This post comes with a warning that it might appear contradictory. That’s not just because I’m a contrary sod, but is in fact because I intend to challenge some fundamental assumptions about certain concepts.
I am, in case you didn’t realise, a cripple. This a self-identifying term which has arisen out of pejorative connotations applied to a simple linguistic description of fact – for some people, it’s an offensive term, and they would rather it not be used to describe them.
Which is completely fine, for them. Everyone can make their own decision about whether they are comfortable about using pejorative slurs as reclaimed statements of identity, or not. In my case, I’m fond of the etymology involved.
cripple (n.) Old English crypel, related to cryppan “to crook, bend,” from Proto-Germanic *krupilaz (cognates: Old Frisian kreppel, Middle Dutch cropel, German krüppel, Old Norse kryppill). Possibly also related to Old English creopan “to creep” (creopere, literally “creeper,” was another Old English word for “crippled person”).
creep (v.) Old English creopan “to creep” (class II strong verb; past tense creap, past participle cropen), from Proto-Germanic *kreupan (cognates: Old Frisian kriapa, Middle Dutch crupen, Old Norse krjupa “to creep”), perhaps from a PIE root *g(e)r- “crooked” [Watkins]. Related: Crept; creeping.
creep (n.) “a creeping motion,” 1818, from creep (v.). Meaning “despicable person” is 1935, American English slang, perhaps from earlier sense of “sneak thief” (1914). Creeper “a gilded rascal” is recorded from c. 1600, and the word also was used of certain classes of thieves, especially those who robbed customers in brothels. The creeps “a feeling of dread or revulsion” first attested 1849, in Dickens.
There’s a root concept here, a principle of bentness, crookedness which is associated with abnormal modes of movement and bodily existence which translates directly into conceptions of wrongness.
wrong (adj.) late Old English, “twisted, crooked, wry,” from Old Norse rangr, earlier *wrangr “crooked, wry, wrong,” from Proto-Germanic *wrang- (cognates: Danish vrang “crooked, wrong,” Middle Dutch wranc, Dutch wrang “sour, bitter,” literally “that which distorts the mouth”), from PIE *wrengh-, variant of *wergh- “to turn” (see wring).
Sense of “not right, bad, immoral, unjust” developed by c. 1300. Wrong thus is etymologically a negative of right (adj.1), which is from Latin rectus, literally “straight.” Latin pravus was literally “crooked,” but most commonly “wrong, bad;” and other words for “crooked” also have meant “wrong” in Italian and Slavic. Compare French tort “wrong, injustice,” from Latin tortus “twisted.”
wring (v.) Old English wringan “press, strain, wring, twist” (class III strong verb; past tense wrang, past participle wrungen), from Proto-Germanic *wreng- (cognates: Old English wringen “to wring, press out,” Old Frisian wringa, Middle Dutch wringhen, Dutchwringen “to wring,” Old High German ringan “to move to and fro, to twist,” German ringen “to wrestle”), from PIE *wrengh-, nasalized variant of *wergh- “to turn,” from root *wer- (3) “to turn, bend” (see versus). To wring (one’s) hands “press the hands or fingers tightly together (as though wringing)” as an indication of distress or pain is attested from c. 1200.
And the thing is, I am twisted, I have skeletal deformity and muscular spasticity which has pulled me in abnormal directions. This turning from the straight, righteous conception is a mark of difference – a signifier that such existence is minority in nature, an edge case on the curve of the normal distribution. If one were to draw the bell curve, one would find the crooked, crippled and bent on the outside edge of the curve.
We can see, however, that the inside/outside dichotomy, while dualistic and inherently self-referential, nonetheless has importance because it illustrates that there is no single term, variable or item, which constitutes the norm. Rather, it’s a range of values which coalesce under the curved umbrella of an idea. It’s the level of intensity, of extremity, which flips the switch and turns an analogue, organic range into a binary, digital state.
The markers of difference are that which produce affect – that induce a recognised change of state in perception, which is to say that which makes one thing suddenly into another. These markers are specifically interesting within a polytheistic and oral culture. The cult epithets of a deity or spirit, their associations, weapons, or armaments, are specific items which affect those who interact with them. Thus, in the case of so-called ‘disabled’ deities – Hephaistos for the Greeks, Odin and Tyr for the Norse, Nuada or Lludd for the Irish and Welsh, their ‘disabilities’ were in fact, markers of their difference, expressions of their numinous power.
Hephaistos the Lame, Odin the One Eyed/Blind, Tyr the One Handed, Nuada of the Silver Arm, Lludd of the Silver Hand.
Rather than being slurs, they were simple statements of fact which came along with the presence, the very Being of that deity. This is why it is important to consider these cultic titles (heiti in Old Norse) on their own merits – the modern connotations and political notions applied to them often detract from these powerful Gnostic portals, doorways into deeper knowings and Mysteries. This is also to say nothing of the potential representation that those who we might consider ‘disabled’ today might have gained, or the affinity they may have felt or gained with their deity’s epithet.
Angel Millar, over at People of Shambala, has an interesting article entitled Who Killed Buddha-Nature? The Outsider in an Age of Consumer Radicalism which, while I’m not sure I agree with all of it, raises some extremely valid points about the way the norm eventually devours the outsider, particularly in regards to political dissent and identity politics. This is not a modern phenomenon either – the Roman Empire eventually co-opted the Germanic tribes as vassal states or foederati.
At first glance, particularly given what we’ve already discussed, outsider status seems conditional in the modern world. One is either placed there, or one makes a deliberate effort to extricate oneself. Oftentimes, for marginalised populations, it becomes a simple matter of survival – one seeks to avoid oppression or mitigate suffering, and this is, in itself, completely understandable. The gravity and attendant influence that comes with being part of the in-group as distinct from the out-group, has beloved by psychologists, anthropologists, and naturalists for generations. It’s quite clear that there benefits in operating within the boundaries of a society after all – were it not so then outlawry and excommunication would not and could not have functioned as useful deterrents and punishments.
There is something to be said for the idea that if you can afford to rebel, you don’t actually need to. And if you need to rebel, you can’t afford to.
Certainly, there are those whose position is enforced by the status quo, and who cannot hope to go toe to toe with that very same. The very nature of the status quo is that it expends resources to structure existence in a very particular way. For those without the resources to extricate themselves, the possibility of rebellion seems laughable. However, recognition of this asymmetrical position is the start of a fundamental change of understanding. To quote Ernst Junger:
“A forest passage followed a banishment; through this action a man declared his will to self-affirmation from his own resources.”
At first glance, this seems to be a paen to self-sufficiency – precisely the kind of thing those who are enmeshed in the coils of the status quo can ill afford. But, and allow me to quote myself here, from my own post on Junger from earlier in the year:
Note that this not some Libertarian survivalist individualism, some off-grid anti-government fantasy. No, this is a banishment, an exile. Those who are going into-the-forest are now asocial – the mechanisms and processes of their existence, internally and externally, are different to those of society by necessity of survival. The metrics and methodologies by which they navigate the world are completely different; the social stimuli, the call and response, the hoops you have to jump through with all their etiquette and nuance, do not serve you in the forest. There is a reason prisoners and soldiers often have trouble reintegrating with society – when they were Elsewhere, different necessities applied.
What’s more, there are those who have always dwelt in the forest, or on its edges. Not through choice, but because they have always been there since birth – and indeed, in many mythologies, it is the forest dwellers who counsel and train the exile in the ways of the forest and its Mysteries. Encounters with these sylvan folk, these mad prophets, wizards, witches and fey monsters are what pass on occult and gnostic powers to the protagonists of the myths.
This then, brings the lie to the notion of self-sufficiency. Those who are exiled die, or survive. This is the bald fact of existence, Those who do survive however, are not isolated figures locked up in ivory towers. On the contrary they become adepts, learned in the ways of the forest, not in an extractive context, but in fact in a symbiotic fashion. The division between hunter and hunted dissolves – instead both are merely forest dwellers, each one an individual expression of the forest’s vitality in a unique form.
The forest dweller recognises themselves, not in contradistinction to the forest, but as part of it – not superior or inferior in any manner. The relational hierarchy is not one of top-downess or transcendence, but of upwelling and immanence, passages and methods of existence spreading like root and branch. By recognising that they serve a unique purpose in themselves, what may be considered a rebellion or deviation is an actual commitment to the core vitalistic wellspring from which emerges the sense of Selfhood, which constantly shift and flows. We are always coming-together-with-and-breaking-apart. It’s impossible not to be a mere part of a larger, manifold system.
As part of this inward-and-backward-turning we may appear to diverge from the norm even further – and here, etymology is again instructive:
versus (prep.) mid-15c., in legal case names, denoting action of one party against another, from Latin versus “turned toward or against,” from past participle of vertere (frequentative versare) “to turn, turn back, be turned, convert, transform, translate, be changed,” from PIE *wert- “to turn, wind,” from root *wer- (3) “to turn, bend” (cognates: Old English -weard “toward,” originally “turned toward,” weorthan “to befall,” wyrd “fate, destiny,” literally “what befalls one;” Sanskrit vartate “turns round, rolls;” Avestan varet-“to turn;” Old Church Slavonic vrŭteti “to turn, roll,” Russian vreteno “spindle, distaff;” Lithuanian ver čiu “to turn;” Greek rhatane “stirrer, ladle;” German werden, Old English weorðan “to become” (for sense, compare turn into); Welsh gwerthyd “spindle, distaff;” Old Irish frith “against”).
rebel (adj.) c. 1300, from Old French rebelle “stubborn, obstinate, rebellious” (12c.) and directly from Latin rebellis “insurgent, rebellious,” from rebellare “to rebel, revolt,” from re- “opposite, against,” or perhaps “again” (see re-) + bellare “wage war,” from bellum “war.
re- word-forming element meaning “back to the original place; again, anew, once more,” also with a sense of “undoing,” c. 1200, from Old French and directly from Latin re- “again, back, anew, against,” “Latin combining form conceivably from Indo-European*wret-, metathetical variant of *wert- “to turn” [Watkins]. Often merely intensive, and in many of the older borrowings from French and Latin the precise sense of re- is lost in secondary senses or weakened beyond recognition. OED writes that it is “impossible to attempt a complete record of all the forms resulting from its use,” and adds that “The number of these is practically infinite ….” The Latin prefix became red- before vowels and h-, as in redact, redeem, redolent, redundant.
This movement, cycling back, as it were, places us within the context of rebellion, not for its own sake, but as a by-product. One rebels, without trying. Precisely because such rebellion is not constructed within the direct terms of the status quo, it is often regarded as not a direct challenge. Rather, it is associated with strange weirdness – weird being of course a modern formation of the ancient wyrd.
This provides a hint – rather than rebellion-as-escape, it is akin to the Nietzschean amor fati, or the Scandinavian root of doom.
We are conditioned, culturally and to some extent biologically, to wish to move. To move to the next thing after we have got the previous done. Consumption itself requires there to be more which is consumed – we are driven to accumulate resources, in whatever form they may be, for the process of extraction, processing etc. We need more food, more water, on the most basic level. This is simple physics – the coming together and breaking apart of form and function occurs at the most basic atomic level.
So it’s no surprise that we continually seek ‘fuel’ to maintain our inner furnaces which carry out the basic processes of life, to maintain our minds and bodies. The most efficient way to do so is to distribute resource collection – this is why society exists – groupings which enable the most useful recovery for the benefit of all. We are thusly socialised and enculturated by the emergent properties of the culture we inhabit – we absorb its mores, its structures and patterns. This enables us to survive.
However, there are those who are, through no fault of their own, unable to absorb and integrate those patterns. Whether this is a quirk of physiology, consciousness or some other property, it does not really matter. By necessity, they are forced to find their own methodology of survival – their own way of interacting with the larger systems and processes of existence. This then, is the essential quality – the individual themselves, returning to the most primordial of necessities. Driven by survival – which is to say their own personal, primordial impulse towards and expression of Life – they discover a way of Being which enables them to exist, either amidst society or beyond it.
This is to say that the kosmic fire, called Agni by some or Heralitan fire by others, iluminates them in such a way that they may serve as a beacon of another way to Be. It is this illumination which draws others to them, this bloodlight by which they may find new ways and paths for others around them. They are not self-sufficient in the sense that they eschew the presence of others, but rather, their sense of Beingness provides them with an endless source of refreshment – which is to say that whatever befalls them may in fact, serve as fuel.
Thus they have no particular need for any pre-existing condition, because all that occurs may serve to strengthen their inner flame – just as Heraclitus held that all things eventually returned to Fire.
One therefore begins the process in a manner that seems contradictory, as warned at the beginning of this post – the human tendency towards constant movement and novelty must be re-organised, re-cognised and re-purposed – in effect turned back upon itself. One of the first steps, as found in many traditions, is the pursuit of stillness – something which eventually ceases, since we become aware we do not in fact, have to pursue it. Similarly, pursuit of bodily stillness is bound to fail – try sitting without moving for three hours, and you will fail. It will however, if practised properly, give you an awareness of movement which is distinctly different to the ‘normal’ human perception. One discovers levels of bodily awareness which were often completely unknown before, when properly taught.
Similarly, the process of recognising oneself as an essential part of the kosmos alters awareness significantly. By doubling down upon our own Being, by sitting with the fundamental distress of our so-called ‘humanity’ we achieve a deeper understanding which can benefit everyone around us. In short, we do not seek to be other than what we are, seeking instead to transmute all aspects of life in in the alchemical furnace of Being, so that even the most ‘mundane’ experience and act reveals itself to be an Image lit from within by the kosmic fire.
Thus, even those who are constrained may find their chains to be methods by which they may proceed along the merciless path.
It is called merciless for several reasons – not least because there is no thanks to be had – none will thank you for this process, save perhaps your own Soul, It is also the case that there is no-one to pay you and not receive some form of exchange – no-one to please, no justification for this save an inner drive – that inner spark of Life. This is also why one cannot flinch – just as those exiled to the forest cannot flinch from learning its ways and terms, lest they die.
The union then, between ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ is an erotic one, the sexuality one of polarity rather than reproduction – the charge engendered between hunter and hunted, between artist and art. The charge is simply not there if one ‘partner’ is not fully, terribly present, willing to adapt and shift for the mutual benefit of those involved. Note then, that this mutual benefit is precisely what it says – mutual, from mutabilis.
mutable (adj.) late 14c., “liable to change,” from Latin mutabilis “changeable,” from mutare “to change,” from PIE root *mei- (1) “to change, go, move” (cognates: Sanskrit methati “changes, alternates, joins, meets;” Avestan mitho “perverted, false;” Hittite mutai- “be changed into;” Latin meare “to go, pass,” migrare “to move from one place to another;” Old Church Slavonic mite “alternately;” Czech mijim “to go by, pass by,” Polish mijać “avoid;” Gothic maidjan “to change”); with derivatives referring to the exchange of goods and services as regulated by custom or law (compare Latin mutuus “done in exchange,” munus “service performed for the community, duty, work”).
The changes involved presupoose that-which-is-changed, that thing which is occulted in normal perception. For this reason, the inward-turning is a subtraction, but not necessarily a divestiture – a violation of ordinary rules of accumulation. Only by this subtraction, this coalescence, can we hear the pulse which beats in frenzy, the onrush of Life which will surge through us when we make contact with that most fundamental principle which thrums through all things.
Only by descending along the crooked, merciless path, can we discover the truth of who we really are. There is no escape.