“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” (Mark Twain)
A few years back on TV I saw a group of rabbinical students sitting around a table in a room reading from Hebrew holy scripture, aloud. Each seemed to be reading a different passage and so the sound of their reading was an incomprehensible sound between a mumble and a roar. I did not understand what the meaning behind this exercise was, but now I believe I know. I discovered it while reading David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous”, aided by my having briefly studied that language in graduate school. It seems that Hebrew has a single word for both ‘spirit’ and ‘wind’ — the word ‘ruach’. Thus spirit and wind are very closely related in their religion. The very first sentence in the Hebrew Bible, the “Torah”, states:
When God began to create heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind (ruach) from God sweeping over the water. . .
At the very beginning of creation, before even the existence of the earth or the sky, God is present as a wind moving over the waters. This idea exists also among the Navajos, and can be found among other primitive groups as well. And breath. as we learn from the next section of Genesis, is the closest link we have to the divine. For after God forms an earthling (adam) from the dust of the earth (adamah), He blows the breath of life into the earthling’s nostrils and the human being awakens. The Hebrew term for breath of life is not ‘ruach’ but ‘neshamah’, which denotes both breath and the soul, the more personal, individual aspect of wind, the breath. In this sense, it represents conscious awareness. As we find in the Emerald Tablet and also in Meister Eckhardt, “Words derive their power from the Original Word.”
These students I heard were displaying this aspect of divine connection by adding something to the scriptures which were not originally there. The Hebrew written language had until about the 12th century no vowel indicators, since breath being divine could not be represented in earthly dimensions. That would be idolatry. To represent the divine in earthly terms is still forbidden today in Semitic religions, as you know that Muslims also are not permitted to represent the divine in art. After all, wind is imperceptible and it was the wind, or spirit, which swept over the water. So these students were using spirit, breath, to fill in the sounds of the written language, thus providing the meaning. Thus it is spirit that provides the meaning. The vowels are nothing other than sounded breath or spirit, which provides meaning to the word as the vowels are sounded. Thus the reader of a traditional Hebrew text must actively choose the appropriate breath sounds or vowels since different vowels will vary the meanings of the written consonants. For this reason, they were not reading silently. We can see this in any language. Take RD in English: Is the word ‘read,red,ride,rood,raid’,or even ‘ready’ or ‘aired’? This demands a reader’s conscious participation. The sounds issuing from the individual reader’s breath are what makes the text meaningful, which are imagined even in silent reading. And in Hebrew there is no single definitive meaning; the ambiguity entailed by the lack of written vowels ensured that diverse shades of meaning are always possible, despite what we hear from many Christians, problems that they have very likely not yet perceived. Since the Old Testament was mostly written in Hebrew and since most written Hebrew words consisted of three consonants and no vowels, you can imagine that those students had some freedom of interpretation. An example: Ecclesiastes XII, 8 — “Vanity of vanities, says the preacher; all is vanity.” ‘Vanity’ here was translated from H-B-L, ‘Hebel’, which means breath, mist, vapor, vanity, and that which is ephemeral and transient. It is actually inseparable from ‘ruach’ which means holy spirit or wind. The Preacher therefore could be saying that all is ephemeral and transient, but also inseparable from the holy spirit. That is not quite what we would refer to as vanity); he further states that we don’t know whether the spirit of man goes upward and the beasts down to the earth. Indeed, the entire Book is a discussion of vanity which the preacher defines as ‘wind’ which as we know means spirit. This is even more complicated when you realize that the vowels in the word Hebel were not there in the first place. So you can see the problem that fundamentalists have in so vigorously defending their point of view as to the meaning of the Biblical passages.
Another interesting point is the fact that the first letter, aleph, is not a vowel as is the first letter in ours, but is the first action in the creation of the wor(l)d, the sound made in the throat as one opens one’s mouth to speak. Something like a glottal stop. The beginning of the Word — what St. John meant when he wrote: “ In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” The Word is a vibration (as is AUM) which was perceptible only when it became matter, as the quantum theory states that the wave is perceptible only when it appears as matter. It is as if the Spirit in wanting to become known, or recognized, sent forth vibrations which were permitted through consciousness to become perceptible as matter. Is it therefore that language is what brought the universe into being?
Some of you are familiar with the close connections the Hebrew alphabet has with their religion, most clearly expressed in the Kabbala, which proclaims that the uttering of the first 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet mingled with the divine breath or spirit first spoke the visible universe into existence. This may have been in the form of wind, which as you remember is the same as the word for spirit. This becomes visible only through what is perceptible, as when one sees the wind blowing through trees, or even more noticeably, when one sees the whirling of dust and dried leaves. And as in Genesis, the wind blown over the waters, which I experienced during a typhoon in the Pacific (hardly pacific at that moment) in the Navy, shortly after I witnessed the destruction which had occurred at Nagasaki. I broke the rules and went on deck, wedging myself on the steps leading down to the main deck looking back at the superstructure. I saw and heard the creaking superstructure sway back and forth, the wind whistling through the rigging, and the waves smashing across the deck immediately at my feet. At one point we tipped 37 1/2 degrees (45 was the limit without capsizing). I can never hear the music of the Ship in the Storm from Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherezade’ without reliving that experience. It is much easier for me to take in that experience as a creative act than trying to imagine the Big Bang. But that doesn’t mean that I believe that a typhoon created the world just because the Bible spoke of the wind over the waters. But I am also not expected to believe that a Big Bang did. But I think it likely that a typhoon under certain conditions can have a creative effect in a universe in which it can have an equally destructive effect on what was there before. Who can claim that this world is the First Creation? The waters spoken of in Genesis may have been a flooded world which had existed previously, which could give a nice metaphorical twist to the myth of Noah’s Ark. And a typhoon is much more interesting, at least to some of us, than a Big Bang. A bomb can make a bang. Only God can make a typhoon. At least that’s what I thought at the time. It even made it possible for me now to see why the ancients used the same word for wind and spirit. But it does not come down to what one must believe. Indeed, as Jung pointed out, belief is what causes disagreement, violence and wars. The better approach is to decide what for you is valid under the circumstances. What makes you feel better while still making sense, even if it might not hold up in court. As Jung said:
Wisdom is neither a question of belief nor of knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the unconscious.
Such experiences as typhoons are experienced by all our senses, but the two senses which most clearly register events taking place at a distance are the eyes and the ears. Although one might not realize it at the time, this is what occurs when one reads about a typhoon or a Big Bang, or any other event. The two senses are entwining or overlapping. This is, of course, most noticeable when reading aloud. Reading aloud was what the rabbinical students were doing that I spoke of earlier. But when the sounds are determined by written vowels, there is a process called synesthesia, which was described by David Abram in “The Spell of the Sensuous.” He wrote that in this process of reading —
“Our eyes converge upon a visible mark, or a series of marks, yet what they find there is a sequence not of images but of sounds, something heard; the visible letters trade our eyes for our ears. Or, rather, the eye and the ear are brought together at the surface of the text — a new linkage has been formed between seeing and hearing which ensures that a phenomenon apprehended by one sense is instantly transposed into the other. Further, we should note that this sensory transposition is mediated by the human mouth and tongue; it is not just any kind of sound that is experienced in the act of reading, but specifically human, vocal sounds — those which issue from the human mouth. It is important to realize that the now common experience of “silent” reading is a late development in the story of the alphabet, emerging only during the Middle Ages, when spaces were first inserted between the words in a written manuscript (along with various forms of punctuation), enabling readers to distinguish the words of a written sentence without necessarily sounding them out audibly. Before this innovation, to read was necessarily to read aloud, or at the very least to mumble quietly; after the twelfth century, it became increasingly possible to internalize the sounds, to listen inwardly to phantom words (or the inward echo of words once uttered).”
Once this innovation occurred, the languages in the Christian world became phonetic; that is, the sound of the word had a fixed meaning, with the vowel sounds being determined by the consonants between which they were placed. Therefore sacred writings now had fixed meanings, although the Old Testament, being written mostly in Hebrew, still had meanings influenced by the approaches taken by the translator, for reasons we went over earlier. This is not as serious a problem as Egyptologists have run across in translating hieroglyphics, which after all are symbols, not signs as letters are, but a problem exists nevertheless, even though not recognized by fundamentalists.
The vowels seem to have been looked upon by the Hebrews as the soul of words, and that by extracting the soul and writing only the body, these bodies could be re-animated and given a new soul. Same carcass; new meaning. Like a soul transplant. This demonstrates the physicality of words and the immateriality of speech. Like playing a wind instrument such as a flute. Take the vowels out of the word ‘soul’ and replace them with two others and you have ‘seal’ or ‘sail.’ If you can discover how the words ‘seal’ and ‘soul’ expand our understanding of the word ‘soul,’ you are perhaps getting an idea of what language was like in very early times, and perhaps even getting a glimpse of the language of the birds.
The best example I know of to demonstrate the connection between breath, spirit, air, and language (and perhaps vanity) lies in the French word ‘oiseau.’ It is the only word that has only two syllables yet contains every vowel; a,e,i,o,u. It has only one consonant ‘s’, which although frequently unvoiced, is voiced in this word, so the entire word is a single breath. The meaning, ‘bird’ is also often connected with spirit and is certainly associated with air. Unlike most French words, it is not descended from Latin, for the Latin word is ‘avis.’ It may very well go back to earlier times when people spoke a language more like the language of the birds, being more connected with nature and therefore communicated with it more. Look further at the word and you will see something else. Birds are associated with the air, but some birds also inhabit water. We must include them in our speech also. ‘Oie’ is the French word for ‘goose.’ ‘Eau’ is the French word for ‘water.’ Does this belie Jung’s statement that there is no such thing as a meaningless coincidence?
The vowels are the spirit of which the breath was at one time associated in a great many languages, but I mentioned Hebrew because it is still spoken and therefore we can make judgments about its structure without fear of just making things up. The importance of the vowels as vibration is increasing now with the myth of the Big Bang now being supportive of the Judeo-Christian creation myth of the Word.
But of course, after the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and the simultaneously occurring Protestant Reformation another problem arose, the problem of varied pronunciation among dialects. Which dialect should be used in translating holy scripture since the Church had previously been satisfied to leave the scriptures in Latin (or Greek in the orthodox areas) while the priests did the interpreting for the people. Christendom was made up of many languages but hundreds of dialects, and the Protestant churches insisted on everyone being able to read the Bible. This was a great boon for universal education, but there was no pope in Protestant countries to make the determination. So decisions were made piecemeal at first. Wyclif tried in England, but that did not last when James I decided to do it up proper. Luther was the first in Germany but he used what is called High German (not a social term but it means he spoke a dialect of the highlands in south-east Germany). This brought about a unification of the German language because everybody who wanted to read had to learn Luther’s language, now called High German. This sort of thing affected even my family because my grandfather who spoke Swiss-German dialect learned English on the way to America by comparing the Luther Bible with the King James version. I can imagine what his vocabulary sounded like when he got here. One did not hear the phrase “thou sayest” very often in the US even in the late 19th century. And the ‘th’ sound does not exist in other languages except Greek, so that creates another problem for those learning English. And what about the problem of misprints? As Mark Twain warned: “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”
Which leads me to another problem facing phonetic languages. How do they remain phonetic? Languages keep producing new dialects and ways of pronouncing vowels while the printed languages remain the same. Although the prevalence of radio and TV likely slows this process somewhat, it does create increasing problems over time, notably in English speaking countries where bringing spelling up to date cannot be enforced over the entire English speaking world. In those countries with strong centralized governments, it can be done. In France, even though it is a republic, they were able to establish an Academy of the French Language which not only determines proper spelling, but attempts, not too successfully, to prevent anglicization of their language by determining which English words should be accepted into the French language. The only popular one they have accepted to my knowledge is ‘weekend.’ Needless to say, their attempts have not been very successful. The Germans had the advantage of an absolute ruler before 1918, so in 1900 Kaiser Wilhelm, on the suggestion of his government, in one fell swoop brought German spelling, printing style, and even penmanship up to date. He eliminated German script and German text type, the ‘th’ in German spelling, and other changes. High German remains a basically phonetic language as a result. However, the lack of an absolute ruler has resulted in some problems with our language. For example, in the German language, noun phrases are compounded, as Mark Twain comically satirized in “That Awful German Language”, such as ‘Unabhängigkeitserklärung’ is all one word, meaning Declaration of Independence. The gender is determined by the last word in the series. This worked reasonably well until the appearance of extra-virgin olive oil in which case ‘oil’ being of neuter gender caused a problem for the word ‘virgin.’ Olive oil itself was OK as neuter even though ‘olive’ is feminine, but virgins don’t like to be considered neuter, even though olives might not mind. The problem arose in the middle of the last century when there was no longer a Kaiser to solve it, so it had to be dealt with by a meeting of the Common Market which decided that ‘Jungfernol’ (virgin oil) should be neuter since ‘jungfer’ was really only an adjective anyway; the noun ‘virgin’ was ‘Jungfrau’ — definitely still feminine. Wars have been fought over less.
Attempts were made by President Theodore Roosevelt to eliminate the ‘u’ in labor and other ‘our’ word endings and these and a few other changes were made successfully in the US, but even though similar attempts were made in England to make spelling more phonetic, as soon as they discovered that the US was attempting similar changes, they decided to keep the old system rather than accept American domination of the English language. All of this does little to affect constant changes in pronunciation, but radio and television do have a noticeable effect. Within my own lifetime, Brooklynese has disappeared, although it is not only because of the media. It is in this case caused by the Irish leaving Brooklyn and being replaced by Puerto Ricans (see “West Side Story”) and other minority groups. No longer does duh lih-l boid sih onna cawnuh uv toity toid streeh and foist avenyuh geh’n cuvvud wi’ erl. These changes in language which produce dialects occur when differing groups come in contact with each other. Otherwise, the spoken dialect will often remain unchanged for long periods of time. If one goes into the back country in certain regions of the Appalachian Mountains, I’ve been told that one can still hear English spoken as it was in Elizabethan times. But this would be in those few areas which have not been overwhelmed by modern English in print or in speech. One can find this in Switzerland where a printed and spoken version of the only remaining Latin dialect still remains. It is called Romansh and is spoken in the mountainous regions of central Switzerland. While traveling through that area I was able to buy a newspaper written in that language and I was able to read it because I can read Latin and German, as there are some Germanic words interspersed throughout the language which did not exist in Roman times. I am certain that if this had not been an isolated area, the dialect would have long disappeared, merging probably into Schweizer-Deutsch. Indeed, part of the newspaper I bought is in Schweizer-Deutsch, and only part in Romansh.
One strange dialect of English which has survived in southeast Asia and the western Pacific is pidgin, which demonstrates its commercial origins by the fact that the word pidgin is a corruption of the Cantonese word for commercial. It sounds like English but is hardly comprehensible to an English speaker. To hear someone say: Horse no cow-cow COW cow-cow, but COW cow-cow COW cow-cow would not mean much to most of us: A horse doesn’t produce cow’s milk but a cow does give cow’s milk. But that’s what it means.
According to Ambrose Bierce in “The Devil’s Dictionary”, The proper definition of “Language” is: “The music with which we charm the serpents guarding another’s treasure.” This can be one of the many aspects of language which we might call an esthetic aspect, although of course old Ambrose also was speaking of plotting. But he was always quite accurate, as in his definition of insurance as a modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is besting the man who keeps the table. But, back to esthetics. Some languages are considered more ‘beautiful’ than others, just as some words are within a particular language. For example, it has been said that the most beautiful line in Shakespeare is from Sonnet 73 in which the poet is speaking of the effects of the ravages of age. “Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.” It is difficult for a native English speaker to determine if the apparent beauty is totally in the sounds (esthetic) or at least partially in the semantics (meaning). I find French much more beautiful sounding than German, although when Marlene Dietrich sings in German, I have to admit that German can sound beautiful also. Some languages are better for some things, such as Italian is considered superior for singing because its words end in vowels and it has very few triple consonant combinations which can lead a singer astray, such as the English words ‘acts’.
Words have in many societies been considered divine. They are, after all, the most common method of communicating with the spiritual world as in prayer, although music and dance have also been used. But when the spiritual world returns the message it is usually by providing us with experience, although words are occasionally heard in altered states of consciousness such as in dreams. In such cases, they will usually consist of metaphors, and for this reason many people consider them messages from the devil since they do not understand them and so are easily misled by them. People in psychotic states frequently are misled by them and so may find the diabolical interpretation quite convincing. Interpreting these metaphors can be like learning another way of speaking — another language. Or interpreting koans. Some Jungian therapists actually converse with a client’s hallucinations (using the client as intermediary) in order to deal with the client’s problems. A three-way conversation between two people. All done with words; a direct way of communicating with the psyche of oneself or another. The fact that these words convey meaning by means of the air we are breathing out as we speak and is the same air which blows around us carrying other meaningful sounds explains why words can be considered divine, and air being the carrier is one of the four basic elements supporting life. In the myth of Prometheus, the gods had given to mankind three of these elements to support human life; earth, air, and water, but withheld the fourth, fire. When Prometheus stole it from the gods to give it to man, he was severely punished. This may be the reason for God’s statement that there will be no more floods covering the earth; it will be “the fire next time.” As you know, we have reached a critical point on that path with atomic and hydrogen bombs. We are still learning how to use that fourth element, and this will require a different kind of intelligence than how to use words, which simply use air. Note how our use of air, water, and earth including simpler forms of technology returns our waste to those elements essentially unchanged. Breathing does not change the nature of the air, garbage does not return anything that was not there before, but fire alters the chemical nature of our world, creating steel from iron, wood into deadly smoke, internal or external combustion creates what we refer to as pollution Our stealing of fire from the gods has created a danger which we are now having to deal with. We believe it made civilization possible, but we are actually playing with fire.
At the time of the full blossoming of the Romantic period, words even in prose became an art form. Walter Pater, in 1873, wrote a book discussing the art of the Renaissance in which he described da Vinci’s painting of Mona Lisa which everyone recognizes, but would it be so easily recognizable from his description? See if these words better describe Michelangelo’s artistry or Walter Pater’s.
“She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen days about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has molded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.”
You may not immediately see the intimate connection between words, music and dance as divine. This characteristic derives from their ability to communicate meaning. Any one of the three, or any combination thereof, may communicate meaning. Wynton Marsalis on NPR once stated that any music without lyrics frees the imagination enabling us to interpret it in any way we please. He limited his children’s musical listening primarily to jazz and classical without lyrics for that purpose. Such music has a language of its own. Perhaps that is because such music and also dance have a common element — rhythm. Rhythm itself is capable of communicating, and as we know is used much in poetry as well as in music. Both rhythm and rhyme provided poetry with its sacred aspect, since they are both related to the breath necessary to provide them.
Are words the only form of language? Certainly non-verbal language can exist, and we do agree I am sure that language requires at least a minimal degree of intelligence. You may have heard of the marvelous communication between a man and a severely wounded eagle which ended up in the healing of both of them from potentially fatal conditions. But how easy it is for inherited concepts to stifle our senses! So often we assume that other animals are not conscious — that birds, for example, lack real intelligence, since their brains are so much smaller than ours. “Birdbrains,” we say — a facile insult. Intelligence, we assume, is a strictly centralized phenomenon, mistaking our human form of intelligence for intelligence itself. As mammals we learned long ago to balance on our hind legs, freeing our forepaws to manipulate objects, so we look at things from different directions — a highly visual approach to objects in the world. It shows a propensity for detachment that has been greatly intensified in recent times. Instead of dealing directly with the earthly elements, we now have an ever-expanding complex of technologies mediating between our body and the world. We use our intelligence to maneuver among a determinate set of abstractions rather than having to improvise our way through an ever-shifting material field. While driving our car we are used to fairly mechanical operations that require little strenuous effort. Whether sequestered in our offices tickling the keys on a keyboard, or simply turning the pages of a good book, we are making use of a form of intelligence which is manipulating abstract symbols while our muscled body remains mostly inert. Our thinking process seems entirely independent of our body and our bodily relation to the world around us. If we do change our activity in this process, it still issues from a centralized thinking process, independent of our sensory surroundings, from an awareness situated within our heads. This ability is what we call intelligence. As David Abram points out in “Becoming Animal”, intelligence may take other forms in creatures with other forms.
“Other animals, in a constant and unmediated relationship with their sensory surroundings, think with the whole of their bodies. A nuanced creativity is necessary to orient and forage in a world of ever-changing forces. Equipped with proclivities and patterned behaviors genetically inherited from its ancestors, each wild creature must nonetheless adapt such propensities to the elemental particulars of the place and moment where it finds itself — from an unexpected absence of water in the usual watering hole, to a sudden abundance of its favorite food. No matter how precise are the instructions tucked into its chromosomes, they can hardly have encoded in advance the exact topology of the present moment. And hence a modicum of creative engagement in its immediate circumstance is simply unavoidable for any organism that moves (whether an elephant or an amoeba.”
Some may say that such decisions are not thoughts, that the animal is not aware of these choices. Yet it is clear that SOMETHING is aware in the present moment. monitoring the terrain and responding accordingly. It is true that we need not attribute such choices to a separable self within the animal, or to a thinking process that occurs only in the brain before issuing commands to the limbs. After all, these animals have never found it necessary to separate their sentience from their sensate bodies, having little reason to implant their intelligence in a separate region of their skull where it might dialogue with itself — many undomesticated animals when awake move in a fairly constant dialogue not with themselves but with their surroundings. There it is not the isolated mind but rather the sensate body itself that is doing the thinking, finding fresh solutions to problems and adjusting old habits and ancestral patterns to present circumstances. David Abram continues:
“Here in the forest, all is body language. Tall spruces, orb-weaving spiders, a chipmunk poised on a fallen trunk rapidly gnawing something held in its forepaws, even the Jackson Pollock outbreak of bright lichens on a rock outcropping — all of these breathing beings are bodies, distant variants of my own flesh, as indeed my body is a distant echo of theirs. If each also has its sensations, its own experience of the world around it (which appears likely, since each responds appropriately to its context), it seems obvious that their experience is as weirdly different from my experience as their bodies differ from mine. We are almost wholly alien to one another. Yet each organism in these woods seems to express itself directly, without the mediation of symbols or sentences. Hence the tension expressed by the sounds or movements of another creature will sometimes trigger a resonance in my own flesh. I’ve no doubt that my empathic sensations are dramatically different from those actually felt by the skittish deer or the squirrel, yet with regard to such basic experiences as fear, pain, and pleasure, it seems silly to assume that our feelings are entirely incommensurable. There is a subtle entanglement and confusion between all beings of the earth, a consequence not only of our common ancestry, and the cellular similarities of our makeup, but also of our subjection to variant aspects of the same whirling world.”
Is this an example of the entanglement Abram is speaking of? A seemingly common ancestry among us all? There is an apparent communication going on between two creatures so very different, as far apart as we are from either of them. The body language he is speaking of, at least when speaking of mammals, could in my view, be described somewhat in Jungian terms. Abram mentions that these animals have sensations which are expressed without the mediation of symbols or sentences. I agree that they do not ‘think’ in our terms. He speaks of an entanglement which leads to this confusion. It is as if the animals have sensation functions, even if they do not have the same type of thinking function we do. They can experience fear, pain, and pleasure just as we do, although I remember being told by science teachers when I was in school that experimenting with live rats and frogs was harmless since they could feel no pain. This so-called Enlightenment idea was presented to the world by Descartes and Malebranche. It was actually that they did not express these feelings as we do and so in not understanding them, we were to assume that they do not feel. This, I suspect, is the confusion Abram speaks of.
Fear, pain, and pleasure might be said to be the language of feeling — the means it uses to communicate to one. This is a universal language that is used by all living creatures in communicating with itself, and also with others, since we can cause fear, pain, and pleasure in others also. And what about non-living creatures? A blizzard or a flood can also cause any of these. This does not require that we believe in spirits, as this implies a dualism which few could accept today in dealing with nature. But we should remember that the native Americans when they referred to Mount Shasta, for example, as a sacred mountain did not imply that the mountain was sacred ‘to’ a spiritual being, but rather the fact that it was sacred implied that it was the manifestation ‘of’ a spiritual being. Its form did not separate it as being different from its surroundings, but rather that it stood out from an already sacred earth as a distinct reminder that the earth too was sacred. There was no dualism here. Therefore the language of the mountain was clear and can still be felt today even if not so strongly as in the past. This is similar to the Bushman to whom the praying mantis is the most sacred of all living creatures. It may seem strange to us, but one might have to agree that it appears as the closest manifestation of the sacred not only in the position of its forearms but with the all-seeing appearance of its eyes.
First of all one must come to accept that our body is an animal body. It differs in no significant way from that of any other mammal, supporting Darwin’s view even beyond what he proposed. Then look at Jung’s approach to the functions. His irrational functions were sensation and intuition. The rational functions were thinking and feeling. Observing animal behavior causes one to conclude that animals are primarily irrational. Making decisions which do not involve fear or desire and thus require thinking are made very slowly with animals as when we watch our cat decide how he wants to go out, we see him consulting his memory, a surprisingly slow process. Thinking does nothing to solve the problem. The feeling function is relatively undeveloped in animals. Decisions based on what we would call feeling are based primarily on instinctual and sensate needs and preferences, like food. Actions resulting from fear and desire are almost always based on intuition which is derived from their instinct. Which way they would leap when frightened is intuitive or instinctual. Mankind has placed instinct far down the scale replacing it with thinking and feeling. Animals use primarily sensation and intuition. These are the functions we must consider using in communication with animals. Domesticated animals have learned some use of words, and even numbers. Parrots have been known to add, subtract, and even multiply numbers, but even horse whisperers presumably do not depend on words. It strikes me that such communication might even require that one enter a partially altered state of being in which the rational function of thinking is shut down.
Gestures are more easily understood by animals. Abram spoke of dancing to deal with a herd of sea lions which seemed ready to attack him. The rational functions seem to be centered in the brain, whereas it seems to me likely that the irrational lies more in the region of the heart. Abram found that by directing his attention to that region, he was able to communicate with the ravens. Focusing on the eyes caused the bird to fly away. A great deal of the communication among animals is based on those senses which are more fully developed in them such as the sense of smell. Dogs are noted for using fire hydrants as centers of communication similar to our use of the telephone. Creating those centers for the dogs required imagination on our part in which animals are deficient; it is one of the five wits. However, it is the senses which they have in abundance and are obviously using them whenever they run across such a center. Therefore we must consider the senses when we desire to communicate with animals. The five senses seem to be the primary receivers of communication in animals and people, although there is some evidence that animals can receive communication intuitively as in dreams and in interpreting gestures. In order to communicate to other animals, they can vocalize. That is where our limitations are most noticeable. We can stimulate fear in animals with our voice but how do we understand their vocalizations beyond their ability to stimulate fear in us? I am speaking here of wild, not domesticated animals with whom most of us have some basic means of communication. To communicate with wild creatures requires a certain level of understanding which is native to those living among these creatures. It has been observed, for instance, that native hunters who revere wild life as a source of their own existence, and promise to do what they can to assure its rebirth, can approach their prey and at a point where the prey sense that their death is inevitable, will simply surrender without trying to escape. It is as if the hunter can communicate a freedom from fear to the animal, a different way of perceiving the world. As Abram writes:
“The simple act of perception is experienced as an interchange between oneself and that which one perceives — as a meeting, a participation, a communion between beings. For each thing that we sense is assumed to be sensitive in its own right, able to feel and respond to the beings around it, and to us.”
And he is not only speaking of hunted animals here, but of plants and inanimate beings as well.
“Each perceived presence is felt to have its own dynamism, its own pulse, its own active agency in the world. Each phenomenon has the ability to affect and influence the space around it, and the other beings in its vicinity. Every perceived thing, in other words, is perceived to be animate — to be (at least potentially) alive. Death itself is more a transformation than a state; a dying organism becomes part of the wider life that surrounds it, as the hollowed-out trunk of a fallen tree feeds back into the broader metabolism of the forest. There is thus no clear divide between that which is animate and that which is inanimate. Everything is animate. Everything moves. It’s just that some things (like granite boulders) move much slower than other things (like crows or crickets).”
The native hunter thus believes that his prey will be reinstated with a new body and believes that his prey believes the same, and by the way the prey behaves, he may be right. Who is to know? So you see that communicating with a wild animal implies that the individual, like a horse-whisperer, in some sense understands how the animal perceives his world. Not how the animal thinks, because as I pointed out earlier, the term ‘think’ does not apply here except perhaps metaphorically. But of course the phrase ‘communicate with an animal’ may itself be a metaphor, something like a woman trying to explain to a man how she felt on the birth of her first child. Here one must express feelings, not describe thoughts. But gestures, the sensate and intuitive method, might be even more expressive.
Of course there is a question concerning various forms of communication to which I have been unable to find an answer. Do animals misunderstand each other as often we do? Hand gestures made by people of differing nationalities have often been misunderstood, and also language dialects were a problem for some American soldiers during WWII in England when they admired infants who were accompanied by their mother and had their faces slapped when they referred to the child as a “cute little bugger.” It seems ‘bugger’ doesn’t carry the same meaning in British as it does in American. The British mother actually thought that her child was being accused of sodomy. But I have never witnessed gestural or vocal misunderstandings between animals except noticing the fear when domestic animals first meet. They often seem very wary that their advances may be misunderstood. But maybe that was the same problem the American soldier faced. Communication may be a universal problem at first meeting. We all may have noticed that at one time or another. Like meeting a leopard while out walking. If it is accompanied by an offspring, you really ought to check with its mother as to what to call it.