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“The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
~ Proverbs 12.18 (NIV)

“muwinina. mumirimina. nununi.
These tribes of Aboriginal families
know the mountain as more than rock.
kunanyi, it is called.
Tribal land made in sacred country.”
~ from kunanyi – the mountain – mount wellington by Greg Lehman

Photo of kunanyi-Mt Wellinton by Jo @ Iced Vovo

Photo of Kunanyi-Mt Wellington by Jo @ Iced Vovo

What’s in a Name?

Words have power. One does not need to be a pagan, an occultist, a witch to understand that truth.

Incantation and invocation are always best kept for the individual, shared with those who share our path and worldview, in love and respect. Private expressions of relationships we develop with Land, Ancestor and Deity. They are not all out there for others to just use, like love letters. Well, not all of them. They’re differentiated from the every day language we use on Facebook, and workplace emails. They’re poetic, as a whole and as individual words. They speak to ancestral traditions that might be otherwise lost, or are already, and serve to preserve a hint, an aesthetic, or little clue to that tradition. Part the fabric of our own selves.

The other argument for the importance of words in any craft tradition, obviously is calling the right things by the right names. Amorphous, vague, ever-changing, unfixed words lower the chances of a continued, repeat experience, or the development of relationships with anything, let alone the more subtle and veiled powers. Particularly from an animistic worldview.

Words have power. Politically, socially, emotionally, mentally, intellectually, magically. And in regards to our magical interaction with the world, spiritual growth, resonating with the nature of the hidden and unseen world, manifest in nature, holding sacred and often secret those things we value as personal and private from the prying eyes of the “mainstream”, incubating their power within our own awareness.  There is a sort of creativity to the channelling the aesthetic of by-gone eras into new experiences and visions. Whether or not we can know it, there’s something enchanting about the idea of maybe having heard an ancient whisper alone, and that in itself must be fostered and pursued; the inner sense of connection to threads of ever-evolving power.

Fundamentally, the very same powers are present in our public words. Often the only real difference is intent. When do our words need to be spoken aloud? When can our words participate in public power? And to what end? What impact does this have on our private, intimate communion with spirit?

Old Words / New Words

I grew up in Sydney, and lots of places in Sydney sport distinctive Aboriginal names. Or names derived from Aboriginal words. “Parramatta” (roughly “Eels’ place”) and “Cabramatta” (roughly “grubs’/worms’ place”) are both words transliterated into English from Dhurag language. “Woolloomoolloo” has a history with the Eora Nation, (and again, the Dhurag language group of the Greater Sydney Basin). These two groups, and close neighbours, and their language, are responsible for gifting the world with ‘koala’, ‘wallaby’, ‘wombat’, ‘dingo’ and ‘waratah’. And many others. And the same story is told around the country, both officially, and colloquially.

Here in Tasmania the State Government adapted in 2013, the Aboriginal and Dual Naming Policy, or ADNP. It’s an interesting case. Besides being the last State Government in the country to actually have a policy in place in regards to Aboriginal place naming, despite Hobart being the second oldest town in Australia, it is also the only example of the use of a modern constructed language. Palawa-kani is the work of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community to preserve and record what remains of their language, engaging with the oral traditions passed down, and the testimonials of Aboriginals as recorded by white surveyors since white contact,  particularly in colonial British history. Reconstructed, because on this little island at the bottom of the country, the British were more effective at enacting their policy of Terra Nullus. In other places, Countries, and nations, the languages are still vital, alive and whole, and the words are transliterations. There are descendants of Tasmanian Aboriginals, but alas, no full-blooded people of those nations. British genocidal policies in Tasmania were arguably (quantifiable) far more successful than in other parts of the mainland (which is not to diminish the suffering of any). But that aside, to celebrate this policy recognition, a ceremony was held at the summit of Hobart’s Mountain Sentinel, kunanyi / Mt Wellington.

You can listen and read more about the ceremony and commentary from the Nomenclature Board here, Tasmanian dual naming policy announced atop Kunanyi (ABC 936 Hobart Radio). And learn more about the ADNP by reading the Aboriginal & Dual Naming Policy (ADNP) (DPAC TAS) FAQ 2013.

Obviously, from the perspective of social justice, and recognition, this is an important step for the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. And certainly could not have been held at a more appropriate location. Kunanyi is a sacred site, for everyone. Besides yearly pilgrimage to enjoy the first snows, the Mountain, our Mountain, my Mountain is regularly visited by all, and Hobartians are greatly connected and protective of the Mountain who overlooks them. It defines and shapes the weather on the Western Shore of the Derwent River. And as locations in Australia go, it is only one of very few that you can see this.

And that makes it very magical.

As it has been suggested by the documents linked above, depending on the location and the colloquial customs already existing, the new-old (Palawa-kani) names may not enter into the mainstream parlance. And the old-new (English, Dutch & French) names will remain the primary nomenclature in the community.

But how that matters to an animist working intimately with land and environment is a little more complex and nuanced than social trend. In the first place, actively promoting these terms is an act of promoting progressive social justice and politics. But I can underpin these ideas with a deeper, fuller understanding.

Terra Spiritus Nullius

Contrary to popular belief, Australia, in its entirety was most certainly not “land belonging to no-one”. Though ever effort was made to materialise that dream, and remains the premise upon which Australia achieves sovereign nationhood itself, there were definitely people here. The oldest single civilisation on the earth actually. Aboriginal people have been here doing their thing for 50,000 years (and maybe even longer!). The language of those nations was not imported, but grew in the soils of this Land for a very long time. Recognising this history is also a recognition of white history. Actual white European history, rather than the imaginary kind. And there’s power in recognising these truths on a personal level. Because for better or worse, these truths, and denials, go with each of us as we enter into deeper spiritual communion with Land. We don’t get to leave these things behind. They are woven into who we are as individuals.

But whilst many will pay pleasant lip service to these facts, there’s an undercurrent of denial that persists. We might understand that Australia was never terra nullius, but I find in my interaction with the broader community still a general understanding that our Land is deeply spiritually impoverished; spiritus nullius, requiring meaning to be garnered, grown, promoted and interpreted by European Crafters in precisely the same manner that civilisation was brought to the savage. In the very same way as terra nullius, spiritus nullius is very much a “path of least (or no) resistance”. Because we are not Aboriginal, but European, white, because the power of politic and society stands behind us, even though we, as pagans often do, are in many ways a subculture and subversion of that dominant culture, because it is easier to write a language we know and understand over the rocks and mountains and rivers than it is to meditate upon these words as we are gifted with them. And we are gifted with them, words connected over tens of thousands of years to the Land, and through which we can augment our practices, deepen our understanding, and change ourselves.

I am an animist. Not every pagan is, or even the same sort or type of animist. For myself, I understand that all things have spirit; unique, complex, sentient, individual, linked, interdependent, spirit. And spirit(s) that do not actually take their genesis from me. Which means that they must have had spirit before the late 70’s, and if all spirit(s) does not take it’s genesis from any one individual person, then probably land, mountains, rivers, trees etc., had spirit or were spirited before 1788 CE.

These things even had names.

Entering into Currents of Power

In Hobart, 14,000 plus years is a long time for people to have been using words as they interacted with their environments. Those words might have changed over time, but the threads of participation are clear and uncut. There’s something in that. European witchcraft traditions and Aboriginal spirituality are very different in lots of ways, but the power both place upon words, oral and written, is alike. The significance of names, and the connection to the Dreamtime expressed in the continuity of names and story is no different to our own impetus to preserve Old Norse, or Anglo-Saxon, or Welsh or any other, and the myths of our ancestors written in those languages. Because we know there is power in calling things by their right names, old names, connecting us to our ancestors, our myth. When we call things by their wrong names, we diminish the power of both the word and the spirit of the thing/being.

It is not the path of least resistance. It is the path of surrender. And that is always harder. There are things in the Land here for which there are no names or references in any European language. I can choose to walk away, politely and respectfully ignore these things as “not of my people / not of my language”, or I can do something else.  I can take these words and names with me into the timeless well-spring of Dadirri and meditate upon their meaning, take them with me into the quiet land-space and speak them there as an offering, and perhaps tap into a truly ancient current of power. Forego wishful thinking and anchor my practice in a place of manifestation.

And that place of manifestation is the Land, Nature. Infinitely capable of all manifestation.

Practical Magic

Not all words are the same sort of words. “Dardirri”, explored in my last post, speaks to a practice, a way of being, an intent in itself. A word we can take with us into vision and meditation. “kunanyi” speaks of a location, a place in nature. Working with place names, and names of flora and fauna is a different task.

It’s no surprise the names of places I’ve mentioned here are names I’ve long spoken. Places I know. They’re names associated with rivers, my rivers, whose eels and small things and turtles I’m very familiar with and have been since I was very small. They’ve penetrated my dream-visions. There are other names like “Uluru” “Pilbara” and “Kata Tjuta”, but I do not know these lands. I do believe that actual access to place is necessary before one can speak too much to the spiritual nature of it.

I’ve now lived 5 years under kunanyi’s steadfast gaze. I know that Mount Wellington has a road, and a tourist lookout complete with details of its colonial history, and details of the Clans’ lands it watched over for much longer. And I know that kunanyi has a face. And I believe he does so for all those who live by him and under him and call him by a name he is long familiar with and taught to those who knew his peaks and rock-face for a long time before “Australia”, when he watched over the Palawa people of Lutriwita.

My experience is not an Aboriginal one. But I am ever thankful for these words, names, that, like keys to hidden locks, open new places of communion and wisdom. And I speak them with thanks to the First Peoples who kept these wisdoms red and vital despite the odds. I don’t use many, only those which have been given freely, of places and spirit that I’ve come to know through them, and they pepper my incantations and invocations written unashamedly in English. And a third thing arises. In my practice, in ancient Aboriginal words spoken by a white witch.

Stirring Words, Rousing Spirit

I end this post with an extract from Gregory Lehman‘s “Welcome to Country” offered to attendees of the Making Sense of Place Conference in 2006, and available to read in full at the Wellington Park website, here.

milaythina nika milaythina – mana.
pakana laykara milaythina nika mulaka
waranta takara milaythina nara takara.
milaythina nika waranta pakana,
waranta palawa, milaythina nika

This land is our country
Aboriginal people ran over this land to hunt and many died here.
We walk where they walked.
This country is us
And we are this country.

The Western culture is the only culture in the world – perhaps the only culture that the world has ever known – that argues for the non-existence of any dimension or reality that the senses cannot perceive. Accordingly, every other suggestion of an alternative to scientific, sensorial reality is rendered as metaphor. At surface analysis, this threatens to rob us of having an intimate relationship, not only with our own spirituality, but with the spirit of those presences in our world that all other cultures recognise in some way every day.
This culture drives back the dark and banishes evil demons from our lives. It makes us free to live whatever life our technology invents for us. But what sort of place does it give us to live out our life?

For myself I have answered the question of what sort of life I want to live in relation to place. I continue to explore it, and the commonality that I feel exists between that answer and the vital spirituality of our Indigenous community.

You can read more of Gregory Lehman’s work, Coming to terms with Tasmania’s forgotten war for The Conversation (6 February 2013), other essays and papers at Academia.edu, and his blog Tawatja.

Finally, the only (and eerie wax cylinder) recording of Tasmanian Aboriginal language spoken, from 1903; Fanny Cochrane Smith‘s Tasmanian Aboriginal Songs, songs that still haunt the quiet places, and live in the Ancient language and names of our shared home.

I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land and her Ancient Lore and Stories, their ancestors, past and present, of Hobart, the Mouheneener tribe, and the Land and peoples under kunanyi; and the Land on which I was born, beside the River Tucoerah, the Cabrogal Clan of the Dharug Nation and peoples of the Dhurawal and Dharuk Nations.


This post is the third in a series titled Two Worlds.
Click here to read the first: Two Worlds: Utopia
Click here to read the second: Two Worlds: Just Listen
Click here to read the fourth: Two Worlds: Look Out & “The Sight to See”
Click here to read the fifth: Two Worlds: Tales from the Rainbow Track – Part 1
Click here to read the sixth: Two Worlds: Tales from the Rainbow Track – Part 2

P.S. ‘K’ is for ‘kunanyi’. This post participates with The Pagan Blog Project 2014.

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