Om, Pagan, Paradise

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!


From Wikipedia:

OM is a mystical or sacred syllable in the Dharmic [i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, and other closely related] religions. It is placed at the beginning of most Hindu texts as a sacred exclamation to be uttered at the beginning and end of a reading of the Vedas or previously to any prayer or mantra.

Wikipedia also compares Om to Amen; in this connection it’s interesting to add also the Revival Druid exhortation Awen.

It first appears in ancient Vedic Sanskrit manuscripts, meaning something like “yes”, “verily”, “so be it” — much like Amen. As time went on and Hinduism developed, it came to mean something much more profound. It is variously described as

  • a magnificent syllable for meditation
  • the goal of all spritual practice
  • the utterance of the perfect soul at death
  • the voice of God
  • the mystic name of the union of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma
  • the principle of three-in-one
  • the sound of the universe’s vibration

According to phonosemantics, Om has no beginning (no first sound); its process is “the most fundamental sound, the source and beginning of all things” (the “short o”), and the result is manifestation (”m”). The word Amen, from Hebrew for “truth”, has the same primary syllable, and thus has the same core meaning. The second syllable (”en”) may indicate that the manifestation passes into sustained energy (”e”) and resolves into thought, wisdom, and nobility. (How about that! The whole history of the universe in one word!) Druidic Awen, which is used religiously in much the same way, is derived from Welsh and originally referred to the divine inspiration of bards (the “fire in the head”); phonosemantically it is identical to Amen, except that instead of the “m” of manifestation, it has “w”, meaning free will.


From the Proto Indo European verb pag, “fasten”, which is also the ancestor of peace, pact, newfangled, pole, peasant, propogate, and travel. In Latin pag became pangere, “to affix or fasten”. In classical times the smallest administrative unit of the Roman Empire was a pagus, so called because it was delimited (”fixed”) by markers (compare Tolkien’s nickname for Rohan, one of the few countries in Middle Earth with fixed borders: “The Mark”). Naturally enough, someone who was from one of these districts (usually far away from the cities) was called a paganus.

At this point the usual story is that as Christianity took over the towns and cities of Rome, the rural areas held fast to the old ways; and thus the word paganus became applied (derogatorily) to non-Christians — equivalent to calling them hillbillies. An alternative theory is that it’s derived from Roman military slang for “civilian, incompetent soldier”, which early Christians picked up alongside the military imagery of the church at that time (i.e. if a Christian was a soldier of Christ, then a non-Christian was a paganus). In either case, the word was borrowed into English in the late 1300’s in its religious sense.

The modern word Pagan has the same phonosemantics as the ancient Proto Indo European root pag – a place, a location that is flexible or spread wide (like open countryside) but is grounded (”fixed”) into the Source.


Paradise is ultimately of Proto Indo European origin, but its journey to English has taken it on a grand tour of the ancient world. It’s formed from a combination of two PIE roots:

  • per, a preposition meaning “through, across, around”, the ancestor of English per (as in three per dollar) and peri- (as in periscope, perimeter, periphery, and period);
  • dheigh, “to knead, to form from clay”, ancestor of dairy, figurine, dough, and fiction.

These elements came into Avestan, an Indo European language spoken in Persia (modern Iran) around 1000 BC, as pairi and deza respectively. Avestan pairidaeza literally meant “create a form around; enclosed area”, and was used to refer to enclosed yards, parks, and gardens. Pairidaeza was borrowed into Greek as paradeisos, and originally referred to Persian hunting parks or orchards; but it was used in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, to refer to the Garden of Eden. In the Greek New Testament, paradeisos was used to refer to heaven itself. Paradeisos in turn was borrowed into Latin as paradisus, descended into Old French as paradis, and finally entered English around 1175. Originally in English it referred only to the Garden of Eden, but by 1300 it could mean any heavenly, Eden-like place.

The combination of the “p” and “r” in the first syllable indicates a place associated with strong energies. The vowel — a short “a” usually — indicates a balanced, even area. The second syllable continues the association with balanced energy, but the third introduces a new theme: a doorway that leads to an expansive place, a region of intellectual and creative pursuits, goal-oriented, conducted with flourish. Does sound rather nice, doesn’t it?


Links, quotes, and ideas of interest from the past few days:

  • A couple of quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh that really spoke to me:
    • “If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there – thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems – then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvellous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.”
    • “People deal too much… with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?”
  • The Killing Blow: A beautiful poem about war and peace by my fiancée.  “The hills grow soft, will not be rushed / as last year’s dead lift up / the small, white blossoms of the spring.”
  • Socialist Vikings? Why are the modern Nordic nations (Norway, Sweden, Denmark…) so different from their marauding Viking ancestors?… Well, maybe they’re not. My latest at Pagan+Politics.
  • “To be angry is to let others’ mistakes punish yourself. To forgive others is to be good to yourself.” – Master Cheng Yen
  • The Reporting of Sexual Abuse in Egypt. A classic case of pots and kettles. “While the sexual assault of Lara Logan can be attributed to the ‘misogynist culture of Islam,’ the sexual assault of 1 out of 3 women wearing the US military uniform is always only the result of deviant behavior by deviant individuals. …”
  • Have you filled out my survey? Tell me what you want!

2 responses to “Om, Pagan, Paradise”

  1. […] Jeff Lilly at Druid’s Journal is revisiting some of his “word of the day” posts from his old blog. One that he posted recently was “pagan.” […]


  2. Great Post, thought you might enjoy this poem that i wrote in the style of a Druidic invocation for my Beltane Blessing machinima film

    Bright Blessings
    elf ~


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