I love linguistics and the way language morphs and changes over time as peoples carry it from one location to another, mixing and adding new words and ideas.
We can see a little of this in alphabets and how they share commonalities, but also in how they differ.
And alphabets that are commonly used for magick or occult practices share some of those same characteristics, especially those that once (or still) functioned as linguistic alphabets, such as Greek, Hebrew, and Runes.
So here’s a quick run down (in no particular order) of what alternative alphabets are out there that you might encounter in your occult or witchcraft studies or practices:
This is arguably one of the oldest alphabets or systems of writing documented that has been used in spiritual, occult, or magickal writing, dating back to at least 4000 B.C.E. Hieroglyphs were the formal and intricate writing system used by the Ancient Egyptians until sometime around 600 C.E., at which point all traces of Pagan spiritual or religious writings and references were abolished, banned, or suppressed in that region, and they were essentially lost until later in the 1800s when discovered by archaeologists.
The origins of ogham (also can be spelled ogam) are unknown, but it appeared in the Celtic world first on stone markers such as memorials, burial stones, and stones at crossroads. It is a script based on trees in the Celtic world and each of the original 20 symbols represents a letter or sound, but also a type of tree. Ogham can also be used as a divinatory method, similar to Runes.
Ogham is often referred to as the ‘oracle of the trees’ and as an artistic script its quite beautiful. Legend tells of its creation by Ogma, the Celtic god, and one of the legendary Tuatha De Danaan. Part of the divinatory element of the ogham symbols is knowing what characteristics and correspondences are possessed by each tree, but also the folklore associated with that tree. Ogham, when read as divinatory symbols, can be read upright or reversed, similar to other systems like Runes or cartomancy.
For instance, Ailm represents the pine or fir tree, which is a tree of ecstasy and elation. This is a symbol of letting joy and elation lead you through an experience. Adopt a sense of wonder, as you’ll be struck by many realizations. The pine varieties are all evergreen, bringing their color to even the coldest winters. They pre-date most other trees in the Celtic region, as they are part of an ancient group of conifers. Pines are revered as protectors, mystical, enduring, and even terrifying in their size and breadth.
Long used by occultists due to its use in some of the earliest writings in mysticism, such as the Qabbalah, Hebrew has even earlier origins dating to possibly even before the 10th century B.C.E. Those forms of Early Hebrew vary significantly from what became the more commonly used Hebrew script around the first or second century C.E. Modern Hebrew alphabet was influenced on the Early Hebrew alphabet, but is more closely connected to Aramaic, which it eventually replaced as a dominant form of writing.
Hebrew is a worthwhile alphabet system to learn and understand if you follow Qabbalistic writings or practices, as well as if you want to be able to read some of the original Judeo-Christian writings and not rely on the (heavily mistranslated) Christian bible. It also comes in handy when working with any of the deities, angels, or demons which have Solomonic seals or sigils.
The Greek alphabet, originally derived from the Phoenician alphabet, has been around since about as long as the Hebrew alphabet, dating to around the 9th century B.C.E. Greek differs from all other ancient alphabets due to its inclusion of letters representing vowel sounds, which none of the other older alphabets did.
Greek also spawned Latin, which is the alphabet used by most Western societies, or those who speak/write any language based on any of the Indo-European languages such as English, French, Spanish, German, and Gaelic. Greek was also the first alphabet to denote upper- and lower-case letters.
Prior to the Roman conquest of most of Europe and part of the British Isles, Greek was the dominant alphabet used to write pretty much everything, but especially religious texts. There are original versions of the Hebrew texts and what would eventually become the New Testament books of the Bible written in Greek, as well as many other mystical writings, especially concerning the Greek and Egyptian pantheons of deities. If you want to be able to read these in their original context, Greek may be worth your while to learn.
Runes date back to ancient Germanic tribes and practices, estimated to appear around the 1st century B.C.E. and lasting for another 800-1000 years until the Latinization of language occurred across the region as Rome gradually conquered peoples and converted their linguistic and spiritual practices to those of the Romans.
The type of runes most commonly used today for divination is the Elder Futhark runes, however, at various points in history, multiple runic alphabets existed due to a lack of homogeneity among the broad lands covered by Germanic tribes and peoples. Other runes systems that were common were the Anglo-Saxon (Futhorc) and the Younger Futhark varieties. There are still some traditions that use those other two runes systems for divination.
Similar to the Ogham script, each rune represents a letter or sound, but also represents a spirit of a concept. They can be read upright or reversed, and even the way that you can read the bones, position of where they land when throwing them lends further interpretation.
Astrological and Planetary Symbols
I bet you didn’t immediately consider that the astrological and planetary symbols are an alphabet unto themselves, but they are! Think about how many people’s IG profile reads something like this: ♋︎☀︎♏︎☽♋︎⇑♑︎⇓ ? Well, I basically just described myself in detail for you with a set of symbols.
The astrological and planetary symbols used in the western astrological system date back to codices in the Byzantine period. These were symbols assigned to represent celestial planets (which includes the Sun and Moon, even though from an astronomy perspective stars and moons are distinctly different from the label ‘planet’).
The system we use today was solidified in Greece sometime before or just at the beginning of the Renaissance period. These were, and still are, commonly used to note the positions of the planets upon the zodiac at specific time points relating to a notable event or during a particular ritual or magickal working. Many old grimoires and Book of Shadows will have these notations letting the reader know under what astrological conditions something occurred, in case one wanted to correlate specific occurrences or outcomes to that.
This alphabet was created by H. Cornelius Agrippa, specifically for occult use. He based the Celestial alphabet on the Hebrew and Greek alphabets, hence why it may look familiar to you, even if you’ve never read it before.
Agrippa used this alphabet primarily to communicate with angels and higher beings, an application that is still in use today. Another element that may seem familiar to you is that the symbols are based on star constellation patterns.
The Theban alphabet is also attributed to Agrippa, even though there is no documentation definitively proving its origins or creator. It was used mostly by occultists and witches to disguise the content in their Book of Shadows or grimoires before it was safe to be publicly ‘out’ about being an occult practitioner.
Theban is still commonly used by many occultists and witches today, even though there is less need to hide these aspects of our lives in the Western world, many of us still face prejudice and bias in our communities or families who are not open-minded or do not share our beliefs or an open tolerance for beliefs that differ from their own.
Theban script is still taught in many Wicca 101 type of books for that reason, as many witches still use it, having learned it as a new witch a long time ago, and, therefore, you may encounter a mentor or teacher who wants you to learn it simply because its something they use to communicate.
Enochian script or alphabet was created or recorded by John Dee and Edward Kelley. They allegedly wrote it and recorded it from visions and work in which they invoked or commanded spirits. It is important to note that it is not derived or written by the same source as the famous biblical text the Book of Enoch, but it is related in that Dee and Kelley developed the script in order to uncover the secrets they felt the Book of Enoch was hiding from all but the most astute readers.
John Dee’s journals stated that the Enochian alphabet and script was the language God created for man to speak with God, and also which was used to create the world and all of its inhabitants and contents. Enochian waas later discovered and began to be used in the late 19th century by members of the Golden Dawn.
There are lots of other alphabets that have been used in magickal or occult practice at various points, so this list is not completely exhaustive, but the ones I left out are more obscure and used by a more limited number of people, and, therefore, not as likely to be encountered frequently by occult practitioners in the modern era.