‘Sigil’ and the Ambiguity of Words and Their Meanings — Part One


By Omar Cherif
'Sigil' and the Ambiguity of Words and Their Meanings I always knew that being trilingual is helpful in writing and in communication in general. Other than thinking in different languages, the ability to word your thoughts in a variety of ways, and having a wider vocabulary to choose from there are also some other benefits. Something happened lately which reminded me of all that.


So I stumbled upon the English word ‘sigil’. And since I am a peckishly curious lexophile who is passionate about ancient history, linguistics and theology, I decided to dig deep into the etymology of that word — in English as well as in Arabic.

The Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘sigil’ is: a sign, word, or device held to have occult power in astrology or magic.
‘Sigil’ is pronounced ‘sijel’. It derives from the Latin sigillum, meaning: seal, statuette, stamped figure; or “little sign” from signum.

The word could also be related to the Hebrew where ‘segula' means “word, action, or item of spiritual effect; a sacramental talisman that supersedes logic as a protective or benevolent charm or ritual in Kabbalistic and Talmudic tradition.”

In medieval ceremonial magic, the term sigil was commonly used to refer to occult signs which represented various angels and demons that the magician might summon. 

The use of symbols for magical or cultic purposes has been widespread since at least the Neolithic era. Some examples from other cultures include the yantra from Hindu tantra, historical runic magic among the Germanic peoples, or the use of veves in Vodoun (Voodoo).

A common method of creating the sigils of certain spirits was to use kameas (magic squares) where the names of the spirits were converted to numbers, which were then located on the magic square. The locations were then connected by lines, forming an abstract figure.

The current use of the term is derived from Renaissance magic, which was in turn inspired by the magical traditions of antiquity.
In astrology, the term ‘sigil’ means an occult device that is supposed to have great power. Alright.


What has really grabbed my attention to the word ‘sigil’ in the first place was that I have heard it before a long time ago from the Qur’an where it is mentioned in “Souret al-Feel”, or Chapter of “The Elephant” among other citations. The Arabic pronunciation is only slightly different and it sounds more like “sidjeel”. Ten-year-old me had been told that it means “baked clay that was sent by God to kill the bad guys.”

According to the Islamic belief and the Qur’an, during the year of the elephant — the year prophet Muhammed was born — God sent some kind of dark cloud of birds called “tayr ababeel” with sidjeel, or stones of baked clay, in their beaks and claws and they bombarded Abrahah al-Ashram, the Ethiopian general and king of Abyssinia. He was planning to destroy the Kaaba and change its location over to his kingdom to draw the annual pilgrims of Arabia to come to his kingdom. It is said that on his way to Mecca, Abrahah took 200 cattle that belonged to Abdul-Muṭṭalib (497 – 578), prophet Muhammed’s grandfather who was the head of the tribe back then. But the sidjeel-throwing birds attacked his army of men and elephants before reaching Mecca and saved the Kaaba as they all fled in panic.

He made them like an empty field of stalks and straw, (of which the corn) has been eaten up.”

Abrahah is believed to have died right after.

In history, however, there are no clear details about Abrahah’s death, only that it is around the year 553 based on the inscription at Murayghän.

So according to the rich Arabic language, the definitions of the word ‘sigil’ which I found in the dictionaries are:

  • Baked clay; solid mud cooked in fire. 
  • A valley in hell.
  • Where the suffering of the non-believers is inscribed.

And based on the interpretations I found ‘Sigil’ could also mean:

  • Somewhere in the Universe; possibly, I assume, leftovers of asteroids or meteors or comets…or any space debris.
  • A distant evil planet, from the Arabic word ‘segin’, which means hell.
  • From the Arabic verb ‘saggal’ meaning record; a rock that has the name of the person it’s going to kill inscribed on it. Hm.


Another mention of “Sidjeel” in the Qur’an is when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah — the two towns in ancient Palestine where lived the people of Lut, the Biblical Lot. 

Those two cities were mentioned in the Book of Genesis and throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament as well as other deuterocanonical sources.

Whether or not they have existed in real is still widely disputed by archaeologists.

However, in all three Abrahamic religions, Sodom and Gomorrah have become “synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of divine retribution.” The two cities have since been used as metaphors for vice, explicit sexual practices and homosexuality which were all viewed as a deviation…from the norm.

For Muslims, there may be a plethora of suggestions for what had happened based on the Qur’an and its interpretations, which contains seven references to the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Emam Al-Thaalabi’s famous “Qisas Al-Anbiya” or Stories of the Prophets — various collections of tales adapted from the Qur’an and other Islamic literature, closely related to exegesis of the Qur’an — the people of Lut were considered vile and sinful who lived in debauchery and engaged in sodomy. They didn’t listen to Lut’s warnings so the archangel Gabriel took permission from God to destroy them. After ordering Lut to leave by night, Gabriel slid his wing underneath all four towns that belong to his people, lifted them between the earth and the sky then flipped them upside down. There was a fifth town that was deliberately kept intact because its residents have adhered to Lut and listened to his warnings.
Those same five valley cities are recorded in the Ebla tablets as well as in the Bible.

According to Stories of the Prophets, the sidjeel stones only started to fall down the residents after that some were able to flee the cataclysmic event…or Gabriel’s giant wing. The story goes that while fleeing, Lut told his wife not to look back, however, she did and was instantly hit by the sidjeel rocks, turning her into a frozen statue (à la Pompeii). Supposedly the rocks would only fall on the people of Lut, killing them on the spot and/or turning them into statues. So sidjeel here entails knowing the name of the person it’s going to kill.

In the Genesis account, the story of the towns and their inhabitants represent a powerful lesson in the perils of wickedness. They were sinners against the Lord, and He decided to destroy them. The wife disobeyed and looked back and was instantly turned into a pillar of salt where she stood, possibly by hot fire and brimstone. Sigil?

Sigil 2

In science, Sodom and Gomorrah obviously have a different, less dramatic story. There has been a great deal of study and archeological research on this subject. The area where these two cities were thought to show evidence of volcanism in the past, and it is also on a fault line. However, there's no agreement among archaeologists, scientists and theologians that Sodom, and its sister town Gomorrah, existed at all — let alone that they were annihilated in a sudden apocalyptic demise.

Some others scientists, however, believe that the area was indeed destroyed by a terrible natural apocalypse that matches the description in the Book of Genesis. American forensic anthropologist Professor Mike Finnegan, believe that huge earthquakes in the early Bronze Age destroyed this area around the Dead Sea and killed its inhabitants; that’s sometime between 1800 BC and 2300 BC. And since Sodom and Gomorrah could have been towns built on the edge of the Dead Sea, there is a possibility that they have been destroyed by earthquake and landslide.

Two books cover these events thoroughly: The Destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah and Jericho: Geological, Climatological and Archaeological Background by David Neev and KO Emery (Oxford University Press, 1995), and Canaanites (Peoples of the Past) by Jonathan Tubb (British Museum Press, 2002).

Equally important, I also found two out of many documentaries about this hot potato of a topic which are: The 2-part Sodom & Gomorrah Documentary. TRUE STORY. And, Ron Wyatt Archaeology – Sodom & Gomorrah.

Sigil 3

So, is it a mere coincidence or could the word ‘sigil’ in English have possibly originated from Arabic and Hebrew? Its first known use in the English language is in 15th century, that’s many centuries after Lot and Abrahah. Personally, I see a certain correlation between “a magical device that supersedes logic” and “a mysterious rock coming from somewhere unknown in the Universe that knows the person it's going to kill.”

Words happen to be forgotten through the ages. They are given different meanings; perhaps intentionally some of the times and haphazardly some others. That’s what history is all about. Could sigil have one origin? Could we ever find out? Likely not. These are just examples of a much larger web of ambiguity that has limited our understanding of languages and defined our lives as humans


To Be Continued…


About the Author:

Omar Cherif
Omar Cherif
is a trilingual writer and researcher, photographer and blogger with degrees in journalism, psychology, and philosophy. After working in the corporate world for ten years, he took writing as a vocation and is currently finalizing his first book about dreams, the subconscious mind and spirituality among other topics.

You can follow Omar on here:
One Lucky Soul

And you can find more of his work on his blog and on Flickr:
One Lucky Soul


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