While in Chicago recently I picked up a few books on Ganesha specifically. I’ve already made my way through the smallest, which is essentially a booklet. The title is something like Shree Maha Ganesha Siddhi Vrat.
For anyone unfamiliar, “vrat” is the source of the word vow and typically translates as “fast,” meaning to abstain from food for a period of time as a means of purification. The word “siddhi” has many translations and often refers to some beneficent result of having performed some manner of penance. So, loosely, you complete a vrat and achieve some kind of siddhi. My general understanding of siddhis is that they shouldn’t be sought, and can end up being misused or a distraction – but that they can also be quite beneficial, especially when used for others’ good, and can also serve as “milestones” in personal/spiritual progress.
So this booklet details what it indicates is the fool-proof-est way of obtaining a Ganesha siddhi through a very specific vrat. I’m cool with this, aside from the info in the booklet being mostly uninteresting. But something about the booklet kept jabbing me.
Throughout the booklet, instead of telling the reader the right time to intone a mantra, it would instruct the reader and person attempting the vrat to “say the spell.” My first thought is that this is a translation error. My second thought is one of indignation – afterall, mantras aren’t SPELLS, right?
But wait… for a brief period, after Christianity and before Hinduism (and in fact the reason I even encountered Hinduism) I studied paganism and witchcraft. Spellwork was a huge part of this. Anybody will tell you that a spell is something you say to make something happen. On the mundane level, the very foundation of all language is spellwork. More magically, however, we’re talking about something higher than the mundane that we’re still trying to make happen via words. Are mantras any different than spells?
When you break everything down, yes. They are different. But beyond that, from actual formulation clear up through practical application, mantras are as much like spells as they are different. It’s odd. And while we’re at it, “prayer” in other religions is no different. We’re speaking what we want in hopes that something higher or bigger than us will get things moving. I think in my estimation, the biggest difference is that Hinduism cites more than a little science behind the formulation of it’s myraid mantras – something definitely different than the spell an English speaking witch would cast, which more than anything is devotion emotion in spoken form.
How beneficial is it to split spiritual hairs? I’m assuming it’s only as beneficial as knowing whether there’s power behind your actions and words, or whether you’re kind of just making it up.
Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha