In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ~ John 1:1
And God said, “let there be light,” and there was light. ~ Genesis 1:3
Seeing as I have hitherto tried to avoid a religious bias in this blog, it might seem strange for me to open this post with verses from the Christian Bible. Nevertheless, I’m a Bible believing Christian, and what I’m discussing in this post relies on those verses. This is some very theoretical musing, so feel free to disagree… in fact, I don’t care if you disagree with anything I say anywhere in this blog. Disagreement leads to debate, which is generally pretty interesting.
Anyway. Words. Words have power. “In the beginning was the Word.” “God said, ‘let there be light.'” Words are eternal. The Word existed before anything else. Everything was made through words. Clearly, words are an extremely powerful thing. Humans have been blessed with the gift of words, of language, of speaking intelligibly and recording our memories in written symbols. Words are a holy thing. I’m sure you’ve always been told to watch your tongue, to choose your words carefully, that words can both heal and hurt.
In Webster’s dictionary, “word” is defined as “a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning, usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use.” The origins of the word “word” mean things like “to say, to speak” or, more to my concern in this post, “to call, to name.” Words have been in use since the beginning of time and beyond–the only single thing for which this is the case. In light of all this, the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” seems rather empty, doesn’t it?
So, words have power. But the difficulty comes in defining that power. Everyone knows how easily words can be used to manipulate others. With just a few words, you can cause someone extreme joy or lower them to the deepest pits of depression. Words can move nations to war, or bring peace and prosperity. They can record things that have long since faded into the past, incite all manner of emotions, communicate all manner of ideas and feelings. Words are the entire foundation of human culture and society, and one of the greatest gifts we have been given. This power at first glance seems like nothing special. It’s what we’re all used to. But stop and think. Is this not an incredible power?
But it is my belief that the power of words extends beyond these commonly accepted levels. This power is nothing so spectacular as calling down lightning or casting fire or other such things, which is, in fantasy, often presented as the mightiest culmination of words: magic spells controlled by means of a long-lost language. But nevertheless, the power is there. It may not have significant effects on the outer world, but is not the inner world just as important? One of the chief areas in which words have power is the area of naming. It seems that humans must name everything they come across. Every culture appears to have an obsessive fascination with naming things. This is, of course, a method of categorizing one’s surroundings so that they make sense. But when something makes sense to a human, that human has a certain measure of power over it. He or she may not be able to control the thing, but the human will certainly have the power to properly react to what it does. A great many ancient cultures hold the belief that to know the true name of a thing is to hold that thing in the palm of your hand, to have the power to control it. This belief is one of the oldest in existence. Naming, and its ability to create order where once there was confusion and chaos, is one of the greatest powers that words possess.
This power is mental or spiritual, but that does not reduce its efficacy. When it comes to the power of words, this is one important thing to remember… any power words have is almost entirely in the heads and hearts of humans. It might be argued that this fact means words have only as much power as humans grant them. To a certain extent this can be true, but think of it this way: the human head and heart are the center of our race. If someone can direct and influence those, then he has power, regardless of how much people allow him to affect their thoughts and feelings. Mental power, though often amorphous, is no less powerful because of being so.
At any rate, I believe that when speaking of powers beyond those commonly accepted, naming is the most important one, and the only one I shall mention here (honestly, I can’t think of many others… if any of my readers can, feel free to post your ideas). Expanding into the realm of fantasy, what if the belief that knowing the true name of a thing gives control over that thing is true? Perhaps the human race has forgotten the true names of things. Perhaps that is why we have this obsession for naming, because some deep part of us hopes to one day stumble across the true, ancient names that we no longer remember, that will grant vast power to those who know them.
In the end, then, names have a power that is really quite magical. Writers and orators are wizards in the truest sense, using this power as their tool. Of course, it might be more accurate to say this is a Holy and Heavenly power, seeing as we humans have received our gift of words from God. But call it magic or divine power, the power is there, and it is significant.I tend to have a fairly mystical mindset about things, but I hope that everyone can agree on this point, at least.
Well, that all might’ve sounded a bit pretentious, but hopefully someone will find it interesting. I might have more thoughts on this subject to post later, we shall see.
P.S. By no means take this to mean that I believe I’ll be able to gain magical powers if I can only properly name things. That was just fantasizing. I don’t think there is anything that directly contradicts that view, however, so who knows? Maybe it is true.