Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Alchemy of The Word Part 1

Part 1: A Brief and Incomplete Mythology of Naming
By Aubrey Zich

"Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power." Jeanette Winterson (Oranges are not the Only Fruit)

There are many ways to tell this story, but this is variation I know best. In Israel, there was a temple gate guarded by barking dogs. These animals would sound at the passer-bys, jarring their thoughts and causing a temporary mind lapse. Anyone who knew the ineffable name of God would soon forget it as they passed. Jesus, who was not so much a prophet as a magician in this tale, performed miracles using the name of God. Knowing the perils of passing the temple, Jesus took the ineffable name placed in a note under the skin of his arm. (ie: a tattoo.) When Jesus passed the temple the barking startled him, as he knew it would, and forgot the ineffable name. However, since the name of God was tattooed on Jesus' arm, he was able to recall it and continue to perform miracles.

Qabalists claim ineffable name of has 72 parts and whomever can master the correct pronunciation can alter reality as he or she sees fit. However, mispronunciation can also cause instantaneous death. Words are the living, reality-altering magic. Each character is a sigil within itself containing its own meaning. When combined with other sigils, the characters creates two stories: the obvious path of language and the hidden path of pictographs.

The significance of knowing a true name crosses cultures: from the miller's daughter getting out of a deal with Rumpelstiltskin to the Youruba myth of Orunmila only being permitted to marry Oxum once he discovered Oxum's true name. Not only is the precedent set in our myths and fairytales, but also in popular literature and Tv programming. (For those interested, wikipedia has a list of a few examples.)

Modern music places great significance on not only knowing a name but on a magical "alter ego" name. Marshal Mathers performs under two monikers which represent his different manifestations: his light side, Eminem, and his id-driven primitive side, Slim Shady. Marshall Mathers is not the only one. In order to make a directional change, Beyonce Knowles developed her alter ego, Sasha Fierce. Later, Beyonce claimed to have "killed" Sasha Fierce, absorbing Sasha's powers for her own.

One of the most interesting examples of name alchemy is David Bowie. Over decades he has been able to keep current by changing his personae and naming its essence. After the album "Hunky Dory", David Bowie declared that his next release would be huge. He distilled the essence of a rockstar and magnified it to ridiculous proportions, almost beyond recognition. Then Bowie named his concoction "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars." As Bowie predicted, it was his break-out album. (Editor's note: There is an extensive exploration of this topic in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized) and some follow-up consideration in a series of articles in Apocalyptic Imaginary (Mythos Media).)
Can one really control your environment and the things around you by the act of naming? Well, yes and no.  Let me put it to you this way: one may come to understand the true essence of a stray dog, even enough to give it a name.  One may even tame the dog enough to make it a pet.  But if one angers the dog, no matter what one calls it, the dog will still bite.  

More about this in Part II:  Wordsmith

[Check out some of the books, albums, and soon movies produced by Mythos Media and our various media partners.]


  1. I would very much like to know more about the opening story of the Temple gate, barking dogs, etc. Where did this story come from?

  2. yes where did you find that info on the gate and barking dog. this is interesting.

  3. I read the story a while ago in a book and a friend of mine was told a variation of the story when he was in Hebrew school. It was a Jewish myth developed to explain Christianity. In his version, Jesus took a piece of stone from a tablet with God's name in the temple and embedded it in his body. Here is an account I found on the internet:

    "Yeshu fled to Jerusalem. In the Temple he learned the Ineffable Name. And to thwart the brass dogs who guarded the place of sacrifice and barked at those who had learned the name, making them forget, Yeshu wrote the name on a piece of leather and sewed it in the flesh of his thigh. He gathered around him in Bethlehem a group of young Jews and proclaimed himself the Messiah and Son of God. He rebuked those who rejected his claim, saying that they were only after their own greatness and wished to rule in Israel. To confirm his claim, he healed a lame man and a leper by the power of the Ineffable Name. For this, he was summoned before Queen Shalminon [or Helena], who found him guilty of acts of sorcery and beguilement."
    This one Jesus sews the name onto his leg. It is interesting to me that not only are these myths utilized by the Jews to explain Jesus as a charlatan, but in each version he attained his power by doing something that was forbidden by God in the Torah (ie: body modification.)

  4. Anonymous8:23 AM

    There's another way of looking at the naming issue -- the Jaws perspective.

    The movie was so powerful because Spielberg didn't show you the shark for the first 3/4 of the film. By not being shown, the audience had no framework for the thing, and its potential was able to exceeded its power in our imaginations.

    Seeing the shark gave us a framework for the thing, and thus contained its potential. Similarly, a name provides a framework or form for some content. When you have the name of a thing, it gives you knowledge of that thing and some measure of power over its potential, or protection from it. If you get bit by a poisonous snake or spider, you're a lot more likely to survive if you can tell a doctor the name of the creature that bit you. When you know the name of a person you've never met, you have some kind of common ground the first time you do meet. Rumpelstiltskin only had power when his name was unknown.

    What seems to unsettle many is the imagined potential of unformed content; a thing that exists but escapes the frame of a name escapes category, definition and control. It's a psychological response, and we can see it being used allegorically in myths, legends and religions, or as a tool in narrative or even political purposes (see Red Scare, color-coded terrorist alerts for unnamed threats, etc.). After all, whenever you look at political polls, no candidate does well against a generic, unnamed opponent.



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