Forgive the typos, I was attempting to write while watching the Oscars. Yeah... Kind of impossible, I know.
Love and Lyte,
What’s in a name? Well, if you believe what Joshua Trachtenberg says in his book Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion, then a name is pretty powerful. Kabbalistic ceremonial magic seems to be a derivative of even older ‘high magic’ practices found in Egypt, the Mediterranean, India, and the like. This ancient system of magic deals heavily in summoning spirits, invocation of deities, angels, demons, and other spirits, and evocation of the same.
The way ancient Jewish mystics summoned and controlled these spiritual entities was by knowing the true name of that spirit and calling it out. In fact, the Talmud calls magic ‘taking hold of a thing and manipulating it,’ as well as the more generic term ‘enchantments.’ However, the Talmud further defines magic as ‘the invocation of angels,’ ‘the invocation of demons,’ and ‘the employment of names.’ All of this summoning, invocation, and taking hold of was done by knowing that things true name.
So, to know someone or something’s ‘true’ name is to have complete and utter control over it. This shouldn’t really come as any surprise. This idea has been firmly implanted into modern fantasy works from the novels of Tolkien to the works of Rowling’s Harry Potter. Names have power, and as modern, magic practicing pagans, we choose to employ the techniques of name magic in the defensive.
We take up monikers of our own choosing, creating them using a wide variety of methods: numerology, mythology, assumption, divine inspiration, initiation, and a host of other ways I’m sure I will never know – nor, to be perfectly honest, care to know. These names, many claim, are their true names. They are the names that are assumed under a full moon with smoking cauldron and raised wand. These are the names that people put on and take off like aged sandals, worn so often the footprint is forever embedded in them, that are as much as part of your foot as your foot is a part of your leg.
These names are magical.
But, then, sometimes these names aren’t. Like my own “magical name” of Fire Lyte, sometimes they are merely pseudonyms used in the magical community at large. Sometimes you don’t want the millions of people on the internet to have the ability to Google your given name and find information that might, to the casual observer, make you appear to be a bit kooky. Sometimes these names are masks that allow us the freedom to dance around a balefire like Elaine from friends, without care or rhythm but enjoying the hell out of the good time we’re having. These names can be an easy way to keep your spiritual life separate from your day-to-day existence.
But, seriously, sometimes these names are just silly. Aren’t they? Really? Like the person who gets up on American Idol singing some god awful version of the latest “classic” pop song in a key never before heard; everybody seems to know they can’t sing, but they haven’t gotten the memo. Before you get all defensive, you have got to know you can’t go around publically calling yourself some combination of a color, a Native American spirit animal, and a mythological first name. Thorsson Silverfox and Morgana Darkraven just don’t a good business card make.
But there’s something to be said for having a way to delineate your time spent in ritual and religious gathering from your mundane life.
But, this is taking us away from the magical purposes of these names. Names, it is said, can control you. If I know your name, I can have power over you. Edward Clodd, in his book Magic in Names and Other Things, says “to classify things is to name them, and the name of a thing, or of a group of things, is its soul; to know their names is to have power over their soul.” To know someone’s very soul is linked to their name seems to give names an otherworldly quality, like there’s something more to them than sounds and some letters.
So, is your soul, your name, the name that you choose, the name given to you, or the name bestowed upon your by someone else? Well, that depends on who you ask. If you’re a member of an initiatory path that gives out names, then you might think your true name is the one someone else gave you. If you’re a highly individual person, you might think the one you gave yourself is true. Or, if you’re pretty traditional, the one on your birth certificate does nicely.
Whichever name does it for you, it can be agreed by everyone in the pagan and magical communities that these names have been a point of contention for a few decades at least. These names, and accompanying titles many times, seem to be a way for people to escape into a realm of fantasy. Sure they help us get into the pagan mood, but there’s a point at which getting into the mood is somewhat inappropriate. When we gather for those famous pagan meet-ups, you might get introduced to a few Bills, Janes, and Toms, but then, of course, you meet the Morgans, the Ravens, and the aforementioned mash-ups of colors and animals.
Quick story: In one of my first meet-ups in Texas, I met a woman who introduced herself as Lady Ravenweed. She was not a member of a coven. She was not royalty. And, no, her first name was not Lady. In fact, nobody was really sure why she claimed the title Lady other than her own pretention. Names are one thing, and I think we can each forgive each other’s chosen names, but titles are a totally different beast.
We throw around these titles as though we were each pagan royalty in our own right. It’s not enough that we all want to be Morgan le Fay, now we’re High Priestess Morgana or Lady Morgana or Witch Queen Morgana. It’s fine if that is the title that your coven has decided you get to have, but the rest of us are not in your coven, and I’d like to let you know that we don’t care. We don’t. It makes no difference to us if you’re the High Mugwump of your group, because we did not give you that title, it doesn’t affect us, and, frankly, the fact that you introduce yourself with that title is off-putting.
The pagan path is supposed to be a simple one. We worship the ebbs and flows of the Earth’s ever-changing face. We plant things, we harvest things, and we bask in the glory of the simply complex thing that is nature. So why, then, must we dress ourselves up in these titles? I would like to offer my own explanation: competition.
We’re all in competition with one another to be paganer than thou. In addition to our jewel-encrusted athames and our organic silk robes with the real gold thread, we compete with each other to get the most arcane, mystical sounding name. And…for what? We’re not getting gold statues or large sums of money if we have the most complicated or the most obscure name. We don’t get to be first in line at the theme park ride if we say we’re a Lady or Lord or Archmagus.
I’m not knocking magical names. Obviously, I have one, and it falls in the ‘pseudonym so people in my mundane life don’t have to know absolutely everything about me’ category. I don’t think that Fire Lyte represents my soul, nor am I really sure that my birth name is connected to my soul either. However, what you think about your name and its purpose is completely up to you.
I think that our souls, our beings, are things that exist in us and above us. They are us and they’re not. They’re our better selves, our higher selves, and they don’t really have names. But, if they did, I’m sure they would be named First Highest Witch King Lord Archmagus Taliesin Merlinsblood Moonfeather Peaceblossom Darkwolf the Fourth.