Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Word as Creative Potency

Over at Social Fiction, Wilfried shares this excellent passage on the magical power of words from The Winged Serpent:

The singing of songs and the telling of tales, with the American Indian, is but seldom a means of mere spontaneous self-expression. More often than not, the singer aims with the chanted word to exert a strong influence and to bring about a change, either in himself or in nature or in his fellow beings. By narrating the story of origin, he endeavors to influence the universe and to strengthen the failing power of the supernatural beings. He relates the myth of creation, ceremonially, in order to save the world from death and destruction and to keep alive the primeval spirit of the sacred beginning. Above all, it seems that the word, both in song and in tale, was meant to maintain and to prolong the individual life in some way or other that is, to cure, to heal, to ward off evil, and to frustrate death. Healing songs, and songs intended to support the powers of germination and of growth in all their manifestations, fairly outnumber all other songs of the American Indian. The word, indeed, is power. It is life, substance, reality. The word lived before earth, sun, or moon came into 'existence. Whenever the Indian ponders over the mystery of origin, he shows a tendency to ascribe to the word a creative power all its own. The word is conceived of as an independent entity, superior even to the gods. Only when the word came up mysteriously in the darkness of the night were the gods of the Maya enabled to bring forth the earth and life thereon. And the genesis of the Uitoto opens, characteristically enough, in this way: "In the beginning, the word gave origin to the Father." The word is thought to precede the creator, for the primitive mind cannot imagine a creation out of nothingness. In the beginning was the thought, the dream, the word. The concept of the word as Creative Potency lives on, even in the simplest song of hunting or of harvest, of battle, love, or death, as sung by the contemporary Indian.

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