Anne's Blog - July 07

Níl cosaint ar an mbás agam;
gabhann an lasiar i ngreim ar a bhfuil lamuigh na huaire;
cuireann an bás m'anam ar lasadh;
is mé an cleite agus is amhlaidh an sciath.

An Hala Havac by A. R. Stone

"If we set our Souls on Fire, would we Bleed?"

The Celtic languages provide for me a way to directly connect to the mind of the ecstatic. Let me repeat, I have no ability to believe, in god, in afterlife--in anything. This does not mean that I don't think gravity is real; I have the expectation of gravity working, but no belief. The above lines from the poem are a way of describing a state of living which is celebrated in ceremonies like the Japanese "sepukku" or some Catholic ceremonies involving torment of the body. It is well known that, at the point of no return, the mind suddenly clears, as if a huge wind has swept across it and the jumble of concerns about the body, about one's state, about all the trivia of input that occupies our daily thoughts is completely gone. It is a very freeing feeling and often associated with a group of experiences: extreme clarity of mind, heightened awareness, sensory overload, feelings of time stretching out and vanishing--much of the same sorts of experiences of a drug trip or an advanced bout of meditation.

There are many, many things I don't understand. One of these is: if one experiences a mental state by accident, why cannot one then have access to it at will? I have found that the experience of any mental state is an opportunity to load that into my selection and to call upon it at any time. I find that the mind is what it is willed to be. Yes, there are the distractions: exhaustion, hunger, distress, and etc.; yet I find it possible, barring no extreme circumstances, to call up any mental state I choose. What I don't understand is why this is hard. I suspect that it is merely a matter of will and maybe people who report the difficulty of doing this do not want to do it, for whatever reason. Madness, ignorance, fear--there may be a number of reasons. However, one of the easy ways (for me) to call up mental states like the one above is to tie it to a language or a set of words, or, of course, music.

Yet part of calling up a mental state is knowing it. The above state is a bit dangerous to experience for the first time. Often people will go to extreme lengths to recall it. It is a state closely associated with death, usually death by violence. However, it is also associated with religious ecstasy. I find it to be much more common among the confederation mythology as the berserk or poetical frenzy. Our ancestors were much more comfortable with frenzy than we are. Yet, as people who meditate realize, this state can be one of great calm as well as "the edge of adrenaline". The above poem translates something like this: "I cannot ward of death; everlasting glory has consumed my mind; because of death fire fills my soul; I am the feather and so the wing." It is a common form in both Japanes and Celtic poetry to set up one kind of state and fling the mind into the true state with a juxtaposition of an unexpected thought. Irish Gaelic works extremely well for this kind of set-up and works equally well for talking about the "flaming soul" or the skull of Baba Yaga. This state works best to "change" the shape of the mind, especially if one is stuck in a certain mind set.

All languages can be ecstatic or melancholy or express the nuances of scientific thought. However, the languages descendent from the confederations are exceptional at expressing heightened states of awareness such as the berserk. Their cultures "grew up" in extreme conditions where life-expectancy was short and men were eager to die in battle and ashamed to die of disease. Julius Caesar speaks with great eloquence on the battle madness of these people and their joy in near-death situations. Some have decided that the cults of worship associated with this kind of mind were caused by drugs, yet I believe that it was simply part of their culture. So, in modern German, you can evoke images of the "Übermensch" which in English sound a bit embarrassing. In Irish you can summon up images of bloodthirsty headhunters and sound poetical rather than just crazy.

The converse is also true. In the South, death was very closely tied to sex and in the North death was closely tied to ecstasic berserker frenzy. So in Southern languages one can more easily express grief, pain and dying of love, which in Northern languages sounds a bit less macho. One should die on the hurling field, not in a woman's arms, so to speak. The love of battle is not so prevalent in the South, where battle and religion are handfast and battle becomes a holy duty, not a rough and tumble drunken party. One cuts one's arm off, not in love of battle, but in love of unrequited love. God becomes love, obtainable and painful to experience. The Northern hammer and eagle gods wielding their lightning spears become, in the South, the god tormented, sacrificed and wept over by his women.

But it's in the third line that the translation really goes haywire and takes me back to what I said originally about how an angel movie works in German but would not in English. Here is a little lesson, I hope you will forgive me for it: "dauren" in German means "to last" or "to endure", and is connected to many words that have the "dour" or "dar" cognates or hardness or lasting strength. "Bedauren" in German means to regret which we start seeing in "dour" as opposed to "endure". German, like English is a compound language. We have the word "duration" but also "endure, and obdurate. In German, the word "kommen" means to "come" but "bekommen" does not mean "become" as in English, but "to get" or "receive". "Kennen" again above as "to recognize" becomes "bekennen" which means "to confess" or "admit".

But the real problem is with the word "seelen" and "beseelt", a cognate. In German there is a COMPLETELY different architecture for the words "spirit" and "soul" than there is in English. This is one of the reasons Max Stirner is hard to translate, because his primary point is over the word "Geist" which has a different architeture or cognate structure than the word "ghost". This is where things get interesting. English although descended from a Germanic language, was heavily influenced, not only by French, a Romance language, but by two underlying languages. The first, that during the Roman Conquest that made French, a Gaulic language. The second was the neighbor languages to the Saxons, various forms of Goidelic and Brythonic. Both these influences upon English have been downplayed, mostly due to the politics of the Normans. However, to be brief, the influence of Latin thought AND, more importantly, Celtic thought, upon understanding the soul and spirit, encouraged a completely different way of talking about these two subjects than one finds in German. This difference in thinking has led to a mess of misunderstanding between the Germanic peoples and the Anglo-French that exploded in war twice in the last century. Yet for our little translation, the difference in thinking is profound, but hopefully won't lead us into war!

In English, we have the word "soul" which seems like it would fit the word "seele" and appears in dictionaries thus. Our word is from the AS word "sa-wol" which means "having life" but is related to the words dealing with "sowing" or "sawen" all implying the setting of seed as related to having life. The world "wol" means "disease", so given the Anglo-Saxon drudge mind (they were so literal and so prosaic that it makes me blush to be related to them), "sa-wol" probably meant "without disease" or "capable of siring children". Well, something happened between "sa-wol" and "soul", probably when the foreign word "espiritu" or to breathe, came in to give us "anima" or life imbued with breath. In the Celtic languages, the language of life is the language of breath. Now, in the Celtic world, "anam" is basically "life" and related to breath. But the older word for soul, used in more cognates and compound phrases (how you get an older word) is "intinn" which is "brain" (inchinn) and "mind" but cognates with "tinne" or "fire". So the Anglo-Saxons could be with seed and the Celts could have minds enfired. Two really, really different people. But let's continue. The Latins were basically with breath, or animated, but the Greeks were with breath "pneumos" but also "psychic" giving the English borrows another set of words. So, for the Celts, life was in the head, the seat of the soul, and for the Classical peoples, life was in the breath or the chest or the heart of the soul. What about the Germans? Does "seele" mean merely "not-diseased"?

Like the English, the Germans have ten different words for the meaning of "soul", all of which change in different contexts. Like most Europeans, they don't know whether the soul is the heart or the mind, but the word "seele" is not the prosaic word it is in Anglo-Saxon. Like the English word, it has evolved into a word deeply connotated. But, the architecture went a different way. The word "seele" stayed close to the word "animus" and is popularly used in psychology. In cheap dictionaries, the word "seele" translates as "soul" but let's see what happens when we understand the MEANING of the word in it's architectural surroundings. Here's our poem again and the translation:

Als das Kind Kind war,
wußte es nicht, daß es Kind war,
alles war ihm beseelt,
und alle Seelen waren eins.
When the child was a child,
it didnŐt know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

Let's do some translation based on understanding the German context of the words and not just using the dictionary.

While the child, child was
he did not grok that he child was
everything to him was alive
and all living were one.

However, this translation still is not right, in that you can't say what is implied in German, which is a very simple idea, carried all through the movies, the idea that while one is living innocently, one can't see the separation: all is soul, all is life, all is breathing all in one. So the words are tied to the Fall, or the awareness of being separate from the world, or individuated, the theme of the movie. The angels are beings who are all beings, and then they "fall" into life "literally" and are dismayed or delighted to find that they are separate beings from life, or self-aware, a gift of humanity as controversial as mortality and maybe tied to it? So the religious would have us think that to die, one joins again into the undistinguishes "oneness" of life.

One of the points in this discussion, is that in German this is said very succintly and eloquently in this short verse, where in English it took a long time to wind around into it. Even when I took liberties with the translation, it didn't work very well, and the translation of Hanke's says little of what is implied in the German.

Does this mean that translation means that the translator has to be on the same page as the writer? You bet, but there is still the problem that even with a good translator, the connotations of the word may defeat the argument presented in the orignal language, especially when the throughts vary so much, as in the nature of the soul. And I haven't even got into the implications of German in capitalizing all the nouns and the fact that the neuter tense of "das Kind" further strengthens the innocence of the child. However, to be fair to Hanke, the ENTIRE poem (about sixty-five lines) translated into English begins to build a word picture that points better in the direction of the original German, however, so sadly, the music of "als das kind kind war" is completely lost. :(

© 2007, A.R. Stone