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Words Have Meaning

By: Garman Lord


Gunnsmith says:

> but then there is something that I first heard about in the context of Theodish... that language is, in fact, lore. .and every word has an origin and kennings to it. And the beauty of it is that how the words are arranged, can communicate all sorts of things beyond the dictionary as it were..........


Another good observation. Words are like heathen; whether known or, as sometimes happen, unknown, they have family trees, which often lead back to a much more interesting history than you might guess, and every word is some word's kid, with a story to tell, that leads to another story, such that a word leads to another word.

This is something we learned back at the earliest beginnings of Theodism, in our quest for what the actual ancestral troth might have been, if it wasn't Wicca. The answer was supplied by a girl I met at the time, an Anthropologist, who first taught us all how to do proper research. Not ordinary superficial term-paper research, involving quoting scholars who were quoting other scholars and all that, but primary research, what she used to call "deep-structural" research, radical stuff, of the kind that takes you down to root levels where there really aren't many footnotes to quote. How do you do that? Many ways, said AElfwyne. One way that would at least be accessible to such as us would be to learn elder tongues and teach ourselves how to do internal Higher Critical analysis of surviving texts. I said at the time that I didn't know what surviving texts might possibly exist, or where to find them. AElfwyne's answer was to come back that next weekend with a whole xerox carton full of them and say dig in, lads. At university, she had been involved as a volunteer in moving the books from the old library over to the new one, and seemed to practically know every book in the place. Such books were there all the time, but back then, in the days when no heathenry existed yet, nobody knew where, and such books were mainly just sitting there on dark back shelves collecting dust.

Another accessible "deep-structural" thing she taught us was Philology and word etymologies, the sort of thing that could fit right in with Higher textual Criticism. A Cultural Anthropologist knows not only that if you want to understand a culture you have to understand its language and its thoughts, but also that if we really think we even understand our own culture, we're really just kidding ourselves. AElfwyne's first Yuletide gift to me was an American Heritage Dictionary, because of the Indo-European Etymological Dictionary that it had in the back of the book. Every word in the language has a story, sometimes a big story, and when you put together all the stories of all the words, you have, essentially, the whole story of the intellectual corpus, the thoughts, of a whole folk. That's far too vast a world for any one man to know, of course, but still the kind of world that can be endlessly explored and rediscovered and shared by any sufficiently intrepid brotherhood of adventurers.

Every word has a story because it has a family tree, of ancestral words from which it sprang, which themselves sprang from other words, tracing all the way back to the Ice Age, many thousands of years before things like Xtianity. Every language has an archaeology of elder languages that it lies on top of, giving up its mysteries to the light of day as you peel back layer upon layer, rediscovering horizon upon horizon. All that bafflegab about "i-stem mutations" and such can obviously be pretty puzzling, at first, until youbegin to absorb some of the fine points of what it says about what your ancestors really meant, in their world so like yours in some ways but in others so tremendously different, in the ways they used a word that was the direct ancestor of some word you use today, in some ways so like their older word but in others so very different.

AElfwyne was right; if you really care that much about getting it right, you have to go after the deep structure. The real story of a folk and a culture can only be understood through dimension and perspective. It can't be just a movie seen on the two-dimensional screen of today; you have to somehow walk back into the scene and seek out its depth, its hidden third dimension. A castle is seen from afar, from a hill, in whole and in proper perspective, if you really care to understand it. You only think you understand it, if you are standing right up next to a wall of it and just reading the graffiti scrawled by fools upon its outer surface, and if you try to rebuild it from just that much knowledge and understanding, you will only end up building something not very sound, and certainly very strange.

To many, of course, such thinking doesn't really fit; why should things need to be all that serious? And yet, in human experience, it hasn't really been all that unusual for humans to want to give serious gifts to gods that they believe are serious gods.