Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Yat

[This is the 25th of my April A-Z Challenge series of posts on Symbols, Glyphs, and Sigils. Each day I'll try to include some material that old-school role-playing gamers will find useful, but I can't guarantee that there won't also just be a few posts filled with weirdness for the sake of weirdness....]

"Yat" is a letter of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet that doesn't exist any more.  Where did it go?

Back in the 1700s, it represented a unique vowel sound, but spoken sounds tend to slip and slide with the centuries.  By the early 1900s it was kind of redundant, and the rules for its proper use were complicated.  It was called "...the monster-letter, the scarecrow-letter ... washed with the tears of countless generations of Russian schoolchildren."  And the Soviets gave it an unceremonious heave-ho.

There are some theories out there that this particular letter was singled out for persecution by the Communists because it kind of looks like a church topped by a cruciform spire, or like the traditional sovereign's cross-bearing orb.  I've also seen a grim joke that noticed that the word for "bread" in Russian was spelled with a Yat, so that its removal heralded the coming of the famines of the 1920s.

Like many things, though, what was old can be made new again.  Since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, there's been some nostalgia for the Yat, with it being called a "white swan" and "that most Russian of letters."

Why bring up this remnant of the era of Catherine the Great?  Even though its link to religion may be apocryphal, it's yet another reminder that in many cultures, writing and the alphabet were regarded as holy and sacramental.  One can't simply decide to throw away a letter from Sanskrit, or Hebrew, or Arabic!  There have even been times when mystics have received secret languages that were claimed to be from God himself.  The Golden Dawn (see my K-post and M-post) made use of the Enochian language taught to John Dee in the late 1500s, and they tricked it out with more psychedelic colors than you can shake a lotus-wand at...

Modern Enochian scholars have put an incredible amount of work into trying to understand this language and what the "angels" told Dee and other seers.  Some of it seems to approach a new mythology for a new age (click on Ben Rowe's Book of the Seniors if you have a spare week to delve deeply).  Some of it, though, seems to get people running over the same old ground, finding their same old fears dressed up in different clothes.  (Out of courtesy I won't link to those that I suspect of going down that road.)  Even with the benefit of the angels whispering in our ears, I guess we can always choose to turn up the volume on the iPod...

1 comment:

  1. if the dish ran away with the spoon, perhaps YAT ran off with a doubloon