Lesson 4) Speaking in Tongues

Hello students!  It’s great that you came to class on this particular day because not only are we discussing more on the mysticism of alchemy, but I have also invited Professor Wessex to come speak to all of you about a famous cryptography case.  She’ll be dropping by later on, but in the meantime, I will be entertaining you with the topic of “languages” and scripts created by alchemists. ...What are those faces for? Ah, oh, no we aren’t going too in depth to the point you will be tested on reading them.  However, they are important to know in order to understand the multi-level language that alchemy was written in during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.


The first of these secret languages isn’t necessarily what you call a traditional language, but rather a way of communicating using phonetic similarities, puns, wordplay, alternative spelling, unusual punctuation, and references to other works, myths, and symbols.  The Language of the Birds, also known as the Green Language, was a type of communication that allowed people across different centuries and cultures to understand and share ideas about the universe as well as cosmic or transcendental experiences.  It got its name from the ancient idea that there was a magical language used by birds to communicate to humans and gods. An example of this is in Norse mythology: Odin’s two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who flew around the world and reported back to him with news of the mortal world.  Interestingly enough, Egyptian hieroglyphics were also occasionally called the alphabet of the birds. No one is certain of the exact time period that the Language of the Birds switched to a written symbolic language; however, most magihistorians point to the High Middle Ages as troubadours (musicians who performed Old Occitan lyric poetry) began to use it as a secret language when referring to the tarot.  Many writings at this time, known as green language texts, started using this cryptic symbology. To those who did not understand the multi-level language, these texts seemed to be cleverly written documents or dismissed as utter nonsense. The Rosicrucians, freemasons, and alchemists in particular incorporated this into their writings and ideas, which in alchemy’s case only increased the difficulty in understanding along with actual artistic symbols in Hermeticism.  It certainly made the field more frustrating, but I digress.

Although the Language of the Birds was used in alchemy for centuries after, it was never really given that much importance by later alchemists until late 19th century French alchemist, Fulcanelli.  Fulcanelli is quite the mysterious character as not much is known about his life at all. In fact, his name is a pseudonym he used for his works.  Often called the master alchemist or the last alchemist, the medieval alchemy tradition disappeared with him, or at least that’s what we assume. Fulcanelli was the last to present alchemical findings of this type to the knowledge of the Muggle world.  Alchemists who still practiced it, and other fields such as Hermeticism and Kabbalah, preferred to keep their research within the wizarding world due to the rise of modern science among Muggles. Even Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel kept to the wizarding world after a certain point, though I suppose the Muggles would be quite suspicious if they randomly showed up hundreds of years later.  Wouldn’t that be something!

Fulcanelli wrote two books and left them with his only student, Eugene Canseliet, before disappearing in 1926.  Included in them is a famous personal anecdote of how Canseliet managed to transmute 100 grams of lead into gold with the use of “projection powder.”  Many alchemists believe that this powder was a small chunk of the Philosopher’s Stone that was crushed and used while casting the transmutation, but seeing how the stone is not exactly something you can obtain everyday and how no one truly knew who Fulcanelli was, this theory can’t necessarily be tested.  Canseliet mentions in his writings that in 1954, he had his last encounter with Fulcanelli in the mountains of Spain. Fulcanelli seemed to be rejuvenated and looked as if he was Canseliet’s age (50) even though he was actually around thirty years older than his pupil. To this day, Fulcanelli’s life remains a cultural phenomenon and no one, magical or non-magical, knows exactly where he went when he disappeared.

All of this being said, Fulcanelli heavily emphasized that the only way to truly uncover the mysteries of alchemical knowledge was to learn the Language of the Birds, or Phonetic Cabala as he called it (which is in no way related to actual Kabbalah, but is a reference to caballus (horse) and the Trojan Horse).  He’s certainly not wrong. In order to truly decode not only Medieval and Renaissance texts, but also older alchemical documents, having a firm understanding of certain wording will definitely expand your alchemical knowledge tremendously.  However, it takes years of study to fully master it and neither you nor I have the time for me to guide you through it when there is much more material we have not yet touched.  However, here’s a small taste of it.

Think of the letter ‘B.’  Aside from the letter itself, your possible first thought was of a bee.  Now, bees are linked with several things: beehives, honey, Napoleon (or rather, a symbol referring to him), and Apis.  Apis is a word in the Language of the Birds that refers to the duality of nature -- a flying creature like a bee versus a heavy creature such as a bull.  The picture to the right should be very familiar as it was in the last lesson. The Latin phrase translates to “the rose gives honey to the bees.” The bees represent human souls who are taking nourishment from the rose cross, which of course is a representation of Rosicrucianism.  However, the meanings don’t stop there. Sayings with the letter B holding significance such as “to be or not to be” can be written as “To B*e or kn.o.t 2 Be.” The word “be” can be a reference to the Hebrew word “hayah,” which is related to the idea of existence. The letter B could be referring to the Hebrew letter bet, which is translated into “house.”  With that meaning, “house” can be what makes a house different from a box, what makes a house a home, or cubes of space that exist as the First Matter. Not to mention, the simple letter B may demand you to look into other ancient languages such as Latin, Greek, Chinese, Aborigine, Sanskrit, and more. Now, this is only from one letter of the alphabet.  I will not sugar coat it: the Language of the Birds is extremely difficult to decipher, however, the results are very rewarding when you use it.  If you believe you can tackle it, by all means be my guest, but do so on your own time.


Our next topic isn’t so brain numbing, or at least I hope not.  What am I talking about? Why, it’s Paracelsus’ Alphabet of the Magi!  We have very briefly mentioned this script in Year Two Lesson Three, but as a refresher, Paracelsus created an alphabet that he used to charm various talismans with to make healing mechanisms for illnesses.  He formed both the alphabet and the talismans through a Kabbalah doctrine he found, which had knowledge borrowed from Egypt and Chaldea. Due to the origin of the document, the glyphs appear to be a variant of the Hebrew alphabet.  Although these talismans weren’t as strong as something with hieroglyphs or Elder Futhark runes on it, they did do their job to a certain extent.

The above glyphs were used to spell out the names of angels on talismans.  Before we go any further, I would like to point out that kabbalists don’t define angels as physical beings that should be worshipped, but more as spiritual forces that send information or evoke a feeling.  Paracelsus utilized this theory, not to call upon a force of an angel, but to use an angel’s name, which has a strong significance attached to it, as an incantation of sorts. Not only that, but these angels were related to the seven planetary aspects as well and the talismans were typically made using the seven metals that coincide with the planets.  Going by that criteria, it’s obvious that there are seven main talismans that use the names of archangels for healing illnesses, however, Hermetic kabbalists add seven more to this list that use the names of demons. This is a little out of my area of expertise, but if I had to take a guess, the talismans associated with the demons put curses on the wearer.  There’s no doubt in my mind that they might have graced the shelves of Borgin and Burkes at some point, though I’d rather not visit to search for them.

While we won’t personally be doing any talisman making, I do briefly want to go over the general method of creating one because it’s fascinating.  If you are also taking Divination, there is a lot of crossover with astrology. In order to make one of these talismans, a pure metal (one of the seven metals) must be cut into a circle the size of an ordinary medal and polished on both sides.  The only exception to this step is mercury, since it’s a liquid at room temperature, and in that case it has to be made out of an alloy of mercury, silver, and tin. On one side of the medal is a five point star with a symbol (i.e. a crown, caduceus, etc.) and the name of the angel spelled out around it.  The other side has a six point star engraved with another symbol in the middle (i.e. dog’s head, dove, etc.), the seven alchemical symbols for the planets, and more letters from the Alphabet of the Magi. Each of the talismans have a specific day of the week they coincide with, however the tricky part of creating these talismans is figuring out which astrological event goes with the one you’d like to make.

For example, the talisman of Mars (pictured left) must be made from iron, coincides with the archangel Samael, and has to be created on a Tuesday when the Moon’s evolution is passing through either Aries or Sagittarius.  Not only that, but the conditions of the lunar evolution need to be favorable for both Saturn and Mars. If it isn’t favorable with those two planets, you may end up with something that causes great harm or death. To make things slightly more complicated, there are only a few time periods of the day during which activating the talisman will work.  This particular talisman has four: noon to 1 p.m.; 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.; and 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., both the following morning. After that, you will need to brew a very simple potion of a few select herbs determined by which talisman you are making. In this case, you would need to boil water in your ceramic cauldron, crush rue and dried wormwood in a mortar and pestle to a fine powder, add it to the potion, and stir until it changes color.  Place the talisman over the cauldron to expose it to the fumes. Never place the talisman in the potion itself. Much like spagyric elixirs, the plant material touching the metal will immediately ruin everything. While the talisman is being exposed to the fumes, cast the Activation Charm on it and concentrate heavily on the letters in the angel’s name and the effects you are hoping to achieve. If you took Year Two of Ancient Runes, you would have learned the Activation Charm already, but here is the spell block in case you have forgotten or simply did not take the course:


Spell Practice:

Name: Activation Charm

Incantation: Venenate (VEH-neh-nayt)

Wand Movement: Clockwise circle around the entire design with a stabbing motion towards center.

Concentration: High

Willpower: Low


It may seem like a lot of work, and it is, which is why we aren’t doing this ourselves, but the effects of the talismans are quite rewarding.  This one in particular influences outcomes in battles or arguments. Essentially, it neutralizes the enemy threats and disagreements and protects the wearer from death by torture, fire, ulcers, and epidemics.  It also serves as a protection charm in war. For example, if a defending commander hides the talisman somewhere within their fortress, enemy attacks will not succeed. According to observations, depending on how it was made, this tends to either work as an archaic Shielding Charm or influence the defenders with more morale to win over their opponents.

Unfortunately I do not have time to explain the other six talismans, however, the chart below shows all seven, the angels and days, and what their effects are:

And that concludes our discussion of-- oh!  What perfect timing, Venita! I was just finishing up over here.  Well students, our last portion of class will be focusing on the Voynich Manuscript.  I would like you to give Professor Wessex your full attention as I’m sure you will find this quite intriguing.  The floor is yours, Venita.


Thank you, Serafina. The Voynich Manuscript is a puzzle that has bewitched the minds of Muggles and witches alike since it was uncovered in the early 1900s. While it was originally meant to be covered in Ancient Runes next year, it turns out there simply isn’t time for it, and Professor Rosenquist offered to work it into her curriculum.

In truth, the roughly 600 year old manuscript has more to do with alchemy (or perhaps potions or even astronomy) than with ancient runes. The markings in this book are neither ancient -- though still quite old -- nor inherently magical. They are, however, quite mysterious, which is my forte. If you have taken Professor Morgan’s Ancient Studies class, you have had a brief introduction to this topic, but we will be going more in depth today.

To contextualize where and how this book came to be, we must go back to Italy during the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. In these periods -- and, in fact, even before -- Italy had a thriving magical community made of many different traditions and fields. However, as time went on, anti-magic feelings grew in many areas, even though witch hunts in Italy did not reach their peak until the turn of the 16th century. For safety, witches and wizards often met privately in organized groups, sometimes meeting on specific days of the month or year. There were many of these clandestine groups, but magihistorians believe that the Voynich Manuscript’s author was a member of one particular group: the Witches of Benevento.

While the so-called “Witches of Benevento” are more of a Muggle designation than one actual cohesive group, Benevento, Italy has a storied history and was something of a hub for magical activity (and still is to this day). Potioneers, astronomers, alchemists, beast tamers, and more would congregate in the city. It was a center for the exchange of ideas, even as people became more and more fearful of witchcraft.

But back to the manuscript. In terms of proven theories, we know little more than the Muggles, unfortunately. The symbols in which it is written do not match up with any script known in the magical world either. However, the prevailing theory is that it is actually written in simple Venetian or Neapolitan variants of Italian, or potentially Latin, which has been enchanted only to reveal itself under the light of certain moons or planetary influences, which could possibly be derived from the Sulphur or Salt Level Charts. Under just the right circumstances, the letters are suspected to right themselves, breaking any obscuring or scrambling enchantments laid on them. However, as the time could be exact down to a minute, magical scholars still have substantial work ahead of them. Even more difficult, each page or section could reveal itself at different times.

Naturally, it is difficult to know for certain what this book contains without being able to read it. However, some educated assumptions can be made. Professor Morgan’s mention of the inclusion of magical plants, astronomical signs, and potions is important. It is believed that the book contains recipes, but not for just any potions. Many suspect these to be recipes for spagyric elixirs, as they require combinations of plants during the correct planetary phases. Additionally, because many alchemists had a tendency to disguise or conceal their discoveries through imagery and creative word play, it’s possible that the author of this highly secretive book was just one of many alchemists keeping their findings out of the wrong hands.

It’s likely that this was a witch or wizard’s journal of findings -- their life’s work -- which would account for the large amounts of notes and seemingly scattered topics. One page may have a recipe for a particular spagyric elixir, and the next may contain extensive notes on one plant from said elixir, including its planetary signatures and illnesses it could treat. For now, though, the exact details of the text still evade us. However, it seems time and patience are the answer, as they are with many things in alchemy.


Thank you for that wonderful lecture Professor Wessex!  You should definitely stop by the alchemy laboratory more often!  Anyway, hopefully all of your brains aren’t melting by now because you have assignments, and remember that next lesson is midterms!  The material on your midterms will include Lessons One through Four, however not Lesson Five.  Lesson Five begins a shift into the other side of the spectrum of mysticism that we will be discussing until the end of the year.  I’m not that evil. … Or am I? All joking aside, I expect you to come fully prepared the next time we meet. No excuses whatsoever.  I don’t care if Peeves threw your notes into the Black Lake. Make it work. That being said, have a wonderful week and happy studying!

Tales of immortality, artificial life, transmutation, and other unexplained phenomena shroud the study of alchemy in mystery. Can creating synthetic life forms such as homunculi be achieved? What goes into the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone? In Year Six of this course, we will be addressing these mysteries and whether or not they are true to the study of alchemy in the wizarding world. We will also be discussing other traditions and organizations that have influenced alchemy and vice versa.
Course Prerequisites:
  • ALCH-OWL

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