Senzar The Mystery of the Mystery Language, Part 1

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Senzar The Mystery of the Mystery Language, Part 1

By John Algeo

Senzar and Other Languages

Much of what Blavatsky says about Senzar makes it seem to be an ordinary language like other languages, especially if we read her comments uncritically or with an excessively literal interpretation. Indeed, the question of what Senzar is, is significant precisely because it is a typical case of the temptation to interpret Blavatsky (and other theosophical authorities) in a literal, materialistic way, when what they are talking about is often something more symbolic and abstract.

The temptation to literalize is ever present and is fostered by Blavatsky herself. For example, she describes a dream in which she was studying Senzar in the Master K.H.'s house at the same time that she was improving her English with his aid (ML 471). We might leap to the conclusion that Senzar and English are similar things. This was, however, a dream only, and even so, her description does not tell us what sort of thing Senzar is.

In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky quotes a "Senzar Catechism" (I, 9), which is elsewhere referred to as the "Esoteric [or Occult] Catechism." This catechism is not necessarily written in Senzar; it may instead be about Senzar, as its alternative titles suggest that it is about esoteric or occult subjects.

The straightforward definition of Senzar in The Theosophical Glossary (295) makes it sound like an ordinary language put to extraordinary uses:

Senzar. The mystic name for the secret sacerdotal language or the "Mystery-speech" of the initiated Adepts, all over the world.

Because of statements like this, we can also assume that when Blavatsky uses expressions like "secret sacerdotal language" or "mystery speech," she is probably referring to Senzar.

Yet Blavatsky sometimes uses terms in broad and overlapping senses. Consequently we cannot be sure that all her statements about a "primordial," "sacred," "secret," "sacerdotal," or "mystery" language refer to Senzar, though it seems likely that many of them do. Some apparent contradictions, however, may be due to her using such terms of both Senzar and other languages. We cannot be sure. Even her use of the terms language and speech is by no means so conclusive as it might appear in identifying what Senzar is — a matter considered in detail below.

Blavatsky does explicitly compare Senzar and other ordinary languages. For example, she speaks of the "Senzar and Sanskrit alphabets" (CW XII, 642), as though they were parallel things. She contrasts Sanskrit as an ancient vernacular language with

the sacred or Mystery-language, that which, even in our own age, is used by the Hindu fakirs and initiated Brahmans in their magical evocations" (Isis II, 46).

She calls the "sacerdotal language or "mystery-tongue" the "direct progenitor" or "root" of Sanskrit (II, 200, CW V, 298) and identifies Senzar as being "ancient Sanskrit" (Isis I, 440).

Blavatsky also seems to relate Senzar to Avestan, the language of the most ancient Persian scriptures, but her comments in that regard are susceptible of more than one interpretation.

The book containing the ancient Persian hymns is often called the Zend-Avesta; hence the name Zend was formerly used for the language in which the book was written. However, the word zend means a 'commentary,' Zend-Avesta denoting something like 'Interpreted Avesta' or 'Avesta with Comments.'

Blavatsky is well aware of the proper meaning of Zend when she makes a punning identification of it with Senzar, in the kind of "occult etymology" that she was fond of, but that no philologist would accept as having historical validity. We might call such wordplay "synchronic etymology."

[By contrast with the usual sort of diachronic (or historical) etymology that philologists practice and with allusion to C.G. Jung's principle of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence.]

There is no historical, causal connection between the words in question, but their similarity of sound is a meaningful coincidence. What H.P.B. says about Zend and Senzar bears careful examination:

... the word "Zend" does not apply to any language, whether dead or living, and never belonged to any of the languages or dialects of ancient Persia ... It means, as in one sense correctly stated, "a commentary or explanation," but it also means that which the Orientalists do not seem to have any idea about, viz., the "rendering of the esoteric into exoteric sentences," the veil used to conceal the correct meaning of the zen-(d)-zar texts, the sacerdotal language in use among the initiates of archaic India. Found now in several undecipherable inscriptions, it is still used and studied unto this day in the secret communities of the Eastern adepts, and called by them — according to the locality — Zend-Zar and Brahma or Deva-Bhashya. (CW IV, 517-18n)

Bhashya is Sanskrit for 'speaking, talking'; thus Brahma-Bhashya or Deva-Bhashya means 'divine language.' Elsewhere, H.P.B. cites a letter in which the "secret sacerdotal language" is called Senzar Brahma-Bhashya (CW V, 62). H.P.B.'s remarks on Zend cited above are echoed in the Glossary (386):

Zend means "a commentary or explanation" ... As the translator of the Vendidad remarks ... : "what it is customary to call 'the Zend language', ought to be named 'the Avesta language', the Zend being no language at all ... Why should not the Zend be of the same family, if not identical with the zen-sar, meaning also the speech explaining the asbtract symbol, or the "mystery language," used by Initiates?

However, if Zend and Senzar are "of the same family, if not identical," and if Zend is "no language at all," what shall we conclude about the nature of Senzar? Apparently that it too is no language at all. Moreover, in both the above passages, H.P.B. indicates that Senzar (under the punning names Zend-Zar and Zen-Sar) has something to do with interpreting esoteric communications into exoteric forms and with explaining abstract symbols. This connection with abstract symbols is significant, as we shall see.

Despite these comparisons of Senzar with ordinary language, and other such comparisons noted below, Senzar is no ordinary form of speech. It is secret. It is distributed over the whole globe. It is used by initiated adepts. It involves the explanation (Zend) of abstract symbols. And it has other peculiarities that set it off from ordinary lanaguage.



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