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Goat with text

Hollywood scriptwriters often use Latin (or pseudo-Latin) to evoke the arcane, epic, or mystical. Recently, however, I’ve noticed the emergence of a far more obscure language in that niche: Enochian.

As background, Enochian was the so-called “language of the angels” as recorded by the English mystics John Dee and Edward Kelley in the 1580s, with Kelley as the seer and Dee as the scribe. It was also said to be the language of Adam and Eve before the Fall, a pre-Babel ancestor of Hebrew. It cannot be overemphasized that no mainstream linguist, historian, or cleric considers this to be a naturally occurring language, much less one used by angels or Adam and Eve, though some present-day occultists take it in earnest. However, even as a constructed language, it’s an attractive choice for Hollywood because it has centuries of history, it conjures an esoteric aura, and it’s far less likely than Latin to be understood by audiences, thus letting scriptwriters take liberties without being caught.

…Until now. I’ve had a linguistic interest in Enochian for years, ever since I obtained a copy of Donald Laycock’s “The Complete Enochian Dictionary” (Askin, 1978) in a rare book shop, so I can’t help but applaud scriptwriters who use Enochian correctly and gently reprove those who don’t.

Nothing has done more to popularize Enochian than “Supernatural,” an excellent long-running TV series about Sam and Dean Winchester, two human brothers who battle monsters and avert the occasional apocalypse. From the fourth season onward, the series added angels as characters:  brooding warrior angels unlike Hollywood’s usual saccharine depiction, most notably the deadpan scene-stealer Castiel. Around the same time, the series started including some Enochian, and to their tremendous credit, the scriptwriters generally use authentic words. Most famously, in a 2010 episode, Castiel explained that the words to a fake exorcism were actually an Enochian insult meaning “You breed with the mouth of a goat,” after which he commented that “It’s funnier in Enochian,” the latter becoming a catchphrase among “Supernatural” fans. (That particular insult would be “Virq a butmon levithmong.”)

In the past few months, two new TV series have featured Enochian in their pilot episodes. “Constantine” is a series about John Constantine, a blue-collar English warlock who travels the United States fighting supernatural evils. In the pilot, he drew a vast sigil on the floor with what he described as Enochian runes. However, as shown in the still image below, the runes are actually early medieval Germanic runes, not in any way similar to the Enochian alphabet. From the two long segments visible in full, the runes appear to be Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, with the apparent addition of one loosely-drawn rune from Elder Futhark (representing “J”) and one from either Marcomannic or Younger Futhark (representing “K”). They transliterate as “SIONOUAMKRO” and “ISUMMONJOUD,” which aren’t Enochian words or phrases, even if respaced and read in either direction. (The latter appears to be English, but I can’t make sense of the former.)

Constantine and alphabet

The other new series is “The Librarians,” about a team dealing with magical relics in their struggle against the evil Serpent Brotherhood; it’s a spinoff from a Noah Wyle movie franchise. “The Librarians” featured Enochian in its two-hour premiere, when mathematical savant Cassandra solved a sliding-tile puzzle, explaining that it used “High Enochian, a mathematical language based on Greek and Hebrew.” The camera shot was too brief for me to see if the puzzle used real Enochian letters: TNT doesn’t make episodes available online, and the biggest flaw of “The Librarians” is that it glosses over every puzzle-solving exercise, which of course is the opposite of what makes “The Da Vinci Code” and “National Treasure” so appealing. However, Cassandra’s explanation doesn’t inspire confidence because there’s no such thing as “High” Enochian, Enochian isn’t derived from Greek or Hebrew (although Hebrew is notionally derived from it), and it’s not mathematical unless you count the trivial fact that Dee and Kelley recorded their letters and words in square grids. Indeed, Donald Laycock has aptly noted that numbers are the least developed and most dubious part of Enochian: of the few numbers given by Kelley and Dee, “daox” means 5678, “eran” means 6332, “darg” means 6739, and “taxs” means 7336, defying all attempts at explanation or interpolation.

One obstacle to using Enochian, as opposed to Latin, is that many common words are unknown because they don’t appear in the texts recorded by Dee and Kelley.  Even the general word for “angel” is unknown (as opposed to categories of angels and the names of hundreds of individual angels), as is the name of the language itself, which wasn’t dubbed Enochian until well after Dee’s time.  Authentic translations therefore require some ingenuity.  For example, the best I can do for “It’s funnier in Enochian” would be “Moz i drilpi a bial de madriax,” literally meaning “Its joy is greater in the voice of heaven.”

Of course, Hollywood needn’t be factually accurate to be entertaining, but a TV series that does its research proves that it cares about details and respects its audience, two potential indicators of a ratings hit or a cult favorite.  “Constantine” and “The Librarians” might look to the success of “Supernatural” and take heed.

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