A good day to consider the use of language and its ability to heal wounds, as well as the way words can be twisted or used unconsciously to deepen or worsen wounds.
For example…the use of the word “thug,” used by our president and also the mayor of Baltimore to refer to what could also arguably be called a natural uprising of angry youth. Does the use of words like “criminal” or “thug” adequately or sensitively address the complexities at play in events like the ones we’ve seen in Baltimore? On one level, we can all agree that some of the rioting and looting reflects a kind of mob-mentality that should probably be criticized. At the same time, doesn’t nature express rioting in so many different ways all the time? Isn’t it natural for a system to heat up to the point of exploding? And isn’t chaos part of that process?
Let’s explore the wounding and wounded nature of the word “thug,” as well as its mythic depth and vitality.
The word “thug” comes from an Indian/Hindi word “thag/thak,” which means to cheat or swindle. Going deeper into the sanskrit the root means something like “he covers” or “he conceals.” The word has a long history of being associated with groups of religious fanatics who roamed the countryside of India in the guise of peddlers, gaining the confidence of other travelers, whom they would strangle. One source I found says, “The motive of the thugs was not so much lust of plunder as a certain religious fanaticism. The bodies of their victims were hidden in graves dug with a consecrated pickax, and of their spoil one third was devoted to the goddess Kali, whom they worshiped.”
Could it be that even though we’re using the word “thug” negatively, that its roots bear an unconscious connection to the goddess Kali, whose demands for blood and sacrifice are “concealed” by the very history and roots of the word?
I’m not trying to glorify vandalism or destruction of neighborhoods. But at what point do we not recognize the hypocrisy or poetic irony of the very words we use to describe some of the events unfolding before us? At what point do we stop ourselves and do the inner work of seeing the gods in our midst?
Thugs, as many leaders are commenting today in response to our president and other leaders, is perhaps just the new “N word.” And even the “n word,” means something like “black.” How afraid are we of the archetypal significance of what black is and what black does. Not just as a race, but as an expression of divine forces. How long will it take us to realize that the words we fear are the same words we use most insensitively or aggressively? Isn’t it the hardest thing to admit Kali into our midst? Isn’t it the hardest thing to acknowledge and honor the real depth and power of what’s just happened around the world? Isn’t it so hard to do so because to do so would be to truly allow ourselves into the black…into the depths…into something other than the continued polarization of “black and white,” always toward the ennobling white.
Words can help and words can heal; when we study words their history resounds with divine power. Can we blame our black male president for wanting to separate one kind of black male image from another? No, of course on one level we all understand it. But on another level we have to seriously consider the ironies of the use of a word like “thug” from our political leader, and the way the word tends to ‘whiten’ the black rather than truly allowing ourselves to be penetrated by its archetypal autonomy.
Kali rages until she’s heard…though, like the history of the “thugs” from India, the practices of Kali are also partially hidden or concealed, otherwise how could the black night guard the invisible landscapes from the trespassers of the day world? Words like “thug,” seem to be more like the evidence of the day world’s frustration with the contradictions or complexities of the black night.
Subtly of language and sensitivity of language blackens the black and offers dark roses of gratitude at the altar of Kali’s temple. May we find the courage to remember the gods in our words and ideas…rather than using words too quickly or ignorantly or condemning words as just empty “words.”
Prayer: Help us to feel the gods in our words and thoughts, and may our words and thoughts be healing, patient, sensitive, and wise.