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From the very advent of the spoken word among humanity, language has been considered something sacred and magickal. To be able to share ideas between people was a powerful innovation, as was the ability to name and train our work animals, such as hunting and herding dogs. To know the true name of a person also granted some power over them: you might warn them away from danger or lure them into an ambush at your own will. As our legal systems became more sophisticated over time, 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 extended to (or we might say from) 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 via ecstatic trance. And, of course, many of these words were applied as names for the spiritual forces of nature. Much like the hunting and herding dogs 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 language has already ceased to be a state-of-the-art technology, and has instead become a "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 magickal 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 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.
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 Itself 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 that he was speaking the same language God spoke in the first chapter of Genesis. In fact, no mention is made of humans creating their own language until many generations later, at the incident at the Tower of Babel.
In Genesis 11, we find the biblical explanation for all of the various languages that spread across the face of the Earth. Having decided to proclaim their own godhood, 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 established the Confusion of Tongues—making it impossible for the builders to communicate with one another. Eventually these people went their separate ways and founded their own nations, thus giving rise to the differing cultures of the world.
This mythos 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? Some of these questions would be answered by an apocryphal biblical text called the Book of Enoch.
Enoch is only mentioned in some long genealogical lists in the Book of Genesis. He is the seventh generation from Adam and was the great-grandfather of Noah. He is stated to have lived for 365 years and then he was simply "no more, for God took him." Because Enoch is the only forefather in the list to have no recorded time of death, legends have arisen that describe his bodily translation into the heavens. Sometime around 600 BCE, the Book of Enoch (also known as 1 Enoch or the Ethiopic Book of Enoch) set the oldest versions of the Enochian legends into scripture.
What most concerns us about Enoch's story is that, once in Heaven, he was permitted to view a very special book: the Celestial Tablets, also known as the Book of Life. 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. Enoch was allowed to copy 366 books' worth of this divine information, and to leave these Books of Enoch as an inheritance for humanity.
Sadly, space prohibits me from telling you the entire Enochian saga here. For brevity, I will simply say that Enoch's 366 books were overshadowed by corrupted mysteries learned from other sources. Eventually, God decided to send the Great Flood to wipe the slate clean and start over. Enoch's books and all memory of them were lost in the catastrophe.
For nearly all of recorded history, mystics have sought to re-establish access to Enoch's Celestial Tablets. Other cultures have had their own mythologies and names for this same story. The Egyptians called the Tablets the Book of Thoth, and record their own sagas about human attempts to obtain the Book. Early Hebrew legends speak of the Book of the Secrets of God (Sepher Raziel), which was given to Adam in Eden until 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 Language Adam had used to speak with Angels and apply names to 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 Angels in the formation and direction of the universe. (We can see this in the foundational Qabalistic text called the Sepher Yetzirah, or 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 that the Original Language survived the incident. Besides, they knew that languages tend to change drastically over time and usage. While they accepted Hebrew as a sacred language, they tended to believe that 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 re-discovery 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 Medieval/Renaissance examples of divine writing: Celestial, Malachim (Angelic), and Passing the River. They are not languages, exactly, but are 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 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). However, no information is given as to which star groups were used to form the letters. Regardless, 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.
In an obscure alchemical text called the Voarchadumia, which appeared in the mid-1500s, we have one of the first examples of a celestial script that does not follow the form of Hebrew. Yet, it would appear 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 familiar Latin letters. No mythological context is given for this alphabet; however, we can assume they represent the language that Enoch saw in the Celestial Tablets.
What stands out most about the Voarchadumia's Enochian alphabet is its similarities to the Angelical alphabet later recorded by Dr. John Dee and his scryer Edward Kelley. Dee 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 not be remiss to list this book as one of many inspirations behind Dee's material.
Dee not only recorded a new alphabet as revealed by the Angels, but also an entire book written in the language. For the first time, the Adamic tongue was presented as a proper language rather than a mere alphabet knocked-off from Hebrew. The book given to Dee was nothing less than the Book of Life, the Celestial Tablets that had once been viewed by Enoch. The Angels called it the Book of the Speech from God (Loagaeth), and told Dee that they were re-introducing this holy text into humanity to rectify and reconcile all earthly religions.
Since the publication of Dee's journals, his Angelical Language—often wrongly called "Enochian" by modern scholars—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 disseminated from there throughout the Western esoteric world. However, the Golden Dawn created their own systems for pronouncing the words (based upon Hebrew, no less) and using the associated magick that have little relationship to what Dee recorded in his journals.
Over the years, there have been several attempts to explore the language. In 1976, Leo Vinci published Gmicalzoma (With the Power of Understanding), which outlined the saga of Dee's Angelical language as the author understood it. A chapter on the pronunciation of the words was included, but it tended to follow the basic rules applied by the Golden Dawn. From there, the words of the known Angelical Language are listed alphabetically like a dictionary.
A short time later, in 1978, Donald Laycock completed his Complete Enochian Dictionary. A professional linguist, his analysis of the language has been the standard on the subject ever since. However, his analysis was very perfunctory. He looked just deep enough to satisfy himself that it was either a constructed language or glossolalia (and therefore not what Dee claimed it was) and ceased investigating. He did provide the first pronunciation guide for Angelical that was not based upon the Golden Dawn's methods, but sadly he did not focus upon the Early-Modern English that Dee and Kelley actually spoke. Finally, the bulk of Laycock's book is also a mere alphabetical listing of known "Enochian" words.
Now—nearly 450 years after Dee recorded his angelic séances—a new resource for the study of Dee's Angelical language has become available: The Angelical Language: The History, Mythos and Encyclopaedic Lexicon of the Tongue of Angels, from Llewellyn Publications. Over two massive volumes, the language is broken down to its very roots—both linguistic and mythological—and laid bare for the study of occultists and linguists alike. There is no quibbling over whether the language is real or constructed, or whether Dee was speaking to Angels or demons. Instead, the focus is upon the language itself, breaking down its grammar and syntax all the way to its radical root word-elements. Far from a simple dictionary-style listing of known words, this is an Encyclopaedic Lexicon of the entire language as recorded by Dee, heavily annotated and cross-referenced in several ways.
The Angelical Language is not intended as a definitive work, setting the Tongue of Angels into proverbial stone. Instead, it is merely a snapshot—perhaps seen for the first time ever—of the language as Dee and Kelley recorded it. My hope is that linguists and scholars will find in the Lexicon a useful tool to further our understanding of Dee's contribution to Western mysticism. And it is my further hope that mystics and occultists will use it to expand our understanding and practical use of the Tongue of Angels.
Aaron Leitch has been a scholar and a spiritual seeker for nearly three decades. He is a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Gentlemen of Jupiter, and the academic Societas Magica. His writings cover such ...