The Power of Language

Having worked over 60 hours for the last couple of weeks, I find myself with the rarity of having a free weekend, resulting in finally catching up with emails, blog postings and other outstanding projections, including finalising the upcoming Encountering the Dark Goddess month long “sadhana” (spiritual journey) that will be commencing on 6 June 2020.

One of the blog posting that took interest was John Beckett’s The Power of Language and the Dangers of its Misuse. To know what you are doing (which includes the use of language) is one of the four powers of the sphinx which are taught within the Temple of the Dark Moon’s Outer Court training. As Beckett points out in his blog, “there is power in ritual language”, yet increasingly people often mistake what may be foreign to them as being “inherently deep and meaningful” without thinking about what they’re doing.

From a devotional perspective, there tends to be a difference in opinion as to whether you should communicate with deity in their cultural language, ie addressing prayers to Greek Gods in Greek, or mantras to Hindu deities in Sanskrit. While this maybe possible in some cases, as language is a human invention as a means of communication, many have evolved over time so would a devotee address Demeter, Hermes or Zeus in ancient or modern Greek? Surely being divine beings, deity (in whatever guise we mortals attach to them), have the ability to transcend language. Beckett offers examples of his experience as an American devotee of the Celtic God Cernunnos in his aforementioned blog.

Probably one of the more important comments Beckett makes is the reminder that there IS POWER in ritual language, especially if you are using something that taps into the collective unconscious that has been built up since its initial use. For example, the Latin Mass or the Islamic Call to Prayer. At the end of the day, ritual language does not need to be foreign or archaic, but you should know what the words means and when spoken, that your intent is appropriate. If you are going to use non-English words in your rituals, then put some effort into pronouncing them correctly.

Within contemporary witchcraft there is one such chant that debate still ensues today as to its meaning, and that is what is often referred to as “The Bagabi Incantation”:

Bagahi laca bachahé,
Lamac cahi achabahé,

Karrelyos.
Lamac lamec bachalyos,
Cabahagi sabalyos,

Baryolas.
Lagozatha cabyolas,
Samahac et famyolas,

Harrahya.

In the 1970s Michael Harrison allegedly examined the etymology and concluded that the words derived from the old Basque language, and was in effect some kind of witch rallying cry to gather for the work of the slaughter and harvest before feasting. Harrison provided a possible English interpretation:

Kill (or the Feast) in November; kill!
I shall transport thee there myself,
and without the aid of a sieve,
to scour the plates and dishes with sand:
work (which must be done) with those plates and dishes.
(We shall meet our friends) ready for the drinking-cup
if they shall go (to the Feast), their bellies full with
quaffing from the drinking-cup.
O Sons (of the Master) with your Families (shout His praises with the cry)’.
‘HURRAHYA’!

More recently, Sorita d’Este and David Rankine concluded that the Bagabi incantation had no actual linguistic equivalent in any language, barbarous version in grimoires, or old magickal papyri, and as such, “considering the villain in the original tale of Theophilus is a Jewish Magician, it is possible that the Bagabi is in fact a corrupted Hebrew Chant.”

Alternatively, it may have originated from a 13th century French religious drama, Le Miracle de Théophile by the Trouvère Rutebeuf that “refers to the legendary history of St Theophilus of Adana, who according to traditional saints’ legends made a pact with the Devil and repented of it … This play is the original source of an influential invocation to the Devil (in an unknown language) … given to the character Salatin … labelled a sorcerer.” The words that Salatin used to invoke the devil are those of the Bagabi incantation.

For those contemporary witchcraft practitioners who have used the Bagabi incantation in their rites, experiences similar to the Thelemic concept of the Barbarous Names of Power have been recorded. Aleister Crowley advised that “the most potent conjurations are those in an ancient and perhaps forgotten language, or even those couched in a corrupt and possibly meaningless jargon.” When used in evocation, barbarous names serve the purpose of exalting the mind from the vulgar world through a release from rational, discursive thought. They are used as a mechanism for provoking ecstatic consciousness, and therefore further indicating the power that language has within magical ritual.