Monotheistic Filter: Alphabets: Monogenesis

photography of the temple

Photo by David Besh on Pexels.com

This is an example of how the Monotheistic Filter affects thinking in other areas.

In the 19th Century, experts in language studies formulated their equivalent of Darwinism called monogenesis (Note 1). According to this theory, writing progressed from the most primitive of symbols to the most evolved of letters. Chinese, which is symbolic (logographic), was considered primitive while the Roman alphabet, which is consonant and vowel based, was the most advanced. Of course, monogenesis implied that the pinnacle of civilization was Western European culture.

They believed that language started in a primitive form. (According to some linguists, Adam spoke the original language – probably Hebrew.) As people become more civilized, their language developed more complexities. Again this implies that only Western Europeans had the most advanced language. (Note 2).

The development of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writing contradicts this theory. Developed over 3,500 years ago, Chinese writing has changed little since. It serves the spoken language well. In 1949, the Chinese government standardized the written characters. However, many Chinese still continue using the older forms.

In the 5th Century, the Japanese adopted Chinese writing, since they respected the Chinese culture. Because the Japanese language was so different from Chinese, women developed the hiragana alphabet while the men used the characters (kanji) for sounds and meaning. Later, katakana was developed to read Buddhist scriptures written with Chinese characters. Today, Japanese use all three – kanji, hiragana, and katakana as one writing system. Their writing system is logo-symbolic.

Meanwhile, the Koreans, who also used Chinese writing for their language, developed one alphabet. Like the Japanese, they used the characters for both meaning and sound until the 15th Century. At that time, King Sejong devised Hangul (Korean letters), which is a consonant and vowel alphabet. Today, many Koreans use Hangul instead of Chinese characters.

The Chinese developed symbols to write down their speech. The Koreans and Japanese then adopted the Chinese system for use in writing their respective languages. Because Chinese was different from Korean or Japanese, they used Chinese characters as a basis to devise their own systems of writing. The result was that each culture chose writing that suited their unique traditions and languages.

Notes:
Note 1. This concept differs from claiming that there was a one original language spoken by early hominids.

Note 2. According to modern linguists, there are no primitive languages. For example, Kivunjo, a Bantu language of Africa, has fourteen tenses and twenty noun cases. In contrast, English has seven tense forms and three noun genders.

Alphabets and Divination: Norse Runes

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My sense of the Runes is that they tell a complete story of the Wyrd of the Well. My goal as a diviner is to uncover this story, and find meaning in it. I regard the Runic Aettir as chapters in this story, with the individual Runes as sentences. (For me in Runic divination, the questioner is a thread in the tapestry of the Wyrd.) I need to attune to the Runes to discover how the questioner’s thread fits into the overall Story.

For learning the Runes, I decided to do two at a time. By learning in pairs, I could study them as a dyad. As I did, I would ask myself, “how do these Runes fit together.” I would contrast and compare each, as well.

First, I would lay out the entire Rune set to see how the Story develops. Then, I would take the pair of the day, and ask that these Runes speak to me. As their pictures would form in my mind, I wrote down my insights. As each Rune developed into a full picture, I placed it in my memory palace.

For me, the meanings of the Runes lie on a continuum. I regard the meanings of each Rune to be fluid with a center, end, and beginning points. The center point is the “standard” agreed upon meaning. The “standard” meaning also governs the beginning and end points. As a diviner, I see shades of meaning from either side of “standard.” Therefore the Runic insights that I got were usually variations of this “standard.”

An example of how this works for me is as follows. Hagalaz (“hail”), Nauthiz (“need”), Isa (“ice”), and Jera (“harvest”) can be viewed as one chapter of the Runic Story. These Runes can flow together to form a picture. Depicting disaster, Hagalaz is the hail pounding on the roof, causing the roof to cave in. After the roof falls in, the fire goes out in the home. Now the home owner has to make a “need” fire (Nauthiz) by rubbing two sticks together. While everyone, in the home, waits for the fire, they are “frozen,” much like the ice (Isa) that hangs from the eaves. When the warm weather comes, the ice melts, watering the fields. Jera is the field that becomes ready for “harvest.” Through these four Runes, the chapter of a cycle turning and a new one beginning is depicted.

For me, learning is to go inside each Rune to hear the story that each tells. Then, the Runes become pictures or scenes, which resides in my memory palace. When I access them, the Runes flow from one to the next, each telling me what I need to know.

Alphabet: The Many Uses of Irish Oghams

The various Oghams are used by the Irish in several ways. The Oghams were foremost an alphabet used for writing Irish. Numerous examples of boundary markers and other inscribed stones abound with people’s names written in letters from the Tree Ogham.

The Oghams have other uses as well. Some scholars think the Druids may have used them for a code language. Three Oghams often used for this purpose were the “Head in Bush,” “Head under Bush,” and “Serpent about Head.” The “Cattle Raid of Cooley” (“Ta’in Bo’ Cuailnge”) gives an instance of this. Cu’chulainn left an oak hoop with writing as a warning to the invading army. It was written in code that only Fergus mac Roi’ch, a Druid, could interpret. Fergus translated the writing this way: the army could not pass unless someone other than himself could duplicate Cu’chulainn’s feats.

In addition, several Oghams were used as mnemonic devices. For example, the Tree Ogham lists by letter – trees that are important to the Irish. Other such Oghams are “Animal,” “Bird,” “Color,” and “River Pool” to name a few. How these worked are as follows: First Aicme, Fourth Few letter would be in English “S.” In the Oghams, “S” would be “Sionnach” (fox in Animal Ogham), or “Seg” (hawk in Bird Ogham) or “Saille” (willow in Tree Ogham).

Some of the Alphabets such as the Foot Ogham and Nose Oghams were used as sign languages. However unlike the Sign Languages of Deaf people, these Oghams were used by hearing people, as a gesture type language. This gesture alphabet could be used to communicate quickly and quietly between people. Moreover, two people could hold a secret conversation while they were speaking out loud about general topics.

Another use for the Oghams is for magical purposes. In the British Museum, there is an amber bead inscribed with magical powers. The words on the bead cannot be translated into conventional Irish. Moreover, the O’Connor family who owned this bead used it to cure eye problems. They also used it in easing childbirth.

The modern use for the Oghams is divination. Where this modern notion comes from I do not know. Perhaps, the ancient Irish did use their Oghams for divining. Neighboring societies such as the Germans used their Runes for divination.

Alphabets and Divination: Irish Oghams

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Because I am a diviner, I need to know many divination systems in order to do my work successfully. When my primary method gives murky or indefinite results, I often use an alternative method for gleaning more information. At other times, I switch my methods of divination to gain new insights. Therefore studying the Oghams fits in with my divination philosophy.

When people ask questions that affect the direction of their lives, many diviners will use four different methods of divination to assist that person. Each method will either add to the original reading or contradict it. Since they offer different perspectives to the same question, these other readings are helpful to the client. If the other readings contradict the first one, then knowing that is helpful for the client. Using the Oghams would add fresh insights to the original reading.

Studying the Oghams enhances my practice by offering a new way to approach divination. The Irish had different insights on the process than either the Norse or Tarot readers. Each new way of how to answer a question gives me more of an understanding of divination itself. Developed as an alphabet, the Oghams are steeped in Irish culture. They were employed by the Druids in their various “languages” of gestures, mnemonics, and secret codes. Because of these multiple uses, the Oghams offer more shades of meanings for answers in divination.

With the Tree Ogham, there is a connection with the living plants. Using each few of this Ogham, the diviner can tap into the wisdom of that tree or shrub. This makes for a more profound reading since insights from this Ogham comes from living entities. Furthermore, it taps into areas of the unconscious that other divination methods miss.

Moreover each few in the Tree Ogham has various kennings which give added shades of meaning to it. These kennings can pinpoint the precise meanings in a reading, and give depth to each meaning. Furthermore, the kennings offer alternative points of view. For “Tinne (Holly)” (second aicme, third few), the kennings include “one of three parts of a weapon,” and “o holly, little, sheltering one, thou door against the wind…” This gives a fuller sense of “Tinne” in a reading. For these reasons, the studying of the Oghams enriches my divination practice.

Beginnings of Writing: Cuneiform

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Alphabets and hence writing is magic incarnate. This is why there are Gods of Writing and Scribes to ensure that the words are right. The following is an essay on cuneiform which became the basis for the Roman alphabet used today.

In Mesopotamia, during the Uruk Period (3500 – 3100 BCE), many villages became cities. As they expanded, each new city had to reorganize to better govern and support their burgeoning populations. Out of this development came agriculture, trade, and writing.

In Sumer (3100- 2800 BCE), cities were organized around temples. The “en” (the economic official of the temple) kept track of the offerings and wealth. To keep inventory, an en had his “sangu” (accountants) survey everything. Since Sumer is located in an area of “clay muck”, the Sumerian accountants made clay figures for tallying. But, when the volume of goods became great, these figures became cumbersome to use. Then, the accountants started marking items on clay tablets. Because they were using wet clay, various scribes used a stylus which made wedge-shaped markings (cuneiform) in the clay.

Because Sumer had little in natural resources, many citizens focused on manufacturing finished goods. Their merchants developed trading organizations (“Karums”) to govern trade in raw and finished materials. Because of the Karums, Sumerian trade expanded from Mesopotamia to Egypt and Syria.

Adopting the inventory methods of the temples, merchants started using various tally symbols for items. Since, they needed to convey the concepts of orders, sales, and general merchandising issues, many scribes started using pictograms. These pictograms could then be combined to convey meaning. Merchants were able to convey crude messages over time and distance.

The first known writer by name was the priestess Enheduanna (daughter of Sargon of Akkad). After she wrote her hymns to Inanna, The Morning Star, she signed the tablet with her name and seal. The use of writing was both religious in nature as well as practical. Nisaba the Goddess of Writing was also the Goddess of Accountants.

Because Sumerian was a monosyllabic language, their scribes could convey any meaning by using pictograms as ideograms. Since Sumerian was rich in homonyms and homophones, they could have a pictogram represent a sound (phonogram), an object, or an idea. By using sounds as puns, Sumerian scribes expanded their writing vocabulary. They grouped symbols together to convey various concepts.

Later, Sumerian writing was adopted by the Akkadians and Elamites. Since their languages were radically different from Sumerian, these peoples needed to differentiate the meanings of each of the Sumerian symbols. Determinations (additions and modifications) were added to indicate parts of speech. Cuneiform was developed into a working alphabet.

The Phoenicians owe their phonetic writing system to the Sumerians. The Phoenicians did not invent their alphabet as much as exported their adapted version of the Sumerian one throughout the Mediterranean. The Greeks adopted their alphabet from the Phoenicians, calling it “Alpha, Beta” from the Semitic “Aleph, Beth.”

Notes:

1. Homophones: Words with the same sounds but different meanings and spellings.
Example: Pear and pair. A pair of pears is two pieces of fruit.

2. Homonym: Words with the same sound and spellings but different meanings.
Example: Fair and fair. Because the weather is fair, we are going to the county fair.

3. Please note that regional accents will change what are homonyms and homophones. In New England, aunt and ant are pronounced differently, while route and root are said in the same way.