Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Printing Prayers on Water

In Becoming Animal, An Earthly Cosmology, David Abram writes:
[At a gompa, the resident lama] took my hand and led me down a long trail to the river, so I could watch his two students as they worked with temple woodblocks artfully carved with Tibetan ritual verses. Normally these precious woodblocks were used to print out liturgical books. But now -- amazingly! -- the students were stamping the wood-blocks over and over into the flowing surface of the river, so that the water would carry those printed prayers to the many lands through which it traveled on its long way to the Indian Ocean.

Here, remarkably, was a culture wherein written letters were not used merely as a record of words once spoken, or as a score for oral speech, but as efficacious forces in their own right. The letters were not just passive signs, but energetic agents actively affecting the space around them. Whether written on the page of a book or carved into woodblocks, whether etched into standing stones or printed on flags, the Tibetan letters held a power that could be activated not only by human beings but by insects crawling through their cracks, and by water flowing along their shapes, and even by the breeze gusting across them. Human intentions, carried in dreams and prayers, mingled here with the intentions of stones, trees, and rivers. Clearly, "mind" in this mountain region was not a human possession; it was a power proper to every part of the elemental field.

It's common at some point in the training of almost every Witch or magic worker to hear that "words have power." We say it and then we move on. IMHO, it's one of those "basic teachings that are too basic for beginners"; one needs to keep coming back to this precept over and over, spiraling back and learning it more dimensionally each time.

It's part of the reason that I love poetry and promote it regularly to my (mostly) Pagan readers and it's part of the reason that boring, repetitive, bland calling of the Elements drives my priestess soul insane. It's why I'll go to the wall over the need for magical workings to have clearly stated intentions. (If you can't state it clearly, there's a pretty good chance that you've not thought it out, clearly, either. The one tends to foster the other. And I'm too respectful of magic to go releasing energy at some vague, misunderstood target.) And it's the reason why I go on and on about the importance of how we frame issues. When we mingle our intentions with those of stones, trees, and rivers, we owe it to those other entities to use one of our tools -- language -- as respectfully and as skillfully as possible.

What power do you find in words?

Picture found here.

1 comment:

Cari Ferraro said...

Thank you for continuing to post excerpts and commentary about David Abram's new book. I'm waiting for the paperback to come out but don't know if I'll make it that long. Reading this just makes my scribal heart go pitter-pat. Words, YES.