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Thoughts FromThe Four Gates

  • Writer's pictureKai

Language as a barrier


When folks come to magical practice, one of the first things that can make their head spin is all the fancy language. There's new terms and buzzwords for everything. It can take quite a while for someone to untangle all the stuff that seems super complex, and sort it into concepts that make actual sense to them. Sometimes, this really IS technical language, sometimes it's not, and sometimes it's technical language applied where it's not actually needed. With the commercialization of magical practice, which admittedly I'm kind of a part of here, there's a need on the part of the professionals to sound like they know what they're doing, and a need to sell ideas and concepts as complex enough to need help with. Really, we see this in many other industries as well. Website design is super guilty of this, as is medicine.


The types of specialized language used in magic

When it comes down to it, there's a few reasons that this kind of specialized language is used in magical practice. Now, it's often true that a choice for a buzzword is rooted in more than one of these reasons, but it boils down to at least one of these, every time.

  1. Actual technical language - Fair enough. Sometimes, we need a word for something that's actually different. Technical language in any field is actually required from time to time. words like sigil MEAN something. Words that describe specific practices or traditions mean very specific things. Nothing wrong with that, although those using language like that need to understand that they might not be understood. That's OK, as we can't all write for the beginner all the time, or our craft won't grow and expand. If we can't exchange the "201 class" information, then it's not going to grow. I do my best when I do this to provide some sort of link to the basic grounding in the more complex stuff when I do write things like this.

  2. Initiatic or cultural references - This comes down to things that are pretty specific, and almost are things that fall under technical language. Usually I find this to be things that are rooted in a culture and a specific way of doing things. You can broadly define both smudging and a limpia as cleansing, but these things have specific meanings for the specific cultures they've come from, and they're not just any cleansing. You'll also find holdover words for some things that used to be like this, but the language is a holdover for traditions that just.... don't use it that way internally anymore.

  3. Things that there aren't a common language direct translation for - I get this, but I'm not a big fan exactly, as you usually find yourself defining this anyway. There are times though when the translation to (for me) English looses part of the meaning of the word.

  4. Marketing - I'll cop to this one. Sometimes, we as professionals can choose a word that's a technical term because it's entered the pop culture of magical practice, so it becomes things that people are searching for. This is in an attempt to actually find folks that are looking for what you're talking about, but I know I have to be careful with that, for 2 reasons. First is the cultural appropriation thing. I do spell bags, and for me they're anchors for spirits. I hesitate to call them mojo bags. I know the term is pretty hot right now, but what I do doesn't follow that tradition, and I'm not qualified to speak at length on that tradition. I can offer an outsiders perspective, and nothing more. Second, and related, is that sometimes this marketing can lead us to cram things in places that they don't quite belong.

  5. Trying to sound more knowledgeable than you are - This is the one that I struggle the most with. The Four Gates' ethos is opposed to this one. "demystifying the mystical" isn't just marketing, it's the point. I get it, that's marketing in a way as well, but if you really understand something, my kids should be able to understand you when you explain it.

How do we untangle these?

If you encounter a word or phrase that seems to be there just to confuse things, what can you do about it? Honestly, there's a place for doing some searching and googling for yourself. We live in an information age, and there's no reason that you shouldn't lean into this. More important here though isn't to understand the definition of a word, but how the person using it means this word. The second thing you can do of course is ask. That's easiest in most cases, if you can. I think there's something to be said for a general understanding of things in many cases, and learning more as it's needed. If someone is referencing a limpia in passing for example, there's no need to know more than cleansing, and perhaps the culture that they're referencing. On the other hand, if you're looking at having one done, you might need more information.

Of course, having a trusted advisor that you can turn to for questions of this kind of technical nature can help, and of course I'm available. That said, if you're willing to dive into the research, it's not necessary in most cases.

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