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Magic of the Alphabet

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Do you remember learning your letters as a child? When my kids were little we had an alphabet puzzle, very simple, where the letter shapes fit easily into their spaces. Playing with them as an adult I fell back into a sensory reverie—I loved the feel of them. They were fun to manipulate as objects, and the satisfaction of clicking them into place remained with me, bringing me back to a space of childhood sensitivity to the physical world. 


In this magic space was one of intensity and openness. The world was still new, and the letters were things in themselves, their colour and shape and feel making them into living beings embodying all sorts of qualities: A was upright, cheerful, the beginning…Q was odd…yes, queer…F waved its prongs like a flag. Then came school, learning to read, and the letters disappeared into words which disappeared into pictures in the mind, far from tangible reality. 


Later, when I began to explore Pagan things I found the same delight in runes and runestones—they were opaque to my eye, rich on my fingers, physical shapes rather than cyphers. Their shapes had meanings that, mysteriously, opened the unknown and unacknowledged to me. Their exotic origin in the distant past helped me see through to the mystery beyond the mundane.


But they were also everyday letters that the Norse used for labelling, inscriptions, and lists—like the alphabet I’m using to write these words. And that alphabet, the alphabet I learned as a child, developed from origins even more ancient than those of the runes. Egyptian hieroglyphs, adapted by Canaanites and then taken up by Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans gradually morphed to become the “Latin” alphabet on this page.


The Egyptian hieroglyphs were basically pictures of the thing they symbolized. Then, about 4000 years ago, Canannite peoples working in Egypt simplified them and used them not to stand for a thing but for the first sound of its name. So our “B” derived from the hieroglyph for Egyptian ”bayt” (house) and came to stand for, not a house, but the sound “buh.” From there, it could be part of a word that spoke of balls and bats, birds and buffalo. It was no longer directly related to anything in the outside world.


Our direct experience of that world is synaesthetic. When we observe an object, vision and hearing, and sometimes even taste, touch, and smell, are combined in the brain to create a unified impression of it. Reading Involves a totally different combination of the senses. In reading, our eyes become our ears as visible marks become sounds heard in our heads. These internal sounds, in turn, become mental images, abstracted from the immediate sensory world.(1) This is what makes reading so immersive. It literally casts a spell over us, and this is powerful magic.


But while the development of the alphabet and reading represents a movement towards abstraction from the here and now, there is an equal and opposite movement back to immediacy—and so another kind of magic can come into play. If we take words apart and let the letters stand on their own, still wreathed with all the associations of their long history, they become richly meaningful.


Treating letters this way widens their sphere of influence—they can speak a sound, suggest a name or call up a picture. And they can avail themselves of all that’s connected to any of those aspects. They become multivalent and psychologically powerful, as in the mystical system of Kabbalah, whose Hebrew letters are “living animate powers, each letter a magic gateway into an entire sphere of experience.” (2)


Letters are our creations, but treated in this way they can take on a life of their own in a realm that lies between the mind and the world, where “what happens between the worlds changes all the worlds.” They can jog our unconscious minds and so reveal the energies swirling in and around us.


The artist and occultist Austin Spare went a step further with this process. Applying modern psychological theories to a method from the old magical grimoires, he would combine the letters in the words of a spell or affirmation into a completely abstract symbol. While this was once done to conjure spirits, Spare suggested it could also be used to conjure the archetypal energies of the unconscious.


All this is to say that there is no reason we can’t revisit our own childhood memories of “A is for Apple” and re-enchant our workaday alphabet. Taking empty signs and using them to conjure and embody qualities, energies, and archetypes can be part of the Pagan project to rediscover the mystery and sanctity of the world around us.  


Making something everyday reveal it’s magical side is surely, after all, the proper work of Pagans.


See below for my own magical alphabet, with meanings culled from my personal associations with the shapes, sounds and names of the letters. 


Now, what would yours look like?





A is for Arrowhead, Arrow, William Tell’s Arrow Through the Apple, Archer
Aspiration, Answer, Auspicious, Beginning, Ladder to the Apex, Artemis, Athena

Inverted: horned beast strength


B is for Birth, Birch, Breasts


C is for Cradle, Crescent moon, Consciousness, Cosmos, Ceiling, Celestial, Cup/womb


D is for Day, Doorway, Dawning, Belly


E is for Egg, Everything, 

Rotated: Rake (clearing, cleansing)


F is for Fish, Feeling, Flower, Friend, Flag

inverted: Lowered Flag, Dying Flower


G is for Grandparent, Generous, Gift 

Inverted: Loss, Hoarding


H is for Home, House, Holding, Holy, Heart 


I is for Ice, Island, I, Spine, Individual, Lighthouse, Erect


J is for Joy, Jolly, Jubilation i

Inverted: Hook (attachment, obligation)


K is for Kenning, King, Knight 

Inverted: Okay


L is for Lion, Love, Learn

Inverted: Obstruction


M is for Moon, Mountain, Man


N is Net, Nothing, Need


O is for Owl, Open, Completion (full circle)


P is for Pleasure, Pregnant


Q is for Quiet, Queen, Queer, Quirky


R is for Rose, Rising, Ring, Reality

Inverted: Legs in the Air, Cartwheel (movement)


S is for Sun, Shining, Serpent, Silken Slither, Silent


T is for Tree, Stable, Strong

Inverted: sapling, foundation


U is for Unicorn, Up, Uterus, 


V is for Volcano, Vulva, 

Inverted: shelter


W is for Water, Winsome, Wild, Whoosh, Whirl, Weaving, Weird, Wisdom


X is for X Marks the Spot, Kiss, Unknown Variable, 


Y is for Yearning, Yay, 

Inverted: Patience


Z is for Zorro, Zip, Zing, Zap (lightning), Sword, Slash




  1. David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, Vintage Books: New York, 1996, pp. 124-25.
  2. Ibid., pp. 132-33.
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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Thursday, 19 August 2021


    It's so cool that you're writing about this. Sometimes I also find myself staring at the letters in a word, just fascinated by their individual shapes and collective power. Your magical alphabet is awesome.

    I recently read, "The Oracles Of Apollo: Practical Ancient Greek Divination For Today", by John Opsopaus. He wrote about the spirit power (my term, not his) inherent in the letters of the Hellenic alphabet. One of the divination systems discussed in his book, the Limyran Alphabet Oracle, is probably somewhat similar to casting runes.

  • Archer
    Archer Monday, 13 September 2021

    That's really cool! I'll have to check that book out.

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