Sunday, June 8, 2008

On the interconnectedness of freaking everything

I was barely into the first chapter of this book called Solomon's Temple: Myth and History, and I came across a linguistic factoid that had never occurred to me, although it should have. The word "orientation" comes from the same word that "oriental" does (Latin, oriens, meaning "East"). To orient yourself is to determine your position in relation to other things, and originally, the term would refer to the East, the direction of the rising sun, as a reference point for that purpose.

It struck me kind of funny: I'm so used to the seemingly random, arbitrary nature of the English language, I don't even notice when the links between words are totally obvious. Maybe if I got that OED out of storage...

Anyway, this came up in the book in comparing the orientation of Solomon's temple toward the east with the similar lay-outs of earlier Canaanite temples. On the same page, the authors (William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely, by the way) refer to the fact that the ceremonial basin the priests washed with before their rituals was called the "yam," meaning "sea." They compare the Biblical creation story to Mesopotamian ones, about how the earth was wrested from "Chaos--represented by the primeval waters" (p. 10). The name of the watery chaos being was, of course, Yam.

(You can read up about this on the Wikipedia at, with a whole freakin' boatload of bibliography that I'd like to read, if I had the time to clear off the enormous stacks on my coffeetable right now).

Me being me, I said, "Hey! In Sanskrit, Yam (with the added intrinsic "a" sound, to make him Yama) is also the name of the Vedic god of death!" Now, beyond any sort of tenuous conceptual connections one would like to make between chaos and death, there doesn't seem to be any real similarities in their stories. At least as far as someone like me can tell, who couldn't read the original sources even if they were available in handy forms. (My English Rig Veda hasn't come in the mail yet, either). Not in their broad outlines, shall we say.

Nonetheless, it's an intriguing coincidence.

Of course, the chorus to the old punk rock hit "I'm a Cliche" (by the fabulous X-Ray Spex) also contains the lines "Yama yama yama yama yama yama." And later, after the band broke up, lead singer Poly Styrene became a Hare Krishna. Once again, I draw no conclusions. Maybe I need to add a new category for my posts, called "Lattice of Coincidence."

1 comment:

Dan said...

Life is only random if you choose to believe so. Most of us find comfort in our belief of a random universe.

If things are intimately connected, then what becomes of our free will?

I think "coincidences" are much like deja vu, that is, if you're paying attention. They're a moment where the mind steps out (escapes?) it's programming and shows us the interconnectedness of everything. It's up to us to take notice, or go about our day, asleep as usual.

Speaking of "coincidences"...isn't it just the most amazing coincidence that during an eclipse, the moon fits perfectly over the sun, leaving only the corona. Wow. What a coincidence.