The Playfair Cipher for Magic

I have just released a new online tool for generating Playfair cipher keys using whatever text you feel like using. While this may seem like an unusual tool for a website like this, those who have taken my class, The Other Trithemian Art, or heard me talk about using modern hand-ciphers with Renaissance magical techniques, have learned how I use this. I’ll give a brief example of its use below.

You can skip all of this and head straight to the Playfair key generator tool.

The Playfair Cipher

The Playfair cipher is a manual symmetric encryption technique—a hand cipher—that encrypts pairs of letters (digraphs) in a plaintext message. It is a fairly straightforward cipher and is very easy to learn and use, which makes it excellent if you are trying to protect messages from spies in a pre-digital-computer world.

This cipher dates back to 1854, and while it is fairly simple, it is much more complex and interesting than most of the ciphers used by Renaissance magicians. The Playfair cipher Wikipedia page contains excellent instructions for its use.

Using Playfair with Magic

We already have seen examples of pseudo-encryption and early steganography in Renaissance magical texts and techniques, so why not update those techniques with some real encryption? The Playfair cipher gives you the ability to take any text, transform it into a cipher key, and then use that cipher key to manipulate any other text. Basically, it gives a way to combine two texts to create something entirely new.

My experiments have included using the Orphic hymns to encrypt petitions to planetary spirits. You can try it yourself. For example, take Thomas Taylor’s translation of the hymn to Kronos, and put it through the cipher generator.

Etherial father, mighty Titan, hear, great fire of Gods and men, whom all revere:
Endu’d with various council, pure and strong, to whom perfection and decrease belong.
Consum’d by thee all forms that hourly die, by thee restor’d, their former place supply;
The world immense in everlasting chains, strong and ineffable thy pow’r contains
Father of vast eternity, divine, O mighty Kronos, various speech is thine:
Blossom of earth and of the starry skies, husband of Rhea, and Prometheus wife.
Obstetric Nature, venerable root, from which the various forms of being shoot;
No parts peculiar can thy pow’r enclose, diffus’d thro’ all, from which the world arose,
O, best of beings, of a subtle mind, propitious hear to holy pray’rs inclin’d;
The sacred rites benevolent attend, and grant a blameless life, a blessed end.

You end up with a key that looks like this:


You can then use that key with the Playfair cipher to transform petitions to Kronos into a ciphertext petition. That petition can then be used the same way you use any petition.

This technique has many other interesting applications, including receiving specific keys from tutelary spirits, crafting spirit names into talismans, and other fun techniques. I look forward to hearing about your own experiments using hand ciphers in magic!

Generate your own cipher keys!

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