A Simple Prayer from a Beloved Fandom

As I know I’ve mentioned before on my blog, one of my all-time favorite fandoms is that of Myst, the famous game series (with accompanying novels) put out by Cyan starting with the famous 1993 game (one of the first on CD-ROM and which perhaps cemented the medium’s importance in the history of computing) and progressing to the critically acclaimed sequel Riven in 1997, followed by other games like Exile, Uru, and others.  In addition to having a fantastic story and universe built (which is itself centered around the building, or rather connecting to, other worlds), it has a famous constructed language known as D’ni.  It’s not as well-built as other conlangs out there, whether for games or for more serious use, but it’s still got a bit of a corpus for itself.

One of the oldest (perhaps the first) full text of D’ni is known as “Atrus’s Prayer”.  This prayer, attributed to Atrus (one of the main characters of the whole Myst series as a sort of helpless and largely absent benefactor and instigating character who asks for your help), was shown in the 1996 Myst calendar.  For each month, the calendar included a snippet from one of Atrus’ journals regarding the various worlds (“Ages”) he traveled to and studied, mostly those that weren’t actually featured in the game itself except perhaps in one or two oblique references.  However, for November, underneath an image of Atrus’ makeshift writing desk when he was trapped in K’veer in D’ni, we find this prayer instead of a journal entry (or, perhaps, it was indeed a journal entry of its own).

Interestingly, on the December page immediately following, instead of a prayer or a journal entry relating to a particular Age, we instead get a snippet of Atrus’ own personal journal, which I include here for the tantalizing hint of context:

I am not able to understand, only to understand more.  The picture that I wish to examine is not static, it is growing and living.  Even as I understand how the hinges of a door allow me to open it, I find it leads to a room even larger than the first.  But I think perhaps that is part of wisdom.  Knowing that I cannot know all, understanding that I cannot understand all.  If the Maker’s creation was understandable would I not find the Maker something less than great, would I not consider myself equal with the Maker?  It is a tribute then to his greatness when I find myself more confused even at the very instant I have gained insight.

I’ll forego the transliteration of the prayer for the moment (for reasons which will soon become apparent), and stick to the…well, what the D’ni linguistic community can manage to translate of it.  This is a combination of several works that try to analyze it (here and here, for example, among others linked below), with possibilities regarding particular words:

Yahvo
I was [reflecting (?)] [on] your [powers (?)].
I was thinking what [grace (?)] it is to be able to link to various places of your creation.
It is [amazing (?)] to me how complex to [apparent (?), thorough (?)] you have created this universe I live in.
Still with how it is–[however (?)] [apparent (?), thorough (?)] to five [senses (?)] – you [act (?) exist (?)] still to love for me.
I [pray (?)] to you.
What I can [accomplish (?)] by Art I do not entirely [understand (?)] I am [achieving (?)] by your greatness and holiness.
I praise you for who you are.
And I thank you for what you have [allowed (?), done (?)] and what you will [allow (?), do (?)].
I am [thankful] [for my sake (?), moreover (?), my (?)] [grandmother] was diligent to [ask (?)] with end [result (?)] about you and your [purpose (?)].

The reason for so many question marks in the text, and the general awkwardness of it all, is that this prayer was published before Riven, and Riven was the first game to actually make use of the D’ni language (even the spelling of that word was different in the original Myst game, “Dunny”, before that was dropped).  Because of this (and to state things in a non-roleplaying/out-of-character sense), it’s most likely the case that this prayer was written before the D’ni language was finalized or formalized.  While it’s still recognizably D’ni both in script and in language, many of the values of the individual letters seem to have changed between this early version of D’ni and later versions that were otherwise used, and many of the words have not otherwise been encountered and are still questionable.  As a result, if we were to transliterate the text as it is using the canonical correspondences of the D’ni script, we’d get relative nonsense, and even using corrected values, we still don’t have a full grasp of the meaning of the prayer.  Still, the overall gist of the prayer makes sense, especially to those who are familiar with the Myst universe and storyline, and especially all the more after the release of Uru and other games that expounded upon D’ni religion.

Wanting to incorporate at least a bit more D’ni in my own practice (even if only for the sake of inspiration and to remember one of the biggest influences on my imagination since a young age), I thought I’d try my hand at coming up with a prayer based on the above, less oriented towards the D’ni religion that Atrus might have received in his own small way and more towards my own Hermetic path.  The way the prayer is phrased even in the original, it would seem as if a silent contemplation of awe and pious observance of the cosmos and divine creation would precede the recital of the prayer.

O Maker,

I was reflecting on your powers,
and in thinking what a blessing it is to be able to behold the various works of your making,
it awes me how complex in appearance you have created this cosmos I live in.
Yet, however it may appear to my senses, you still continue to love me.

I pray to you who are called God:
I revere you who are the maker;
I cherish the making that you make.
I do not fully understand what I am to accomplish by the great power you grant me,
yet still I work to achieve it by your greatness and holiness.
I praise you for what you do;
I thank you for what you have done and what you will do.

I am thankful for my teachers who were diligent in seeking you and the understanding of you.

In the original prayer, the recipient of the prayer is addressed as Yahvo, also sometimes called “the Maker” and the deity of the monotheistic religion of the D’ni.  Instead of translating this as “God”, I instead decided to opt for “Maker”, since this is also a way to name God according to Hermēs in CH XIV.4, and is also used to refer to God in other parts of the CH (like in CH V or CH X).  Likewise, when it comes to “Art” (which is a technical term referring to the D’ni study and mastery of writing special books to link to other Ages), which I do not myself possess, I decided to generalize it to “this great power you grant me”.  To be sure, there are plenty of Hermetic arts, the three biggest and famous being those of astrology, alchemy, and theurgy, but I decided to both generalize and personalize it a bit.  Similarly, instead of referring to linking to the various places of creation, I changed it to refer to beholding and bearing witness to the works of creation (as much as I’d love to link to other worlds, myself).  I also decided to add in an extra statement not there in the original prayer, but based on something included in a letter from Rand Miller and later included in a prophetical text from one of the later games.

There’s one word present in Atrus’ Prayer that is important to hinge things on: taygahn, usually translated as “love” but with a slightly more involved meaning closer to “to love-know with the whole mind”.  In D’ni, this word “implied a deep understanding, respect, and most importantly unselfish love for one another” in the context of D’ni marriage and the ideal relationship between spouses, but was also used in the context of D’ni belief as the cornerstone of a relationship with Yahvo.  We might consider as the closest translation for this D’ni word used in the religious sense to be the Greek word ἀγάπη agápē.  Interestingly, the word used throughout the Hermetic texts for “love” when it occurs in a divine context is either a variant of φιλία philía (e.g. CH IV.6, SH 2B.1) or—far more commonly—ἔρως érōs (e.g. CH I.4, CH I.12—16, CH VI.4, CH XVIII.14, SH 2B.3).  Litwa notes the role of érōs (passionate love) in the ascent of heaven is talked at length in Plato’s Phaedrus (224a—252b) and Symposium (206a—212b).  That agápē is not used in the Hermetic texts shouldn’t be all that surprising, seeing how it was only sometimes used for “affection” or “hold in esteem” generally prior to Christianity and only took on its much more elevated sense afterwards, originating in the Great Commandment from the New Testament, itself based on Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”, וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃), the Hebrew word there being a generic one for “love” in a general sense.  Anyway, it’s interesting that Atrus’ Prayer has (what we guess) Yahvo reaching out or giving taygahn-love to Atrus, rather than some dedication of Atrus committing to taygahn-love of Yahvo, but I think it makes sense in its own way, much as God in the Hermetic texts loves Humanity and, thus, each one of us as Humans, wanting us to be truly Human and to come to know (and be with) God.

The phrase “I praise you for who you are” in the original D’ni of the prayer is something I changed to “I praise you for what you do”.  To me, it’s weird to think of God as a person or other entity who is, like how my parents are or how I am or how Hermēs is, and I don’t consider God to exist in the same way as other entities might exist.  Following CH V.9, CH XI.13, CH XI.22, and CH XIV.6, which altogether say that God is not separate from the activity of God which is making (hence one of the names of God being “maker” according to Hermēs), I thought it better to rephrase this as “I praise you for what you do”, since what God does is, in effect, who God is.  This also follows Jack Miles’ insight (from his book God: A Biography, in chapter 4 section 1) that one of the names of God from Shemot/Exodus 3:15, “`Ehyeh `Ašer `Ehyeh” (“I am who I am”) can be altered slightly by changing a yod to a vav, leaidng to “`Ehyeh `Ašer `Ahweh” (“I am what I do”), with the last word “`ahweh” being strikingly similar to the Tetragrammaton itself.  In changing this phrase from “I praise you for who you are” to “I praise you for what you do”, I’m also setting up a better flow and connection with the following statement of “I thank you for what you have done and what you will do”.  Of course, the D’ni word ahrtah is not well understood, and could mean things like “do” or “permit” or “allow” or “achieve” in this context, but I’m going to go with a simple “do” (and may likely be connected to the word bahrtah earlier on tentatively translated as “accomplish”, perhaps without a prefix b’ used to indicate an infinitive verb in D’ni).

The final line of the prayer is a bit strange; based on how the prayer was originally typeset, it would seem that this final dedication of thanks to Atrus’ grandmother Ti’ana may not be part of the prayer itself.  Rather, it seems like a postscript or secondary meditation by Atrus in remembering how the eternal inquisitiveness of his grandmother (“what do you see, Atrus?”, a question he kept as a mantra close to his heart throughout his life since being raised by her in his childhood) in order to reach a better understanding of the nature of things.  Although I don’t recall Atrus coming across as particularly religious or spiritual in the games or novels (nor is religion heavily mentioned in the games until the time of Uru and Myst V), he’s certainly not irreligious, especially given the November and December pages of the 1996 Myst calendar that showed a religious wonder and awe at his deity and their works.  Since neither of my grandmothers were particularly religious or informative in my own religious life but from whom I still learned plenty, I’ve opted to generalize this dedication to “teachers” and to refocus it less on God’s purpose/design and more on the understanding (if not outright knowledge, as in gnōsis) of God.  As a final dedication, it also recalls how I myself am able to get so far and how far I’ve gotten precisely because of those who have gone before me.

For those who are interested in the transliteration of the D’ni text of Atrus’ Prayer (corrected, such as it is) and perhaps to give it a shot at pronouncing, I offer it below in my own transcription system (the other more common styles given on Omniglot and other websites around the internet, none of which I’ve ever been particularly happy with):

(Y)avo,
Kodoḵantor femagentīom.
Kodokanræd kæm lorag kenen b’ken s̠in b’bēḵ b’totī ranal co marntavom.
Dopraqizen b’zū d̠o muḵon b’tērūs̠ lemarnem met mis̠o cav te.
Gat̠ t’d̠o kenen—d̠ozones̠ tērū t’bas̠tī vat—ḵagem gat̠ b’tēgan ḵezū.
Parḵ b’s̠em.
Kæm s̠in barta t’gestō rilnar b’fasī domad̠o t’parat̠om gahūcēt̠om.
Votar a’s̠em ḵekæmrov kenem.
G’qev a’s̠em ḵekæm l’artaem ga kæm boartaem.
Ken qevet ōn mor’oḵ’mor kokenem remesfet b’vēnu t’ḵōtag zu cos̠em g’bortaom.

As a pronunciation guide, besides the usual values of the letters which you can otherwise guess based on English while also trying to be faithful to the nuances of D’ni script modifiers:

  • Vowels
    • a — /ɑː/, as in “hot” or like “father”
    • ā — /aɪ/, as in “eye”
    • æ — /æ/, as in “cat”
    • e — /ɛ/, as in “bed”
    • ē — /eɪ/, as in “day”
    • i — /ɪ/, as in “bit”
    • ī — /iː/, as in “see”
    • o — /ɔː/, as in “thought” or like “goat”
    • ō — /ɔɪ/, as in “boy”
    • u — /ʊ/, as in “hook”
    • ū — /ʊː/, like “shoe”
    • ‘ — /ə/ after a consonant is an unstressed relaxed vowel as in the final syllable of “Tina”
  • Consonants
    • ḵ — /x/, like German “ach” or Scottish “loch”
    • d̠ — /ð/, as in “then”
    • t̠ — /θ/, as in “thin”
    • s̠ — /ʃ/, as in “shin”
    • q — /t͡ʃ/, as in “chair”
    • c — /t͡s/, as in “pats”
    • j — /d͡ʒ/, as in “hedge”
    • ‘ — /ʔ/ after a vowel is a glottal stop as in “Hawai’i” or “uh-oh”
    • Other consonants (v, b, t, s, y, g, k, f, p, r, m, d, h, w, z, n) are as in English.

If one wanted to make a few changes to the D’ni prayer based on my own version of it to make it fit a bit better, though still largely not quite understandable according to modern D’ni understanding:

  • Instead of Avo at the start, it should probably be Yavo to accord with the more common spelling.  To avoid messing with any potential nuance of saying Avo instead of Yavo (the former might mean “Father” or another honorific title of the god), we might instead just say Rebareltan (“the Maker”) as an epithet.
  • Instead of b’ken s̠in b’bāḵ b’totī ranal co marntavom (“to be able to link to various places of your creation”), say b’ken s̠in b’yim a tīgaltī ranal co marntavom (“to be able to see the various works of your creation”).
  • Instead of t’gestō (“by Art”), say tregas̠inet̠ mot koltagem b’zū  (“by the great ability you have given me”).  “Ability” in this instance is a synonym for “power”, in the sense of a potential capability, capacity, or ability to accomplish something.
  • Instead of Votar a’s̠em ḵekæmrov kenem (“I praise you for who you are”), say Votar a’s̠em ḵekæm doartaem (“I praise you for what you are doing”).  I decided to use the simple present (artaem) as a sort of gnomic aspect rather than using the continuous which seems more temporally progressive.
  • Instead of ōn mor’oḵ’mor (“my grandmother”? it’s not clear what ōn in this context means, though it is strikingly similar to the D’ni possessive suffix meaning “my”) in the last line, say garot̠tīō (“my great ones”, i.e. “my teachers”).  There is no word for “teacher” I could find, so I’m taking a cue from Judaism and using the term garot̠ (“great one”) in the same way a Jew might refer to their rabbi (from Hebrew rav meaning “great one”, metaphorically “master”).  Because we change the subject of this clause from a singular noun to a plural one, we also need to change the verb to agree with it, so kokenem (“she was”) becomes kokenīt (“they were”).

This would yield the following prayer, a mixture of “proper D’ni” based on the language’s grammar and lexicon as currently understood and the “early D’ni” of the 1996 Myst Calendar itself.  I’ve also added a few minor orthographic and stylistic changes to make it mesh better with D’ni as commonly understood and today (inasmuch as it might be “common”).

Yavo (Rebareltan),

Kodoḵantor femagentīom.
Kodokanræd kæm lorag kenen ḵezū b’ken s̠in b’yim a tīgaltī ranal co bareltavom.
Dopraqizen b’zū d̠o muḵon b’tērūs̠ lemarnem a mis̠o tetomet cav.
Gat̠ t’d̠o kenen—d̠ozones̠ tērū t’bas̠tīō vat—ḵagem gat̠ b’tēgan ḵezū.

Parḵ b’s̠em kæmrov kenem fūsaij Yavo.
Isyīr a s̠em kæmrov kenem rebareltan.
S̠eten a rebalretav mot barelem.
Kæm s̠in barta tregas̠inet̠ mot koltagem b’zū rilnar b’fasī domad̠o t’parat̠om gat’hūcēt̠om.
Votar a s̠em ḵekæm artaem.
G’qev a s̠em ḵekæm koartaem ga kekæm boartaem.

Ken qevet ḵegarot̠tīō kæmrovtī kokenīt remesfet b’vēnu t’ḵōtag zu cos̠em g’bortaom.

I’ll leave finding and translating the minor changes as an exercise for the overly interested geeky reader, but it still remains in sync with my own version of the prayer given above.

On Simplicity in Constructed Speech and the Occult

I’ve been interested in linguistics since at least middle school, when I took my first foreign language class.  It was a semester-long course in Japanese in my sixth grade, but unfortunately, the teacher had to leave back for Japan one or two months before the semester was actually over.  To fill out the rest of the semester, the school had another teacher come in and teach us the basics of Latin, for some reason.  For me, it was an awesome twofer!  That one semester started off a lifelong interest in languages, much to the chagrin of my mother, who wanted me to stick with Spanish or French because there’d be more money in that.  (I still do need to learn Spanish, of course, but for entirely different reasons than either of us would expect.)

However, my interest in linguistics didn’t just stop at learning languages and the methods of communication involving grammar and syntax.  I experimented with making a number of experimental constructed languages, also known as “conlangs”, and developed a number of writing systems for each of them.  Some of those writing systems eventually became used as ciphers for English, and one of those I developed back in high school eventually became my personal cursive/shorthand script which I still use to this day.  Creating languages and writing systems for a variety of ends has always been a hobby of mine, and it’s one that’s shared across many people of different streaks and creeds.

Chances are, dear reader, that you’ve encountered at least one conlang in your time.  Klingon as spoken in the Star Trek fandom; Orwell’s Newspeak from 1984; the elvish languages of Quenya or Sindarin, the Black Speech of Mordor, and the dwarvish language of Khuzdul created by Tolkein in his Middle Earth; the script of the Atlanteans from the Disney movie of the same name; the list goes on.  Plus, not all conlangs are meant as artistic projects for fantasy worlds.  There are a number of constructed languages, such as Esperanto and Lojban, which are intended as actual languages to be used by people on a day-to-day basis, often to encourage lofty goals of world peace or better and more logical cognition.  The conlang community has done some pretty interesting experiments when it comes to linguistics, and it’s always held an appeal for me and several of my good friends.

And yes, dear reader, there are conlangs in the occult world, as well.  The number of mystical or magical writing systems is just the start of it.  There’s the obvious Enochian of John Dee, which should be apparent to pretty much everyone, but there’re other constructed languages lesser-known across occulture.

One conlang is one I’ve known of for years and years now: toki pona.  As far as conlangs go, this is a special one marked for its simplicity.  Unlike other languages both natural and constructed, toki pona has only 120 words (when I first learned it, it only had 118).  A single word can have dozens of meanings, all semantically related depending on how it’s used.  For instance, consider the word “moku”.  This word refers to something related to consumption or digestion: to eat , to drink, to swallow, to ingest, to consume, to digest, food, meal, snack, something edible, etc.  In a sense, each word is a semantic category clarified by its use in a sentence, and not a single meaning.  The grammar is likewise very simple with only a handful of possible constructions (though, of course, with endless variations).

Why such a simple language?  The creator of the language, Sonja Lang, designed the language to be an experiment in testing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which can best be summed up as “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”.  Although strong forms of this hypothesis are generally believed now to be false, it’s still being researched to see how much language influences the way we behave and the way we think.  Lang (or, as known in the toki pona community, jan Sonja or “Sonja-person”) designed the language to be as simple as possible, even combining the semantic meanings of “good” and “simple” into the same word, so as to encourage a mindset and worldview focused on simplicity and dressing things down to a basic, simple means of existence.  The canonical example of this is that there is no word for “friend” in toki pona, but the way one communicates this is with the construction “jan pona”, literally “good person”.  A person who is good, especially to you, is known as a friend.  Thus, some constructions become illogical; a “bad friend” would be “jan poka ike”, literally “bad good person”, but a thing can’t really be good and bad at the same time.  Thus, if a person is bad to you, they probably shouldn’t be your friend.

One of the side effects of having such a linguistic structure is that toki pona is heavily dependent on context.  While you can take a paragraph of English text from any particular source, you can be fairly certain in a short time of what that paragraph is talking about and what kind of text it came from, be it chemistry, physics, literature, law codes, instruction manuals, comic books, or so forth.  Because of the generalized nature of toki pona, it’d be much more difficult to do the same, since unspoken (or previously-spoken) context plays such a huge role in toki pona.  Thus, toki pona utterly lacks finesse and nuance in words, and relies completely on context and (sometimes) lengthy constructions in order to describe something completely.  Then again, to describe something completely kinda defeats the purpose of toki pona.  The purpose is to communicate simply and to think simply; this is to speak well, literally “toki pona”.  To introduce more complexity than absolutely needed is unhelpful and makes what would normally be clear absolutely unclear, which is speaking poorly, literally “toki ike”.

Let’s bring this back to my life as a magician, shall we?  Why would a Hermetic magician, immersed in a cosmos full of complexity and correspondences and nuance and detail, at all be curious or appreciative of such a simplistic, simple language?  What good would a language that doesn’t even have a good means of describing numbers above 5 (and was never originally designed to have a words for numbers beyond “one”, “two”, “none”, and “many”) serve a person whose fundamental influences include the great mathematician-philosophers of the Mediterranean?  With an utterly small phonemic gallery of sounds somewhere between that of Japanese and Pirahã, how can I be served by such a language when my own Work requires subtle and exact descriptions of barbarous words of the gods?

It’s simple.  Complexity and nuance often doesn’t serve us all the time, and it helps to see things in a simple way.  toki pona helps to see the forest for the trees and not be overwhelmed by the individual leaves, especially if you’re nowhere close enough to actually enter the forest.  It’s a common-enough problem in occulture that we end up theorizing and extrapolating everything to an ungainly degree, insisting on artificial divisions of particular subsets of styles of magic, based partially on Aristotelian impulses for binning things and partially on the influence of fantasy divisions of magic into the occult.  However, if we end up theorizing and complicating things to the point where we can’t actually do the Work, then we’ve fucked ourselves over and paralyzed ourselves from getting anywhere.  For all the education, training, research, and meditation that goes into a ritual, the rite itself is the simple execution of a series of actions that may or may not have a particular result.  It’s the things we feel, the things we see, the things we experience in its most basic, vulgar form that direct, inform, and destroy our theoretical models.  After testing, the models should always be adapted to fit the data, as the data can only be interpreted in but so many ways to yield but so many models.

toki pona is a philosophical language, but it’s not philosophical in the sense of the great φιλοσοφοι or the rabbis of old.  Those who speak toki pona aren’t much interested in drawing the finest distinctions between abstract concepts, the division of a speck of dust’s width between two things.  We explain what happened in the simplest, barest of terms available to us to get rid of confusion and complexity and just come out with it.  To abstract away, justify, or obfuscate is really the same sort of action, much as how exaggeration and extreme modesty are two sides of the same coin of lying.

So, how would I be using toki pona as an occultist?  I mean, to those who’ve been reading my blog for a bit, I’ve already talked about this all before.  (I actually only remembered that I wrote a post just like the present one over two years ago on the same topic with many of the same points.  Herp derp.)  After giving it some thought, and after having gone through a few more experiences in the time since the prior post, I think my original idea from two years ago is still good: using toki pona for “the description of a desired state or outcome”, how things should be at their core.  I can talk about the planetary influences of the choirs of angels all day long and how they impact the sensations of my individual fingertips at different times of the day until the celestial cows come home, but it doesn’t change the fact that all I’m doing is emitting air and sound, especially when the topic is so theoretical and strained that it’s hard to make sense even in a well-described language like English or Greek.

I find that, as I get older and a bit more experienced (however little experience a few years can make), I get less and less interested in theory.  Sure, I will always keep researching and understanding different models of reality, and I’ll keep learning correspondences and the theory behind magic, but as I keep coming in contact with it, it gets dry and boring without the moist nourishment of action to apply it all.  Besides, it’s only in the application and results of this stuff that I get to see what theory is valuable and what isn’t; by testing these theories, not all of which should have been preserved from the ancients, I get to separate the wheat from the chaff and throw out the useless junk from the useful gems.  Invariably, as I understand the theories better, my rituals get simpler and more powerful, but only because of the work that’s already gone into them.  And, should I deign to go full-steam-ahead with the complexity and decoration and embellishment of a full Solomonic shebang, it’ll be even more powerful, but the need for that is limited at best and nonexistent at worst.

Simplicity works.  That said, simplicity is the highest form of elegance, and it’s working toward that elegance that takes much time and effort.  It’s a poor choice to separate out things at the start, when it should be by proof of demonstration that we come to know what’s necessary and what’s unnecessary, what’s able to be separated out and what’s able to be coupled together, what can be kept and what can be forgotten.  toki pona helps with that in a few ways.  I don’t expect to rewrite Agrippa’s Three Books in toki pona, but it will help in affording me another internal viewpoint to understand some of the things I do.

Simplicity, Language, and Ceremonial Magic

Simply put, never the twain shall meet.

I’ve got a big thing for linguistics, writing systems, and conlangs (constructed languages, like Star Trek’s Klingon, Tolkien’s Quenya, Disney’s Atlantean, etc.), which all have their definite place in ceremonial magic.  The mystical scripts I use to call spirits, the barbarous names of invocation, the seed syllables and chants and mantras, and having to translate works from one language into another are all part of the Work, if for nothing else than to get more information and context on a given topic or act.  As a hobby, though, it’s just plain fun.  When I was really little, I used to think there’d be a little goblin or tiny person in each person’s head, and when someone would speak to them in a foreign language, the tiny person would translate it into English for processing, or out of English into the other language for them to speak.

What?  I was a kid, like I said; it was a phase and I grew out of it.

There’s one conlang in particular I’ve liked for a while: Toki Pona.  It’s a minimal language, with only 120 words to use and an exceedingly simple grammar.  I’ve known about it for a number of years now, and still can translate the grammar in my head though many of the words escape me.  (I need to relearn this language, if only for the fun of it.)  It’s almost reductionist in how to say things: since there’s no word for “friend”, you need to describe what “friend” means (usually, a person who’s good to you).  English, with its huge vocabulary, can say things in one or two words what Toki Pona might take five or more: “enemy combatant” might be reduced to “a fighting person who’s bad towards you/your land”. That said, often enough the simplicity in making these statements and in communicating them makes up for its simplistic vocabulary.  It helps that there’s still a live and active Toki Pona community, too, both in forums and on IRC (though the original attempts at a Toki Pona book appear to have fallen by the wayside years ago).

One idle day, I was thinking about writing a short text about or of magic in Toki Pona, thinking it might be an interesting exercise.  I had to cut it off early on, though, primarily due to time restraints but also because of how daunting a task that would be.  Even though Toki Pona (literally meaning “good talk” or “simple talk”, since “good” and “simple” are the same word and simplicity is seen as good) is such a simple language, magic (or at least the kind of magic I work with) is decidedly not.  Given that it’s hard to describe “humans” as separate from “humanoid”, and how simple religious texts written in Toki Pona are largely unclear, talking about sephiroth and angels, the specifics of calling down elemental forces to charge objects or events, or how the placement of planets can affect the progress of a life or task is pretty much right out.  The size of the text would probably multiply tenfold, and would require dozens of pages just to lay out the first principles to describe what means what.

I mean, can’t we also see this happening anyway even in English texts?  I regularly bust out ancient Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin words and phrases to describe certain things or call them by their proper names.  Hell, it’s almost a trope that magicians use arcane languages, written and spoken, to achieve their ends, or at least to keep things a trade secret from the profane and vulgar.  When describing these ideas and forms, or Ideas and Forms, you almost have to introduce complexity and specification that defy simplicity; at least in ceremonial and qabbalistic terms, the only thing that can be accurately described as simple is the One, who is divinely simple; at that point, however, it doesn’t make sense to make any distinctions, where everything is One and One is All, and all language can be done away with anyhow.  After the One becomes (at least superficially) Many, already there’s so much complexity that 120 words just won’t cut it.

Toki Pona, as a conlang, has restrictions that normal language users don’t have.  Direct borrowings are very frowned upon, the one exception being proper names of people and places (which themselves have to undergo proper tokiponization to follow the phonetic rules of Toki Pona).  Invention of new words is right out; I recall the commotion when the inventor of the language added two words (from 118 to 120).  Hell, even ASL has a trick to point to an arbitrary space to use as a label for some object or referent, while (to my knowledge) Toki Pona has only one pronoun for such a thing (which can often be confusing even with proper context).  Given all this, I don’t think Toki Pona and ceremonial magic mix particularly well except for one important use: the description of a desired state or outcome.  This conlang is fantastic for describing how things are at their core, with as little subjectivity and as much clarity as possible.  Making sigils written from Toki Pona would be fantastic, as would describing statements of intent or will to be realized and manifested.  I haven’t used Toki Pona for that, but it seems like a very good application for it in magic.

What about you?  Do you know anything about Toki Pona?  Have you used conlangs or ritual languages in your work for specific ends, or do you do it all in your mother tongue?  What about written magic?