Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kiowa Storytelling

There is a marvelous discussion of sacred language in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel House Made of Dawn (1966) by N. Scott Momaday, in which words are equated with sleight-of-hand. Momaday speaks of his Kiowa Indian grandmother teaching him how to “listen and delight” through her storytelling. With her words, she took him “directly into the presence of her mind and spirit.” As he explains, “[S]he was taking hold of my imagination, giving me to share in the great fortune of her wonder and delight. She was asking me to go with her to the confrontation of something that was sacred and eternal. It was a timeless, timeless thing.” For his grandmother, “words were medicine; they were magic and invisible. They came from nothing into sound and meaning.” As in Genesis, the Kiowa creation story begins with something happening in the nothingness. “There was a voice, a sound, a word—and everything began.”

Let us apply Momaday’s discussion directly to the art of a magician by positing a few questions:
  • Does not a magician want his audience to “listen and delight” in his performance?
  • Does not a magician want to draw an entire audience into his presence?
  • Does not a magician wish to take hold of people’s imaginations and help them to share in the awe and wonderment?
  • Does not a magician wish to present a timeless mystery?
By speaking a magic word, a magician most certainly encourages his audience to “listen and delight” as he encompasses them in his presence, takes hold of their collective imagination, and allows them to share in the “wonder.” By uttering his magic word, a magician invites the audience to accompany him in confronting something “sacred and eternal . . . a timeless thing,” as Momaday puts it. And when he produces the magic syllables for all to hear, a magician makes every member of the audience an active participant in the miracle. For “in the world of magic, the Word creates.”*

* Gahl Sasson, A Wish Can Change Your Life: How to Use the Ancient Wisdom of Kabbalah to Make Your Dreams Come True (2003). Howard Rheingold writes that “We create the world every day when we utter words. Yet we are rarely aware of this awesome act. The power of words is woven so tightly into our daily lives that we hardly ever take time to marvel at it. Our ancestors knew, though: It is no accident that many of the world’s religious scriptures assert that the universe was created by a word” (They Have a Word for It [2000]). Migene Gonzalez-Wippler provides an example: “The Kabbalah has a fascinating story to tell on the creation of the world by sound. It says that when God decided to create the universe He was uncertain as to which letter he would use to begin creation. All the letters of the Hebrew alphabet came to God in one long line and each pleaded with Him to use it, naming and vastly exaggerating all its wonderful qualities. God listened to all of them thoughtfully, and finally decided on the letter Beth, which means house or container. With the power of the letter Beth God ‘contained’ the unmanifested universe and created the entire cosmos” (The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies and Magic [1978]).

1 comment:

The Conjurer said...

Excellent questions to ponder. First reaction is that the answers depend greatly on the conjurer's intention.
Now the rub is that most do not concern themselves with identifying their intention....other than "blowing the audience away" or "frying them."