Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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500 Years of Theban

2018 marks the 500th anniversary of the first publication of the Theban script, now widely used by modern witches.

Theban first saw light in Johannes Trithemius' 1518 Polygraphia, in which he attributes the script to the legendary magus Honorius of Thebes: hence the name.

Trithemius' student Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535) later included the alphabet in his De Occulta Philosophia (Book III, ch. 29) in 1531. From Agrippa, Theban made its way into several early 20th century popular books about the occult, and it is through these that it probably entered the the modern Craft.

Certainly it came in early on. Ronald Hutton tells me that he's seen references to Theban among Gardner's papers now in Toronto, and it was in current use in London during the early 60s. I myself first became aware of the script in Paul Huson's controversial 1970 Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks, and Covens. For my money, Huson's serifed Theban is still the most elegant version of all.

And Theban does have its own weird, witchy beauty. With all due deference to my colleagues who can read it as fluently as the ABCs, it's not a practical script. The letters are too complicated, too similar in shape for general daily use. But that's all part of its—ahem—charm. And as something that a certain group of people share, it's brilliant in-group strategy. If you can read this, you must be one too.

Theban may not have been ours originally, but over the years (I love the way we do this) we've certainly made it ours. You can now get t-shirts, bumper stickers, and even window vinyls in Theban. (Check out—this is really too good to believe—the Theban Eye-Chart mug. There really should be a Theban eye-chart in every optometrist's in Paganistan.) Gealhain Samlach published a Teach-Yourself-Theban workbook in 2015.

You can't say that witches aren't enterprising people.

In her 1968 Diary of a Witch, Sybil Leek tells an amusing tale.

One church in Sussex suffered from the attentions of the Black Magicians, and the vicar made it worse by publicly calling down a curse on the vandals from the pulpit. The result was a second and more vicious attack on the inside of the church, the graveyard, and even the doors of the church, on which were scrawled messages in the Theban script used by both Black Magicians and witches as their own form of writing. I visited this church after the attack and to my horror, I could read the messages on the door, with the police and detectives standing by bewildered. They could only put it down as “unintelligible nonsense.” Actually, the Black Magicians, with their macabre sense of humor, had written that they “dedicated this church to Our Lady of the Jackdaw.” [A jackdaw is a small black bird related to a crow.] I dread to think what would have happened if I had translated this to them, for Mr. Hotfoot Jackson [her familiar] and I were both well-known on TV as the “Lady and her Jackdaw.” I made a mental note to tell my devious friend to stop playing these kinds of tricks on the community and myself. He laughed and thought it was an uproarious joke, but he did promise not to do it again (Leek 118-9).

My favorite story about Theban, though, is still the “Roommate Wanted” notice posted in a laundromat in San Francisco.

It was written in Theban.

I first heard this story years back from my friend Macha Nightmare. I can't remember whether or not she witnessed it personally. (Did you?) But it must be a true story.

It's way too good not to be.

Happy 500th, Theban.

Looks like you've found your people at last.


Sybil Leek (1968) Diary of a Witch. Signet.


Photo: Paula Arwen Owen

With special thanks to Dr. Ronald Hutton of Bristol Univeristy






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Thursday, 29 March 2018

    "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." That's from Herodotus isn't it?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 04 April 2018

    I figure that as a storyteller, it's my responsibility to tell the best stories that I can.
    As a historian, it's my responsibility to tell the truest stories that i can.
    And as a man of honor, it's my responsibility to be honest about the difference.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Friday, 30 March 2018

    Fascinating. I hadn't heard of this script before. Just added Huson's book to my AMZN cart.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Sunday, 01 April 2018

    Some years ago I was looking through an art book of ancient Greek sculpture. One statue of a horse caught my eye. It had Theban script text carved into the marble base. I wondered what it said and got out a Theban translation index. I translated the first few words into English characters and it still made no sense. It finally occurred to me that I don't read ancient Greek, so even translating the letters didn't help.

    A few years later I tried to find the original art photos, but I haven't been able to remember or find where I had been reading. Was it real ancient Greek statues? I can't find the source.

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