Pagasasthai, kernos, thiosos, sloinneadh, taibhsear. These are centuries-old words that help describe and create a world in which the Earth is sacred and receives gratitude, people revere the wisdom of their ancestors, and those who see beyond our everyday reality are honored.
Every day we build the world around us with words. Their tone and subtle meaning tell us who we are, what our place in society is, and how we should live. Which objects and concepts become common words indicate what is “real” and important or not. When an object or concept has its own word it gains clarity and power. Here at FAR, for example, we have had many wonderful posts about rewriting religious texts and liturgy to re-invigorate them with the sacred female spirit and be resonant with female presence.
To me, words are like living beings, powered by the emotions and ideas they evoke in us. When I inadvertently came upon the words above and others in my reading, I felt as if I had stumbled on a secret treasure box full of words that have just been waiting to be freed to heal and inspire us.
I like to say the words and savor the feeling of them as they are manifested by my breath. I realize that my pronunciation would perhaps be unintelligible to the people who first used them, but I still I feel as if they put me in connection with the concepts they convey, even if the reality of everyday life in the societies that created them did not always appropriately reflect these ideals.
According to linguist and scholar Harold Haarmann in The Mystery of the Danube Civilization, the word “pagasasthai” is an Old European word that found its way into ancient Greek. It means “to bathe in a holy spring.” Imagine what this one word tells us. We learn that water and the Earth are holy and that it is important to partake in this sacredness by taking time to go to the spring and bathe. Imagine the earthquakes of change that would be required for our society to fully center these beliefs in our lives.
Haarmann also cites other ancient Greek words he believes are from Old Europe that bring to mind this world for me. Kernos, a bowl for sacrifices. Thiasos, processions. Thargelos, bread made from the first grains harvested. Thriambos, rituals involving singing and dancing. Anne Ross, in Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, notes that the Gaelic word “sloinneadh” means the ritualized naming of ancestors, which was a part of many community observances. “Taibhsear” means one who sees spirits and visions.
There are, of course, many Indigenous and non-Indigenous languages, both contemporary and ancient, that also contain wonderful words that express the sacredness of living beings including the Earth and describe affirming spiritual practices. These are just a few of the words I have recently come across that made me think of language differently.
How might my perception change if I were to incorporate these words into my everyday life? Instead of saying “I’m going to take a swim in the lake” I could say “I will be dedicating this day to pagasasthai”? Or instead of tossing bread into my supermarket cart I’ll hold it and let the word “thargelos” reverberate in my mind.
We can also take the ancient words and remake them for our 21st century. So, “pagasasthai” perhaps could mean not only going to physically bathe in an actual sacred spring, but participating in the wellspring of good energy of a circle or sipping at the well of deeply knowing our own sacredness when we seem to have lost our way.
These words came into being in the past and still resonate today but I think we could also benefit from having special words or phrases for other concepts essential to feminist spirituality. These could be repurposed ancient words, combinations of old words, or new words altogether. Some I have thought of are:
Rose Bee: A circle, ritual, ceremony, or something more informal, that results in personal or collective transformation (rose to evoke the power of love,“bee” to echo quilting and other bees when women worked together on a common task)
Spiraflow: The miraculous connectedness, empathy, and energy generated at a rose bee (from “spiral,” a shape used for millennia to evoke female spiritual power)
Sacred flash: The moment of awe that arises when someone first recognizes themselves in an image of female divinity
Dunamai: A bold, insightful, leaderlike, and compassionate woman of any age whose work moves us forward to a better future (from the Old European word meaning “to be powerful”)
Matrinexus: The interaction and synergy between feminist spirituality and activism that can change the world.
As we build a future that nurtures and sustains living beings and the Earth, we can be enriched with words that create a perspective that is truthful to our lives and strengths and opens up our imaginations. What ancient, contemporary, or new words speak to you?
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer and student drummer. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, Feminism and Religion, Return to Mago E-Zine, The Goddess Pages, Matrifocus, and The Beltane Papers, SageWoman, and various anthologies. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com where you can find some of her free e-books to download.
Holy well of Saint Scoheen: A.-K. D., CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons