Thursday, October 23, 2008

Epiphany and Epicalyptry

Drew from Traverse City, Michigan, asked an interesting question: What is the opposite of an epiphany?

First, let’s deal with epiphany. In the ancient world, according to myths, epics, and religious works, an epiphany occurred when a god or goddess chose to reveal itself to a mere mortal. Above all, in the ancient world, it was meant to be evidence that the human hero or leader was worthy of knowledge, power, or credibility. It was a compelling endorsement of his or her mission, message, or destiny.

Epiphany came from two Greek terms: epi-, to, and phanein, to show. Thus, it was a manifestation, a deliberate and directed revelation, and an inspiring or instigative appearance.

In the Christian religion, The Epiphany is a specific festival: the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi. In the Western Church, the feast is celebrated on January 6. The account may be found in Matthew 2: 1 - 12.
Another important New Testament epiphany occurs in the account of Jesus’ baptism.

In time, epiphany was secularized and democratized and came to mean any flash of insight, any sudden intuitive realization. It no longer needed a god or goddess or a national hero; it had moved to the internal forum of everyman.

To get back to the original question: what is the opposite of an epiphany? Frankly, I’ve had difficulty finding a word endorsed by widespread usage. Jung used the term anti-epiphany. I haven’t dipped into his works since the 1970s, but at the risk of distortion and simplification, I have a hazy memory that it was a defense mechanism to prevent an overload of information and revelation. Some things it’s better not to realize; blocking--at least on a temporary basis--isn’t always negative.

So, let me approach the question from an etymological perspective. An epiphany leads a person to a burst of internal light. We need a term to metaphorically express leading a person to a dark cave. Let’s save the epi-, meaning to, and let’s add the combining form -calyptry, from the Greek kalyptra, covered and hidden as by a veil.

Thus, we have epicalyptry [ep´-ee-cal-ip´-tree], deliberate concealment from self or resistance to insight. Spread the word, folks. Let’s get it into dictionaries.

SIDEBAR: Epiphanies as discontinuous change experiences

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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