Friday, July 19, 2013

Mystical River

The linkage between the mystic and the riverine turns out to be Mystic, Connecticut, so named because the place was once called missituk in the Algonquian language. So the English settlers there, who were, perhaps, still closer to the “mystic” generally, labeled the place with the English word that most closely approximated the sound the locals made. So now, the obliging associational framework that I’m blessed with immediately suggests that Mississippi must be related here. Slowly, please. Well, it’s best always to be thorough—and Online Etymology Dictionary comes to the lazy man’s aid. In that Algonquian missituk the missi actually means large; the river is the tuk.  So what about Mississippi?

Turns out that comes from the lingua Ojibwa, if I may put it that way. The original was mshiziibi. Here the front part mshi also means “big,” suggesting some kinship between the two languages. The latter part, ziibi, however, is river. Big river. Therefore my title, linking Mystic, CN to a river is slightly overstated. It really means “big” with a “tic,” but Mystic, with a population of 4,205 is actually small.

Which brings me to mystic as such—a word that recently surfaced again in Brigitte’s and my conversation. The word has its origins in Greek (mystikos), a word then echoed in Latin, the languages derived from it, eventually also English, what with the Norman Invasion playing a role. It’s core meaning is the “secret,” “occult,” and “hidden”—traditionally associated with religious faith and the secrets that it contains, extended to practices and knowledge associated with such faith. The Greek mystes, meaning “one who has been initiated,” is the root of mystikos. Initiated into what? The hidden, occult, and hard-to-know.  Life, you might say, is a mystical river, very hard to understand if we think about it. Parts of it, certainly, like the banks that it passes, are graspable enough. Always changing yet never or always the same. Some of it, like its rapids and great waterfalls, mean “interesting times.” But what it’s really all about—why that’s a puzzlement.

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