The Power of Words.

Many cultures, religions, and societies ascribe great power to words. Inscriptions and incantations can heal, hurt, or even create. A simple change to a word can change its meaning, can give it power–or take it away.

There are many variations on this. While most contemporary magicians no longer say “abracadabra”, at least not ironically or unless you’re Steve Miller,  its influence lives on in Harry Potter’s avada kedavra. I’m more fascinated by an older story, that of the Golem in Jewish folklore, a creature built of clay and brought to life to act as a servant and protector. In some tales the Golem was brought to life by inscribing the Hebrew word emet (truth) on its forehead and then stilled by removing the first letter–aleph–to change the word to met (dead). The legendary Golem of Prague, created in the late 16th century by Rabbi Loew as a servant then protector of the Jews against persecution by Emperor Rudolph II, was animated by a magic shem placed in his mouth. The Golem could then be stopped by removing the shem. In a more recent addition to the legend the same Golem was given the power of speech.

Finally, I can talk! This is the voice I’ve got? Sounds like I should be selling egg creams in Brighton Beach. That’s what we call Jewish humor. You don’t have to understand it ’cause the words sound funny. Meshuggeneh. Hilarious!

Source: Simpsons Wiki

Source: Simpsons Wiki

But that’s another story.

What got me thinking about this was, ironically, not a magic incantation but a smaller, more mundane change to an inscription that nevertheless spoke to the power of words, how, like clay, their form is not fixed but can be shaped and reshaped into something entirely new. And if that’s not magic I don’t know what is.

bark

8 Comments

  1. Maria F.

    I agree. What different world would it be without words, with communication that didn’t involve them. You have two wonderful dogs Chris!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Words do make a big difference. And the dogs will be thrilled to know you called them wonderful.

      Reply
  2. Michelle

    I always loved a sign I saw in a Sydney train during the Olympics – originally it was meant for people travelling alone at night to give them extra security;
    “travel next to the guard’s compartment marked with a red light.” but some dag scratched off some letters to give them a laugh instead:
    “rave next to the guard’s compartment naked with a red light”. I normally disapprove of vandalism but I laughed my head off and still remember it.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s brilliant. There’s a sign near where I work that says “South Garage” but someone scratched out several letters to turn it into “out rage”. Not quite as funny or clever but it is fun how much just a few well-placed changes can alter the meaning of something.

      Reply
  3. Moonwatcher51

    I love words. I used to wander around through the dictionary for fun. Now if I could just string them together coherently…

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You seem to have done a great job of stringing some words together coherently here. I still love wandering through the dictionary–especially really big ones like the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s fun finding obscure and rarely used words.

      Reply
  4. Ann Koplow

    I love all the words and photos I find parking in your posts, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You’re welcome to park your words here any time.

      Reply

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