My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!
Muslim, and the related words salaam, Islam, and Salem, ultimately comes from Arabic salam, “peace”. In Arabic and other Semitic languages, a trio of consonants represents a sort of “core concept” which can be modified or expanded upon by various vowel combinations. In this case, s-l-m indicates “peace” or “safety”.
Salaam, which also means “peace”, is from the traditional Muslim greeting (as)salam ‘alaikum, “peace be upon you”.
Salem, a common name for towns in the Arabic, Hebrew, and European traditions, is from Hebrew, and also means “peace” (from Hebrew shalom, a cousin of Arabic salam). Jerusalem means “the foundation of peace”.
Islam means “submission” (to the will of Allah), in particular “retreat into safety”.
Muslim means “one who submits (i.e. retreats into safety)” (to the will of Allah). Note the prefix mu-, which indicates “one who…”, just as it does in Muhammad.
The s-l-m root begins with powerful, directed energy that expands like light to fill space, and results in manifestation. Given this, it would be a mistake to think of the s-l-m root as meaning “peace” in the sense of “quiet”. Instead, it’s closer to the phonosemantics of balm or calm – some action which manifests peace.
From Proto Indo European root mn, which also appeared as mon and men, meaning “mind, thought”, also the ancestor of mind, mania, mention, mentor, Mandarin, monster, monument, mnemonic, and mazda, among many others. The Greek Mousa, or Muses, were spirit genii of the Arts. The Greek term mousikos meant “in the domain of the Muses”, and mousike techne was “the art of the Muses”, and could mean any of the Arts, but particularly music. Latin borrowed this as musica, which became musique in Old French and music in English around 1250.
Music is simply a manifestation of flowing, rounded energy — directed, strong, and sensual.
What a lovely word!
Mystic derives ultimately from the Greek word myein, meaning “to close”. (The further origin of myein is unknown.) In later Greek times, the Greeks had any number of religions that were extremely secretive, and an initiate into one those religions was known as a mystes, a “closed one”. The secret rites or doctrines of these religions were known as mysteria (you see where this is going now, right?) Nowadays these old religions are known as “mystery religions”, and their structure and mysteria have been a huge influence on European ceremonial magic.
This word was used in the Greek Bible to refer to the sacraments, and so came into English as mystery in the 1300s, referring specifically to religious rites. It quickly developed its additional meaning of “anything hidden or unknown”. The word mystic, meaning roughly “pertaining to the sacraments”, also came into English in the 1300s. It was not applied to occult practices or ancient religions until the 1600s.
The sound-correspondence with mist is immediately obvious, and both words refer to things hidden, or half-glimpsed. They begin with the “m” of manifestation; the manifested thing moves up with light energy, and shatters into multiplicity (”s”) along a path (”t”). Taken altogether, the reference seems to be to the veil itself — the thing which does the hiding. That is, the manifestation, the movement, and the dispersal along a path describes the action of the misty mystic veil.
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