As a writer, it’s my job (and pleasure) to combine and reorder words, occasionally even make them up (that’s totally fun, trust me!). But occasionally I am struck by the very power of words, and almost fear them. You know when you have that research book about demons with creepy incantations (yes, by now you should know that I often poke my head in strange-ass research books). Or what about the book of local ghost stories, and you wonder if somehow reading it could literally bring you closer to the spirits – or they to you?
Words have a good long history of being imbued with power. Not just the idea that you can send a message, change the future kind of power with a written statement or document. While those certainly have power, that’s not what I mean.
I mean the idea that there were words that were considered so powerful, you had to be careful uttering or writing them. Like the name of a deity, for example. Or magical words, which we find now in fantasy tales. Think Harry Potter where magical words have the power to cause pain, or even death.
And then I think back to the stories. And the power that a story has simply by being written down. It gives it weight, something tangible other than the rasping sound of someone’s voice in the retelling. What other power does the written word give to those stories? How does it change the story when, for example, you have a ghost story that has remained a family secret, and suddenly it’s out in the open, others have read and experienced it vicariously?
How does giving it words give it power? And where else does that power go? What else can it do?
I consider this because for some reason, when I used to read ghost-story books in my parents’ house down in the basement, before I moved out, I’d tuck the book into a drawer or at the very least ALWAYS flip it cover down, usually buried in another book. I had a vague sense that this was to keep it contained … and anything else from “seeing” it. No, I haven’t any particular idea who – or what – I thought might be reading my books when I wasn’t. And maybe it can be chalked up to an overactive imagination and the shivery feeling the books gave me in the first place.
Or maybe not. One of the stories I read recently was about a woman who was haunted almost all her life. The ghost followed her since she was a teenager all the way to adulthood, specifically attached to her. In fact, they referred to the ghost as “hers” because of how specifically associated it was with her. The weight of an unseen presence would lay down in the bed beside her – leaving a body-shaped indent. When it returned after her daughter was born – and the daughter complained of the man watching her at night – the woman determined she needed to do something about it. She cast a ward of sorts around her house, and she hasn’t seen it again. However – and here’s the kicker – she was afraid that after sharing the story with the author, the thing would find her again. No word on it if did or not. (Want to read more? Check out p67-69, More Ghost Stories of Alberta, by Barbara Smith).
That is, the power of the story being written down and shared would somehow give power to or alert the spirit to where she was. At least, that’s how I interpret it. Then again, I do believe in the power of words, even if I’m not always certain how that power works.
What do you think? Are words powerful? Does the writing and sharing of a story imbue it with particular power? Thoughts?
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