A. Administrative

1. Title Proposal to add the Theban Alphabet to ISO/IEC 10646
2. Requester's name Eric S. Raymond
3. Requester type Expert contribution
4. Submission date 2002-26-02
5. Requester's reference  
6a. Completion This is a complete proposal.
6b. More information to be provided? No

B. Technical -- General

1a. New script? Name? Yes. Theban Alphabet.
1b. Addition of characters to existing block? Name? No.
2. Number of characters 24
3. Proposed category Category B
4. Proposed level of implementation and rationale Level 1.
5a. Character names included in proposal? Yes
5b. Character names in accordance with guidelines? Yes
5c. Character shapes reviewable? Yes
6a. Who will provide computerized font? Eric S. Raymond
6b. Font currently available? Yes: see
6c. Font format? TrueType
7a. Are references (to other character sets, dictionaries, descriptive texts, etc.) provided? Yes.
7b. Are published examples (such as samples from newspapers, magazines, or other sources) of use of proposed characters attached? Yes.
8. Does the proposal address other aspects of character data processing? No.

C. Technical -- Justification

1. Has this proposal for addition of character(s) been submitted before? No
2. Contact with the user community? Yes. Proposer is a member of the user community.
3. Information on the user community? Wiccans, neopagans, ceremonial magicians, occult scholars.
4a. The context of use for the proposed characters? Used primarily for ritual formulae and talismanic inscriptions, 1300CE to present. Also in limited use as a manuscript cipher.
4b. Reference See below.
5a. Proposed characters in current use? Yes
5b. Where? Practicing occultists and scholars of occult history.
6a. Characters should be encoded entirely in BMP? Yes. (The proposed location is U+1380 to U+1396, filling a two-column gap between Ethiopic and Cherokee).
6b. Rationale Theban alphabet is in live use by a community of significant size.
7. Should characters be kept in a continuous range? Yes
8a. Can the characters be considered a presentation form of an existing character or character sequence? No. They are closest to being a Latin cipher, but lack U, W, and J characters. Context of use is such that inscriptions written in Theban are not considered equivalent to a Latin-alphabet transcription.
8b. Where?  
8c. Reference  
9a. Can any of the characters be considered to be similar (in appearance or function) to an existing character? No.
9b. Where?  
9c. Reference  
10a. Combining characters or use of composite sequences included? No
10b. List of composite sequences and their corresponding glyph images provided? No
11. Characters with any special properties such as control function, etc. included? No

D. SC2/WG2 Administrative

To be completed by SC2/WG2

1. Relevant SC 2/WG 2 document numbers:  
2. Status (list of meeting number and corresponding action or disposition)  
3. Additional contact to user communities, liaison organizations etc.  
4. Assigned category and assigned priority/time frame  
Other Comments  

E. Proposal

U+0001380      THEBAN LETTER A
U+0001381      THEBAN LETTER B
U+0001382      THEBAN LETTER C
U+0001383      THEBAN LETTER D
U+0001384      THEBAN LETTER E
U+0001385      THEBAN LETTER F
U+0001386      THEBAN LETTER G
U+0001387      THEBAN LETTER H
U+0001388      THEBAN LETTER I
U+0001389      THEBAN LETTER K
U+000138A      THEBAN LETTER L
U+000138B      THEBAN LETTER M
U+000138C      THEBAN LETTER N
U+000138D      THEBAN LETTER O
U+000138E      THEBAN LETTER P
U+000138F      THEBAN LETTER Q
U+0001390      THEBAN LETTER R
U+0001391      THEBAN LETTER S
U+0001392      THEBAN LETTER T
U+0001393      THEBAN LETTER V
U+0001394      THEBAN LETTER X
U+0001395      THEBAN LETTER Y
U+0001396      THEBAN LETTER Z
U+0001398      THEBAN MEDIAL DOT
U+0001399      (This position shall not be used)
U+000139A      (This position shall not be used)
U+000139B      (This position shall not be used)
U+000139C      (This position shall not be used)
U+000139D      (This position shall not be used)
U+000139E      (This position shall not be used)
U+000139F      (This position shall not be used)
Theban alphabet graphic

The graphic is a facsimile of Agrippa's table. The "THEBAN EXTRA LETTER" is listed after Z in Agrippa's table, but the meaning of the bullet-like glyph beneath it is unknown. The extra letter is included in case future research discloses a meaning.

When this script is used in languages that have a W sound, it is common to write that as a doubled THEBAN LETTER U. In some inscriptions a medial dot is used to mark word breaks.

F. A brief history of the Theban alphabet

(Note: This alphabet is widely called ‘Theban runes’ today, but this seems to be a recent invention by users who noticed the usage parallelism with Futhark. The letterforms are actually cursive rather than runic; they contain many curves and are not well-suited to be incised or scratched into hard materials as are true runic alphabets like Futhark, Ogham, or Tolkien's Cirthas Daeron. The term ‘Theban runes’ is not attested before the 20th century; older sources refer to either ‘Theban letters’ or the ‘Theban alphabet’, the practice I have followed here.)

The earliest known source for the Theban alphabet is Cornelius Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy first published at Antwerp, 1531. Agrippa gives the Theban alphabet in chapter 29 of book 3 and writes "Of this kind of character therefore are those which Peter Apponus notes, as delivered by Honorius of Thebes".

This almost certainly refers to the author of the early-14th-century Liber Juratus, or the Sworne Booke of Honorius. (The better-known "Grimoire of Honorius" is a 17th-century forgery long postdating Agrippa.) However, the characters do not appear in any manuscript of the Liber Juratus, nor in any edition of Peter Apponus, aka Peter De Abano (whose only extant magical work is the Heptameron).

One clue suggesting the Theban alphabet is older still is implicit in the Latin-alphabet equivalents given by Agrippa. The absence of U/J/W suggests that the Theban alphabet originated as a Latin cipher before the 11th-century introduction of W and long before the late-15th-century development of U and J.

The origin of the letterforms is obscure. They do not resemble any of the scripts likely to have been known by Agrippa (Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, or Futhark). There is a passing resemblance to the more elaborate letters in the Avestan or Pahlavi scripts used to write Old Persian. However, they are obviously an invented alphabet rather than an evolution of Avestan; they have too many superfluous flourishes of the sort natural evolution would have worn away. All the evidence is consistent with an origin as an early alchemical cipher alphabet influenced by Avestan.

Near the end of the 1800s the Theban alphabet was adopted by the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn and its successor orders (notably the Ordo Templi Orientalis or O.T.O.) from Agrippa (filtered through later compilations plagiarizing Agrippa, notably Francis Barrett's 1801 The Magus).

The Theban alphabet seems to have passed to the Wiccans from successor orders of the Golden Dawn as part of the Gardnerian reinvention of Wicca during the 1930s. Today they are primarily associated with Wicca and indeed are sometimes referred to as the "Wiccan alphabet".

The Theban alphabet has always been employed primarily for talismanic inscriptions and magical formulae; also occasionally as a manuscript cipher. It is not associated with any particular language. Most of the early corpus was Latin, but modern usage is probably mostly in English.

Most Wiccans recognize the Theban alphabet, but the skill to sight-read or write it without a reference is uncommon. Nevertheless, given the estimate now usual among sociologists of religion that there are more than half a million Wiccans in the U.S. alone, there may be as many as a hundred thousand people worldwide who have employed it.

H. Rationale for the proposal

Distinctness: Theban runes are not merely a presentation form of the Latin alphabet. The magical/liturgical context of their use is such that a Theban inscription is not considered equivalent to its Latin transcription. This case is paralleled by other living magical/liturgical scripts such as Coptic and Arabic, and by dead ones such as Futhark and Glagolitic.

Category: As a living ceremonial script, Theban runes belong in the same category B with Coptic.

Level: Level 1; the script has no combining characters, diacriticals, or control characters. It has been written both RTL and LTR, the latter dominating (especially in modern usage).

I. Web resources

Stephan Baitz's free TrueType font is very close to the forms in Barrett's 1801 table. His zip file includes the font (with encodings for Apple Roman and something called "Windows Unicode"). These may be taken as representative.

A professional-quality Macintosh or Windows font, again very closely resembling the Agrippine originals, is available from Deniart Systems.

Coron's Sources of Fonts includes a variant with more angular forms.

J. Usage samples.

There have been uses as a manuscript cipher, but most Theban inscriptions are short formulae written on magical paraphenalia; inscribed into pentacles, etched on the blades of ritual daggers, embroidered on cloaks and sashes, carved on candles etc. (The usage pattern is, as previously noted, quite similar to that of Futhark.)

This use of Theban alphabet on a scrying pentagram illustrates Futhark-like use on ritual objects. Pentagrams like this one are common.

Pentagram with incised inscription

Here is a very similar design on an altar tile, usable for sortilege divination:

Altar tile with Theban alphabet

An image of the Horned God Cernunnos with his name on the banner:

God-image with Theban alphabet

The inscription on this ring reads "To Encircle all Without Beginning or End":

Ring with Theban alphabet inscription

Here is an incised wand:

Altar tile with Theban alphabet

In this image of the leather cover of a Book of Shadows, note the Theban-alphabet symbols near the edges:

Book of Shadows cover with Theban alphabet

This use of Theban alphabet on a talking board is also representative:

Talking board example

Eric S. Raymond,,