Languages and Magick: Cultural Artefacts and Split Personalities

(The bulk of this post was written three years ago, but got lost in the shuffle. To refamiliarize yourself with my ramblings you can find Part One here and find Part Two here.)

I’ve touched a bit upon languages, alphabets and names in the past, but there is another aspect of language and magick that interests me. It’s less convoluted and more just varying opinions. What power does language have (as in a specific tongue), when, and why?

Religions and magickal traditions have all sorts of different opinions. I have Muslim friends who know no Arabic, except what it required to read and recite the Qur’an, and say their prayers. Not to mention Jewish friends that know only enough Hebrew to say the first part of many prayers “Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu *mumblemumblemumble*” The why and the how differs. Not surprisingly though very few Christians learn any Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic for their religion –and if you want to win arguments with them, learn these languages.

So why does language (not) matter in magick? I’m talking including religions here, because yes there is a big crossover with magick. There are all sorts of different opinions on why you should or shouldn’t use some language. My friends have explained that the words of Mohammad (P) are sacred, so when reciting the Qur’an or the prayers, they should say it as he said it, that the literal words are sacred. A Lukumi friend of mine has learnt Spanish, Yoruba, and some pidgin language of which the name escapes me for her prayers, for what seems to be a cultural respect. On the other side of things is good old Abraham von Worms who said essentially don’t pray in any language other than your mother tongue as you’ll never be as sure what you’re saying, and you could say or imply the wrong things. Even if you learn the language, there can be dozens of subtle nuances you won’t know if it isn’t your mother tongue, or you’ve spoken it regularly for less than a few decades.

Enochian magick pretty much is always initiated in Enochian. When studying with one lama I was told that my sadhanas (rituals) should be performed in Tibetan, but if I can’t manage that then English would work. He never really explained why and it later confused me when I was taught to do the same sadhana without speaking at all; should I be thinking in Tibetan or English? Yet at the same time many Tibetans do rituals in their Sanskrit forms (in fact my lama translates them into or back into Sanskrit sometimes), yet Mongolians often practice these same rituals in Tibetan. There is this clear idea that language matters, but it’s often the language of the other. So Western and Mongolian Buddhists might use Tibetan, but many Tibetans are using Sanskrit.

What does it matter? I think Lon Milo Duquette said it best, it was on a podcast, but I can’t remember which, possibly Thelema Coast to Coast, but when referring to the Enochian Entities he said something to the effect of “They’re like Frenchmen, they want you to take the effort to speak their language, even if you’ll fail horribly, and then they’ll talk to you in English.” In an earlier post Ars Mysteriorum said that higher beings can understand any language, but it is more polite to speak with them in the language they’re most familiar with. We agree it was a simplified analogy but the rough idea seems appropriate.

Many entities are culturally specific, and have been approached in the same language for hundreds or thousands of years, and while they may understand other languages, these are the languages of their history. One lama stresses performing the sadhanas traditionally, not because they are written in stone, don’t work in English, or anything, but out of respect for the tradition they come from, as well as believing there is a greater sympathy by performing the ritual in the same way and same language as many great saints, holy people, and magickians have for hundreds of years, while my other lama translates them into the older tongue of Buddhism, Sanskrit (but does not translate them into Pali, which is an even older tongue for Buddhism).

Is language in magick just an artefact? Is it an issue of respect? Is there magickal power to it? Another take is magickal languages (well languages in general, but this is Blue Flame Magick, not Blue Flame In General) cause split personalities. Aside from being confused by the language, or worried I’ll get something wrong, when I’m speaking in Enochian I /feel/ magickal. When not cringing at mispronunciations I can’t seem to correct just chanting in Tibetan makes me /feel/ more engaged. This is more than just my simple feelings about the matter though.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (You’ll need an access code like a University library to get this I assume) in their November 2010 had a relevant article “Two Languages, Two Personalities? Examining Language Effects on the Expression of Personality in a Bilingual Context.”

It says “Self-reports and behavioral observations confirmed the effects of perceived cultural norms, language priming, and interlocutor ethnicity on various personality dimensions.” People, both notice about themselves and in others, that their personality shifts along “perceived cultural norms” when speaking in another language. People act, in a subtle stereotypical way, similar to the cultural/people that uses that language. In the tests English/French speakers tended to be more verbally aggressive, independent, and withdrawn when speaking in French, common stereotypical traits. Whereas native Chinese, Korean, and Spanish speakers who learnt English tended to be more extroverted, more assertive, and more open to new experiences when talking in English. Traits they associate with the North American English speaker.

Tibetan is the language of the day to day life of the Tibetan people, but Sanskrit and Pali were the languages that the early siddhis and yogis spoke, and by using it they are closer to them…if only in a stereotypical association of the other. English is day to day, but Enochian is supposed the language of the Angels, of course speaking Enochian seems magickal…if only for that reason.

The language rabbit hole goes deeper, because despite whatever objective power might be there, the subjective association of the magickal other adds something to languages in other language, and perhaps that little bit extra is worth pursuing.


5 Responses to Languages and Magick: Cultural Artefacts and Split Personalities

  1. Gordon says:

    The Frenchmen thing is very apt. My suspicion is this behaviour extends beyond using the correct language to at least getting SOME of the offerings/correspondences right.

    In the end, we’re doing extradimensional diplomacy, and diplomats live or die on the gifts they offer.

    • Kalagni says:

      I really like that view. I can see it explaining why some things work, some don’t. Why some substitutes work, and why others don’t.

  2. I don’t do a lot of chanting in my practice, but I do know that I would never have gotten where I’ve gotten in my Theravada practice without knowing some Pali. English is downright horrible at translating the fullness of some of the terms the Buddha was throwing around. Not only that, but he was also constantly taking Vedic terms and recasting them into the mold of his Dhamma so my bits of Sanskrit are only some help.

  3. uratriura says:

    I am intrigued here. And honestly curious.

    If there is an outside form representing an inner principle is it important to follow it to the detail to reach this principle. Like a labyrinth (you will get lost if you do not follow the map to the point. Finding your own way is belived to be impossible).

    Or is it that the form should follow the function. That it is more important to reach this inner state with whatever means possible.

    Or is it the problem that you may reach somewhere and can not be sure if the point you reached is what it was ment to be without using the before mentioned map.

    This is not ment to fire any argument. I would really like to know.

    • Kalagni says:

      That’s exactly the quest and question. What is it, or I suspect more accurately, to what /degree/ is it these variation options.

      While I spoke in terms of absolutes to make my point, I suspect the underlying reality is shades of all of these, but the question is to what degree, and why?

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