Editor’s Note: Language is one of the most significant elements of any culture. If a language goes extinct, the culture will go extinct within a few generations. Languages are not just a way of communicating, they represent a worldview. Relation to the natural world is a clear example. In the English language, natural elements are referred by a neutral gender pronoun, “it.” It is not a coincidence that the same pronoun is used to refer to inanimate or nonliving beings. On the other hand, many cultures (both indigenous and nonindigenous) refer to natural elements with a gendered pronoun, similar to the ones used to refer to a person. For anyone who is a part of the culture, the language that they learn shapes how they view natural elements. An English speaking child is more likely to view nature as inanimate, compared to a child whose language ascribes personhood to nature. In the following essay, Mankh explores the origin of the language and its relation to our worldview.

Upside Down Ox Houses and Indigenous Place-Based Languages

By Mankh

“And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:26

What if Indigenous languages hold some of the keys to rectifying climate chaos, habitat destruction and the overall insatiable global commerce structure aka “dominion over…,” while English and other alphabetized languages are part of the problem, in fact they have been encouraging an upside down approach for approximately 4000 years?

Nowadays you can hear people comment how the world seems inverted, topsy-turvy, upside down. What if the roots of that go back to the alphabet. I have good reason to think that is at least part of the conundrum because the letter A is based on the picture of an Ox head, but upside down; at one point sideways, too, but eventually upside down.

Livestock are domesticated animals and one aspect of that domestication is that Ox are often castrated male cattle. “Oxen are thought to have first been harnessed and put to work around 4000 BC.” Estimates are that the alphabet began to take shape around 2000 BC, but of course the lettering system was based on previous experiences and lifestyles put into picture forms which then became the AlphaBet (Greek, Alpha Beta), otherwise known as Ox House, or more accurately, Upside Down Ox House.

“House” is from “B” representing an enclosed structure. The ancient Egyptian “reed-house” B gives a sense of organic architecture and Hebrew includes the nuances “container” or “vessel” – “the created world is meant to house within it the spiritual.”[2] Yet the prevalent association with B is House. On your way to work, perhaps you drive by a temple Beth-El or “House of God.” The “B” from “House” is not upside down (though the Etruscans had it facing the opposite way) and has various spellings/pronunciations, including: Bayit, Beith, Bet, Beth, Beh, or Vet. Picture of Hebrew “Beith” ―


The AlphaBet is based on phonetic abstractions which have shaped the minds and thinking patterns of people worldwide. “An alphabet, being the most abstract form of writing, enhances left-brain values the most.” And more than that, “The alphabet-people’s god became indisputably male and he would become disconnected from things of the earth. He was abstract, nowhere, and yet everywhere at once.”

“It is no mere coincidence that the first book written in an alphabet is the Old Testament.” ~ Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus The Goddess (1998)

While doing research for this article, the only possibility I found as to when and why the Ox shape became inverted was when the alphabet was being adapted from Phoenician to Greek and perhaps “the adapter didn’t seem to be certain of the orientation of the letters, because several were rotated or inverted,” also, changes with regard to “sound, name, letter shape and order.” Regardless of why it happened, this essay is putting forth that what the inversion represents rings true because the civilizations that followed have proved it so: The inverted Ox represents domestication and the ensuing dominion over “every creeping thing” ― which, by the way, reads as the precursor to the US Empire’s “full spectrum dominance.”

As a side note, mathematics got the Ox angle correct, but interpretations are up for grabs. “The ∀ symbol may look like the familiar capital ‘A’ written upside down, but in mathematics (specifically in predicate calculus), the ∀ is a logic symbol or universal quantifier. You can use it in place of ‘for all.’”

Speaking of universal quantifiers, along with the monetization of language (the first cuneiform wedges recorded transactions) was the religiosity, which when both of those (commerce and religion) merged with the mechanical, made for a world change comparable to the computer/Internet about 500 years later. The confluence of Gutenberg’s press, beginning circa 1450s, and Columbus’ commericalized colonization crusade, beginning 1492, cannot be overlooked. Along with Columbus on the boat came The Book aka Bible and the eventual franchising of religious concepts which have converted much of the world with the Word of God and the barrel of a gun, both foreign concepts to the Original Inhabitants of Turtle Island and Indigenous Peoples elsewhere.

And the book became a product to sell. The letters traveled, while Indigenous place-based languages stayed (you can guess it), where they’re at.

If you consider the upside down Ox as domesticated and the House as the modern emblem of success (think billionaires with more than one, or the goal of the average American to comfortably maintain one), then it becomes clearer how AlphaBet has and continues to shape people’s priorities as well as societal behavior patterns. Ownership of domesticated land and property is the key ingredient of predatory, colonized, commercial wealth. And domesticated cattle became the, ahem, cash cow of the fast-food industry.

Gutenberg’s press fostered a mechanical way of thinking and behaving, an assembly line of movable type promoting a book consciousness, the production format of which Henry Ford and then McDonald’s would ‘master’ ― the essence of the modern American lifestyle, faster and cheaper, a perfect storm of on-the-go religious colonialism mixed with corporate and state backing, or what I call “drive-thru theofascism.” The more recent propulsion of technology, gadgets, and AI (Artificial Intelligence) has exacerbated all that.

Now, flip all that upside down for the Indigenous perspective. Or for trying to navigate both the natural world and the mechanical world, be aware that excessive mechanical-ness dulls spontaneity, the ability to think for one’s self, and embrace the fact (yes, the fact) that plants and all manner of beings have spirit.

Some years ago on TV I saw a documentary, of which the title now escapes me, and it cited one of the roots of modern English as Frisian, a West Germanic language. What stood out to me was the following which I made note of – the language reflected the following characteristics: warlike; adventurous; greedy; religiosity/Christendom. If that’s not the essence of colonialism and empire, what is?

So the language of adventure that sought its jollies through warring, greed and enforced religion is at least some of the reason for our current troubles. In the film was mentioned a rather poetic phrase, “bone-house”… for “body,” yet many a con man has been known to have a smooth tongue.

Another linguistic reference to cattle and war is found in the Sanskrit, gáviṣṭi (गविष्टि) translated as “desire for more cows, desire for battle.” The only way one can desire for more cows is if they are domesticated. You can desire wild Ox, but to own them or go to war so as to control more of those four-leggeds indicates they are no longer wild.

Did faster language predict fast-food?

“The eye that can read is immediately caught by advertising and propaganda.” ~ Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D., The Rape of the Mind (1956)

Perhaps the seeds of fast-talkers and fast-food were baked into the language. Several examples of how languages became faster, turning into a kind of shorthand, give a clue as to how people may have been conditioned to talk faster, and eventually fast-food on-the-go, a reflection of industrialized assembly line speed with humans as active parts of the machine.“The invention of papyrus as a writing material gave the Egyptians a quicker way to record information than carving into stone.” & “Hieratics eventually gave way to demotic, an even faster way for Egyptians to write.”

From thirty years of sporadically studying and doing brush calligraphy of ancient Chinese pictographs, I have learned that the pictograph for Sun was originally a circle with a wavy line in the center (Large Seal – Ta Chuan, 1122-256 BC), which then morphed into a a circle with a dot in the center (Small Seal – Hsia Chuan, 221-207 BC). But then with Clerical Style – Li Shu, 207 BC-588 AD, a small rectangle with a horizontal line. I suspect this, too, made for speedier communications, though the following alludes to other factors at work:
The Clerical Style “evolved from the late Warring States period” and “The Warring States period was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation.”

Has not much changed since then? As with the above mentioned flavors of cuneiform baked transactions and Frisian war adventures, there appear similarities with the evolution of the Chinese ‘script.’ As to the most current form of “consolidation” along with warfare and bureaucracy, “The largest shareholder of 88% of the companies on S&P 500 is either State Street, Vanguard or BlackRock. And you can see their influence in defense contracts.“

While it’s tricky to pin down, a general progression of peoples and places that contributed to making the current AlphaBet is as follows: Egyptian, Ugaritic/Semitic > Sinai > Palestine and Phoenician > Greek > Etruscans > Latin/Roman and Slavic. The Latin/Roman dominates to this day, as English is made of some 60% Latin-based words. A significant layer of that is the influence of the Roman empire that lingers under the radar in our AlphaBetic consciousness. But more than that, it lingers in the US legal system and echoes the Old Testament, which, as mentioned above, was “the first book written in an alphabet.”

As explained by Peter d’Errico, who has “been involved with Indigenous peoples’ legal issues for more than fifty years”: “The sovereignty claim of ‘Christian discovery’ underpins the entire edifice of US laws regarding Indigenous land rights. It is a US claim of ‘title’ and ‘dominion’ over Indigenous lands. ‘Christian discovery’ necessarily underlies ‘LandBack’ campaigns because the doctrine is embedded in US property law. See Johnson v. McIntosh (1823).”

The language effects the legal system which effects the way in which we relate – or don’t – with the Earth.

Much of humanity doesn’t relate with Earth because of the concept of property and having been domesticated. The word “domestic” has roots mentioning “house, lord, property,” from “domo-” which is also the root of “dominate.”

“Depends on what you look at obviously / But even more it depends on the way that you see” ~ Bruce Cockburn, from “Child of the Wind”

AlphaBet was also a precursor (no pun intended) for the current screen-fixated world, as the AlphaBet is a veneer of the actual environment/land, because the letters are phonetic representations, the pictures of each which you have to study to learn. But how many people who talk, talk, talk actually know the basis for what they are saying? How many people literally connect the language with the land and activities in their immediate environment? Indigenous Peoples do:

“These Indigenous languages that are more at risk than ever — that will be almost extinct at the end of the century — are the most powerful languages, they speak of quantum physics and how to communicate with Mother Earth, and you can’t find them in libraries or on your computers, you have to live them.”
~ Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Cheyenne River Lakota), from keynote talk at the COP 24 Climate Summit, Katowice, Poland, December 2018

Instead of looking at an Ox, the AlphaBet trained people to see an A, as nowadays the screens train people to more so see images of the natural world rather than caring for the actual landscape! And while one could argue that various incidents of deforestation happened in time before AlphaBet, it’s helpful to remember that AlphaBet is a condensed product of those already existing cultures.

Breaking the yoke of the Upside Down Ox House

While reading the excellent book Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science (2022) by Jessica Hernandez, PhD, the phrase “place-based” stood out to me. So I considered a flavor of that: The Inuit/Iñupiat identify many types of snow, and probably ice; according to a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) friend, there are numerous types of Hawaiian rain or ua; the title of the book If You’ve Forgotten the Names of Clouds, You’ve Lost Your Way by Russell Means and Bayard Johnson tells me that the Lakota identify numerous types of clouds; a key aspect of Japanese haiku is kigo or season-word, a poetic-scientific format for identifying a specific time or moment of a season. The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson and Penny Harter identifies sixteen for cherry blossoms, including: “hana no hagoshi – [moon] through [cherry-] blossom petals” and “rakka – fallen [cherry] blossoms.”

I am not qualified to speak for Indigenous Peoples about their languages, but the gist I glean is that when a People have been in a place long enough to study and deeply experience that place in detail, the language, as well as the songs, reflect that – holding keys for the maintenance and sustainability of the place; the land speaks to the People and the People speak back to the land. This rootedness is the opposite (does that count as upside down?) of the AlphaBet that traveled in boats and made its way around the globe, and has been and continues to be an instrumental part of colonization and commercialization.

When a People have place-based knowledge and longstanding experience, those People are voted most unlikely to behave with “dominion over,” rather deep relationship with all the beings there and traveling through there, and whether those relationships are based on survival or love or both, they are still deep relationships. In my little suburban patio/backyard there’s a so-called weed that spreads and takes over; most people remove the plant. One spring into summer I let it grow and then one day I noticed a sparrow nibbling on and thoroughly enjoying something about the tiny clusters of miniscule pink flowers. I learned that those plants are called Pennsylvania Smartweed, yet I’d bet there’s a Native/Indigenous name because, for one, “The Menominee used [and probably still do] this plant to treat hemorrhage, and to aid in post-partum healing.”

Outside the Upside Down Ox House grows a weed to eradicate; for the place-based Native Peoples there thrives a plant-medicine. And therein is at least one of the keys to rectifying an inverted worldview too-often seen through an AlphaBetic mind-frame.

More upside down examples:
“The buffalo is first domesticated somewhere in the near-tropical regions of Asia.” The Plains Indians buffalo was wild and revered. But then:

“In 1800 there were around 60 million buffalo in North America; however, that would drastically change over the next century, changing the lives of the Plains Indians. This is partly due to individual hunters looking to make a profit on the buffalo hides, the government starving the population of the Plains Indians by killing off their primary food source, and the coming of the railroads. The buffalo, like the Indian, was in the pathway of civilization.”

Another upside down:
Man has evolved and progressed from a cave man to his/her/etc. current advanced and ever-advancing status. But then again:
“Because we humans arrived last in this world, we are the ‘younger brothers’ of the other creatures and therefore have to learn everything from them.” ~ Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Lakota)[17]

AlphaBetic technology and spirituality

Now that this essay has properly dissed the AlphaBet, a few comments about its usefulness. What a technological marvel! From twenty-six letters come a daily stream of news and articles along with the seemingly relentless publishing of books, (however, a modern form of deforestation but are e-books any better? Think e-waste dump sites). As a writer and avid reader I can’t help but appreciate the letters and books yet I’ve also come to realize their limitations.

Another aspect needing mention is a kind of eye of the needle of consciousness, as for example in Hebrew, the letters can have sacred sounds and can serve as gateways to other than physical dimensions; the Hebraic Aleph connects the above with the below, as the letter shows. In this case the original Ox horns were somehow rearranged.

Because the core of my path is mystical Kaballah in which the Ox is one of four sacred tetramorphs – in Hebrew the Chioth ha Qodesh (“holy living creatures”) – along with the Eagle, Lion, and Human Being, I had to reconcile this with the aforementioned domesticated Ox. My educated guess, based on how things have played out for some 4000 to 6000 years, is that: In a purer form, the Ox represents patience and productive hard work, and is a provider of many things (akin to how the buffalo has provided for the Plains Indians). However, the Ox’s domestication, castration, and AlphaBetic inversion has morphed into such modern horrors as mega-corporate, agri-business, mono-culture, so-called farming, and concentration camp treatment of animals for consumption.

In an impatient world where lazy entrepreneurs and slave-drivers seek maximum profit from the cheapest labor, I’m sticking with my inner, wild, not castrated, Ox. This Ox, however, is not restricted to being an Ox because the form of hard-worker can be a Buffalo, Horse, Dog, Goat, and so forth.

Although I’m stuck with AlphaBetic English as my main form of verbal expression, I strive to go beyond that barrier, getting glimpses of another perspective as seen through Indigenous and other languages. Because direct experiences often go beyond words, I pay more attention to music, laughter, love, physical exercise, ecstatic states of being, quiet contemplations, to name a few.

In my book Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest, which addresses topics related to this essay, I encourage people to:

“Go through the eye of the needle,
go through the empty spaces in the A and B,
move beyond the framework
the gatepost outlines of the letters,
every day move through the mumbo-jumbo,
the trickster spells entangling the mind and emotions,
the propaganda and lies,
move through someone else’s word of God,
move through someone else’s letter of the law,
move through someone else’s hierarchy of A to F to Z
unravel the bandages of your mummified consciousness…”

Because it is clear to me that Indigenous languages are essential for the well-being of the Nations and Peoples that know and speak them, and essential for the well-being of the Earth and us all, I close this essay with a quote, albeit in English, by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), from her well-known book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

“To be native to a place we must learn to speak its language.”

Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) writes, small press publishes, and is the author of 17 books. He travels a holistic mystic Kaballah-rooted pathway staying in touch with Turtle Island and the cycles of the Seasons. His website:

Photo by Isaac Chou on Unsplash