There’s a Word for That: Omphalopsychite

atkins-bookshelf-wordsIn 14 century Byzantium and Greece, there were a group of monks who lived on Mount Athos, known as the Hesychasts, who meditated by staring at their belly buttons. Abbot Symeon, must have had one hell of a navel epiphany to come us with these instructions to his brethren: “Sitting alone in private, note and do what I say. Close the doors and raise thy spirit from vain and temporal things. Then rest thy beard on the breast and direct the gaze with all thy soul on the middle of the body at the navel.” Whether they had an innie or an outie, contemplating the navel was certainly effective in inducing spiritual enlightenment. Although they lived in remote areas, their navel-gazing reputation got around to the point that locals felt compelled to come up with a fancy nickname for them. Fittingly, the Heyschasts were called omphalopsychites — navel spiritualists. The word omphalopsychite is derived from the Greek word “omphal” meaning “navel”, the Greek words “psyche” + suffix “ite” meaning “spiritual person.” A person who contemplates their navel, therefore practices omphaloskepsis (literally, navel examination).

The ancient Greeks also referred to a stone at the Temple of Delphi, located on Mount Parnassus, as omphalos. This sacred stone was considered the center of the world, as the navel is considered the center of the body.

There is a centuries-old debate about whether Adam and Eve could be omphalopsychites. How could you contemplate your navel if you didn’t have one? British naturalist Philip Henry Gosse wrote a book, appropriately titled Omphalos (1857), that argued that God created the world with the “appearance of age;” therefore, Adam and Eve were created as adults with belly buttons. Despite his vast knowledge of navel intelligence, Gosse had no opinion if they were innies or outies. The world may never know…

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