“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” Albus Dumbledore, J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter
If you get anything from this article, I hope it is this: Words have power. Words are power. Words are magical. Because science.
Magic is defined as the art of influencing events and producing marvels using hidden forces.
As an author, words themselves are magical to me. Words are the structures I build worlds out of. Words are the means of connecting with an audience. Words paint scenes, birth characters, and elicit an emotional response.
Words have a powerful ability to heal. Words also can destroy. We are all aware of the destructive word-based forces of bullying and verbal and psychological abuse.
On my personal journey towards healing, I discovered that many native traditions, spiritualities, religions, therapists, and counselorsoften use similar narrative based or word based techniques in their practice to inspire growth and promote healing.
I spent a year of my life unable to speak. As the result of severe, recurrent trauma, my memory and cognition were negatively affected. I lost track of dates, names, and faces. Entire years of formative memories disappeared forever, replaced by flashes of darker memories or an unyielding blackness. I couldn’t follow simple instructions or conversations. I developed a stutter. I couldn’t voice a single word. I hit a wall. I found myself struggling to connect with others. Defeated, I withdrew from the world.
I survived by writing. Writing to connect with others. Writing down memories before they disappeared, writing down special dates, and – my lifeline to this day – to-do lists. Even now, when I am under stress, my notes become my lifeline. I sometimes have to write out a response before I can say it.
In the words I wrote, I found freedom and healing. That freedom and healing kept me on the path to becoming a professional author, editor, and writing coach. A journey that began with my crayon wielding toddler-self scribbling stories of princesses, superhero’s, angels, and dragons.
Stories are Creations
For me, creating stories is an act of mindfulness. Writing requires being wholly present during the creative process. In my article Fiction to Function: Stories that Heal, I encourage readers to try and create stories of their own. If you have a problem you’re stuck on, imagine a conversation or situation where someone else solves the problem. For example, how would lettuce go about convincing a rabbit to not eat it? Fictionalizing in this manner engages a part of the brain which allows us to think differently, removing us from the situation, and offering an outsider’s perspective.
When you are too close to a problem, it can seem impossible to solve. Writing it down (with or without fiction) can help unstick you. It’s part of the experience readers and authors share as they escape into comics, novels, stories and poems.
Mindfulness is popular in psychology right now as a form of managing stress and supporting positive psychological health. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch uses it. The number of studies demonstrating the positive healing effects of mindfulness and mindful actions, as well as meditation, keeps growing.
Mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness of an experience without judgment. You can’t write a story if you are judging every thought or word. You have to write, then edit, or you’ll never produce anything. Creating is an act of mindfulness and one magical power words hold.
There is a quote that comes to mind regarding the meeting of magical powers and science. “Magic is just stuff science hasn’t made boring yet”. In my experience, the more humanity dives down the rabbit hole that is science, the more magical things become as webs of interconnection and meaning are revealed.
There is a lot of science behind words and their hidden properties, including and especially surrounding healing. Techniques like speech therapy, music therapy, and narrative therapy come to mind. But let’s take a step back and look at some of the basics of words.
The Study of Words
Words are made up of three parts: sound, a visual sign or symbol, and meaning.
According to physics, sound is energy in the form of vibration, waves that pass through a medium like water or air. Psychology studies how the brain perceives those waves or vibrations. Sound influences and impacts the brain and the substances they pass through.
Words also have a visual representation such as letters or a symbol/image. Logographic writing systems include Egyptian Hieroglyphs or Chinese.
All of us have special symbols, letters, numbers, words, or signs that hold special meaning.
Write down a word, any word.
This word probably holds a particular meaning to you. It may raise emotions or draw up images for you. Consider how it appears. The sequence of letters, the flow of the handwriting.
Where did the word you just wrote come from? The evolution of a word and its meaning is called etymology. Dictionaries like Oxford English Dictionary provide a historical evolution of the origin of words and their meaning or semantics.
Words are subject to systems of order which can alter meaning through their sound or their appearance. Linguistics looks at language and its structures. Take a sentence for example. If you were to use the word you just wrote down in a sentence, you most likely could change its meaning revealing more or less to the audience of that sentence through the tone, stressing certain words, or through the order of the words surrounding it.
Words change meaning depending on intent, context, individual and cultural interpretation, and the way the words look or sound. Meaning and change are two more magical powers words hold.
Sound, Vibration, Energy
Returning to words and their sounds as energy and vibration, there’s a great quote by a theologian Matthew Fox: “A word is that which vibrates and also reveals.”
In this sense, words have alchemical-like properties. Their combination with elements transform by vibrating, destroying, healing, or revealing. They hold hidden meanings which can only be revealed under the right conditions.
In my series, Angels and Avalon, I explore naming as a form of power. As characters are reborn, their names, and power change. The main character of the series Elizabeth McAllistar starts her journey with no name at all.
Words are a Source of Power
Words have the power to transfer knowledge. Cultures of storytelling use mythology and fairy tales to transfer lessons, cultural practices, traditions, or to build community. As Dumbledore said, they can inflict wounds or heal them. Words are a powerful tool. They can create power over someone or something or they can empower from within.
Some of the ways words have power in your life might include:
- Create or Destroy
- Heal or Comfort
- Ownership over
- Signify status
- Change and challenge existing ideals
To shape a word as a story teller, you select the word, phrase, or structure that vibrates true to the meaning or story you want to convey. You ensure the tone, pronunciation, and form is right. Then that word magically shapes you, the crafter, the work itself, the audience receiving the word(s) through imagery. That influence produces an evolution – a different or enhanced meaning through the audience’s experience and the word’s interaction with the world around it. What the word was, ends, changes, and the word becomes reborn – a cycle of death, birth, growth.
Yet you can’t see a lot of that process. We can’t see the vibrations, the thoughts, the emotions (except their physical influences on the body). We couldn’t possibly see all of the effects, its consequences or its power. We can’t see meaning either, it is an intangible experience of a word. Sure, we observe meaning’s effects in the material world – the word “care” for example. You can’t see caring, only the acts inspired by it, but the meaning of caring is intangible.
Words vibrate, reveal, heal or injure. Through sound, they pass through the elements, perceived as waves. They form thoughts, making up the hidden, and then are created and re-created in the world as visible symbols or signs to convey meaning.
Not only are they integral to my career as a writer, or act as portals into other worlds as I read, but also are a lifeboat for me, seeing me through the worst of times and helping me hold on to treasured moments.
If magic is defined as the art of influencing events and producing marvels using hidden forces, and “Writing is alchemy, truly a tool of wizards, witches and sorcerers,” according to Montreal author Mark David Gerson, then I guess I have to consider all writers / authors as crafters of magic.
Words have power. Words are power. Words are magical. Because science.