Make your own free website on Tripod.com




Home




The (Hopi) World According to Whorf -- a Brief Note

According to the linguistic work of Benjamin Lee Whorf, the Hopi language with its three tenses of present-past, future, and generalized is much better equipped to describe the vibratory and transformative phenomena of modern physics than is English. Whereas the English language imposes the two Newtonian universal forms of static, three dimensional space and perpetually flowing, one dimensional time, the Hopi language structures the world and the perception of it via their language in a completely different manner.


"It imposes upon the universe two grand cosmic forms, which as a first approximation in terminology we may call MANIFESTED and MANIFESTING (or, UNMANIFEST) or, again, OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE. The objective or manifested comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses, the historical physical universe, in fact, with no attempt to distinguish between present and past, but excludes everything we call future. The subjective or manifesting comprises all that we call future, BUT NOT MERELY THIS; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental— everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the HEART, not only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants, and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature in the heart of nature, and by an implication and extension which has been felt by more than one anthropologist, yet would hardly ever be spoken of by a Hopi himself, so charged is the idea with religious and magical awesomeness, in the very heart of the Cosmos, itself."*


Hence the subjective world of emotions, thoughts, hopes, and desires as well as the inner life of everything in the natural world are engaged in a perpetual dynamic process of becoming objectively manifested in the world of the senses. Unlike Western cultural perception, the Hopi view makes no distinction between the manifest physical world (the present) and that which has been heretofore manifested (the past); thus the former world of the ancestors is always close at hand. However, as the past becomes sufficiently vague and distant enough to encroach upon the insubstantiality of the mythical dimension, it again takes on the characteristics of the subjective. Hopi language uses primarily verbs rather than nouns (as do the European languages) to describe metaphysical concepts in general and this mythical realm in particular, which in its own way is as mercurial as small particle physics. However, the word meta-physical is not quite appropriate to denote this subjective state, since it is not truly “beyond.” In lieu of this we can perhaps coin the word “intra-physical” to better describe its potentiality.

Whorf further designates the subjective, or unmanifested, realm as “a vertical and vitally INNER axis” symbolically connected to the pole of the physical zenith and subterranean nadir. Mirroring the verticality of the growing corn plant, a dietary mainstay that has substantial spiritual connotations for the Hopi, this axis is “the wellspring of the future,” which flows from the inside outward to manifestation on the horizontal plane. All Hopi ceremonies, both exoteric and esoteric, are an attempt by one means or another to urge forward this process of germination and development, much like the alchemist whose opus includes both chemical and psychological transmutations in order to assist and hasten the natural “growth” or evolution of baser metals into spiritual gold, of which physical gold is merely the tangible result. The Hopi perform their elaborate and time consuming ceremonies primarily to promote the flux of life which, as a by-product, fulfills their physical needs. In other words, they are keeping the world in balance, thereby meeting their basic requirements.

The life force constantly streams from the inner heart of the Hopi world outward across mesas and plateaus of the physical realm toward distant vistas of mythical consciousness (the intra-physical) where its energy is again transformed into the subjective realm and brought via chthonic pathways back to the sacred center. This circuit is the proprietary function of Masau’u, god of metamorphosis, whose domain includes both the horizontal plane of the intercardinal directions and the vertical axis mundi ranging from the Underworld to the stars.



* Benjamin Lee Whorf, John B. Carroll, editor, Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press, 1971, reprint 1956), pp. 59-60.



Copyright 2004 by Gary A. David. All rights reserved
Any use of text without the author's prior consent is expressly forbidden.

Contact: e-mail islandhills@cybertrails.com