provide us with a key to understanding the arcane scriptures of the European alchemists for the simple reason that they employ precisely the same terminology. You will find references to dragons, mercury, gold, and all the instrumentation of the alchemical laboratory familiar to readers of Western alchemical works, such as the writings of the seventeenth-century Welsh alchemist Thomas Vaughan; the Turba philosophorum (“The Crowd of Philosophers”); the Rosarium philosophorum (“The Rose Garden of the Philosophers”); or the works of Michael Maier. The value of the twilight language rests in the discovery that the Tantrikas and the Chinese alchemists were referring not only to chemical—that is, to laboratory—processes but were insisting on biological analogues. The alembic, retort, and other lab equipment found in the secret rooms of the European “puffers” are all present in the human body as depicted in the charts and diagrams of Indian and Chinese alchemy. In fact, one will come across constant references to “semen,” “seed,” and “menstruum” as well as other biological (and especially sexual) terms in European alchemical literature, particularly in the works of Thomas Vaughan.

Is that, then, the key to understanding alchemy? Well, almost. Are references to semen and the menstruum meant to be taken literally after all? Well, yes and no. Twilight language is meant to be both literal and figurative. Biological references are only part of the puzzle; otherwise twilight language would not be necessary.

What the alchemical texts conceal, and what twilight language reveals, is a “science” and an “art”—we really do not have a word in the English language that encompasses both—that is a study of reality itself. This is not the materialist reality of the scientist alone, and it is not the reality of the artistic or religious spirit alone. Twilight language is a kind of notation that describes both physical reality and the consciousness that perceives it. To try to derive single definitions for the terms one finds in Fulcanelli or in any of the other alchemical authors is to miss the point entirely. Each term in the twilight language is multivalent as well as multivocal. Twilight language describes a process, and it is that process that is identical for everything in creation, since everything in creation proceeded from the same First Cause.

Alchemical authors constantly refer to creation, and it is important to pay attention. Alchemists attempt to reimagine, revisit, and recreate the moment of the Big Bang (or however one wants to characterize that initial impetus that gave rise to everything we know). To the alchemist, creation is ongoing. It has not stopped. The alchemists know that the universe is constantly expanding and that we are part of that expansion. Alchemists attempt to mimic that process, and it is a process that includes not only chemical transformations in the laboratory but psychobiological transformations that mirror the chemical versions.

Twilight language describes this process in a way that is applicable to all fields of human endeavor. “Our mercury” is everywhere, as is “our gold.” While it seems almost insipid—a kind of New Age “we are all one” sentiment—the alchemist means it literally, and demonstrably. It is a way of telling the absolute truth, using the same language that we employ to lie and to deceive, and turning it on its head with all its metaphors and tenses and literary allusions by making it purely intentional and deliberate. It is the paradox of twilight language that makes it so compelling, and in that tension between the word and what it represents—between the symbol and the thing symbolized—is found the truth.


De Santillana, Giorgio, and Hertha von Dechend. Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and Its Transmission through Myth. Boston: David R. Godine, 1969.

Fulcanelli. The Dwellings of the Philosophers. Translated by Brigitte Donvez and Lionel Perrin. Boulder, Colo.: Archive Press, 1999.

——. The Mystery of the Cathedrals. Translated by Mary Sworder. Las Vegas: Brotherhood of Light, 1990.

Gilchrist, Cherry. “The Open Secret of the Esoteric Orders.” Quest, summer 2013, 90–93, 120.

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1948.

Jung, C.G. Alchemical Studies. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton/Bollingen, 1983.

Knight, Chris. “Ritual/Speech Coevolution: A Solution to the Problem of Deception.” In James R. Hurford, Michael Studdert-Kennedy, and Chris Knight, eds. Approaches to the Evolution of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, 68–91.

Levenda, Peter. The Tantric Alchemist: Thomas Vaughan and the Indian Tantric Tradition. Lake Worth. Fla.: Ibis, 2015.

Ovason, David. The Secrets of Nostradamus. London: Random House, 1997.

Sinclair, A.T. “The Secret Language of Masons and Tinkers,” The Journal of American Folklore, 22:86, Oct.–Dec. 1909, 353–364.

Peter Levenda is an author specializing in esoterica and historical investigation. His esoteric works include such titles as The Dark Lord; The Tantric Temples; and Stairway to Heaven: Chinese Alchemists, Jewish Kabbalists, and the Art of Spiritual Transformation.




From the Editor's Desk

Printed in the Winter 2017  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: SmoleyRichard, "From the Editor's Desk" Quest 105.1 (Winter 2017): pg. 2

Richard SmoleyIt is a kind of disease to which editors are prone. Since I have been writing editorials for over thirty years now, I have had a high level of exposure.

One might call it The Great Problem of Our Time. Sooner or later, it would seem, every editor feels the need to weigh in on this Great Problem and sententiously proclaim what is to be done about it.

So I hope you will indulge me.

I am not thinking of any of the problems that may immediately come to mind: poverty, inequality, war, pollution, climate change. These are all real and urgent matters. But I am not singling out any one of them. Rather I would like to point to the mentality that prevents sensible responses to these problems.

The best approach to any problem is to face it soberly, sensibly, and realistically. It is neither to blind oneself to this problem nor to freeze in fright at the sight of it. In short (to invoke Aristotle’s concept of virtue) it is a mean—between denial on the one hand and panic on the other. (I am reminded of a quip someone once made about Britain’s Conservative Party: “The Conservative Party never panics except in a crisis.”)

This sober realism is precisely the mentality that is most needed in the world today, but it is the mentality that the cultural climate is least likely to foster. If any problem is brought to public attention, the impulse is to make it seem so urgent that unless we drop everything and run around frantically, all will be lost. Even and particularly with urgent questions (e.g., climate change), this is the worst possible attitude to take—almost.

Still worse is the opposite: a blank refusal to see that there is anything wrong at all. “This is the just the way things are”; “this sort of thing happens and has always happened”; “it’s all hype.” Unconsciously, the problem is perceived as being so great that you can’t do anything about it, so you might as well throw up your hands and walk away. Often there are powerful entities who find it in their interest to promote this mentality.

Thus the public mood constantly veers between panic and denial. Such swings occur even within the mind of an individual, and it is a rare person, I suspect, who does not face strong temptations to confront his or her own problems in the same way.

Under no circumstances would I say that this back-and-forth swing between panic and denial is anything new. History shows that it has existed for at least as long as history itself has existed. But current conditions exacerbate this tendency, leading to more panic and more denial.

Here I’m thinking of social media—Facebook and its many relatives. Social media reached a mass audience around six or eight years ago. They have not changed anything fundamentally, but they have accelerated forces that used to move much more slowly. Most importantly, they have made it much easier to respond to someone immediately, even if the two people are very remote and even if (as often happens) they don’t really know each other. Most people have Facebook friends that they have never met in person, and even if they don’t, it’s quite possible to get into an angry interchange with somebody else’s friend.

Until very recently there was a reasonably close correlation between physical proximity and speed of response. You certainly can respond in a hostile way to someone who’s in your presence, but this generates an energetic tension (as well as possible physical danger) that most people find unpleasant. The telephone creates somewhat more distance, but if you have an argument with someone on the phone, that tension will still arise. The written letter, sent by regular mail, has the slowest speed of response, and this has certain advantages. You can write a nasty letter to someone, but you may not get around to mailing it immediately, and you may decide to tear it up the next day. I believe Lincoln once advised someone never to post an angry letter on the day it was written, and that was good advice.

So there is much in the current communications climate that militates for impulsiveness, and little that promotes self-control. But it is precisely this self-control that is a prerequisite, not only for spiritual advancement, but for decent and civil relations in society. And it is this civility that has eroded so steeply over the past few years.

Many spiritual traditions speak about the need for impulse control. In the old esoteric Chrstian tradition, these impulses were called passions. They are not really what we think of as passion today. Rather they are rapid and more or less spontaneous reactions that arise naturally in everyone—not only lust and greed, but anger. The kind of anger that flashes across your mind when someone cuts you off in traffic is a good example.

It’s valuable to master these passions, not only for the sake of one’s fellow humans, but because they are composed of emotional energy—energy that is usually wasted, but if handled right, can go back into the organism for useful purposes.

Today’s communications give us that much more opportunity to practice this kind of self-control. Let’s hope they also give us that much more motivation.

Richard Smoley

The Tongue of Angels

Printed in the Winter 2017  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: SmoleyRichard, "The Tongue of Angels" Quest 105.1 (Winter 2017): pg. 20-25

An Introduction to the “Enochian” Language of Dr. John Dee

By Aaron Leitch

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels . . .
                                                          —1 Corinthians 13:1

Aaron LeitchThe late 1500s was a tumultuous time for England. Previous to this era, the nation had been an irrelevant hick town on the edge of Europe. The true cultural centers of the Western world were found in places like Germany, Italy, and Spain. However, things were about to change drastically, as the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw the advent of the Elizabethan era of England—and the world would never be the same.

Queen Elizabeth’s coronation took place in November 1558, and she immediately set about establishing the Church of England, scoring a massive victory for the growing Protestant movement and ultimately diluting Catholic political power in Europe. Most often, her father —King Henry VIII—is credited with the creation of the Anglican church, and he certainly was the one who broke with the pope in 1534 and founded the English Protestant movement. But King Henry’s church was essentially no different than Catholicism; it differed only in refusing to recognize the authority of the pope. It would be Queen Elizabeth who established the Anglican church that we know today. Her actions, understandably, created something of a civil war in England, mainly a political war between the newer Protestants against the entrenched Catholics—and it was far from bloodless. People were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered when they were suspected of being “rebels” against whichever side was in power at a given time.

Meanwhile, England was growing and beginning to move toward its imperial destiny. It was organizing its navy, establishing new trade routes and diplomatic relations with foreign nations (such as Russia), and preparing to make legal claims to large portions of the New World. More and more, England took advantage of new technological advances from Europe (such as navigation equipment) to establish itself as a force in global politics. The queen’s spymaster established the most elaborate network of “intelligencers” the world had ever seen, and for the first time in its history someone suggested that England should concern itself with establishing its own empire.

The man who made that suggestion—recording the term British Empire for the first time in history—was Dr. John Dee. He was Elizabeth’s court philosopher as well as her longtime personal friend and one of her primary advisers. Dee was at the very heart of the Elizabethan era and the changes it initiated: he brought the new navigation tech home from his studies abroad, causing Sir Walter Raleigh to consult with him before embarking for the New World. Dee taught the queen’s spymaster how to use elaborate encryption techniques, and lobbied for England to take political and military action against its largest rival: Spain. Dee was a true Renaissance man—educated in mathematics, astronomy, new technology, medicine, scientific experimentation, and—most important for our current study—magick and mysticism. (Magick is a spelling favored by many occultists today to distinguish occult magic from ordinary stage magic.)

As stated in his journals, it was his desire to extend his education beyond the realm of human knowledge—most of which he had already mastered. Therefore, like the prophets of biblical times, Dee sought direct communication with God and his angels. To this end, Dee employed the talents of the medium Sir Edward Kelley. They used the technique of scrying (sometimes spelled skrying) to contact these entities. Scrying is a technique by which one sees images of alternative realities by gazing into a suitable medium. Dee and Kelley used a fairly standard crystal ball for this purpose. Their scrying records may even be the origin of the popular Western image of the old wizard gazing into a crystal ball.

Together, the men performed evocations of angelic intelligences such as Annael (archangel of Venus), Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. Under the tutelage of these familiar archangels, the men were introduced to a host of previously unknown angels, along with a detailed system of magick and invocations written in the celestial tongue itself.

Today, the language Dee and Kelley received from their scrying sessions is often referred to by the misnomer “Enochian.” This comes from the fact the system of angel magick recorded in Dee’s journals was said (by the angels) to have originated with the Biblical prophet Enoch. Enoch (Genesis 5:18–24) was the seventh generation down the line from Adam, and he was said to have been taken bodily into heaven to explore the realm of the angels. A tradition also arose in which Enoch was said to have recorded a small portion (a mere 366 books) of the wisdom found in the heavenly Book of Life (mentioned throughout Revelation, especially chapter 5). This Holy Book contained every pronouncement made in the Court of God, from the commands used in the Creation all the way to the words that will bring about the End Times.

According to legend, Enoch’s books had been lost in the biblical deluge, and the angels Dee and Kelley contacted claimed they were reseeding that lost wisdom into humanity through the two Englishmen. Thus Dee’s system of angel magick is termed “Enochian,” and the divine language he recorded has taken the same moniker. However, in Dee’s journals, the angels (and Dee himself) referred to it by various names, such as the “Angelical tongue,” the “Adamical language,” and even the “first language of God-Christ.”

These latter two terms are somewhat strange, but they are vastly important if we want to understand what exactly Dee believed he was recording. His interest in the language of the angels was not his own personal curiosity; he was, in fact, only one in a long line of scholars who believed in the existence of—and made some attempt to discover—the primordial tongue of the human race.

Searching for the Primordial Language

From the very advent of the spoken word, language has been considered something sacred and magical. To be able to share ideas between people was a powerful innovation, as was the ability to name and train work animals, such as hunting and herding dogs. To know the true name of a person also granted some power over them: as our legal systems became more sophisticated, the true name of a person (especially in the form of a signature) became a very powerful political tool—and it remains such to this day.

Right from the start, language was associated with the spiritual realm. Some of our earliest words, and the hieroglyphs that represented them in writing, were received by shamans communing with their patron gods in ecstatic trance. And of course many of these words were applied as names for the spiritual forces of nature. As with the work animals mentioned previously, knowing the true name of any given spirit—along with the words of command to which it would respond—was to have control over it. To this day, both the name and signature of a spirit is considered a necessity if the spirit is to be addressed or exorcised.

By the time we reach the historical era, we find that spoken language has already ceased to be a state-of-the-art technology, and has instead become a form of “wisdom from the past.” As both speech and writing became more common in the secular world, priests began to look toward languages of the past for sacred and magical considerations. For example, the priests of Babylon used Sumerian—the language of their predecessors—as their sacred tongue. Likewise, the priests of any Egyptian dynasty were most interested in the hieroglyphics used by previous dynasties, which were of course engraved upon many ancient temples and monuments throughout the land. This practice continued well into the Christian era, when dead languages such as Latin, Greek, and biblical Hebrew became the paramount sacred languages of the West. The fact that these languages were “dead”—meaning they were no longer in use among common people and therefore no longer subject to change—made them perfect to set aside and use only for holy rites.

As priests and mystics began to look into the past for sacred language, they eventually developed the belief that all languages must trace their roots to some original prototype. If the language of your predecessors was more sacred and powerful than your own, then surely the language of their predecessors must be more holy still. Go back far enough, and one should theoretically reach the First Language in its pure form—exactly as the gods had handed it to the first humans. This is the language that would have been used to hold familiar conversation with the gods and angels, and it would have likewise been used to give all things in the world their first—that is, true—names.

(At this point I must mention a modern science fiction novel that happens to illustrate these ideas: Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. In the story, the primordial tongue is presented as the original programming language of the human brain—and knowing the language allowed people to issue irresistible commands directly into others’ minds, or even erase them completely.)

We can see echoes of this tradition throughout biblical literature, especially in the book of Genesis and certain apocryphal texts. The saga of human language begins in Genesis with God himself using some kind of language to “speak” the universe into existence. Then, a few days later, Adam is given the task of applying names to all things in the world. Because the Bible does not mention Adam creating or learning a new language, and because he obviously holds familiar conversation with God, angels, and even the animals of the garden, it is generally assumed he was speaking the same language that God spoke in the first chapter of Genesis.

In fact, the Bible makes no mention of humans creating their own language until many generations later, at the incident at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). There we find the biblical explanation for all of the various languages that spread across the face of the earth: the rulers of Babel (Babylon) began construction of a massive tower that would have reached the palaces of heaven. In order to put a stop to this hubris, God confused the builders’ tongues—making it impossible for them to communicate with one another, and bringing an end to the construction project. Eventually these people went their separate ways and founded their own nations, thus giving rise to the differing cultures of the world.

This mythos—whether or not we take it as literal history—raises all sorts of intriguing questions. What was the pre-Babel tongue like? Was it the same as the language Adam spoke in Eden? Most importantly, are there ways to rediscover the original Adamic tongue, and what would it mean for humanity if we could? Could it be used to program minds, as we see in science fiction like Snow Crash? Would it allow us to speak directly to God and his angels—thereby granting incredible magical power to the person who could speak it?

For nearly all of recorded history, mystics have sought to reestablish access to Enoch’s lost wisdom and the Celestial Book from whence it was derived. Other cultures have had their own myths and names for this same concept. The Egyptians called it the Book of Thoth, and recorded their own sagas about human attempts to possess it. Early Hebrew legends speak of the Sepher Raziel (“Book of the Secrets of God”), which was given to Adam in Eden, although he lost it at the Fall. However, once we reach Renaissance England, we find that it is the legend of Enoch that has captured the attention of most Jewish and Christian mystics. They wished to astrally visit the heavens—like Enoch, Ezekiel, or St. John—and catch a glimpse of the Celestial Book of Life and the primordial tongue Adam had used to name and speak with all things.

For a very long time, biblical Hebrew was considered an example of the Adamic language. The Old Testament was written in it, and therefore all of the words and prophecies that came to mankind through the ancient prophets and forefathers were in Hebrew. Surely, then, this was the same language used by God and the angels in the formation and direction of the universe. (This tradition is reflected in the proto-Kabbalistic text Sepher Yetzirah, “Book of Formation.”) However, non-Jewish Western mystics suspected that what we call biblical Hebrew was not the Hebrew Adam would have known. The story of the Tower of Babel did not say the original language survived the incident. Besides, they knew that languages tend to change drastically over time. While they accepted Hebrew as a sacred language, they tended to believe it could only be an imperfect reflection of the original celestial tongue.

During the Renaissance, a line of famous occultists and cryptographers began to experiment with the rediscovery of Adam’s language. In the early 1500s, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa wrote his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, in which he devoted many chapters to methods of encrypting and decrypting names of God and angels. Among this material, he also recorded three of the earliest Renaissance examples of divine writing: Celestial, Malachim (Angelic), and Passing the River (see diagram 1).

These are not languages, but alphabets given for encoding divine names upon talismans. Because Hebrew was considered a descendant of the true Adamic language, it is no surprise to see Hebrew reflected in these magickal alphabets. All three share similarities to Hebrew in letter shape and direction of writing (right to left). They differ from Hebrew in that they are very thin scripts: most of the letters are formed by small circles connected by thin lines. The letters of the Celestial alphabet, we are told, were formed by drawing out certain star patterns and connecting the lines (just as we do with constellations). Thus, what we see in the Celestial alphabet is an attempt to create a language of the heavens, a reflection of what Adam may have learned in Eden. The two following alphabets, Malachim and Passing the River, appear to be later adaptations of this same alphabet. (Malachim, especially, seems to be a corrupted “version” of Celestial, with several of the letters switched around. I recommend sticking with Celestial.)

In the mid-1500s, we find an obscure alchemical text called the Voarchadumia by Pantheus, containing one of the first examples of a celestial script that is not merely a variant form of Hebrew (though the letters certainly show signs of Hebrew, as well as Greek, influence). This appears to be the next step in the search for the Divine Language. After illustrating the Hebrew alphabet and a magickal alphabet that appears to be a mixture of Agrippa’s three scripts, the book goes on to give an “Alphabet of Enoch.” This alphabet uses thick line strokes, is written from left to right, and corresponds to our twenty-six familiar Latin letters. No mythological context is given for this alphabet; however, we can assume they are supposed to represent the language Enoch saw in the Celestial Tablets.

Diagram 2. An alphabet from the mid–sixteenth century text Voarchadumia.

What stands out most about the Voarchadumia’s Enochian alphabet is its similarities to the Angelical alphabet later recorded by Dee. He owned a copy of Voarchadumia and had annotated it heavily, showing a keen interest in the magickal alphabets it reveals. There is a definite similarity between the style of Dee’s Angelical letters and the Enochian script of Voarchadumia. While none of Dee’s letters actually appear in the earlier text, it would be remiss not to list this book as one of many inspirations behind Dee’s material.

Dee recorded a new alphabet as revealed by the angels, advancing another step beyond Pantheus’s attempt. Instead of merely leaving us a mystical alphabet, he also transcribed an entire book and several lengthy invocations written in a never before seen (and still largely undecipherable) language. For the first time, the Adamic tongue was presented as a proper language in and of itself, rather than a mere substitution-cipher alphabet plagiarized from Hebrew. The book given to Dee was nothing less than the Book of Life, the Celestial Tablets that had once been transcribed by Enoch. The Angels called it the Book of the Speech from God (in Angelical: Loagaeth), and told Dee they were reintroducing this holy text into humanity to rectify and reconcile all earthly religions.

Since the publication of Dee’s journals, his Angelical language has become foundational to much of Western occultism. Though it has never supplanted Hebrew as a sacred language, it has certainly taken its place alongside it. It was adopted by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the late 1800s, and has been disseminated from there throughout the Western esoteric world.

The Angelical Tongue of Dee and Kelley

The saga of the Angelic language recorded in Dee’s diaries begins on March 26, 1583, when Liber Loagaeth (containing the words of the Creation) is revealed to Kelley. He described the book as “all full of squares”—each page was later revealed to contain a 49 x 49 grid—and written in a completely alien tongue. We have only small samples of the language: including Liber Loagaeth, the famed “Forty-Eight Angelic Keys” (invocations for summoning the angels), and several tablets and seals containing divine and angelic names.

<caption>Sample of text from Liber Loagaeth, transliterated into English letters. According to Dee’s angels, these lines are a “preface to the creation of angels” during the initial formulation of the universe.<end caption>

The Enochian language possesses its own grammar and syntax (not derived from Hebrew), as well as a unique alphabet of twenty-one characters. The latter was first shown to Kelley on May 6, 1583 in a simple script form. Then, later, its proper, “talismanic” form was revealed. The exact shapes of these letters are important, as are the exact shapes of Hebrew letters when used to write holy scripture or inscribe talismans:

The Archangel Gabriel says the following on April 21, 1583:

Whereby even as the mind of man is moved at an ordered speech, and is easily persuaded in things that are true, so are the creatures of God stirred up in themselves, when they hear the words wherewithal they were nursed and brought forth: For nothing moveth, that is not persuaded: neither can any thing be persuaded that is unknown. The Creatures of God understand you not, you are not of their Cities: you are become enemies, because you are separated from him that Governeth the City by ignorance.

Gabriel goes on to describe how Adam lost the sacred language when he fell from grace, and thus constructed a new tongue based on his imperfect memory of the language of Eden. This new language—a pale reflection of the original—is described by Gabriel as what we would call biblical Hebrew. That language was the panglobal human tongue until the Tower of Babel—after which, Gabriel says, biblical Hebrew was similarly lost and replaced with what we know as modern Hebrew. But the original language of God-Christ (the Creator; see John 1), the tongue of the angels and of Eden, could be used to perform miracles.

Gabriel also explains that Angelical is a magical language of power rather than an earthly spoken tongue. Unfortunately, outside of instructions for using the Forty-Eight Keys and Liber Loagaeth to summon the angels, very little is said about how to use the language and its alphabet for other magical purposes. We are, however, given a rather large (but too often overlooked) clue when Gabriel insists that Angelical “is preferred before that which you call Hebrew.” Dee didn’t speak Hebrew on a day-to-day basis—he used it strictly as a sacred and magical language. Thus it is very likely Gabriel was telling Dee to use Angelical in the same way he would otherwise use Hebrew: for practical magick.

Dee was familiar with several techniques used with Hebrew letters or the Hebrew-derived magical alphabets. Most of these can be found in Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy, which Dee owned and studied very carefully. Elements of that work can be found throughout his Enochian system of magick. The book is even mentioned once in Dee’s diaries, in connection with the reception of a system for remote viewing of foreign nations. Therefore when we are faced with such an enigma as the Angelical alphabet (and how to use it), it makes sense to return to this source material, to see what Agrippa had to say concerning sacred alphabets and characters.

The relevant sections of Agrippa’s work are contained in book 3, and begin with chapter 23, entitled, appropriately enough, “Of the Tongue of the Angels, and of Their Speaking amongst Themselves, and with Us.” Over the next few chapters, we are taught various methods of discovering and formulating names for angels and spirits set over anything in existence. They include everything from obtaining the names in a codelike fashion from sacred scripture to creating new names through various Kabbalistic cipher tables. He tells us in chapter 24:

But the masters of the Hebrews think that the names of angels were imposed upon them by Adam, according to that which is written, the Lord brought all things which he had made unto Adam, that he should name them, and as he called anything, so the name of it was. Hence, the Hebrew mecubals [Kabbalists] think, together with magicians, that it is in the power of man to impose names upon spirits, but of such a man only who is dignified, and elevated to his virtue by some divine gift, or sacred authority . . . which names then no otherwise than oblations, and sacrifices offered to the gods, obtain efficacy and virtue to draw any spiritual substance from above or beneath, for to make any desired effect. (emphasis in the original)

Of course, Agrippa uses Hebrew throughout the text to illustrate the various methods of name generation. However, he also states the following in chapter 27:

Because the letters of every tongue . . . have in their number, order, and figure a celestial and divine original, I shall easily grant this calculation concerning the names of spirits to be made not only by Hebrew letters, but also by Chaldean, and Arabic, Egyptian, Greek, Latin, and any other, the tables being rightly made after the imitation of the precedents.

And that brings us full circle—right back to the concept of the primordial language. That is what Agrippa is referring to when he suggests that every language has a “celestial and divine original.” Because of this original celestial tongue, any of the post-Babel languages will bear some distant connection to it. He therefore insists that characters from any known sacred language can be used in place of Hebrew for his magical and talismanic techniques.

Dee simply took this to the logical conclusion: use the characters of that celestial original instead. And, sure enough, we get to see Dee doing exactly that in a later book of his journals, where he cryptically describes the creation of an Angelical talisman for a neighbor in need of emotional healing:

<caption>John Dee’s Angelical talisman (front side), created for his

neighbor Isabel Lister, who was suffering from severe depression

and tendencies toward self-harm.<end caption>


The Angelical (often called “Enochian”) language clearly did not arise in a cultural vacuum. It was, in fact, the culmination of a generations-long search for the primordial language spoken by Adam in Paradise. There is little academic doubt that such a language never existed in the physical realm; the different languages of the world evolved on their own, without need of a Babel to explain their existence. There was never a universal human language. However, I firmly believe that human beings really did receive the first words from their gods, that speech and, later, writing were originally a closely guarded magical technology, and that sacred languages do contain real inherent power to this very day.

Every culture has its sacred tongue(s), and I believe Dee wanted to discover a sacred language that belonged purely to Christianity, rather than adopting those of other cultures such as Hebrew and Greek. To this end, he utilized magical techniques to summon the angels and simply ask them directly. They responded. Whether you believe this to be literally true or metaphorical is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Dee got a rather large response—more than any known mystic before him—and the West was given an elaborate sacred tongue that has gone on to have a massive impact on our mysticism and occultism.

I believe that Angelical is the true sacred language of the West. Yet it has only been within the last few decades that we have come to understand it (to some extent) in the context in which Dee originally intended. Much of what we have remains untranslated (including the vast bulk of Loagaeth itself). That means there is much work left to be done, and we haven’t even begun to see the impact this language will have on the Western Mystery Tradition for generations to come.

Zorge (“In Friendship”)

August 2016

Aaron Leitch is a senior member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the academic Societas Magica. A scholar, practitioner, and teacher of Western Hermeticism, the Solomonic grimoire tradition, and Enochian magick, he has authored such books as Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, The Angelical Language: Volumes 1 and 2, and The Essential Enochian Grimoire.


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