Kemetic Round Table: Vocabulary.

Words are important.

Language is important.

If we don’t have language, and at its most basic level words, then we have no way to communicate properly. Sure, there are things like body language that we can rely on but how many times have you assumed the cute smirk on the girl next door meant she had a crush on you when in fact she was silently picturing your death at her hands? Or, the mistaken kiss cue that was really just your not-lover’s way of getting to an awkward itch on their back. Seems to me like relying on something like body language when we’re all raised on using verbal and written speech patterns may not be a good idea.

And of course, it can be highly stressful when people can’t communicate on the same language level. Have you ever tried to take the order of someone who speaks a completely foreign language and has no basis for same-language communication? Or, how many times have you been anxious as all hell because you need to ask where the rest room is but all of the signs pointing the way are incomprehensible? Or what if you have never once heard what verbalizing is even like and you have to have an interpreter around for every little attempt at communication?

As this quote says best: “Through language we can connect with other people and make sense of our experiences.”

Consistency in jargon can be important when it comes to practicing an ancient religious tradition in a modern context. By sustaining the status quo with wording and definitions, it can help to provide a sort of legitimacy that some traditions may feel are robbed when modernization enters the mix. In other words, it can inflate egos and make people feel more comfortable with the fact that they have no fucking clue what the hell they’re doing.

However, by keeping the old and throwing out the new, we’re also preventing ourselves from growth. We’re trying to retain a two-dimensional image when we’ve been shoved into the third dimension. And by allowing modernization, both with terminology and in other areas, then we can keep ourselves comfortable while realizing that we have no fucking idea what the hell we’re doing. Of course, we’ll probably still see people with inflated egos (something like “only my definition is the true definition” or something), but at least we can bring the past into the present.

I find myself waffling back and forth on this.

On the one hand, I don’t personally care who calls who by what name and who uses what sort of definition to describe words specific to the religion – like heka, ma’at, and isfet. But on the other hand, it helps to have a common basis linguistically. If I use the term “ma’at,” then most people will know what I’m saying even though we may all translate it differently. If I use the term “isfet,” then, again, most people will know what I’m saying even though we may all bicker about the specifics regarding its definition.

When it comes to talking to newbies, I think maintaining a certain set of parameters regarding terminology could be a good idea. Some of the words that many of us still retain from the ancient Egyptian lexicon are important foundational facts of the religion itself: ma’at and heka, for example. And those particular words can come out sticky and warped if we try to translate them into languages not quite built to incorporate those types of concepts.

However, while I think it may be a good idea to continue to use the ancient Egyptian word-form for things like those concepts, I also think it’s important to use the warbled translations we so often expound to others: ma’at means balance; isfet means a type of chaos; heka kind of means magic. This provides legitimacy to a more modern interpretation, which is important to the great community and its steady growth in the wider pagan community.

The thing is that I strongly believe that having a strong foundation for any practice is important. Terminology and phraseology can provide stones to aid in the building of that foundation. Without that foundation, things can crumble down around our ears without our really realizing what’s happened. Terminology and phraseology that’s universal also provides common ground with co-religionists and, hearkening back to the quote I wrote above, it gives us a firmer connection with those co-religionists, even if the little things (like exact definitions and nuances of rituals) are different.

So, how necessary is terminology and language?

At the very, very bottom line: it’s important. You can’t go out and create something without having some form of basic nomenclature, which is made better if that nomenclature is already established. However, as time moves on and things change, the common ground becomes constricting and a need for a more modern outlook must be made. The leap from the old to the new can be terrifying and worrisome, but I think it’s pretty thrilling, too.

Personally, I tend to use the established terminology – ma’at, heka, and the like when discussing certain concepts. I don’t do this to differentiate myself or to make myself feel superior, but because I know that new people are going to be reading what it is that I am writing. And so, by giving them the possible building blocks with the established vocabulary, I’m hoping that they will one day get to the point where they will feel the need to take a leap into the more modern world.

The thing about terminology is that, outside of certain words and phrases, it can kind of get wishy-washy. So, let’s look at the names of the gods. As an example, we have Heru-Wer, Heru-Wr, Heru-Ur, Haroeris, and Horus the Elder. They all mean the same deity, but which one is the best name? Or, more accurately, which one is the correct name? They all are correct because they’re all referring to Horus the Elder. When it comes to talking about the gods, use whatever works out best for you. (Just be prepared for someone to look at you funny or to ask you what the hell you mean.)

When it comes to the names of the gods, it doesn’t matter, in my opinion, nearly as much as certain words would because they are all correct and they all mean the same thing. Besides, no one actually knows what the gods’ “real” names are. Their real names, for all we know, could be something so ridiculous that we would laugh ourselves hoarse if we ever had to say it or write it.

So, in summation, the thing about terminology is that having a general framework that is already established is pretty important. And it’s pretty important for newbies to learn that established framework just so that they can have a good foundation to build their practices on. But, once a comfort level with the established framework has been reached, then you know what? Go crazy. Use words that make sense for you (as long when posting publicly you at least denote that those words aren’t necessarily canon but your own interpretation of canon) so that you can get comfortable even more.

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One thought on “Kemetic Round Table: Vocabulary.

  1. Pingback: Terminology and Language | Kemetic Round Table

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