On The Mytholinguistics Of War [Part 1]

In many ways, it is not at all a controversial thing to assert that War is rather fundamental to the Indo-European View of the Universe. One of the first mythemes that almost everybody tends to identify when they begin their journey along the skeins of comparative Indo-European mythography – is that of the ‘Chaoskampf’, the War of the Gods against the Demons. And we are absolutely not surprised by this, considering the eminently violent nature of the world of our Ancestors. Which, to be sure, they were often rather *actively* contributing to. Not just the Bronze Age (or Copper Age) ones, either – but the Iron Age, and indeed, the Modern Age ones as well. The Information Age is little different, except for the strength and saliency with which ancient Indo-European (and, more especially, pointedly, *Vedic*) ideas around Knowledge, Thought, and above all, Speech, as mighty weapons (even capable of reshaping reality itself) have re-emerged. 

But while we often are all too aware of the notion that War is something that happens within our universe, and is in a certain sense inavoidable due to the conduct and the caprice of the denizen-dwellers therein … What we often *miss* by viewing both War and the World this way – as something which happens within the world, and as a place wherein which war can occur (amidst, presumably, other things also) – is the *Immanence* of War to the Cosmos, in the embedded mytho-linguistic World-View of the Indo-Europeans. 

You may have heard the phrase “Existence is a Struggle” – but to our Ancestors, this appears to have had quite a wealth (often captured) of meaning to it beyond the plain, ordinary, and simple manner in which the modern-ite would presumably take it. 

Allow me to demonstrate – utilizing not only the usual rubricae of linguistics and mythology, but also our somewhat experimental discipline of ‘mytholinguistics’ [wherein we augment the directly, scientifically attestable former field with insights drawn from the latter] to show you what I mean. 

My thought upon this line was first aroused when looking into the Old Norse concept of “Orlog”. This is often (mis)understood to simply mean a man’s fate or destiny; and as we shall see, there is *indeed* an element of it to that … but the *better* way to approach the concept, is via the analysis of its etymology: a combination of earlier words meaning ‘up/out’ [carrying the figurative connotation here of ‘supernal’] and ‘law’ [also in the sense of ‘precedent’ or ‘how something unfolds’]. So here we have an Old Norse term that is quite strongly cognate in its meanings with how we approach “Rta” in Hinduism, or Dikaiosune in the Ancient Greek – which should surprise nobody, the notion of the Divine Order, of Cosmic Law, is quite literally foundational to the Indo-European mythoreligion and its perception. 

And yet, what I have found curious is the semantic shift in its meaning which has transpired with a surprising degree of uniformity across the later Germanic languages. 

Whether in Dutch (‘Oorlog’), Norwegian or Danish [‘Orlog’ – and interestingly, in both cases, often with a Naval emphasis], Frisian [‘Orloach’], Old English [‘Orlege’], or Low German [‘Orlog’], what we find is that this term has come to mean “War”.

Now, it should be noted here that there is a supposition that the etymological process here as applies the Dutch actually involves a combination of the ‘Orlog’ we have already met, and another very similar earlier Germanic phrase [‘uzlaga’ vs ‘uzleugo’] in which the latter particle refers to an oath. I feel that even leaving aside the rather … curious suggestion that the more recent word would take only the “Or” portion from “Orlog”, and the “Log” portion from somewhere else, rather than deriving “Oorlog” from “Orlog” as would seem eminently more straightforward – the linkage between the Law, the precedency and unfolding of Order on the one hand, and an Oath, the speaking aloud of what binds one *as part of* and *through* the Law , is clearly apparent. At the very least, it is a doublet of meaning, if not a figurative demonstration of the ‘fate’ of the oath-bound men to be thrust into combat. [I would also have thought the more logical ‘alternative’ origin-point for the ‘Log’ in “Oorlog” would be terms derived from PIE “Lewg”, as in, Suffering, Mourning, Pain – therefore connoting “Oorlog” as being what is of and the cause of such things. But I digress].

The ‘mytholinguistic’ explanation I have customarily advanced for this chain of derivation and subtle yet salient shift in semantic interpolation, is quite a simple one. It is a ‘long-term’ illustration, via etymology and therefore encoded in the fabric of our communication and our world(-view and otherwise) that the ‘active expression’ of the Divine Order within our Universe , and therefore our Fate – the Fate of All – is … War. It is the precedency value of what has gone before, it is the unfolding value of the application of that Law to the both present and future path of the Universe. Something which should, again, be utterly unsurprising considering what eventually happens at Vigrid, in the Nordic Eschatology / Ekpyrosis-Prelude , the War At The End Of Time. 

Yet it is rarely good comparative mythography to endeavour to work too far nor fast from but a single data-point – even if it has crafted unto itself almost a relative clustered constellation through time and space about the North Sea area. And it was therefore not the Germanic mytholinguistics above and aforementioned which seriously crystallized the concept presently under discussion within the bounds of my mind – but rather, my happening across by chance of a most curious Sanskrit term: भूतात्मन् [‘BhutAtman’]. 

Now, this term itself is comprised also of two components. Bhuta, which is one of those fascinatingly fustrating far-furroughing fields of meaning so difficult to precisely pin down, has a general connotation of “Being” [with which it shares an etymological root]. And while that might *sound* simple enough, the way it’s used doesn’t just mean “Being” as we might say in English, but also “Has-Been” … as in “Ghost” [‘Bhuta’, as in ‘BhutaGana’], or “Past”, “Has Happened”, “Become”; “Being” as in “Existing”, “Real”, “Present”, “True”, “Spirit”; and indeed “Being” as in “World” – which makes a bit more sense when you consider it alongside terms like “Bhutala”, meaning “Earth” or “Ground”. It turns up in more figurative usage also to refer to that which makes *up* ‘Being’ – for example, the Five Elements [‘PanchaBhuta’], and relates to all of ‘Creation’ more generally. As applies where we’re about to head later with the term, it’s worth mentioning that Shaivite theonyms such as Bhuteshvara, Bhutanath[‘Lord/Emperor of the Bhutas’] are translated in multiple not entirely coterminous ways dependent upon context and text – sometimes meaning Lord of the World/Universe/Existence/Existing, sometimes meaning Lord of (all the) Elements [and constituent/component forces of Creation/the Cosmos], sometimes meaning Lord of All Beings or Lord of Spirits, and sometimes meaning Lord of the Ghosts. 

‘Atman’, meanwhile, means the ‘soul’ of something – its ‘essence’, its ‘nature’, its ‘character’, its ‘animating force’ [as in, ‘Breath’]. 

So, what do we have when we put these two terms together? 

Well, apparently, “War”. 

There are a number of ways to interpret how this meaning has been arrived at. One of which, which we shall be looking at in more expansive detail in the sequel to this article, hinges around the identification of “BhutAtman” as a Shaivite ‘quality’ or ‘characteristic’. But we shall leave that to one side for now. 

‘BhutAtman’ is a ‘dvandva’ – a ‘compound’ wherein two words are put together to convey something through their direct concatenation which would not be immediately connoted were they parsed merely sequentially within a sentence. On one level, then, you could approach it as being ‘Matter’ or ‘Material Universe’, and ‘Animating Principle of’, respectively. The ‘dvandva’, therefore, is putting the two together to refer to all that is both physically and metaphysically here. However, there is another interpretation – that putting next to one another such ‘unlike’ things as crude matter and a soul, a metaphysical life-force, is inexorably going to lead on to ‘conflict’, hence the connotation. But I do not think that is the best explanation for what is going on here. [Perhaps also because, on a subconscious level, I am recollecting that Purusha & Prakriti in a *universal* context … are rather happily married – quite (mytho)literally; indeed, both Deities *do* have a seriously strong ‘War’ association]  Another attested definition for the term is something along the lines of ‘the nature of all beings’ – and *that*, I think, is much closer to the mark. Along with another which has been cited, of ‘the foundational principle’ [of being/existence/the universe entire]. 

All of these interpretations, as is the case with many a good Sanskrit phrasing , flow back together into one another; and help to explain the one-word translation in particular – “War” – which I have elected to focus upon. “War” as the ‘Animating Force/Principle’ [‘Atman’] of the Universe [‘Bhuta’] ; “War” as the ‘Nature/Character/Essence’ [‘Atman’] of Beings [“Bhuta”] ; “War”, therefore,  as the Nature of the Universe, and the essential spark of life which exists within its actively-existing denizens – thus helping also to perpetuate it as the nature of their environs through their actions resulting therefrom. [There is a follow-up piece I intend also to write covering the strong correlation of ‘Anger’ and Breath-of-Life in Indo-European mytholinguistics (Which goes also, via ‘smoke’, with the ‘burning’ of life and fury … which can, indeed, burn one out rather faster – the dose, it seems, may make the poison in some of these cases) – but, again, I shall hold onto that thought … or be held, seized by it, for the moment.] 

Now as for why this matters – there are many further things which we could potentially say here. But I shall attempt to avoid the temptation to ruminate too broadly upon these in what is supposed to be toward the terminus of this brief tableau. 

It is tempting to look at all of the above, and most especially the more direct elements to do with warfare within the ‘Vedic’ & ‘Eddic’ denominations in particular, and take what we might perhaps term an euhemeric view of proceedings. That is to say, making the presumption that all of this embedded conceptry is simply the reflexive expression of the nature of the world around our ancestors several thousand years ago … wherein warfare really *was* a constant and viscerally personal experience for many. Especially due to the habitual pastimes of the Indo-Europeans right across the Expanse, of seeing the world by turning up places and setting fire to them [seriously, as I’ve noted a few times before, we can literally tell when the Indo-Europeans turn up in various parts of, say, Anatolia, due to the fine depositional layer of carbon in settlement-sites … resultant from the previous settlement having been burned down during the welcoming/raiding party].

And this is, for what it’s worth, not entirely untrue nor invalid as a *partial* perspective. There are reasons to suspect that some cited instances of great heroes or even mighty Gods making war upon the strange-named and strange-looking vaguely anthropomorphic sorts over yonder with the cattle we’d rather like – may indeed be recollections, or stylized representations, or even just ‘resonant’ on general principle with, actual historical encounters at the point of the spear. The Iliad is probably the best-known (mytho)historical example; and it has also been suggested that an array of the instances of ‘Dasyus’ being smote down upon in the course of the RigVeda may refer to conflicts against the Dahae [oddly enough, another Indo-Iranian people] by the Vedic Aryans. The Zoroastrians, meanwhile, *certainly* seem to remember the localized course and combatants of *their* religious civil war through the corresponding heretical inversions of and additions to Indo-Iranian mythology they promulgated in its wake. 

It can also be suggested – and, again, this is not necessarily an entirely worthless line of supposition – that certain mythologized conflicts are reflective of natural phenomena or other such disasters; although the example which instantly springs to mind, of Zeus contra Typhon, is a bit of an odd one, because there it is perhaps the case that the myth ‘found a home’ under Mt. Etna – i.e. a pre-existing Indo-European myth around the Striker/Thunderer contra the Demon-Dragon was then affixed and located to an active Volcano, rather than the Volcano being recorded and recalled as a Demon-Dragon. 

But I do not think – and I am fully aware that my religious fundamentalist zealot helm is *firmly* on for this one, with accompanying mono-opthalic [or, perhaps, tryambhaktam] vision – that these ancient myths, still much less their salient principles and the surrounding eth(n)oi and values-systems we have addeuced from them, would have survived for much of a span (let alone, in the Vedic Hindu case, some four thousand years and counting – more, if we are going right the way back to the Urheimat ! ) , if all that was recorded therein was a distant ancestral memory of “Man vs Man” [or, rather, vs pointedlly *not* “Men” – a we shall explore in a later piece in this series, there’s a ‘recognition’ of similarity and seeing yourself in another implicit in the labeling of the being in front of you as ‘Man’, that does not, in several senses of the term, easily nor historically-appropriately, extend to various [non-I.E.] adversary-peoples] , or “Man vs Nature” [and leaving aside the far greater and more profound man *with*, *of*, *apart of* (instead of “apart from”) Nature depth of sentiment known to our Ancestors] … well, it’d be like asking the average American today about the Seven Years’ War – vitally important, really, in explaining how they came to exist and who and what they are, but so breathtakingly remote in terms of both time and headspace that the vast majority have probably never given it a second glance, if they’ve even really heard of it. In short, yesterday’s apocalyptic historical conflict, fades from memory and therefore from view with such alacrity that it can hardly be expected to stand the far more enduring test of Mythic Time. [There are some exceptions to this, of course – two hundred years on, Napoleon still looms large … but that is, at least partially, because He is arguably the visage of a Deity [see my previous writing upon *that* subject], and has almost entered into the folk-consciousness of the Anglosphere as an adversary as a result. ]

At the absolute veer-y least, these myths and their principles keep being told and keep having a resonancy for their hearers … because we see ways in which they are applicable to the world around us of today, or the recent past and/or near future. Think people making use of Sun Tzu’s Art of War in structuring their corporate [a body of men in competition with others, which perhaps explains part of Thorstein Veblen’s observations upon the sort of person now found ‘leading’ them] conduct.

But I believe that it’s far *deepa* than that. That the reason we can find saliency and coterminity between these Myths and the Principles found within them, and our own experiences (well, some of us, at any rate) – is not because they have something to say about our lives, in all their petty and petite human-anthill scale details and decrepitude … but rather, because the stories, the narratives, the encounters, the customs, the *culminations* of our lives have something to say about, have some reflection and refraction of, what is contained within the relevant Mythology. *It*, rather than *I* is at the *true* center of our realm(s).

[This, incidentally, and on what might appear to be a side-tangent, is part of the explanation for why some people just really don’t like/get Lord of the Rings and claim it’s inapplicable, boring, unrelatable word-walls in place of literature. Now, I do not mean to comment one way or ‘tuther on Tolkien’s prose – but as applies the former portion, they are not incorrect *in reference to themselves*, at any rate. If you cannot see something *resonant* and *relevant* in an Epic to yourself and your travails and aspirations, to *your story* – then assuming for the moment that it is not a perception issue, it is probably precisely because there *is* little of direct relevancy to you contained therein, because you are not living an epic, let alone Epic style of life. Even as a minor figure within one.] 

And the reasoning for *that* – why it is that there is such a strong degree of coterminity between Myth and Reality, which means that we can see the former radiating out into our particular, personal, subjective latter … is partially because the Myths *tell us* something about Reality. But it is *also* because the Myths *are* Reality. Something which I mean in *both* immediately applicable senses – that the relationship between ‘myth’ and ‘real’ is not an oppositional duality, but of unity, identicality in essence and in function [subject to the conceptry around “Mythic Truth” and the caveats upon “Scriptural Literalism” as Lazy Theology/Ontology/Philosophy-in-General] ; and that what is contained *within* this Mythic Understanding is the essential Nature [‘Atman’, we might perhaps suggest as a translated term] which Reality gives expression [‘Bhuta’] to. 

So therefore, when we speak of an encoding within our mytholinguistics of the notion that War is fundamental in the Indo-European cosmological perspective … we mean quite literally that. In the Sanskrit term we have looked at, we see War as the ‘seed’ and ‘animating force’ and ‘character’ of the Universe. In the Nordic/Germanic suite of words we have parsed, we see War as the ‘order’, the ‘unfolding’, the ‘fate’ of the World. 

One thought on “On The Mytholinguistics Of War [Part 1]

  1. Pingback: The Indo-European Sky Father and His Incarnations (Part I) | Athanaricus

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