“The Alphabet Versus the Goddess” is a new book by Leonard Shlain. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago. This book was recommended to me by “Gary”, a participant in the classes/seminars I’ve been holding. This is relevant because it is a part of my research method. I’ve written about the difficulty of doing research on a matter (English language) that most people have accepted as almost Natural Law. The greatest difficulty is finding the questions which need questing. Mr. Shlain’s opinion is that the atrocities of misogyny, all those expressions of fear, hatred and foreignness which have pervaded the last two millennia are due to the printing press and to literacy. If so, we have another great reason to ask questions as well as a line of questioning to pursue.
I reread his conclusions over and over. That is just what he is saying. The book is worth reading because he draws some parallels which could lead one to think what he is thinking. It could be really tempting to believe, even if one is not looking for a good excuse for not reading, learning or thinking. If illiteracy could make us nicer, more accepting, people and not reading could bring Peace on Earth, why not just cuddle up with something or someone and be friendly? Why get a headache from reading or from thinking too much?
Take the subject of the witch hunts. Who did they kill and why? Could we have prevented them by burning the libraries? This has happened many times, once at the beginning of Christianity and of the First Millennia A.D. The burning of the Library at Alexandria was not an isolated event, there was book-burning and anti-learning violence over the known world. The torturing and burning of those thousands of women, and some males, was one of the great atrocities which spanned several centuries. I have read about other ugly actions and have also seen quite a few. Just being singled out for asking a new question is a thing that can discourage inquisitive Minds. It is traumatic for some bright students. Personally, I think (All Minds Are Bright) but, some just get shut down or shut out. Some seem to be actually crushed at an early age. A Mind that is ‘crushed’ does not necessarily become quiet and passive, as the appetites of the Mind are every bit as rapacious as those of our Bodies.
The “Hunts” (Witch), which I am going to keep abbreviating as one of the various and varied Holocausts of Humanity, as a way of not measuring them on a ‘scale of relative importance’ since all atrocities are equally important. The causes need to be understood because not-knowing makes the ‘Hunts’ another instance of us killing one another for being, in some way, not enough like us or even too much like us. We must stop destroying anything strange or unfamiliar. I decided to update my reading on the witch hunting of the European Middle-Ages. They actually fit in, almost predictably. A Witch is literally a “Wise Woman” though I see neither male nor female mentioned. The -ch suffix quite literally refers to the head or mind as a structural beam. ‘Wit’ is a regulated, charged particle ‘it’ and the ‘W’ double U, is two runes of Ur energy, and represents ‘joy’. This sounds harmless enough but, it is not, as a smart person is quite intimidating to many others, especially if those
‘others’ do not consider themselves ‘smart’ or in some way the equal of them. We are all ‘smart’ -as Shorty would say, “-where the skin is rubbed off and the salt is rubbed on.” That is an apt description as most of my memorable lessons have been accompanied by some painful experience. I’m trying to get a sense of what it is about these people (the witches) that set them so much apart from others in their community. One thing frequently repeated is ‘taciturnity‘, the ability to remain quiet and self-contained, not reactive, imaginative. The way they are described is as “witches, wise women, Respondadores”. In the context of religion, these people were ostracized, tortured and often killed by order of the courts of the lands where they lived.
God and the Politicians harnessed in the same traces. Strange combination. Who is this God that is so afraid of The People? And what does he/it need with Courts or other politicians to enforce authority? However, very special circumstances obtained after the common man acquired a ‘Peoples’ Language’. This is a language which contains a set of ‘Vowels’, a thing that had once been the ‘power’ of the authorities. At one time, it had not even occurred to me that there might be a language without vowels. It now appears to be that language did have vowels but they were not available to everyone. That sheds some light on the issues made over pronunciation. I have frequently been unable to discern a difference in sound -which makes any difference at all. If the sense of the word or idea is clear and understood, what matter if there is a lisp, a hiss, a growl, or any other hem or haw. I am beginning to see that there is a gender difference, a matter of the difference between
masculine and feminine gifts.
As I reach back in memory to early readings and myth-histories, I recall a great issue made over the sounds of masculinity. There are stories of males speaking through deities, from the depths of caves, using bull-roarers and other fearsome sound-makers. The males emerged from the caves with their orders from above. Then it occurred to me that I should revisit some modern equivalents of those ancient Caves -The Books. I took out Robert Burchfield’ “The Story of English”. As I looked at excerpts of some translations, there were many words which did not have the same sense as the older text even when the newer version was translated from the older version. These translations appeared to be interpretations rather than translations. I have encountered that when we were comparing the sense of Hebrew words to the English. That brought to mind the story of Cædmon which I have related in the third paragraph down from this one.
Those vowels (we now have) also allow us to make more vowels. The great power of vowels is that they allow all of US to ‘Vow’. Only Freemen can make a ‘vow’ because they are not owned by someone else. Right now, I see some thing that I have just noticed. The OW is a vowel, a digraph which is like a bind rune. Every rune and every letter represents fundamental principles. So does every digraph and bind rune. The OW represents seeing or the eye, as in window ‘wind eye’.[ref]That has been called an ‘Old Norse’ word. I don’t know for certain but, that association helps me to remember and it reminds me why we conflate ‘seeing’ someone or ‘recognizing’ something with ‘knowing’ it. This pattern of language usage of equating visual perception with ownership. It also explains “owning something as far as the eye can see” and the sense of the word ‘town’.[/ref] A freeman, at one time, was a human who was not attached to any piece of land. In English history the people belonged to
the land on which they lived. That land was /owned/ or /seen/ by the king, emperor or whoever fought for (and won) the land or was given it by that person. A freeman was a free agent and could choose which master he would serve. This was the Law of the Land in the Englaland of Ælfred the Great. In the King’s ‘Will’ he gave a faithful servant both freedom and land.
Now, a freewoman must have seemed like a strange breed of cat in most places. The Fe- in female refers to Feoh, as in cattle or wealth, so an unattached woman was wealth with no one claiming it. If you read the Old Testament and take particular notice of women’s rights and duties, they had more duties than rights and were treated like the property of their father or husband. There was even a special discussion in the Old Testament when women were first allowed to inherit from their father. There were tribes led by women and also they had to work to stay in power. There were also women doctors, scholars, judges, rulers, queens, chieftains and many other positions of power; but, these were not the general rule. At some time women had lost what freedom they had. I suspect it was when we acquired a ‘value’ based on symbolic money. This kind of symbolism distorts real-world values. However, with the new peoples’ languages, particularly English, women had some great
advantages. In the posting I have done on gender, masculine and feminine, there are some /gifts within/ that ‘-nine in feminine’. We have a visionary imagination and that is represented by our ‘screen of ideation’ on which we view our ideas and with which we can transmit our ideas. This gift is not exclusive to women though it is a feminine trait. An illustration is needed for this.
This is not about male and female but it is about masculine/feminine. We all have both genders within. There is a story told in many English textbooks about Cædmon the cow-herd. When the others gathered to sing their prayers, he would leave and go out to be with the cattle. A voice instructed him to sing. He said that he couldn’t. The voice insisted and he sang. The others were surprised at this. They told him the stories (Biblical) and when he returned, he was able to sing the stories. This is an ancient story about how an illiterate cow-herd became able to learn Scripture. In putting the vowels in the stories, they became singable. In singing them, he could learn them. Our senses are interdependent: we feel sounds in many ways; we experience them with other senses; we then relate the sounds and feelings to other sensual experiences. We draw relationships among all the varied experiences. This is the learning experience. Just being with the cattle, the interaction
could have stimulated this learning process. When children talk to birds, dogs, cats or to ‘god’, the interaction stimulates learning. We require sound. I have yet to read an explanation or a theory of Cædmon’s ‘spiritual experience’.
We see what we are saying. Then we say what we are seeing. To alter what we see, we vocalize it differently. A vocalized F is V, a vocalized S is Z, a vocalized P is B . That is just a beginning as we can transmit this altered /feeling/ to other Minds with our variant sounds. Transmitting ideas to others is a dynamic, and at times a scary process. This is where I see a clear connection between literacy, the alphabet, and “Witch Hunts”. I had not been reading for long when I encountered the fear of Witches who were accused of putting their ideas into men’s heads. These ideas were thought to be actual things which would take control of them. In a way, we know that to be so. When we listen to music and feel our emotions, moods and even our visual thoughts become varied, we do make visual imagery. As I was reading some of the accusations against the witches, I could visualize demons. There is an actual mythic grammar which is demonstrated in fairy-tales. The realities are just as convincing. For example, I came across stories about how witches stole men’s genitalia. Then there was a sort of correction to– The witches made their genitals disappear. The men couldn’t see them but, later the illusion was gone and they could again see their genitals. This charge is still being made against women even though many of us know it is called a cremasteric muscle spasm and its purpose is to protect a man from injury. When he thinks (or fears) ‘Mr. Johnson’ is in danger, his muscles instinctively pull him up close to the body and the testicles within the body, for the sake of further generations. Our bodies try to protect themselves.[ref]This is called ‘cryptorchism’ in young males: No harm done unless they get stuck inside. If this happens to little boys, it can cause damage if the cryptorchism continues over 24 hours, (the last I read)[/ref]This powerful imagery, that women can transmit, could very easily frighten a man into feeling that a woman has taken over his will. Anyone could be frightened by this but, a superstitious man can be terrified and even believe it was done deliberately. This influence of a women was probably even more terrifying when men were being told that women were being influenced by demons. This could account for the quite hostile attitude of some men who might feel that a woman has more power in her prayers than they do. Or, just hearing a stirring feminine voice might distract him. This is not a fault of hers, rather it is a noble challenge for him to strengthen his inner core with the power of a wise woman’s voice. Our voice is an amazing thing and an effective speaker or singer can have powerful effects on people even now.
If we reflect on the many differences between that time and the present, let us also remember that those times are still in unconscious memory and we should appreciate their subliminal power. Our languages have ancient roots from which we can draw strength.
It appears that at one time women frequently held positions of power; but, that they lost their power in the world and were relegated to the position of a ‘property’. Ancient myths and legends support this Fall from Grace in many ways. One of these stories is in the “Hebrew Bible”, which we generally refer to as Torah or “Old Testament”. Lilith is the vestigial ‘Ancient Goddess’ which came to be demonized. The transition from Goddess-worship to Man-God, and the word ‘Man’ (human) becoming male, took place during Rome’s change to a male dominated culture.
This has relevance and not just in the sound but, in the sense. If one reads Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” the political process of Rome taking over matriarchies was accomplished by having their Man-god rape, or breed or even give birth to the ‘female’ wh. Io was to be conquered. For instance, there was the cow-goddess Io, of Egypt, then there was Leda and the Swan, then Greek Athena, who was birthed full-grown from the brain of Jupiter. The poet, Ovid, was run out of the country but, in his book “The Metamorphoses” he told the stories, the myth-histories of Rome’s usurping of power.
The English language has shifted back some of that power. We still have a significant imbalance. I suspect we need to take a closer look at our myth-histories in order to see what is missing in them. Our stories are about what ore is needed. 03-31-2017JOH
- Judith has written (and re-written) the pages below, initially for a book and now for this website. These files are still under revision, and should not be treated as stable documents.