Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Word Magic

I needed to retire to a spare room, far from my computer, while a couple of guys steam-cleaned the living room carpet on Monday morning. I took with me a couple of slim, tatty old paperback books which had been sitting on a shelf beneath my computer for years: The Ordeal of Change and The True Believer, both by Eric Hoffer, both originally published in the mid-20th century.

As I read the following my mind slid back to other words read recently, words of Chris Hedges, words of Russell Brand - two very different sources featured in posts in the past couple of weeks. Words to stir the blood, to energise the mind, to encourage thought, to reassure that there are others out there who feel as we do..... There is magic in words.

Mr. Hoffer suggested:
Nothing so baffles the scientific approach to human nature as the vital role words play in human affairs. How can one deal with a physiochemical complex in which reactions are started and checked, accelerated and slowed down, by the sound or image of a word - usually a meaningless word?

It is of interest that the practice of magic where nature is concerned - the attempt to manipulate nature by words - rested on the assumption that nature is not unlike human nature, that methods of proven effectiveness in the manipulation of human affairs may be equally potent when applied to nonhuman nature. It can be seen that such an assumption is the mirror image of, and not infinitely more absurd than, the assumption implied in the scientific approach that human nature is merely an aspect of nature.

We know that words cannot move mountains, but they can move the multitude; and men are more ready to fight and die for a word than for anything else...................Words and magic are particularly crucial in time of crisis when old forms of life are in dissolution and man must grapple with the unknown. .............A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action.

― Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change

Words: "abracadabra", "ooo-eee-oo-ah-ah-ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang" - two silly examples of magic words, the first from stage conjurors' playbooks, the other from an old pop song The Witch Doctor. They are throw-backs to an ancient belief that words and/or sound could indeed bring about change, drastic change even.

Words put together with talent and skill can sway human nature, for good or ill....(hmm a rhyme!) Full effects of words only become visible when the time is right though. More wise words from Eric Hoffer, this time from The True Believer - Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements:
"For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and the potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap."
Words, for now, are all we have.


mike said...

I've contemplated the power of words and the voice that delivers those amalgams of rhetoric. Some people just have a way with words...some people have a way with the vocal resonance used to deliver those words, whether those words belong to them or not.

This is another area for astrological study, but is typically ascribed to a prominent Mercury and-or Gemini when it comes to the words...Taurus, Venus, and-or Neptune for the voice vibrations. I've noticed that when an individual gains the attention of a greater, worldly population, often the outer planets are in aspect.

It seems that our current era is waning with the written word...many individuals don't know how to correctly read and write at their expected educational level. Digital-age lexicon is being substituted for proper language skills. Most information is currently delivered via video...some outlets such as Huffpo give the dual option of reading and-or video.

I far prefer reading a book rather than seeing the movie based on the book. My mental interpretation is very different that the Hollywood version...of course, the Hollywood version usually out-performs the special effects better than my mind does!

I've read in several places that ancient hieroglyphic language was based more on a mental vision or picture (a picture is worth a thousand words). The modern alphabet-based language is more limiting, as it requires an added step of interpretation of the vision or thought-picture to synthesize an expression.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes, good point! Being a superb wordsmith and being a superb orator are quite different skills - anyone fortunate enough to have both, either inborn or learned, has potential to lead, though, again that's a third different skill. For all three to come together in one human has to be very rare. Of his time, Churchill comes immdiately to mind, as unfortunately does Hitler.

I remember reading some information on astrological research at Astrodienst years ago, where various traits and talents had been astro-tested using the data from Lois Rodden's Astrodatabank. Perhaps writers and orator were tested then. I haven't been able to find the relevant pages again recently though....wonder if they've been taken down.

Language is a fascinating topic, so many facets, even within our own, English language: accents, dialect, idioms, grammar, punctuation, spelling,and, naturally, at the top of the list, words.

I'm sure the study of ancient languages and hieroglyphics would be fascinating too.....maybe in my next lifetime. :-)

LB said...

Twilight ~ By far, the most effective and encouraging words are those that inspire beautiful acts of compassion, kindness and sacrifice. But these messages of Truth aren't the ones most of us want to hear since they require the most practical effort and ask us to first examine, then humble ourselves before acting.

No matter how eloquent or insightful the speaker, most of us hear what we want to hear and dismiss the rest. Take Jesus, and how many of us have misinterpreted his message, adapting parts of it to suit our own self-interest, something Jesus never promoted.

Skillful writers and speakers know how to excite and/or encourage, though whether their words appeal to our higher or lower natures depends on motive.

Many of us lack patience, preferring easy answers dressed up in superficial packaging. The Truth is harder to bear and requires greater self-awareness, discernment, effort and sacrifice. We mistake form for content.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Intent is the other factor involved, important that! Intent of both the speaker and the listener. Words, seemingly innocent, can be double-edged in the mouth or ear of one who desires to denigrate, ridicule or destroy.

A speaker of good,genuine, decent intent - with no ulterior motive I mean - can only trust that those listening have similarly good intent. There'll usually be dissenters, or those too apathetic to properly take in what's said, but if the majority get the intended message - that's the start of magic.

Jesus probably had dissenters (other than the obvious - Romans) in his day, apathetic listeners too. What has happened in the 2 centuries afterwards has shown just how words can be twisted and used for exactly the opposite of their original intent.

Our human nature leads us to what you describe in your last para.

A superb orator with good intent could still find a way through our human lack of patience and reluctance to make sacrifice - that'd seem like erm...the White Magic of words.
We should always be on watch for the Black Magic power of words too though.

LB said...

Twilight ~ Intention, yes. Though even the most well-intended speakers aren't immune to impatience, corruption and/or lack of awareness. Or, the messenger might have a right message yet inadvertently (or not) encourage wrong methods.

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Twilight said...

LB ~ In those circumstances all we have are our instincts and intuitions.....aka the rearguard!

LB said...

Speaking of "word magic", have you seen the video of the bus driver who stopped his bus to help a distraught woman who'd climbed over the guardrail above a NY highway? Apparently other people were passing her by, so it took him a minute to figure out what it was he was seeing and decide what to do:

Here's the full story, with details worth noting:

Think how many people this man inspired through his words and *actions* that day. It's not only what we say or how we say it, it's about what we *do* and how carefully we pay attention.

P.S. I'm listening to the President right now, thinking how much we want to believe and how easily misled most of us are by partial truths that leave out other relevant facts.

Sometimes the devil is in the details.

mike (again) said...

I like the phrase "walk the talk". Or "actions speak louder than words".

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi

LB said...

mike ~ That's it. I also think we have to question how various writers/speakers inspire and motivate *us*. What do we *do* (or do differently) after reading/listening to them?

It's not that thinking and talking don't matter, but as you've pointed out, they're only stepping stones, part of a process. It's how we walk that matters most.

Twilight said...

LB and mike ~~ Agreed, actions speak louder, but often words plant the seed of an action which might otherwise never have been taken.

ex-Chomp said...

“Nothing so baffles the scientific approach to human nature as the vital role words play in human affairs.”
I do agree indeed

Twilight said...

ex-Chomp ~ Me too! :-)