Archive for the ‘verbal magic’ Category

The Name’s the Thing — 2

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

An understanding of the power of naming is ancient and world-wide. During his lifetime, the Chinese sage Confucius was asked what he would do if he were a ruler, and he replied that he would “rectify the names” (Chinese zheng ming). He explained that words need to correspond to reality.

Damage that alignment, destroy the match-up between word and thing, he continued, and social order collapses. Or to jump ahead millennia and borrow from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, “enterprises of great pitch and moment,/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action”. In other words, to jump still further ahead in time to almost our century and to the much-quoted words of W. B. Yeats, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”. Bards get these things, and warn us sometimes centuries in advance of when we’ll need them.

Or to put it in the unpoetic jargon of our times, things suck cuz our names for them are wrong.

It’s not always wholly that simple, but it’s also not so far off.

camellia

“A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is–
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.
A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will,
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same” — Tanith Lee
A test for each of us: does this poem clarify, or obscure?

Likewise in ancient Egypt, where knowing the true names of people and things gave you power over them. U. K. LeGuin develops this idea in her Earthsea books. There her characters have “use names”, and hold their true names secret. For mages as persons of power, this practice is even more essential. And aren’t we all “persons of power”, however unclaimed? (Disempowerment is the magic too many wield today, against themselves as much as against anyone else.)

Sparrowhawk, the use-name of the wizard hero of the Earthsea books, goes through a naming ceremony on the cusp of adolescence. The mage Ogion “reached out his hand and clasping the boy’s arm whispered to him his true name: Ged. Thus was he given his name by one very wise in the uses of power” (A Wizard of Earthsea).

Egyptians in the times of the Pharaohs as well as Native Americans and many other peoples took on new names after defining events or achievements. To cite just one example from contemporary culture, Lily Collins’ anorexic character in the 2017 film To the Bone is given a new name by her therapist to help her imagine and discover her identity as someone other than a sick young woman.

Some of us pick up nicknames from others (including ones we may loathe), as well as give them to beings that matter in our lives. Dog and cat owners know this well. We give our loved ones “pet names”. And again, among the Egyptians, if you can name someone or something accurately, write its name on a pottery shard or piece of parchment, and then destroy the object that bears the name, you lessen the power of the person or thing.

A common rationalist view (an egregore at work there, too, one claiming that reason alone is exempt from all bias) calls this the rankest superstition. But insofar as words and names matter — and you need only scan current headlines to see a myriad of examples that names do matter, and deeply — that’s exactly where we’re living, whether we think we participate or not. “Superstition” literally stands (Latin sta-, stit-) over (Latin super) us. Are government stay-at-home orders “safety precautions” or “tyranny”? What we call them matters in concrete, “real-world” ways.

Next door in New Hampshire, protesters against the virus lockdown rally in the state capital. An added poignancy or irony: the NH state motto is “Live free or die”. People are hurting, both from the virus directly, and from restrictions around it. Does the binary of “live free or die” offer a good path forward, or might the Druid practice of transforming a binary into a ternary prove beneficial?

nhprotest

Breitbart News, 18 April 2020

/|\ /|\ /|\

In the previous post in this series, I asked these questions:

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days?

With some time spent in meditation, you can answer the first question for yourself. Make a name-giving ritual that’s meaningful to you — an opportunity to manifest your creativity. Consider both the power of writing down your name, or wearing it, perhaps in a locket or pouch around your neck, and also of keeping it secret, guarding its energy even as you build it, and never committing it to writing.

Maybe you take on a different name for each day of the week. More elaborately, you dedicate yourself to a month of name work. A different name for each day of the month. Watch for names you are taking into your awareness. What names are you giving to things? What names do you have for the events and circumstances and people you encounter during the day, week, or month? What power do you give them (or take from them) as a result of your naming?

If your birthday or another significant day is near, how can you consecrate that day and the names you’ve given it? “Oh, that’s the day that I ___ “. So what difference does that name make in your memory and experience? Try it out, with serious and also silly names.

Sticking with these practices, even if only for an hour at first, and then a whole day — or week — can demonstrate their efficacy and value better than anything I can write here.

What prayers can you create for your (new) name? Does that sound strange at first? Maybe a simple triad: “I shine the power of today’s sunlight on my name. I give the love of my ancestors to my name. I feed my name with the pungency of nutmeg” and so on. Work with this name, and spend time using it in contemplation. “By the power of my name, I ____ ”

May you find names of beauty, wisdom and freedom, and welcome them into your lives.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Breitbart photo of NH protest;

Third Time’s the Charm

What follows below is just my end of an interesting exchange in a Facebook Druidry group in response to a post of this article of a little over a year ago from the Irish Times: “A Magical Vision is Hidden in the Irish Language — We Need to Rediscover It”.

While I have only a nodding acquaintance with Irish (my chief interest is in the Welsh and the Cornish of some of my ancestors), the Romantic in me says Yes! Anything to re-enchant the cosmos! Some languages ARE inherently more evocative than others, whether from their histories, their associations, or other causes.

If, in an alternate world, Irish were the language of the oppressors, that might not be so; we then might turn to English and marvel at its treasure-trove of words like glitter, gleam, twilight, sparkle, gloaming, sussuration, foresight, insight, hindsight, learn by heart, lore, soothe, cleanse, bask, glean. Or its poetic names for things: bone-house for skeleton, day’s eye for the daisy; heart’s ease, love-lies-bleeding, baby’s breath; coltsfoot, lady’s mantle … Or its names for a host of non-physical creatures: basilisk, ghoul, ghost, unicorn, wyvern, griffin, manticore, fae, undine, sylph, brownie, werewolf

DSCN2885

Bridge near a community stone circle in Northern Vermont

Meanwhile, however, the linguist in me (two Master’s degrees — don’t ask!) notes that languages struggling to keep a foothold in people’s lives tend to receive this ‘hidden wisdom, magical vision, etc.’ treatment in the press. The same is true for the traditions and languages of Native peoples here in the States: in a reversal of centuries of discrimination, the vision of the Other is now superior to what the dominant culture/language/people know or understand. (Older languages in general seem to preserve evidence of more subtle ways of looking at the cosmos that we have tended to discount and cast off in our mad rush into modernity. Old English itself offers marvelous linguistic resources for a Pagan way of viewing the world, to give just one example.)

My third reaction — because the resolution of opposites through a missing third element is always good Druid (magical) practice — says that these two perspectives can be combined to our benefit. Learn the language – in this case, Irish — and then I will be more qualified to determine for myself if such claims (and counter-claims) are true.

Meanwhile, I can enjoy them anyway and let them set me challenges I can choose, if I wish or am shown by the gods, to accept.

/|\ /|\ /|\ 

Repetition and Enchantment

wave1One of the glories of repetition is enchantment. We can enchant ourselves into another space and place with repetition. Mindless repetition, no.  But eager, delighted repetition, inviting the change, welcoming it as you sense it begin to steal over you — that’s a very different thing. Things do, after all, “come true.” Bringing feeling into it enlivens the charm, animates it with a spark of our own energy. Who after all tires of the ocean, though one wave follows another?

Verbal magic is one of the first magics we learn. Perhaps you’ve heard a child repeat a word endlessly, exploring the taste of it in the mouth, the joy in the rhythm of it. Maybe with a tuneless little tune accompanying it. And maybe, if you’re blessed (and you are), you’ve caught yourself with just such a tune on your lips, engaged in some repetitive task, or doing “nothing,” which is often a chance to do a very great something, a spelling of oneself into an Else-where and Else-when, a door opening to wonder.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Now feel the change when you read these next words. You’ve heard them, some version of them, maybe said them to yourself or another, even in jest. Bitter words we hear far too often. Loser. Nobody. Waste of space.  And “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” Some variation of this very evil charm that drags on people’s vision of themselves and their world and steals away possibility. Verbal magic, alas (and also thank the powers), is very real.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Now that you’ve had a small glimpse of the two magics contrasted (which is really the same magic, used for uplifting and destructive purposes), let me offer a restorative charm that deserves loving repetition. A charm for transforming the “I.” A spell to memorize, to whisper to oneself at need. A blessing to say over your children each night as they fall asleep. A charm to recite gazing into the eyes of an animal or human you love and who loves you. A charm to recite at dawn or sunset, the light looking into us and saying its silent word. A charm to remember what the ecstatic I is made of, a charm for the music that is the awen vibrating in us all:

I am the luck of every joy,
I am the light of the sun’s beams,
I am the door of lordly welcome,
I am the pole star of guidance,
I am the step of the deer on the height,
Mine is the step of the white-faced mare,
Mine is the grace of the swimming swan,
I am the jewel in each mystery.

Nine waves around me,
Nine winds above me,
Nine paths within me,
Nine fires about me,
Nine wells beneath me,
Nine wisdoms given me,
Nine gifts bestowed on me,
Nine skills awoken within me,
Ninefold the blessing in either hand.*

/|\ /|\ /|\

*adapted from Matthews, Caitlin. A Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004, pgs. 138-139.

IMAGE: wave.

%d bloggers like this: