After the Words

Uncomfortably Numb
The Interactive Newsletter You Never Asked For

After the Words

After all the philosophy and speculations are finished, we’re still left with just words, metaphors. They are our tools for understanding the world, but it’s always well to remember they have only a nodding acquaintance with reality.
—David Brin / Earth

Kind of confusing, isn’t it? Here’s how a certain Danish theologian might’ve replied to our perplexity:

One should not think slightingly of the paradoxical; for the paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity.
—Sören Kierkegaard / Philosophical Fragments

Well, considering the paradoxical nature of our Möbius-like surroundings, we can hardly be considered paltry mediocrities for attempting to think our way out.

Speaking of trying “to think our way out,” I’m trying to think my way out of this “Reviews, previews, and Hebrews” corner I painted myself into.

I got a kick out of trying to come up with “clever” sub-titles to the chapters in this issue. Originally, I simply intended to type the not-so-clever: “Reviews and previews,” but my fingers added another and, and then I had to come up with a word that rhymed. Then, whammo! It came to me: I typed Hebrews.

I had no idea what it meant—or rather, what it would mean to this section—but that was no big deal, I figured something would come to me.

At first I figured it would be something out of the New Testament, you know, out of the chapter entitled “Hebrews,” but that seemed too easy—too obvious. I pushed it to the back of my mind and continued to work on the first few chapters. (Yeah, that’s right—I came up with most of the chapter titles before I knew what was going to be in them. Hey, it’d be pretty boring for me if I knew what words would actually end up on these pages.)

Then, out of the blue, it hit me. I got all worked up about the thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I remembered how it somehow seemed to tie in with Christ and fish and water and the passage from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius—Novus Ordo Seclorum, and all that stuff.

I thought that was a great idea until I realized that I was thinking about the thirteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, not the Hebrew alphabet. Bummer. So, I grabbed the Bible and found a few choice passages in the Book of Hebrews. But then I suddenly remembered—this book was originally written in Greek!

In the last hour or so, it kind of all came together. It’s like Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in The Discoverers:

By a singular coincidence error was truth.

Thirteen has come to be this bad, spooky, unlucky number with all kinds of evil connotations, but I think that’s just a modern distortion. As I discovered in tracing the etymology of veer(2), I think thirteen was a victim of “pejoration.”

pej•o•ra•tion  1. The process or condition of worsening or degenerating. 2. Linguistics. The process by which the semantic status of a word changes for the worse, over a period of time. For example, egregious, which formerly meant “distinguished or remarkable,” has come to mean “conspicuously bad or flagrant.”

The root word for “thirteen,” trei-, is also the root for “testament.” You know, like in “The New Testament.” Jesus and his twelve righteous dudes also made up an even “baker’s dozen.”

And take a look at our country. The thirteenth amendment abolished slavery. We started out with thirteen colonies. Our original flag had thirteen stars and thirteen stripes (although the latter had more to do with the British East India Company than the number of colonial states. Those Boston tea partiers ripped-off the ship’s flags when they dumped all the tea overboard. Betsy Ross just sewed a blue field and thirteen stars over the Union Jack that was in the upper left corner of the British East India Company flag. The thirteen red and white stripes were already there—but that’s another story…)

Back to America, and the reason it exists: Novus Ordo Seclorum. Take another look at the back of a dollar bill. Thirteen arrows. Thirteen leaves. Thirteen berries. Thirteen letters in both “Annuit Coeptis” and “E Pluribus Unim.” Thirteen steps to the top of the pyramid. And perhaps the most interesting—the thirteen five-pointed stars arranged to form The Star of David emerging from the clouds above the “spread eagle.” (The eagle is actually a stylized Phoenix, but that too is another story for another time…)

nu The thirteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. [Greek nu, from a Phoenician word meaning “fish,” from a Semetic root nyn meaning “to increase” or, possibly, “to endure.”]

For what it’s worth, I always though it was kind of weird that early Christians used the fish as their symbol. Did they know they were living in the Age of Pisces? Two-thousand years is a long time for a fish “to endure.”

Roll away the stone / Don’t leave me here all alone
Resurrect me / And protect me / Don’t leave me laying here
What will they do in two-thousand years?
—Leon Russell / Roll Away the Stone

While we were growing up, The Fifth Dimension sang about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It wasn’t until 1988 that I learned “Aquarius” is known as the “Water Bearer.” A fish that’s “endured” two-thousand years could probably use some water, eh?

The dictionary also says that Aquarius is a constellation shimmering in the velvety black between the constellations of Pisces and Aquila. The illustration of Aquila, in the margin, looks like a stylized man hanging on a crucifix, but the dictionary says it means “Eagle.”

Just a wild thought in the midst of other wild thoughts: This eagle also has its wings spread…

Climbing up on Solsbury hill / I could see the city light
Wind was blowing / Time stood still / Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe / Came in close / I heard a voice
Standing, stretching every note / I had to listen / Had no choice
I did not believe the information / Just have to trust imagination
My heart going boom-boom-boom
Son / He said / Grab your things / I’ve come to take you home

To keep in silence I resigned / My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine / Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day / Though my life was in a rut
Till I thought of what I’d say / Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery / I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom-boom-boom
Hey / He said / Grab your things / I’ve come to take you home
—Peter Gabriel / Solsbury Hill

And this brings us back to Daniel J. Boorstin’s “singular coincidence:”

mem The thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. [Hebrew, perhaps from mavim, water.]

I didn’t know the Hebrew would connect with the Greek.

And, if the thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet “perhaps” evolved from a word meaning “water,” the thirteenth letter of the English alphabet definitely did. Our thirteenth letter, “m,” evolved from a Phoenician sign that meant “water.” So, you’ve got the fish and the water—the Pisces and the Aquarius—the Greek and the Hebrew and the English—all emerging—all converging…

And since I seemed to cover “reviews” in the last chapter, that brings us, at last, to “previews.” The next issue will deal with thoughts as things. There’s some remarkable research into this “new” conceptualization. It might be fun to chase some of it down and see what ends up sticking to these pages.

Besides, the field’s not really all that new. Virgil, the blind guy who wrote The Aeneid about two-thousand years ago (in 19 B.C.) had something to say about the power of thought: “Possunt quia posse videntur.” It means:

They can because they think they can.

They can? Imagine that.


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2 comments so far

  1. tylervr on

    Wow. I have always been curious about how many connections brought about the bad connotation of the # 13. Great post, you got yourself a reader.

  2. acevnm on

    Great post! I’m happy that the MacLab brought me here.

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