A Musical Cipher

by *Diuvei

A "cipher" is a method of transforming a text into a secret code. These days this is usually done for cloak-and-dagger purposes, but in olden times witches and magicians used ciphers to create magical inscriptions for talismans or to write their grimoires (books of spells and rituals). In fact, historians trace the origins of the science of cryptography to the 15th-century treatise Steganographia, by Abbot Trithemius -- the magician who was the mentor and teacher of the most famous magician of all, Agrippa.

For our spells, we sometimes use a cipher that translates letters of the alphabet into musical notes and rhythms. We might encipher a God or Goddess's name, one of our own names, or a word that represents the purpose or focus of the spell (e.g. "safety" or "health"). This gives us a melody that we can make the basis of a chant or of a drum rhythm -- a kind of musical sigil or talisman.

The system we use is adapted from one described by G. Porta, De furtivis literarum notis (On the secret notes of letters), 1602. Porta's method was widely used for secret communications by spies, diplomats, and generals throughout the 18th century.

Porta's system was more limited than ours -- it used only the major mode, omitted K and W, and only went up to the note f'' and back. Our version uses the natural correlation between letters of the scale and letters of the alphabet (the letter A = the note A, the letter B = the note B, etc.), which composers such as Bach and Schumann have used for centuries to create musical themes. Partly for numerological reasons, we use the traditional 24-letter "Latin" alphabet, in which I is the same as J and U is the same as V.

To create a musical talisman:


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Latest update: 09 Nov. 1997