Words have the power to lift up, to heal, to hurt, to wound and to harm. The God Odin tells us this right from the outset when he calls forth the runes (which for those of you who don’t yet know formed the basis of the Germanic alphabets including English). Each rune holds magic and power within – they are the shapers of reality.
Last week I was reminded of the power of words and I wanted to explore this in relation to the warrior self.
Words that weaken
The northern Europeans, both Germanic and Celtic, fully understood the power of words to uplift and to wound. The sagas are full of accounts of the heroism and might of Kings and heroes – because words make it true right? Skalds (Germanic), Scops (Anglo-Saxon) and Fili (Celtic) were master wordsmiths. In addition to building the power of their leaders through song and story they were also masters of the well-aimed insult. Their words were said to induce both mental and physical wounding. Today satyrical forms, black comedy and stand-up do the same job as a counter to the propaganda and spin public figures surround themselves with.
Remember the rhyme ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ – what rot. In a perfect world we would all be using our words to uplift each other – and if you’re in a position to do so this is where you should focus your warrior presence.
The present reality is sadly one where many experience words that wound and harm every day and if you are on the receiving end it is sometimes okay, and even right, to fight back. I received a masterclass on this watching RuPaul’s drag race and encountering, for the first time, the practice of ‘shading’. Please correct me if I’m wrong (as this certainly isn’t my area of expertise) but my understanding of ‘shading’ is that it is the masterful use of insult to such a degree it becomes an art form (very similar to the Skalds mentioned above). Now I’m new to the Drag Race and at first I couldn’t understand why people who had already experienced such violence through words would want to aim them at members of their own community. My first ‘aha’ was realising that in many ways the shading contest is a demonstration of warrioress prowess: a space in which to practice and gain commendation for being able to defend yourself ‘out there’ with words. My second realisation came when I saw how much closer the bonds between the competitors were after a shading contest. Now maybe it was clever editing but to my mind the shading contest provided a structured and safe space for the airing of grievances and the telling of truths. It was in some ways a cathartic process that cauterised wounds so that healing could begin. Now, the master of insult in the Norse tradition is, of course, Loki, who was also well known for shape-shifting and gender fluidity. I don’t mind telling you I’m going to be re-reading some of his tales with Drag Race in mind.
Words that trigger and can we reclaim them?
In responding to my blog post on the warrior self last week Kristen raised a really powerful point that by using words like ‘fight’ we position ourselves within an old energy when what we need is something new. Have you ever noticed the way in which minority, repressed people claim the violent words used against them as their own? This is a powerful sub-cultural weapon that seeks to remove the power to wound, reclaim identity and move into pride. Words are not factual, static objects: they are powerful, evolving forms of consciousness.
When I wrote the post I deliberated about using the words ‘fight’ and ‘battle’ because I knew they would be triggers for some. The word ‘fight’ is in fact a trigger for me and I found the article helpful in imaging what it would feel like to own the word ‘fight’ when one of my personal values is ‘gentleness’. I started by looking up the etymology of the verb ‘ to fight’ which stems from the Old English feohtan “to combat, contend with weapons, strive; attack; gain by fighting, win”. This word in turn stems through the Proto Germanic back to a Proto Indo European term alluding to combing, sheering or pulling wool. The evolution from ‘wool’ is particularly interesting for me. In the northern tradition fate, destiny and reality are seen as being ‘woven’. So ‘fighting’ might be said to originate in the hard effort it takes to sort the fibres and remove the dirt and debris before the weaving can take place. In reclaiming the word ‘fight’ for myself I choose to consciously examine what emotions like anger, hostility and fear are trying to tell me. They have already served their purpose in telling me one of my boundaries has been crossed: I don’t need to use them as my chosen weapons to then tackle whatever dirt or dross needs to be removed from the reality I’m weaving for myself and those I care about. In case your interested the Old English wæpen meant “instrument of fighting and defense, a sword or a penis”.
Interestingly I felt no desire to use the word ‘war’ at all in the post – even though it was about the warrior. The word is relatively modern coming from old French but with roots tracing it back to the Proto-Germanic werz-a which is thought to have meant ‘to bring into confusion’. The ramifications of war are perhaps too raw and triggering for us to reclaim or reimagine in any meaningful way. To me, the modern warrior stands poised, conscious and purposeful – nothing in their energy is intended to bring confusion.
Words that uplift
So here are some words that I want to claim for my own warrior self – and I invite you to claim them for yours:
Now most of these words come from the Latin so I thought I would share the Old English word ellen which means ‘zeal or strength’ and is the closest to ‘courage’ I could get. In the words of Brené Brown:
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
I love this and it reminds me of the work of one of my own heroes Marshall B. Rosenberg . Rosenberg is the heart and mind behind Non-Violent Communication which is a practical and powerful system for conflict resolution. He has worked with people who have experienced, and perpetrated, terrible atrocities as well as everyday people who want more heart and less conflict in their lives. There are too many amazing ideas and quotes of his for me to share in a single post but I would encourage you to visit the Nonviolent Communication website for inspiration. To me he is the type of warrior I aspire to be.
When you think of the warrior self what words spring to mind? How do you feel about them? What do they tell you about your values, principles, triggers and past woundings? Who is your warrior self and who do you want them to be?
4 Replies to “Warrior cry: words that weaken, words that trigger, words that uplift”
I had an epiphany when reading this about the word “war” meaning confusion, and then I connected that warriors are sent into this confusion to bring about order. But there is even more to this…
Sherri Mitchel, in her book, Sacred Instructions about the Wabanaki and many other ancient traditions, explains the importance of the two terms related to the values and actions of Warrior: kinap (meaning helper) and s’magnum (the action of being a shield). She states that warriors are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to maintain the survival of others. (Tyr!!!!)
They are strong, balanced, respectful of both sides, aware of their obligations to all life (past, present, and future), and unafraid. They are cultivated in an environment from a young age, being taught about the sanctity of the Earth and all the people with a clear purpose and given clear guidance. For me, this is a call to internalize the spirit of the warrior in the sense of being balanced, strong, clear in my purpose….
I have really enjoyed these posts, Maggie! Thanks for providing this forum.
Just beautiful, I hadn’t come across Sherri Mitchel – thank you for sharing
Loving these posts I’ve been looking into triggering words recently I have always connected words as spells (hence spelling)and to make sure you use words wisely. My mum has always said that as a child I could use my words to wound so well and she hated coming up against me because I could battle so well with my tongue as I grew I realised I had a powerful weapon and have purposely learnt how to use my tongue to heal instead of hurting the tongue can be soft like velvet or strong and sharp like steal. Although we maybe conciously using our words to be kind words can still trigger someone because we may not know there stories so words have to carry much more than sound they have to hold energies of love
I had never connected spells and spelling! So true! Beautiful sentiments Suzanne – you remind me of the God Bragi who had runes carved on his tongue