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The Power Of Words

I spotted a book on a friend’s bookshelf, not one of those online bookshelves like on goodreads.com, but one with actual books on it. The book was: Crones Don’t Whine by Jean Shinoda Bolen.

Reading the book reminded me of the first time I had come across the term ‘crone’. It was when I was doing some Celtic Studies and encountered the three faces of the feminine: the maiden, the mother and the crone. Those three faces also reflect the three obvious phases of growth: youth, maturity and old age.

In the West, we do not value the old. Just look at the term we commonly use instead of crone: hag. When we refer to an older woman as an ‘old hag’ we are implying that she is old, dried up and useless.

The writer of Crones Don’t Whine gives us a much healthier definition of a crone as a wise woman, a woman who is authentic to herself and tells it like it is. A crone is a woman full of life, not a dried up shell of a woman.

That juxtaposition of images of women in the third phase of life made me think about the way we use words to denigrate wise women or to devalue their role. Think about the word ‘witch’ and the uses to which it was put and, in some places in the world, is still put.

Thinking about this use of words reminded me of something I had read in another book a couple of years ago. That book was The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Jean-Yves Leloup. Fortunately, it has been translated from French to English, otherwise I wouldn’t have been reading it.

In that book, I discovered that Pope Gregory I was responsible for the common misconception that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she met Jesus. One can only surmise as to why he thought that, but given that some of the so called gnostic gospels, the ones suppressed by the Church, describe a very different Mary, one intimately linked with Jesus and one who obviously understood his message, and the fact that there is no description of Mary as a prostitute in any of the accepted Gospels, it seems to me that Gregory was out to discredit her and any role she had played. After all, the popes were setting up a boys club where the only roles for women would be in the serving classes.

Words have power and they can be used in ways to uphold, embellish or destroy.

Words have power and they can be used in ways to uphold, embellish or destroy. It may be time for each of us to consider or reconsider the words we use to describe others. What do the words you use tell you about the value you place on the people you use them to describe? What does using them tell you about yourself and your values?

One term that has had plenty of media coverage in Australia is ‘illegal immigrant’. It is used by politicians to describe anyone who attempts to come to Australia by boat via Indonesia seeking asylum. ‘Asylum seeker’ tells a story of desperation, of people fleeing from intolerable situations. ‘Illegal immigrant’ tells a different story, of people coming without permission, and has been used to justify offshore processing and indefinite detention. These practices are not restricted to Australia.

If self-honesty is good for the soul of the individual, I’d suggest it’s also good for the soul of the nation or the institution as well.

Who are we really fooling when we use words to label and denigrate, instead of acting out of a sense of connection and compassion?

I invite you to reflect on the words you use to describe others and consider becoming part of the solution, instead of contributing to the problem.

The Power of Words is from Sharing The Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic.