Theban alphabet

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Theban alphabet
Script type
(above chart from Polygraphia, 1518, by Johannes Trithemius)
Time period
16th c. – present
DirectionLeft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
Related scripts
Parent systems
Latin alphabet (cipher)
  • Theban alphabet
From Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1533). Note character changes, including small-omega (ω) at base of the last sign, denoted by capital-Omega (Ω) — a symbol for "End" — rather than "W".
From the 1613 reprint of Polygraphia. Note changes to some characters, e.g. closed loops, and a left hook omitted from the symbol for W.
From Polygraphie (1561) by Gabriel de Collange (in French). W being a new letter and not used in France, that sign here represents the ampersand.

The Theban alphabet, also known as the witches' alphabet, is a writing system, specifically a substitution cipher of the Latin script, that was used by early modern occultists and is popular in the Wicca movement.[1][2]

Publication history[edit]

It was first published in Johannes Trithemius's Polygraphia (1518) in which it was attributed to Honorius of Thebes "as Pietro d'Abano testifies in his greater fourth book". However, it is not known to be extant in any of the known writings attributed to D'Abano (1250–1316). Trithemius' student Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535) included it in his De Occulta Philosophia (Book III, chap. 29, 1533).[3] It is also not known to be found in any manuscripts of the writings of Honorius of Thebes (e.g. Liber Iuratus Honorii, translated as The Sworn Book of Honorius), with the exception of the composite manuscript found in London, British Library Manuscript Sloane 3853, which however openly identifies Agrippa as its source.[4]

Uses and correlations[edit]

From The Magus (1801) by Francis Barrett. Follows Agrippa's chart above.
A 19th-century gravestone in Llanfyllin, Wales, inscribed in the Theban alphabet (Agrippa/Barrett version) and Cistercian numerals.

It is also known as the Honorian alphabet or the Runes of Honorius after the legendary magus (though Theban is dissimilar to the Germanic runic alphabet), or the witches' alphabet due to its use in modern Wicca and other forms of witchcraft as one of many substitution ciphers to hide magical writings such as the contents of a Book of Shadows from prying eyes. The Theban alphabet has not been found in any publications prior to that of Trithemius,[citation needed] and bears little visual resemblance to most other alphabets.[5]

There is one-to-one correspondence between Theban and the letters in the old Latin alphabet. The modern characters J and U are not represented. They are often transliterated using the Theban characters for I and V, respectively. In the original chart by Trithemius, the letter W comes after Z, as it was a recent addition to the Latin alphabet, and did not yet have a standard position. This caused it to be misinterpreted as an ampersand[6] or end-of-sentence mark[7] by later translators and copyists, such as Francis Barrett. Some users of those later charts transliterate W using the Theban characters for VV, parallel to how the English letter developed. Some Theban letter shapes have changed from book to book over time. Theban letters only exist in a single case.

Eric S. Raymond, an American software developer and author, has created a draft proposal for adding the Theban alphabet to the Universal Coded Character Set/Unicode.[8]


  1. ^ "Theban alphabet". Omniglot. Retrieved March 6, 2023. The Theban alphabet is used as an alternative to the Latin alphabet. It was used by early modern occultists and is popular with the Wicca movement.
  2. ^ Wigington, Patti (April 27, 2019). "Magical Alphabets". Learn Religion. Retrieved March 6, 2023. One of the most popular magical languages in use today is the Theban Alphabet. ... In general, although this alphabet is popular among Wiccan and NeoWiccan paths, it's not typically used by non-Wiccan Pagans.
  3. ^ Agrippa, Henry Cornelius (1651). Three Books of Occult Philosophy (PDF). Chapter 29. p. 438. Retrieved March 6, 2023 – via Michigan State University archive. [p. 465 in PDF.]
    Alternate (HTML) version, chapter 29, with footnote by Joseph H. Peterson – via Esoteric Archives.
  4. ^ Introduction to The Sworn Book of Honorius: Liber Jurati Honorii. Translated by Peterson, Joseph H. Lake Worth, Florida: Iris Books. 2016. p. 13. Retrieved March 6, 2023 – via Internet Archive. The only manuscript of Honorius which actually includes the alphabet is Sloane 3853, where it is clearly identified as having been taken from Trithemius's student Agrippa, thus making a remarkable round-trip back to Honorius. [Note that the illustration on p.14 shows the same chart as the 1613 reprint of Polygraphia.]
  5. ^ Theban's shapes, though not their phonetic values, bear some stylistic resemblance to a few characters from the Avestan (), Etruscan (), Georgian (Mkhedruli) (), and Phoenician () alphabets, and the Ge'ez script (ሀጣ) used to write Ethiopian-regional languages — all of those being also unicase. The Coptic alphabet, while no longer unicase, used to be and has characters such as — from the Demotic script's — both with a history of being used in Thebes, Egypt. Cf. the astrological symbols ♍︎ (Virgo) and ♏︎ (Scorpio).
  6. ^ See chart from Polygraphie (1561) by Gabriel de Collange, on the right.
  7. ^ E.g. in Barrett, Francis (1801). "The Celestial Intelligencer". The Magus. Chapter 16. London: Lackington, Allen, & Co. p. 64b. Retrieved March 7, 2023 – via Internet Archive. [p. 298 in archive.]
    Alternative (HTML) version, chapter 16 – via Sacred Texts. Click on 2nd illustration link.
  8. ^ Raymond, Eric S. (February 26, 2002). "Proposal to add the Theban Alphabet to ISO/IEC 10646". Eric S. Raymond's Home Page. Retrieved December 24, 2016.

External links[edit]