They say that the only sure things in this world are death and taxes.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently discovered that I could not file my return for last year.
Having gone through the yearly ritual of gathering the sacred paperwork and entering the numbers in their allotted places, I pressed the key that would send my documents winging their electronic way through the aether, when suddenly I was confounded by an error message. Repeated attempts, garnered the same result, and it quickly became clear that the I would not be filing my taxes this day, because some enterprising citizen had already filed a return in my name.
Oh, happy day!
My regular readers may remember that I’d experienced some Identity Theft last year, when I discovered that someone had taken out a loan in my name. In the months that have passed since, I’ve done everything that one is advised to do in these situations. My accounts have been flagged by all the proper credit agencies. A monthly analysis is performed, looking for any fraudulent activity or accounts.
Until now, it seemed like the business with the loan might turn out to be an isolated incident.
And now I’m filling out forms in the old-fashioned way and sending them off to Ye’ Old Internal Revenue Service, along with photocopies of those precious documents which prove that I am, who I say I am. All this, in the hope that I’ll see my tax refund…, someday.
Dealing with this (again) has been most taxing (pun, most explicitly intended), and has been the preoccupation of my thoughts, these last few days. And so, instead of writing a new blog this week, I have decided instead to simply repost the relevant portions of a previous post on this topic.
You wake to the crying of the babe.
The fire in the hearth, burning low now, casts familiar shadows about the room as you ease from your bed to check on the child.
A quick peek into the crib and all is well, and all is well.
The restless babe is quiet again, and the room seems safe to your sleep-fogged eyes.
You ease quietly back into bed and are asleep again before head meets pillow.
And all is quiet…,
…until the things in the rafters began to whisper and move.
…until winged shadows flutter from the dark corners like leaves on a breeze.
..until the murmur of coaxing, inhuman voices, drifts up from between the floorboards.
In the dim light of fading embers, long pale fingers reach out,
…and are gone.
And if you know anything of faerie-lore, you know how this tale ends.
What the parents find in the cradle come morning, while it may look like their infant, is something altogether different. The human child is gone, and will live the remainder of its days among the hidden folk. Left in its place is a changeling, one of their own kind, grown old and feeble after a life of centuries beyond count, and magically disguised to resemble the vanished infant.
The legends speak of many different ways in which the duped parents might eventually reveal the truth and rid themselves of the cunning gremlin that had invaded their home. But the missing child was almost always beyond recovery.
The only sure defense against the faeries, it was said, was to have the newborn baptized before they could come to claim it. Now, it is important to remember that most of these traditions pre-date the arrival of Christianity, and this particular part of the legend, like most intersections of the newer faith and older custom, is a bit misleading.
It is not the act of baptism itself that protects a child from faerie abduction, although it may seem to. Rather it is the act of granting the child a name, that does the trick.
Our ancestors understood that the world around them was shaped by language. A child, unnamed, undefined as it were, did not yet fully occupy a place in our world, and was vulnerable.
For my more skeptical acquaintances, the belief that to know the ‘true’ name of a thing is to have absolute power over that thing, is pure foolishness and superstition. And yet here we are, living in a world where that most ancient axiom of magic is proven, again and again, every single day.
A numerologist would tell us that our lives are guided by a collection of numbers. An economist would say the same thing. The two might argue about where the numbers come from, but the fundamental truth of the statement is unchanged.
The naming and numbering of things is the very foundation of our relationship to the world around us. Everything that exists, every object, every idea, has a name of its own. To know the name is to know the thing, and the better you know a thing, the more power you have over it. What we think of as science, is simply a codified, ritualized system for the naming of things, and it has been around since our earliest progenitors began stacking one rock atop another.
In the old stories, to know the true name of a living being, no matter how great his power, was to have power over him. The ancient Hebrews guarded the name of their god, because to speak it was to invoke his power, and to write it down was more dangerous still. Likewise, the Druids passed their knowledge verbally, from one generation to the next, taking care to never write it down, lest the power to transform reality should fall into hands less responsible and learned, than their own.
The naming of things, the ability to understand and manipulate them as expressions and concepts that exist beyond mere physicality, is the greatest power we have as a species. As smallest child learns that ancient truth while reading Rumplestilskin, so the most studied theologian must glean the same truth, hidden within his holy scriptures.
Et verbum caro factum est — And the word was made flesh.
We are the words, and the flesh, and the power.
And until we accept that truth, we are vulnerable!
Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names, they can undo us.