I have to say, I’ve been just flabbergasted by all the people, most of whom ostensibly claim to be “Wiccan” of some variety or at least some sort of magic-worker, who are saying words aren’t important, or don’t matter, or barely mean anything.
“Why are we arguing about WORDS?”, they cry out. “This isn’t important, it’s JUST WORDS!”
Oh really now?
When I was a junior high kid and looking through books about Pop Wicca (before I lost interest and put them down), one of the first things in those books I remember reading, and one of the few things in those tomes I took seriously enough to be a lesson, was this: Words and names are powerful, and intent alone only goes so far when one uses the wrong words.
I wish I remember what book I read that in, or at least what the exact words were so I could try searching the library on Google. I seem to recall it was a popular author, though, which just makes me wonder how nobody else seems to remember that lesson. If you believe in magic,truly believe it is real and works, then you believe in words and you believe that they mean things and that the words we use are important and should be chosen carefully. Hell, one of the most common forms of sympathetic magic is carefully choosing a child’s name, in hopes of that child carrying the best qualities of what that name means, or who the child was named after –because names are another kind of word, and words mean things and have power. That’s why changing one’s name is often a crucial step in conversion in many religions, because names are words, and words mean things and have power.
This is Magic 101, kids! If you don’t believe that words mean things and have power beyond your intent, then you don’t believe in magic. If it’s all “just words”, then why not call oneself a Christian or Muslim? I mean, it’s *just words*, so why not? Remember kids, intent alone isn’t magical –if the social justice fandom on Tumblr1 can figure out that much, then what’s the problem with people who claim to practise actual magic? I’m sure people like Margot Adler believe in all their hearts that they’re polytheists, but when she has said that she always wanted less to worship the gods and more to aspire to be what they represent, then that’s not polytheism, that’s either archetypalism or something else that is not polytheism.
Think of words like channels: You can intend to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race all you like, but if you don’t have the proper cable package to get the LOGO Channel, you can’t watch it (entertain me for a sec and pretend that you can’t download television on iTunes, OK? of course, that’s assuming it’s even available in the current season via iTunes). Intent alone won’t let you watch it.
Words are another tool –sometimes you can get by with a large shard of broken glass in place of a blade, but not every time. Sure, you can make due with only frankincense and myrrh for a while, but eventually you’re going to need other incenses because the ritual you’re doing or the deity you’re supplicating finds those scents completely inappropriate. Furthermore, one may be perfectly able to get by with a limited vocabulary, but certain avenues will be closed off unless one does the work to increase the words one knows. (Yeah, that means some people just can’t do certain things, but it’s even harder to find people who can’t develop other talents. If that still bothers you, well, as my father used to say “want in one hand and shit in the other, let’s see which one fills up fastest”.)
Hell, you can ask your Aunt Fran to pass you the “peanut butter” until you’re blue in the face, she won’t know your intent is for the pepper grinder until you make your intent clear in some other way, and even then, she’s probably going to think there’s something wrong with your head.
Maybe being trans puts me at this uncommon position in the pagan community, where I have an innate understanding of how much power and meaning words actually have? (Or at least gives me a higher possibility of understanding this shit, cos let me tell you, Internet…) When someone uses the wrong pronouns, even if they didn’t intend to, even if it doesn’t necessarily “out” me to others, I still feel it –yeah, at this point I’ve kind of built up a callus to it, but the fact that I’ve had to build up a callus to it speaks volumes about the impact and power of just the word tiny, three-letters of “she” and “her”, and I still feel it. I also know (cos people have asked me or otherwise said things that indicate they heard it) that this makes a lot of people suddenly question my gender and essentially the very essence of who I am and what I’m about. “Oh, I thought you were a man?” –cutting, powerful, and dare I say hurtful words, even if the intent was an innocent question, and especially when I have to respond “no, you were right, I am –the other person is wrong”. Intent alone makes for shitty magic without the proper tools to support it.
Because words mean things. Words have power. Words are tools that carry more magic than intent alone. Yes, the colloquial meaning of any particular words can be fluid and malleable, but the meaning is still there, and charged with the roots and etymologies the word carries.
I wouldn’t say “useless” when I mean something is “unnecessary”. I wouldn’t say “androgynous” when I mean “effeminate”. The roots and nuance are just different enough to make these words mean different things.
I dare say, it’s a by-product of Christianisation, and a mighty flaw in monism as a whole, that leaves many people with the mistaken impression that certain words “mean essentially the same thing” when they don’t, and it’s not too far a leap to get on the slippery slope of “words mean whatever one intends them to mean”. As I’ve said before, words don’t exist for us as as individuals, they exist so that we can have the ability to communicate complex statements, thoughts, ideas, directions, and requests. Our own ideas about ourselves and other, these ideas that we have essentially for ourselves, will still exist, even if we lack the words to express them to others. When the Theoi gave us words, They gave us another tool to communicate with both Them and with each-other, and we can either use that tool carefully or carelessly; words are a tool that have the power to build and to destroy.
When the Assyrian sage Ahqar first stated (around 500BCE) “The word is mightier than the sword,” he clearly understood the powerful magic of words and what they mean not just to individuals, but to whole peoples.
But hey, if you still contend that “it’s just words” and that they only mean as much you you intend them to, then put your money where your mouth is: Stop calling yourself a “polytheist” or even “pagan” –after all, it’s just words! Stop claiming you honour Hekate –after all, names are just another kind of word! Hell, stop blogging and stop commenting on others’ blogs –you’re just giving form to these stupid, meaningless words! Change your name to an unpronounceable symbol and communicate with smells and gestures and vocalisations –but be careful not to form anything too close to words (including Sign Language). If you refuse to do that, then you concede that words mean things and are powerful.
1: I refuse to entertain those kids’ delusions that they’re “activists”, especially when they don’t treat those issues with actual thought, but the unquestioning ravings of a rabid fankid.