New words for the new year

Inspired by the episode of “Black Adder” in which our hero attempts to write a new dictionary, and by the music of “Mythodea” by Vangelis, and “Adeimus” by Karl Jenkins, and other choral musics that are sung in invented languages.

The word “good life” is an interesting one. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a.2 sc.3, the clown asks his drinking buddies “Would you have a love song, or a song of good life?” One gets the impression that “a song of good life” means a song that one can dance to, and with carousing, wenching, feasting, drinking, and merrymaking as its subject matter. Alas, Toby and Andrew ask the clown for a love song, so we might never know what ‘good life’ song the clown would have performed instead.

When reading certain catholic theologians, which my livelihood sometimes requires me to do, one gets the impression that “paganism” has to do with “good life”, and can be defined as excessive interest in the good bounties of the mortal world, and insufficient interest in the immaterial and otherworldly realm of God. Those who “dance, sing, feast, make music and love,” thus commit a sin of ommission. They should be spending their non-labourious hours in prayer. Oliver Cromwell once tried to abolish Christmas and replace it with “days of national humiliation”. Thank the Gods the idea didn’t catch on.

A similar proposition can sometimes be found in the works of some contemporary pagan writers, and some contemporary new age writers, when they encourage their readers to direct their attention to immaterial energies and presences, to the ‘light’ and the ‘vibrations’ of the ‘higher’ realms. A friend recently invited me to attend a weekend retreat course in “angelic reiki healing”, which promised “A full attunement to Angelic Reiki 2nd Degree including 10 Divine Multidimensional symbols, activated to Galactic level, and a “hands on healing” experience, becoming a channel for healing through your Healing Angel as the first steps in Multidimensional co-creative Healing, including: healing as a bridge for your Healing Angel, using beaming from the Third Eye, and Healing with Ascended Masters and Galactic Healers.” Aside from some ellipsis, that’s an exact quote from the invitation. It was also noted that the weekend course would cost $360.

Try as I might, I just can’t see how the course is not a species of what Nietzsche would call “anti-life” thought – because it places the highest emphasis on that which is immaterial, abstract, and transcendental, as the source of “healing”, and denies that “healing” or any other kind of life-satisfaction could be obtained by means of embodied bounties: food, drink, physical exertion, sex, and so on.

Moreover, I couldn’t see how the course was teaching anything other than a vocabulary – not a technique of healing but a technique of talking, which purports to describe a group of ‘inner’ experiences people have of their bodies and minds, but is perhaps reinforced more by social pressures to conform, rather than by actual lived experiences. For no one wants to say he feels nothing after hours of Reiki treatment. A friend of mine was once thrown out of a “find your totem spirit” workshop when, after the spirit-flight visualisation, she said she saw a carrot.

This is a shame, in a way, since the person who sent me this invitation is a good person, and I am rather fond of her.

Yet it seems very obvious to me that certain varieties of Christianity, and certain varieties of New-Age thought, are the same in that to fully participate in them one must commit oneself to the proposition that the embodied world has nothing of value in it – or that whatever things of value may be found here, they are piddly little nothings compared to the greater glory of God, or the Light, or whatever other name is offered for some transcendental abstraction. I’m not sure anymore if these are real places or experiences. I think they might be just words, which are meant to reinforce a certain kind of social order.

The emphasis on transcendental sources of spiritual fulfilment reminds me of what Sartre described as “bad faith” and “false consciousness”. It involves a kind of mental trick we play on ourselves in order to fully benefit from a gratifying illusion – a trick that has to be played in such a way that we do not allow ourselves to acknowledge that it is, indeed, a trick.

In religious vocabulary, there are already words for states of mind that prevent enlightenment or lead one astray, such as:

“Jahiliyyah” from Islamic thought, especially the work of Sayyid Qutb, meaning ignorance or ‘back-sliding’ (i.e. to the condition of life before God gave us the Koran); especially the sort of ignorance which both harms the ignorant person and others, and also leads the ignorant person to believe that he is not ignorant.

“Maya”, a very complex idea from Hindu thought, meaning “illusion”, in particular the illusory perception that things are separate and distinct from each other; the “veil” which prevents full perception of the Atman, or the Buddha Nature, or some other principle of transcendental unity.

Both of these ideas are interesting, and have much merit in them. Yet both of them presuppose that the embodied world and its good bounties is a trap. I believe that presupposition is false. So, I’m thinking about coining my own new word for the attitude, or the disposition, to place all one’s hope for happiness on disembodied abstractions like God, Heaven, the “Light”, the other-world, or some other disembodied abstraction, at the expense of bounties of the embodied world. The word would be like Jahilliyya, or Maya, but in some ways its exact opposite.

I am also thinking of new words to denote the attitude or the disposition to find spiritual liberation or enlightenment (however defined) in the bounties of the embodied world, and especially in activities which are inherently empowering, life-affirming, pleasurable, and loving.The word “paganism” could suffice here, since that is already part of its meaning. But “paganism” is a word with a lot of additional baggage. “Good life” could suit the purpose too. But it might not be precise enough.

So, one of my new year’s resolutions is to create a philosophical vocabulary, an almost-new language, for the ideas that I’ve been describing here. This is a tricky project: the mere existence of a coherent vocabulary for one’s ideas is not what makes an idea sound and true. And I also want to pay attention to the artistic quality of the language. For philosophers who do nothing but logical analysis of things end up producing philosophy that is very precise and yet very boring.

New names for “new” conditions of mind and of life; new words for new world views; and new languages for new poetry — this is my work for this extapular new year.

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12 Responses to New words for the new year

  1. Anonymous says:

    what about the word “Brendanism”?

    • admin says:

      I suspect no one would go for it. And I’m sure a few of my friends would stomp all over me for cult-leader-like egotism.

      Nice thought, though. Thanks!

  2. alfrecht says:

    I’m very much with you on this…

    I had Reiki extolled to me once by a friend, who said that it is wonderful because it’s “non-invasive,” and doesn’t actually involve physical touching. There’s little enough physical touching of a loving and healing type to be found in the world in general, so why would one want to shy away from it and avoid it when it was possible to have it? Give me a mediocre massage any day in preference to a Reiki session…

    I was at a week-long conference at Findhorn back in October of ’01 on “Sex and Spirit.” My final verdict: too much spirit, not enough sex. Especially in the final days of the conference, there were (required) presentations on celibacy, in which the person presenting had given up all sexual contact because her husband had a stroke and was “no longer able for it” (which I think is bollocks…I’ve heard of worse-off people who have very admirably redefined their sexuality in such difficult situations), and she told us that spirit and internal realities are much more important and so much better than external ones. That’s about when I turned off on her offerings. Later that day, rather than go to any of the talking head workshops on something that supposedly had to do with sex and spirit, I went to a gypsy dancing workshop. That was fun, and something that I’ve been able to do on occasion ever since. Granted, that may not have much to do with sex either, but if you like rhythm and working with others, hey!–it could be considered cross-training!

    I’ll be interested to hear what you come up with on this…

  3. erynn999 says:

    Feh. We are our bodies every bit as much as we are our souls, and at least our bodies can be seen and touched. Give me immanent deity any day of the week. Let’s hear it for the Good Life!

  4. So by inventing these neologisms, aren’t you doing the same thing? Why be so lofty about it? Do we really not have ANY words that spell out what you’re trying to communicate? Can’t you use basic words to communicate with the average man on the street (or in the woods) rather than create new higher words with grand mystical meanings that require a specially trained/sanctified/$360-per-workshop teacher to lead us to an enlightened state by, oh, I dunno, talking to us a whole lot?

    I’ll give ya a few words/phrases: fluffy-bunnies, plastic shamans, and Druishness.

    And be careful of almost-new languages. They can be… un-good. Triple-plus un-good, in some cases. At best they usually come out as bafflegab (which is merely higher-priced bullshit) or an overly cumbersome corporate-speak that’s been sanitized of all verbal flavour and nutrition (like white bread).

    Not to say, btw that I’m a hater when it comes to neologisms. I love watching the language grow and evolve and morph into new things. No really, I do. But You can’t force it. It needs to be natural and happen organically for it to be beautiful and meaningful. And true. It needs to “ring true”

    Now… where did I hear some stuff before about Truth and the beauty of nature, and the truth being the beauty and stuff like that? Geeez, sure does sound familiar. Can’t… quite… recall… No, don’t tell me. It’s on the tip of me tongue. Starts with a “D”

    (I’m pushing my luck with this by now, aren’t I??)

    M’eh, I’m gonna go eat some carrots and see if I can remember.

    • admin says:

      Well the idea of being paid $360 per workshop is really appealing, and if all I have to do is invent a vocabulary to denote phenomena that may or may not exist… 🙂

      But seriously:
      Every culture or sub-culture has a special vocabulary of its own which helps people who are a part of it communicate specialized information to each other quickly and efficiently. As a philosopher I have a stock vocabulary of terms from the works of the writers who I study: “dasein”, “bad faith”, “phenomenology”, “epoche”, “the mean”, “apeiron”, “logos” etc. In fact some publishers sell philosopher’s dictionaries to help people get through it all. Some of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century demonstrated that rational thought is impossible without language – Wittgenstein, for instance. Orwell, in his novel, observed how thought and imagination can be controlled when language is curtailed: and your use of some of his neologisms in your comment was not lost on me.

      With reference to Druidry: Alexei Kondratiev makes this point in “The Apple Branch”, and it is a strong premise. In our movement we use words like “Truth”, “Imramma”, “Awen”, “Imbas”, “Aisling”, “Tuath”, “Tir na nOg”, etc., in ways that are particular to us.

      Kondratiev’s conclusion (that all CR’s should speak Irish in their ceremonies and gatherings) was a bit much for me. A few people reading my blog might remember that I was one of his most outspoken opponents against the premise that one needs to adopt a specialized language to be fully spiritual. Yet I thought his initial premises were correct.

      As a philosopher I’m perfectly at liberty to invent new words, or use existing words in new ways, so long as the logic is sound. Indeed that is what I did in OSV with the word “Immensity”. I’m a fairly smart guy so I could probably invent a small number of effective and intuitively comprehensible neologisms for specific purposes, without falling into the traps that you describe here. In fact I’ve invented new words before: pg.20 of OSV introduces the word “flappery”. This very blog post introduced the word “extapular”. I bet most people breezed past them as if they already knew what they mean.

      Language is one of the media that philosophers use for their purposes. One of my philosophical purposes is to change and improve the way people think about their lives and their societies. I’m sure you can fill in the blank from there.

      • Wittgenstein, eh? *ahem* lalala…. in the key of D…..
        “Wittgenstein was a beering swine
        Who was just as shloshed as Schlegel”

        Damn it B, ya can’t go mentioning people from the Bruce’s Philosopher song around me. Now I have to sing the whole damn thing through at least three times just to get it out of my head. Nice goin’ by. Argggg.

        Ok, so I have a really great response that I wrote to all of this, but its so long that LJ won’t let me post it here. Go see my page then.

  5. I completely agree both with the non-desirability of divorcing oneself from the experiential world and also with the concept and use of a “philosophical vocabulary”.

    ‘Native Tongue’, a trilogy by Suzette Haden Elgin (who is a linguist or maybe a philologist) is about this need. She is a by-now slightly archaic feminist and the books are about a weird near-future time when a group of women create a ‘woman’s language’.

    On a larger scale, I support the concept that words make perception and perception makes reality– I think a word for ‘merry-making’ that includes ‘bodily enjoyment’ but doesn’t slosh over into ‘substance abuse’ or ‘behaviour you’ll regret if you remember it the next morning’ would be a good word.

  6. ecstaticlght says:

    I remember vividly the arguments you had about the required use of Irish Gaelic in CR workings…that got very ugly for a year, but I learned a lot, when both sides of the argument presented their opinions on the subject.

    Thank you for the first hard laugh of the day. A friend of mine was once thrown out of a “find your totem spirit” workshop when, after the spirit-flight visualisation, she said she saw a carrot. That is ME! I am not alone! *snort* I’ll be laughing to myself about that for the rest of the night..

  7. samgillogly says:

    Actually, as soon as I finished reading this entry, I went and looked up “extapular” in the dictionary to see if it really existed yet. So, Mr. Wordsmith, what does it mean? 🙂

    “Cat: not a dog.” Love that episode.

  8. Anonymous says:

    A suggestion

    Would the Greek eudaimonia be at all close to what you mean? It doesn’t quite express the spiritual dimension (though I suppose one could read it that way, given the presence of the word “daimon), but it connotes for me a very embodied kind of flourishing, one that can only be had by finding an internal harmony, and harmony with external, even visible, things.

    • admin says:

      Re: A suggestion

      Eudaimonia – an interesting word indeed. As good ol’ Aristotle is one of my favourite writers, this word is one I’m very familiar with.

      Most writers that I’ve studied translate it as ‘happiness’, just to be quick about it, although they acknowledge that such a translation is almost certainly incomplete. The word denotes not a state of mind, but rather a way of being in the world.

      The translation I have preferred is ‘a good or favourable fortune’, as the Greek ‘daimon’ is the word for fortune or destiny. The prefix eu- is the word for favourable, preferable, beneficial, meritorious, or for whatever reason desireable.

      For a shorter translaton: ‘Flourishing’ is the english near-equivalent that I use in my writings. ‘Good spirits’ is another possibility, and is about as useful and informative, and I think more accurate than ‘happiness’, as a translation.

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