Printed in the Winter 2017 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Leitch, Aaron, "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
The 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.
|Diagram 1. Agrippa's Magical Alphabets|
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. Voarchadumia Enochian Script|
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
|Diagram 3. 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.|
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.
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.
|Diagram 4. The Andelical Alphabet|
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.
|Diagram 5. John Dee’s Angelical talisman (front side), created for his neighbor Isabel Lister, who was suffering from severe depression and tendencies toward self-harm.|
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:
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”)
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.