This post is a continuation of several posts Ocean has put up recently relating to the topic of Paganism and American Sign Language – how to merge the two together to create a Pagan Sign Vocabulary which can be used by Deaf Pagans, Interpreters, and ASL users to express Pagan concepts in a manual-visual mode of communication. Please be aware that these posts take a serious look at ASL as a language in its own right as utilized by the Deaf Community…not merely a “beautiful cool form of talking with your hands” to be used by the casual self-taught signer simply interested in learning a silent form of expression for use in rituals and the like.
In this post, Ocean shares some of her thoughts about how to translate Pagan vocabulary in American Sign Language (ASL) and gives some suggestions for popular words and phrases. Scroll down to the near end of the post to see a video where she demonstrates her signing of such a phrase. Hopefully this post will be a helpful tool for those Pagans who have ever wondered “what’s the sign for…?”
So how would one go about creating a sign for the word witch?
In my own study group, which consists of many individuals who are either Deaf or involved in the Deaf Community, I asked the group members what their own concept of the word “witch” is…and how they would in fact sign the word themselves. The words which came up most often as associated with “witch” included wise/wisdom, healing, herbs, magick, earth, and nature.
All of them indicated that they were not comfortable with the standard signs used for the word, and rarely used them. One interpreter indicated that he tends to spell it, but if he needed to sign it, would likely say “Wise Person,” a sign that was supported by two Deaf individuals as well. “Heal Person” was also suggested. Another idea was “Honor Earth Person.”
So there you have it, folks. A few ideas…but basically you have to work with your own community and your own Deaf individuals as possible, and develop the signs that work for you.
However, as a friend of mine pointed out, this brings up a new issue – if everyone invents their own sign, how are you able effectively communicate these concepts with others whom you meet?
Therein lies the rub, and this falls back on what I said before about Deaf/ASL Pagans not being “community enough” that signs can be owned and assimilated by members of such.
But even if we were, how do we consolidate the Pagan view of individuality and personal spirituality with the need for an established sign that can be created and utilized as necessary to express given Pagan concepts?
For that matter, how essential is it that we must have that one singular, sole sign that everyone knows and uses and accepts as THE sign for such? In reality, you will find variations of signs through-out the nation. There are many different signs for various words within the Deaf Community around the country. As an example, I have seen several different ways of signing “birthday” depending on the region one is from. Just like we have different words we use (I say “bucket” and you say “pail”), Deaf individuals have different signs.
Even “witch” has a number of sign variations, regardless of whether the Pagan Community chooses to utilize them or not. I’ve seen around five different signs for such myself (none of which are very flattering).
Generally when Deaf people from various parts of the country get together (such as at conferences or various events), they soon learn one another’s signs, and come to a quick agreement as to which ones will be utilized. Signs for Pagan vocabulary would be no different in this respect. If a group of Deaf people were to show up at a Pagan gathering, they along with the interpreters would soon be discussing and determining those signs which they will utilize. It’s all part of the whole language and communication process.
Certainly seeking out feedback from Deaf Pagans, Pagan Interpreters and ASL users in regards to possible signs for Pagan vocabulary can be helpful – especially if in fact you are going to be interpreting these words for a Deaf audience. If that be the case, then I would encourage working with that Deaf audience to develop a sign vocabulary that they agree with and would utilize.
But if you’re simply desiring to develop your own personal Pagan ASL Vocabulary, then essentially it becomes necessary to reach into your own tool bag – both as a Pagan and as an ASL user – to analyze for yourself the meanings of the words and the concepts you wish to convey…and then creating the signs that work best for you.
Now let’s take this just a bit further to translating Pagan phrases…such as “So Mote It Be” or “An It Harm None, Do As Ye Will.”
The same process applies here…and the same grammatical rules. It might be tempting to want to simply sign every word of the phrase. But then it wouldn’t be ASL, it would be English. And it may not actually convey the actual concept of the phrase and what it truly means.
So once again you have to dig down and determine exactly what the phrase means and how you are going to accurately convey that meaning utilizing established signs in the ASL dictionary, or by creating your own signs.
Let’s take the phrase “So Mote It Be.” Going back to my study group, we came up with the following thoughts for interpreting this phrase:
“Make It Happen”
“Make It So”
“Future Happen Will”
There was even some discussion that one could use the sign for “Amen” for this phrase, since they have comparable meanings. For me personally, while I have nothing against Christianity or the word “Amen” I personally don’t use it in my own spiritual practices. But then, Ceremonial or High Magick was never a strong part of my training or practice, so I haven’t really gotten into discussions of the word and its usage. By all means, if one feels comfortable using the sign in this situation, go ahead and do so.
When I think of the phrase “So Mote It Be” it makes me think of Captain Picard saying “Make It So.” When he says this, there is no “woulda, shoulda, coulda” involved. When the Captain says “Warp Speed, engage!” that is what happens. Nothing less. Make it so. So mote it be.
That to me is what the phrase is saying. It is telling us that this is what is going to happen…no ands, ifs, or buts about it. It WILL happen, because we have determined so…we have focused our energy into such a result. There is no room for doubt, there is no room for maybe or might. It will happen, period. The possibility that it might not never enters the equation.
Indeed, “make it happen” is basically how I sign this phrase. I sign “HAPPEN.” For me, that one simple sign says it all. It becomes an entire concept all in itself. I make it happen, I let it happen, it will happen.
So Mote It Be = HAPPEN.
This is not to imply that I think my sign is the only way to express this, or that I don’t like/wouldn’t use the other translations as mentioned above. I like the idea of “finish establish” and I could see myself using that, as well as “decide establish.” I’m not necessarily opposed to the sign “Amen” and I could accept its use by an interpreter, although I have to admit that I don’t see myself using it…but that’s me.
Now let’s move on to another common phrase – the Wiccan Rede, “An It Harm None, Do As Ye Will” (or some similar version of this phrase).
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “And it harm none, do as ye will.” I come across a number of folks who define that to mean that you can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Wellll…that’s not quite how I see it, because if that was the case, then you’d probably be translating “do as ye will” to more or less say “DO WHATEVER WANT” or “THINK YOURSELF”…with the entire phrase signed as “HURT ZERO, THINK YOURSELF”
To me, that’s not what is meant here. Will isn’t intended to mean desire, to describe a want. Will involves something more than just wanting. It’s not a noun, it’s not an emotion.
Will is a verb, it’s an action. It involves focusing your desire and making it come to pass. This is an action that requires conscious thought, movement of energy, and direction…and the result can be quite powerful.
The problem I see with using WILL is that the generally known sign for will (hand moving forward at head level) doesn’t really jive with my view of the word Will (as utilized in a Pagan concept). The sign tends to reference “will” more in a future tense concept, and that’s not how I define the concept of will as used here.
Here are my thoughts on this phrase…
Since I see it as being primarily a guideline, I was thinking that I want to sign it in such a context. Not so much as “carved in stone” authoritative law, but more as a directive for helping us to make proper decisions within our spiritual practice.
So with that in mind, instead of just saying HURT ZERO which was my first idea, I thought to myself that maybe I need to add another sign here…the sign for “suppose” (made with a pinky finger handshape tapping near your eye) and then “hurt zero.”
Then for the second part of the phrase…that got tricky. At first I was thinking along the lines of the concept of focusing your energy (as being the definition of “will.”) Then I started thinking about how I use HAPPEN for the concept of So Mote It Be and wondering if I should be a bit consistent with my concepts and signs and thus use “happen” again here.
To me what this phrase is saying is that as long as no (significant) harm is done, you have free will to go ahead and make it happen. I say significant because I don’t know that it is always possible to not do ANY harm in the working of our magick or whatever. But we do try to minimize the harm to the extent possible.
But anyway…I thought that for the second part, using “happen” again and then the sign for “go ahead” (made with open B handshapes moving forward).
So my ASL translation of this phrase is as follows:
“SUPPOSE HURT ZERO, HAPPEN GO-AHEAD”
I could see the second part signed either HAPPEN GO-AHEAD, or maybe GO-AHEAD HAPPEN. I think the second way might be a tad better…because “happen” then also conveys a bit of the concept of results – the idea that you can then go ahead with making things happen and creating results.
I do think the order of these two signs does change it somewhat. If you put “happen” first, then I would be inclined to want to voice it or at least translate it in my mind to think more along the lines of “no matter what happens, just go for it!” I’m not sure that is what we are talking about here. You are consciously focusing and directing energy towards a specific goal. So I am inclined to put “go-ahead” first as signaling that you are free to make your own decisions to put action into creating the results as indicated by “happen.”
I’m getting too analytical here, ain’t I?
Anyway, I guess I would go with
“SUPPOSE HURT ZERO, GO-AHEAD HAPPEN.”
Of course, tomorrow this could change to something entirely different…
One thing I would like to say…I am not crazy about borrowing from Christian signs and converting them for Pagan use. For example, I have seen individuals use the sign for “Christmas” with a Y handshape to represent YULE, or “Easter” with an O handshape for OSTARA. While these could work, I feel they deviate from the true Pagan concept of the word. Although the signs for Christmas and Easter are both widely used in the Deaf Community, my preference is that they be left as they are and not used as the basis for creating Pagan vocabulary.
In addition, I am not fond of resorting to the use of “initialization” for making up new signs…although I must confess I am guilty of doing this myself – my sign for Pagan uses a P handshape in the same location and movement as the sign for “religion.” I invented this sign many years ago as a way to sign my religion and to show that Paganism is in itself a religion. However, I am now rethinking this sign and considering replacing it with something else.
One will also note that many of the signs for Pagan vocabulary are “compound signs” – two signs used together, such as WISE+PERSON for witch, or DECIDE+ESTABLISH for So Mote It Be. This will probably be the norm…however, I do not recommend using more than two signs for one singular word if possible, although there may be times when you need to use three – such as HONOR+DEAD+NIGHT for Samhain. You may want to fingerspell first, and then follow up with the sign(s) utilized to express the word/phrase.
I hope this does give you some thoughts and guidelines on how to develop signs for Pagan vocabulary. It’s not as easy as simply sending an email to your friendly Deaf Pagan and asking “what’s the sign for…”
What you need to do is ask yourself and your local Deaf and Pagan communities for ideas on how to properly express these concepts. And don’t be afraid to share your own ideas here at the Crossroads and/or with other Pagans, Deaf individuals, and Interpreters for their feedback.
Bright blessings, and the Best of Luck!
For more information about Paganism and ASL, Crossroads visitors are encouraged to read Thoughts on Pagan Sign Language – a three-part series Ocean recently posted here at this blog.