In the Beginning was the Word: The Magic of Language.

What came first, the object or the word? We naturally believe that early humans perceived a world full of things and objects and then began affixing word-labels to them. In fact, the opposite is true.

Early humans did not perceive the world primarily through the left hemisphere of their brains (LH) in the way we do now. Engagement with the world was first and foremost a right hemisphere (RH) engagement. Remember from Part One the different ways the two hemispheres of the brain have of engaging with the world: the RH attends to meaningful patterns and holistic changes in its environment while the LH focuses on recognizing and manipulating objects[1]. To understand the difference between perceiving the world as a whole (RH) and perceiving the world by way of parts (LH), imagine listening to a piece of music. You are not noticing or engaging with individual notes. You are hearing melodies, rhythms, songs. You are feeling tension and release. More than that, on the edge of awareness, associations with past experience are invoked, emotions are triggered, dissonance, and possible resolutions are anticipated and cognized. That is all RH activity. We can, of course, focus upon the individual notes but that is a reflective act that takes effort; it is not our natural mode of engagement. Early humans engaged with the world holistically, attuned to the rhythms and dissonances of life.

Our earliest words were expressions of this holistic engagement and did not carry specific information. A sudden guttural cry did not mean “Lion! Look Out!” Rather, it invoked a change of Gestalt, a change in environmental valence; it created a new pattern of meaning that suggested danger. Learning a language in this pre-literate culture meant learning to recognize regular patterns of meaning -- the rhythms of life -- and how to be immersed in them. The brain was not learning specific names that mapped on to specific things.[2]

As these utterances became more specialized, specific noises would express emotional nuances and evoke more specific scenarios. As primitive culture became more complex, so did the emotional valences attached to these proto-words.

Then came a change in usage that signalled the shift from the RH to the LH: naming. While emotive expressions are cues that are meant to evoke a situational Gestalt, names are labels and cognitive short-cuts that indicate specific ideas or things. Certainly, these word-labels continued to act as Gestalt triggers; herein lies the source of that mysterious power of words to both refer to things and to trigger meaning. But with naming, the human brain began down the road, away from a holistic engagement with reality, toward an engagement with reality filtered through the LH lens of discrete objects and ideas.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche describes the process whereby new things are created by naming them:

“The reputation, name, and appearance … of a thing, what it is worth – originally almost always error and arbitrariness, thrown over things like clothing, and altogether foreign to their essential nature and even to their skin -- all this grows from generation to generation, through belief in it, gradually to be a part of the thing and turns into its very body: what is at first appearance becomes in the end almost invariably essence and works .. it is enough to create new names and likelihoods in order to create in the long run new “things”. (GS, 58) 

Words seem to function like labels for things we find in the world. For example, I see here an object, I name it ‘tree’; similar things I will also call ‘tree’. However, for words to do their job, the original experience must be simplified and generalized. To extend the label to other similar objects -- to group like with like under a category -- the world must be divided up into similar things. But on what basis is similarity decided? What is essential to the thing being labeled? Because language and word processing is a LH function, the LH makes these decisions. And because the LH has evolved to work with, and to focus on, specific units, pieces, and parts, all the holistic elements in perception and experience are excluded. The word takes on a thing-like existence of its own, becoming what philosophers call reified.

Meanwhile, the RH is as busy as ever monitoring its environment and recognizing patterns. However, the environment that the RH now monitors for opportunity and danger is no longer only, or even primarily, an external world. The environment being monitored by the RH, forever on the lookout for meaningful patterns, is an internal world populated with these reified things called words. The repertoire of patterns and associations that the RH looks for are all word-based. Experience, even the holistic attunement of the RH, is now guided by, and bound to, the epistemology of The Word.

Naming thereby creates a certain kind of world. We recognize – re-cognize – only what fits the preconceptions of The Word, an epistemology of separate parts and objects acting upon each other externally. We have come to expect there to be no internal connection between each separate, material instance; only an external, causal interaction. By insisting upon the primacy of the Word, we have wired into our most basic interactions with the world an epistemology that shapes reality in terms of materialism, abstraction, and separation.

This masculine, LH epistemology of The Word utterly fails to grasp the true nature of reality. How could it possibly succeed? Trying to conceive of reality using only your LH is like trying to recognize a face one pore and one hair follicle at a time. It is like trying to read your computer screen by looking at each pixel separately or like trying to conceive of eternity by adding up each instant of time. It is like thinking that you can understand music by knowing the pitch and timbre of each note. The LH forever fails to experience or understand the true nature of reality because it focuses on the part and misses the whole.

The structure of our language -- our grammar -- also creates this disconnected world by schematizing reality in terms of subject, verb, and object; Subject is separate from Verb, which acts externally upon an Object. Proto-language originally reinforced a holistic sense of community, binding us as one to the rhythms of life. We understood our place in the world first and foremost, not in terms of a collection of disconnected individuals bound by calculations of self-interest (LH), but in terms of our community, our home, our family, our environment, and our deities (RH). Those collective wholes were, literally, who we were. Only secondarily, and only as part of a greater whole, did we see ourselves as individuals. Now, thanks to grammar and The Word, we are all independent, isolated egos acting externally upon a world of disconnected objects.

Though mostly confused and obfuscatory, the occult is based upon this very real power that words have to reconfigure the world and to create new things. The word ‘grammar’ has its roots in the Latin words ‘grammatica’ and ‘gramma’ which mean a written mark or letter. When the word arrived in English in the14th century, a new word emerged alongside it: ‘grammary’, meaning occult learning and necromancy. This led to the word ‘glamour’ which originally meant ‘enchantment’ or ‘spell’; devils and wizards were said to ‘cast the glamour’. This is also the origin of the word ‘grimoire’ for spell book.[3] In a pre-literate world without a formalized language, the introduction of new words, and the new concepts they conveyed, had the power to literally change how one perceived the world, altering reality.

While a specific incantation of words can crystallize a new reality quite suddenly, words often have a slower, occult effect. The Word is like a strange birthmark upon a child’s body in a superstitious community. The child is shunned, disrespected, unloved and thereby becomes possessed; the mark or ‘gramma’ creates its own reality. We still see this power at work today when a child is labeled, now with a word rather than a mark, is subtly ostracized, and is gradually criminalized or psychiatrized. The Word creates its own reality.

Consider this power of The Word to create reality. Is this not the true meaning of first line of the Bible?

     In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

To say that God is Word is to declare nothing less than God is in the service of the LH. The Word has created a world that can only be cognized by the LH and what your LH cannot cognize does not exist, or worse, is counter to the Word of God. Any experience that does not fit the epistemological expectations of the Word is dismissed as delusion, mental illness, devilry, or new-age, spiritualist fantasy. As a result, we fail to experience (or ignore, or leave aside in wonder, or, more often, declare to be unreal) those feelings and experiences that we cannot capture with The Word: experiences of interconnectedness, duration, immateriality, spirit, eternity, oneness, Love, community, and emotion. We have thereby lost a sense of the Divine oneness of reality -- the holistic entwinement of living existence. 

[1] “Brain Lateralization, Language, and the Reality of the Divine Feminine - Part One”

[2] There is evidence that singing and music preceded language and that language evolved out of song to some extent. Think of the lilting sing-song communication between mother and child. This is a RH interaction. No information is being conveyed but a strong bond is being created in a pre-literate reality.

[3] On the magical power of words: “The Witchcraft of Grammar” in Omtimes.

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