The Burden of Proof and the Limitations of Language.
For millennia, great poets and orators, recognizing the intrinsic power of the spoken word have exploited its emotive, transformative and spell-binding qualities to affect the listener in ways that a simple visual reading of a text cannot actuate. Unconsciously, the aural impact engendered by aeons of story telling and myth-making strikes a chord with societal mores. This highly skilled art form transmits its message via the medium of the word, itself a complex expiration of breath over syllabic vibration. The spoken word has virtue.
Speech is a basic cosmic force, the emanations of which stave the forces of chaos, providing order in an unstable universe. It is the active agent of creation – the logos which affords salvation via the purifying message of its inherent animism. Language is the fundamental form of human expression, a manifestation of the sacred in which speech embodies a message of such subtlety, its absorption is automatic, undetectable even as the communication occurs. A verbal link from one person to another, the very organics of which exist in the now, transporting the past into the future. Its very sentience persuades by invective, emotively expressing a vitality of uncommon creativity. Chants and songs facilitate interplay between man and God, preserved within many cultures including the Bardic traditions of Druidry.
Indeed, in pre-literate societies, it was believed how creation first began as a thought, given manifestation only by the utterance of ‘the word’. Sacred and holy ‘names’ are understood to have been the first articulated sounds consisting of vowels and consonants in particular groupings. These words bind us to the power of our deities, the ultimate forces within the Universe. Vedic texts name the goddess of speech – ‘Vac’ the ‘sakti’ power of creation, whose vibrations or sonic seeds of wisdom are held in the same sacred esteem as the hidden vowels within the Qabbalah. The relevance of this classification is to accentuate the significance of the sacrosanct nature of the spoken word.
In a primarily academic world, we have all but forgotten this rich legacy, consigning it for the most part to an historical curiosity. And yet one needs only to look upon the face of any child focussed intently upon the story being read to appreciate the astonishingly transcendent quality that cannot be matched by reading the written word for oneself. Vernacular language has removed the sense of the sacred from ‘the word’, wherein common parlance is rendered impotent, flaccid and utterly irrelevant. Yet it was not always so, and even today, many written works are deemed to acquire a sentience only when spoken; the latent becomes kinetic. Language is a gift of the gods; acts of prophecy, the riddles of the sages and seers all relay upon the flexible and subtle nuances of inflection, the metre, rhythm and rhyme to convey a meaning that goes beyond the mere words being spoken. The listener engages the speaker in active participation. They co-exist within the moment.
Magick especially relies heavily upon the ability to shift consciousness into trance states. Glossolalia, or sacred utterance typifies the supreme pre-requisite form for the rendition of prayers, blessings and cursings. Unintelligible speech and barbarous words retain a proscription against their transcription or translation in the belief that the efficacy of such would diminish with it. Certain combinations of written vowels and consonants are deemed so powerful, they may only be spoken by priests, initiates or mystics able to fully understand and control the forces un-leased from the ensuing vibratory resonance.
By comparison, the written word remains a lifeless abstraction, divorced from creation, partaking only of the power and will of the person recording it, not of one’s gods. A whole dimension of power is thus commonly lost within the written word. The symbols of the written word [not to be confused with the separate and altogether distinct occult use of symbols] are as nothing compared to their phonetic embellishment end execution. Archaic forms of speech preserve a continuity within many sacred liturgies and myths that is lost immediate by its translation into the written form that even poetic metaphor cannot recapture.
In ‘Phaedras’, a classic Greek text, written by Plato, he holds discourse with Thoth credited with the gift of writing, on the dubious quality of this gift:
“This invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters [letters] which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir, not of memory, but of reminding, and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, but not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.”
My point in stressing this is to emphasise how our ancestors viewed the power of the spoken word in order to understand exactly why an oral society was essential and why it continued long after the advent of writing. Traditionally of course, secrets are only transmitted ‘mouth to ear.’ They are revealed, recited and preserved in the living metre of the breath – the sound and moisture of ‘the Word’. In our modern 21st century world of empirical academia, doubt is cast upon the transmission of knowledge and history via oral traditions, denouncing them as somehow inferior to the infinitely more believable written source. But isn’t this arrant nonsense! Why should any written source be any less subjective or reliable than one spoken? Both are prone to error, omission, annotation and adaptation. Equally, they are both open to misinterpretation, obfuscation, contextual irrelevance and ingenuous quotation. Nonetheless, it has been confidently proven elsewhere that in general, oral recitations have suffered less than written ones. This is however beyond the purpose and remit of this article. It is sufficient to bear this in mind and consider a wider perspective of personal analysis.
We should also consider that words recorded upon paper are just that, no more, no less. They fail to offer proof of their integrity, proving only that those words were recorded at that time, and not of their accuracy. Authenticity of a statement cannot be validated by the simple act of recording it, this merely proves it was said, not whether or not it was true. Even now, I could tell someone a thing, which would, in a court of law, be considered circumstantial, mere hearsay in fact. Yet if I were to write down the exact same ‘thing’, it becomes evidence! Conversely, that same evidence is still not ‘proof’ unless it can be validated separately via other sources that support it either to irrefutability [almost impossible and extremely rare] or a state known as being ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’
This typifies the literate reliant society we have become. So easily we project backwards those values to histories in which this would have been anathema. A man’s ‘word’ was once his bond, an irrevocable oath, a declaration of truth and honour declared before and witnessed by the gods. All too often, in our modern literate society, ‘words’ mean nothing at all. How disrespectful is the presumption that the written word once animated by breath should in any way be inferior. How arrogant to claim our ancestors would have so little regard for the spoken word, or limited ability for its preservation. There is no greater propaganda than the written word, no media of expression superior to its dogma or unrelenting polemic. So please remember, just because something is written down, this does not make it so. Context and circumstance are everything. The integrity of the person recording the text is often intrinsic to its veracity.
There has always been an inherent danger in the process of ‘civilisation’ [and I use that term loosely] of dismissing all former methodologies of collating, preserving and transmitting knowledge as inferior or substandard. For instance, standard textbooks record the histories of the ‘noble savage’, the peoples of the native and individual tribes of the Americas writing for posterity the ‘white, western’ view of a culture absolutely alien to them on every level imaginable. Within these many tribes, for example, the Cherokee only formulated their own alphabet in the early 19th century, so should we then be disposed to prefer the stories written by white historians, or the oral traditions, preserved for countless genera within a focussed cultural context? Which do you think better expresses the heart and soul of a racially distinct belief system?
By an absurd logic we are expected to ignore political agendas, religious bias and vernacular banality and support the written word as inviolate. Of course critical studies examine and compare various texts in order to remove as many glosses as possible, but let us not forget this is commonly between written works, not written and spoken works. Along with this goes the absurdity that if a ‘thing’ is not written or recorded it isn’t so – it does not exist. Though it frequently is, we must concede that ‘lack of evidence is not evidence of lack!’ This artful maxim serves as an essential caution regarding ‘the burden of proof,’ which alerts us to re-consider such an onus resting with what is often not said or cannot be said or where the absence of ‘evidence’ is deemed the clue that clinches the debate.
History as a discipline only began with the written word, so it holds a natural bias to that which preceded it. We have to review our thinking. The written word is merely a recording tool, an alien device, divorced from contextual proof of its claims at the mercy and behest of its endorsers. Duress, torture, and propaganda incite, extort and subsumate, manipulating the reader, bending their will with intellectual persuasion [much as I am doing now] in order to propound a particular view. Naturally, both oral and written systems are prone to abuse, but this does not mean that we can categorically say that because a thing is written it is so, neither can we say that something preserved in written form is more likely to be authentic than an alternative preserved in oral form. Neither remains infallible, nor pure to the source. But one retains the living ‘essence’ of truth, a vitality which the other cannot help but lose in transition.
Let us not forget that many written records are vulnerable to becoming discredited or to outright destruction. How many times in a court of law is something said, and even though the judge may request it be stricken from the record, its impact remains in the psyche of those who heard it. But while a thing is known, it can be shared, it can be spoken, it can be remembered, expressed, preserved in secret or in disguise, mythologized, rendered poetically, in parables, or even in simple homilies among even the most illiterate of peoples, whose agenda is generally one of simple survival. Eye witness accounts are often sacrificed to the official overview, the prevailing orthodoxy. An idea is a living thing, it has sentience, it has a life-force outside its own existence, it is propelled and motivated by the unified will of many generations who have preserved and upheld its principles, it is the lifeblood of a people connected so far back in time, memory is reduced to the mnemonic meter of the ‘word’, the sacred gift to the receiver. Where word, deed and script combine - the ‘burden of proof’ is indeed formidable. Once given, such a person is entrusted with its covenanted power to preserve and maintain it……to Make it so!