Have you ever communicated something that you didn’t mean, but that the words you spoke conveyed? It’s an astonishing experience, especially when you are there to witness on the face of the other person the immediate difference between the response you expected and the response you actually get.
Perhaps you intended to offer the sincerest of compliments, but instead of joy, what comes through their eyes is the melted pain of tears. Or maybe you thought that you just articulated the profoundest insight to a friend, but the only waves your words make are in the form of bewildered wrinkles piling up on their forehead.
In the realm of language there seems to be a mysterious place between what is said and what is heard, where words converse among themselves to decide what they will say. Sometimes it even feels like ghost words join this conversation, but only appear to one person or the other while they are communicating, so that two people can argue for hours over whether certain words were ever actually said.
Forget about solving the riddle of tone or emphasis. Somewhere between mouth and ear, “I love you,” can turn into “I love you.” A declaration of love winds up unveiling a hint of divided affections. And sometimes we know that despite our attempt to hide our thoughts, our words conspire together to convey our secrets. The words we wanted to italicize with our tone refused to sway, while others leaned to the side to show what we really meant.
These kinds of experiences illustrate the fact that words are independent of our wills. We can’t just do with them as we wish. They do things without us, and respond to what we do with them. I’ve seen what happens when I’ve abused words, when I’ve forced them to lie for me, to hide my inauthenticity, when I’ve bent them to shield myself.
They later refuse my friendship. I can still say the same words, but they won’t speak. And it may take years to mend the friendship, and sometimes you can never regain their trust. If dishonored enough, they can completely forsake you, and all you are left with are sounds with no soul, so that everything you say is dead.
There were times when people recognized the magic of words, and acknowledged that they have a power that belongs to them, not to us – this intuition still lives in our modern fantasy literature and films that unveil worlds where words can conjure invisible things, enchant, heal, and destroy.
I think the world these fantasies unveil is our own, that words are magic. They can do beautiful and terrible things. They can wound and mend, they can touch the heart and break it, they can return life to a weary body or carry off its final will to live. Most importantly, they are their own masters. We can befriend them, but not control them. We can love them, but never own them.
They will share their magic with those that honor them. If you care for words, they will lend their voice to what you say. Then the sounds will have soul, so that what you speak brings life.
Dylan Hoffman is a PhD student in Depth Psychology, concentrating in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is the founder and director of Earth Temple – a center for Jungian magic in Cortez, Colorado. You can contact Dylan by phone at (970) 529-3175, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.earth-temple.org. Follow Dylan on facebook at www.facebook.com/dkirkhoffman.