I love words. That should be obvious, since I’m a blogger and writer. Words are fascinating. They shape so much of our lives, the very way we think, our entire worldview and culture. It’s so exciting! I love big, tongue-tangling words and I love tiny, simple, day-to-day words.
I also dislike how language can be used to exclude and alienate people.
Most of the time, we see this exclusion and ‘silver tower’ syndrome in academia. Academia is infamous for creating new words that are complicated and purposefully obtuse when referring to incredibly simple concepts. It’s part of why intelligent people can be awful at reading academic texts. Different academic circles have their own language, and in order to participate and understand you need to learn that language. Academia can also elevate a conversation or discussion and take it to remarkable, ground-breaking places, but that doesn’t erase how inaccessible academic writing currently is.
We see this phenomenon of inaccessible language and obtuse, unnecessary words in modern Pagandom quite a lot. I’m not speaking of ancient languages being used in rites or words being reclaimed or brought into usage again, but rather the act of people purposefully making texts difficult to read and comprehend. And while a lot could be said about how entering Pagandom causes us to learn a new sort of language all on its own (especially depending on what community we enter), what I want to focus on is mystical writing – when we convey the words of gods, or when we speak of mystical experiences we have undergone, or when we are trying to convey something about our spirits.
There are some good points to making a text difficult to understand. Creating ‘blinders’ in a work – omitting important data, leaving out certain details – is important to many different magical and spiritual traditions in order to test the ‘validity’ of a practitioner’s experience. The mystical side of the Otherfaith has these. These can range from omissions to outright lies about entities or rituals or otherworldly spaces. In a similar way, writing in an obscure way can make it so that only those very committed or able to understand will be able to comprehend a piece of text. Those practices have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides to them.
But what I see rather frequently in Pagandom is not the use of blinders to test the validity of someone’s practice or work in a specific tradition, religion, or group, but rather the usage of fancy words to puff up one’s ego. Which I can totally understand, because some words are just sexy and awesome and make you feel like you’re the hottest thing since the sun.
Two of my favorite authors began their writing careers with mystical but accessible works. Their books were intense and deep, but they could be understood easily because the writing was down to earth. They knew when to exercise more flowery language and when to use simplistic terms. As their writing has continued, though, they have become vague and much more flowery. They have gone from a poem full of rich imagery to one that has many stanzas, many words, but no symbols, no images, no signs. And in doing so their work becomes much harder to process.
On one hand, this is good, because it literally forces my brain to start thinking differently. I have to process the language differently and translate it into simplified speech (which is, honestly, something I enjoy at times). On the other, it becomes pompous. I know these people are incredibly devoted and passionate and wise, yet the writing feels like posturing. (Then again, maybe all writing is posturing…) Rather than walking comfortably with someone, they are positioned far higher than I will ever be. But they still walk on the same ground I do.
Conveying mystical experiences is difficult. It’s an experience in tripping. Sometimes experiences cannot or will not be conveyed. What is wrong is not stumbling as we speak but trying to present a perfect image in order to alienate people.
To put it more simply – there is a difference between divine rambling and the rambling of humans trying to make vague statements sound deep.
If we want to encourage discussion of mystical experiences, if we want to foster those experiences, and if we want to create communities that are open to many types of religious people, we have to be aware of our words. We have to be aware of when we are excluding people because we’re using mystical buzz words. We have to be aware when we’re trying to paint ourselves much, much more ‘devout’ or ‘spiritual’ than those around us. And we need to accept that people will stumble and sound really silly when talking about religious stuff. But the difference between awe and overwhelming experiences is very clear when compared to posturing. Posturing leaves one empty.
(The tendency to prettify or exaggerate mysticism is also tied in with the unfortunate tendency in some circles to claim that anything a god supposedly said cannot be challenged, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Since I am an English-only speaker, I have no idea if these phenomena are present in other languages and cultures in Pagandom, but I have seen it repeatedly in American circles.)
Lastly, a thing I think people forget – just because those around you don’t use specialized words but instead speak ‘simply’ does not mean they don’t understand what you’re saying. Trying to get one-up on someone by using bigger words is condescending and will eventually backfire, probably in a humiliating way.