The Magic We Practice In The Words We Speak
Referring to David Abram in his book, Becoming Animal, David Lukas says (in his book Language Making Nature),
“our careless use of this powerful verb, to be, flattens the world.”
The most powerful magic we currently practice in Western Industrial Culture – the very words we speak – weave powerful spells of meaning which then create the physical reality of the world around us. Our words create bulldozers, metaphoric and measurable; destructive machines that run both on the pejorative power of our judgment and the cancer of fossil fuel. Machines in the form of spells made of meaning which spill out of our physical mouths and the (ever-narrowing) apertures of our imagination to go out into the animate world of beauty and aliveness and do our (semi-conscious) bidding.
I was raised in an affluent over-educated New England; a culture where intelligence was used as a weapon, constantly cosmetically curated. Only a very narrow category of information was considered relevant, worthy. By the time I was 9 I had been chewed up and spit out, consigned to the category of the unworthy; those who did not have what it took to be relevant. When I was 11, by some fortuity that happened over and over in my childhood, I discovered permission in the form of words (words that served to weave spells of wild rebellion rather than domestication). Margaret Atwood told me, in her essay Strawberries, that I had a power heretofore unknown to me, a power that allowed me to reclaim my experience from the endless world of labeling, and therefore dismissing, a thing as ‘this’ or ‘that’ based on its relevance to the dominant culture: “and at some point during that hour, though not for the whole hour, I forgot what things were called, and saw instead what they are.”
I now had the power to forget what things were called,
to see instead what they are.
To this day I remember what happened in that moment, sitting on my bed in my room in suburban Connecticut. I remember exactly what happened in my brain, the firing of synapses awaiting the slightest permission to rebel. Rebellion would look like seeing – with my soul’s eyes, with my young girl’s heart – the room around me, the house in which it dwelled, the parents downstairs, the older sister who had already fled to boarding school, and the silent space between all of us that screamed with a thing I’ve come to see is a particular disease of upper middle class white New England culture – a paradox made of a desperate longing for intimacy and the hatred for that longing.
The World delivered a one-two punch at that time, because just shortly after that I discovered a book of Ira Gershwin lyrics and read, like it was the most dangerous liberation poem, It Ain’t Necessarily So. The eleven-year-old girl of me, who needed only the slightest of permissions to leave behind everything her family and culture were so determinedly force-feeding her, read the words, “it ain’t necessarily so…..it ain’t necessarily so…..the things that your liable to read in the Bible, they ain’t necessarily so…it ain’t necessarily so, they tell all your children, the devils a villain, but it ain’t necessarily so….”
At this point there was no putting that girl back into her cage.
Disbelieving all that we’re endlessly, violently old is so, to allow our wild eyesight to reawaken, to see things not as they are called but, in fact, as they are, is a radical endeavor. Western Industrial Culture has mono-cropped our imagination, telling us exactly what things are. In the same moment, value and purpose is conscribed, and relevance and the right to be is determined. In this campaign, our language, our voice and the critical sense of embeddedness, importance and stewardship – the natural biproducts of autonomous interconnected beings who are in direct relationship with The World, who *are* The World – have suffered a morbid atrophy. With no awareness of the power we hold – to relegate as valueless entire swaths of ancient rainforest and the imperceptibly diverse systems of creatures and relationships all in a dance that allow our Earth to create oxygen – we allow spells of meaning-making to pour forth from the portals of our mouths.
The words we use, and don’t use, the language that both makes and erases meaning, and the physical world this creates or erases, have become the most powerful tools for the forces of devastation flattening our world.
One of the most powerfully magical things we do is open our mouths and speak. We weave spells of becoming and meaning, of appearing and disappearing, in a single breath. Here, in a single breath, we tell our minds what to think and our bodies what to feel.
My friends, if you long to be radical, dare to be aware that what you’ve been told (and told, and told) “ain’t necessarily so”. Dare, for even just one brief moment, to forget what things are called, to see them instead, as they are.
Dare to allow this permission to apply to YOU: to imagine that all you have been told about yourself ain’t necessarily so, and that what you have (perhaps endlessly, relentlessly) been called might not, even remotely, be what you are.