Words Divide Us

by Mike Sententia on August 31, 2012

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A friend recently told me she believes in faeries.

She’s a doctor, loves science, and I thoroughly respect her mind. And yet… faeries? I didn’t say anything, but I worried.

After a few more conversations, I realized that she simply meant “Non-physical sentient beings that can interact with psychic or otherwise magickal people.” In other words, spirits.

Vocabulary choices can divide people who otherwise agree. Faeries vs spirits. Raising someone’s vibration vs adjusting a tendon’s signature. (I’m also thinking about Yvonne today, who I hope is doing well on her own journey.)

I don’t mean to say terms aren’t important. They are, because their metaphors impact the questions we ask and the models we explore. And yet, I’m realizing that I evaluate terms based on social groups, categorizing the speaker as a new ager or psychic or fluffy or ritual mage or … And realizing that categorizing like that probably isn’t the best, most productive response when meeting someone new.

I don’t have an answer. But I think this is an important question. Please weigh in in the comments.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon August 31, 2012 at 12:12 PM

The problem is a lot of the time you’re completely right: People who use terms like ‘raise the vibration’ and who talk about ‘angels’ and ‘fairies’ often are doing so in order to identify themselves with a certain a certain social group. They WANT to belong and they want you to perceive them as being part of a certain group.

“I’m going for my second attunement this week”
“I obtained the conversation of my Holy guardian Angel last week”

I find Eliezer Yudkowsky’s ideas about ‘professing and cheering’ apply to a certain degree here:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/i6/professing_and_cheering/

Sometimes people might not like the social category you assign them to – it wasn’t the one they wanted you to perceive them as belonging to but maybe you’ve inadvertently hit the nail on the head (no matter how much they protest).

If I started talking to you about the reptilian bloodlines and the Illuminati in earnest tones you might put me in the category ‘David Icke conspiracy theorist’. I might object that i’m referring to something else completely – but if I am going to engage in that sort of language I can hardly be surprised at the reaction of some people can I? A little bit of awareness of context is required on the part of the speaker if they want to be taken seriously.

I assume you doctor friend doesn’t go around her medical colleagues randomly talking about the faeries she chatted with last night?

Basically I think i’m just having a go at people who use terminology like “raise the vibration” and then complain that they often get put into a ‘fluffy new age bracket’. My somewhat abrasive answer is “what do you expect?!”

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Mike Sententia September 3, 2012 at 11:17 AM

Well put. And it makes me so happy to see someone else referencing Less Wrong to me :) Thanks.

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Ona August 31, 2012 at 4:37 PM

You said: “I evaluate terms based on social groups, categorizing the speaker as a new ager or psychic or fluffy or ritual mage or …”

I wonder if that isn’t one of the most significant aspects of word choice in a lot of contexts? We bond through shared vocabulary. It can feel connecting to meet someone else who can talk in the specialized vocabulary of your interest group (whether that’s surfing language, coding language, medical language, Wiccan language, etc). “Like” means having fond feelings for and also having similarity with (“alike”).

I think the commonalities in people’s “spiritual” journeys come out best when we talk about personal experiences rather than theory. “What does it feel like when you do this? What do you call it when that happens?” etc. It’s interesting (for me) to see the diversity of things people do and feel and seek. The anthropologist in me, I guess.

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Mike Sententia September 3, 2012 at 11:19 AM

Good points. I do find that the key to establishing common terms is to talk about experiences rather than models: When you do this, and you notice this, X is my term for it.

Between you and Simon, I’m thinking about what sort of social group my terms identify me as. Something of the intersection of magick and computers and science, I suppose. What do you guys think?

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Taylor Ellwood August 31, 2012 at 8:19 PM

Categorizations are a convenient way to define a person, experience, etc. They aren’t necessarily accurate, and the duty of the magician is to test his/her categories before assuming they are correct.

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Mike Sententia September 3, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Well put.

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Yvonne September 2, 2012 at 6:23 PM

Mike,
I am doing very very well, thank you for thinking of me. I am still a fluffy bunny new ager, but MUCH better aware of myself as a spirit. I came into your room some time ago to “see” you, but thought the better of it, you know, privacy, weirdness, so…well, yeah.

I enjoy reading your blog.

talk to you on the internet!
Y.

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Mike Sententia September 3, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Thanks Yvonne. Glad to see you back.

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wsa September 3, 2012 at 6:37 AM

Yvonne, I am so happy to see you! I enjoyed your posts, I think you added a lot to the discussions and hope you will start commenting again; I have missed you. I hope you are back.

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