Origins of “Ole!”

RondaBullRingOleWhat does the word “Ole!” make you think of?

Rejoicing, dancing, bullfights, Spain?

But before it was Spanish, it was a religious chant from another country altogether.

The Moors would cheer “Allah!” when witnessing a certain transcendence of creativity. You know that moment: when time freezes at a concert, or an actor transports you into a play, or a book feels like it’s speaking directly to you? That’s what they were honoring.

They felt it was otherworldly, a divine gift, and verbally acknowledged their awe and respect toward witnessing that special… something.

When the Moors invaded lower Spain, they brought the custom with them. The pronunciation changed over the centuries from “Allah” to “Ole,” which is still chanted at Spanish bullfights and flamenco dances to this day.

Seville Flamenco

Why do I mention it? Because it’s the fulcrum of a fascinating talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert (see video below).

Following her bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert floundered in the aftermath of her a mass-market success, fearing her next project would fail. Further this anxiety, her family, friends, readers, and the press vocalized this fear for her, too.

Which caused her to wonder:

What is it, specifically about creative ventures, that seems to make us really nervous … in a way that other careers don’t?

We’ve internalized and accepted, collectively, this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will ultimately lead to anguish.

Still driven to write, despite these pressures, she began researching the history of creative folks, searching for a psychological construct that could help put distant between her writing and potential reactions to that writing.

Thus the discovery of the “Allah” and “Ole” tale above.

Digging back even farther, her research led to ancient Greece and Rome when:

People didn’t believe that creativity came from human beings back then. People believed that creativity was this divine, attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source for distant and unknowable reasons.

They called this spirit a genie or genius.

People themselves weren’t geniuses. Rather, they were visited by “genius” which came and went, much like the fickle nature of creativity.

“The Genie” © ihave3kids, Flickr Creative Commons
“The Genie” © ihave3kids, Flickr Creative Commons

That was until the Renaissance…

People started to believe that creativity came completely from the self… For the first time in history, you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius, rather than having a genius.

Gilbert proposes that this switch underlies our fears about creative endeavors. She thinks it puts too much emphasis on the person rather than recognizing:

The utter, maddening capriciousness of the creative process, a process which (as anyone who’s ever tried to make something knows), doesn’t always behave rationally.

Her advice: Do what you feel compelled to do now. Focus on the moment, not what could be.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be… Do your dance anyhow, and “Ole!” to you nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.

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