So in the comments section of a recent Wild Hunt post we have seen the resurrection of one of the great and ongoing debates within the Pagan movement…. Our Chosen Names.
The practice of choosing a special name for oneself upon embarking on the Pagan path is the heir of several cultural streams. Christianity, and Islam, both have some precedents for choosing a different name upon formalizing ones commitment to them (or having ones commitment formalized by ones parents in childhood).
Within Witchcraft we have the tradition of choosing a Witch name for use (in some Trads ONLY) in the Circle. Ceremonial Magick and the Western Mystery Traditions have also used the practice of in-group names, with varying degrees of success.
Then too within the emerging Pagans of the 1960’s counter-culture the use of nick-names with a certain flair was nearly a requirement. (Check out some of Ronald Hutton’s work such as Triumph of the Moon or his lecture about the Horned God from an OBOD gathering for some interesting information to the effect that No, Paganism wasn’t suddenly reborn in the 1960’s…thats just our spiritual ‘baby boom’ … you may also want to check out the Pagan History website while you’re at it…_
Choosing The Name
The choice and use of an alternate name is both Spiritual and, according to a number of older texts, for reasons of Anonymity. Spiritual in that (among other things) this special name a trigger to our senses that something special is occurring and also serves as a direct way of identifying ones inner essence to the Universe or the Gods or what have you. Anonymity in that, as the old Witch saying goes…
“Witchcraft doesn’t pay for broken windows!”
Now within different streams of Paganism and Occultism there seems to be a variety of traditions and variations on traditions for choosing one’s name. I will deal with Neo-Pagan and Witchcraft related traditions as I really cannot comment on the naming practices within Cermonial Magick and the Western Mystery Schools. I will also be using some of my own names as an example….
One pagan gal I know chose Phoenix as her Pagan name (or part of it) because of a life-long fear of fire and her desire to face that fear, embrace it, and conquer it. My friend Mama Rhaevyn, acutally originally chose “Lady Rhaevyn” with the Lady being not a liturgical title but a reminder to her of the importance of manners and ethics and of being a Lady and striving to the best person she could be for her God and Goddess.
Some folks who have already found their power animal or totem or spirit guide or what have you will go with that as a part of their Pagan name. Others will be inspired by names and figures from the past, thus the plethora of “Merlins” and “Morgaines”… although why more of those so-named don’t get into more scuffles I don’t know!
Then you have folks who are inspired by folk-lore, and herb/plant lore, and the stories of the Gods and of Their cultures. Folks will look to these sources for names and words and ideas that resonate with their souls on that same deep level where we first feel Spirit or The Divine.
(or at least that’s the idea… more on this later…)
Then you have folks like me. When I first started this journey of mine onto the Witches path I was overwhelmed with choices and possibilities. Then, somewhere, I found a referance to the idea of choosing a name reflective of the qualities you either posess, or desire. That resonated strongly with me, it felt right on that deep level where the Goddess and God and Witchcraft and. well, all of this stuff felt right.
So I chose my first name of “Pax et Fort”, ‘Peace and Strength”, which were a large part of what I was seeking as I embarked upon my journey into Witchcraft and Paganism. Over the years I have added too, and edited, my Witchname… at least with the Gods….all of the personal growth and life lessons I have been blessed** with have changed me on my innermost spiritual levels; for me this seemd the right way to go. Other folks believe that the chosen name is one that reflects your innermost soul or self and its full potential and so it does not change except in the most extraordinary of circumstances, if at all.
**(Please note: They didn’t always feel like blessings at the time!)
Now I am generally known as Pax or Geoffrey in the Circle and out depending on context… and for now I’m fine with that. I have one or two possibilities should I be priveledged to innitiate with a Coven with its own naming practices but for now in the Community and in Circle I remain Pax.
Using the Name
This is where a lot of the discussions, debates, and diatribes begin…
The general pattern seems to follow one of two paths, Either folks find a Pagan/Witch name and use them inRitual and in their local Pagan communities. Or, folks will have a Ritual (mainly a Circle as this seems to be within Witchcraft) name, and a Pagan use name for use in the Pagan community, and then of course there’s ones given name; unless of course you’ve legally changed your name to (one of) your Pagan ones.
The troubles start with members of the Pagan movement interracting with members of our larger communities, especially the press and the government.
Folks don’t always seem to have a sense of the appropriate anymore, and any effort to point out that legally changing ones name to “Goldmoon Leaf Treevixen” or “Albion Uther Oaken Greymantle Otherkin” might make parts of the larger society have trouble taking you seriously. Sadly suggestions of this nature often gets one accused of being mean, or intollerant, or a closet Christian (this last one usually hissed by some Lady Crystalmoon Bunniethighs who just got done ranting about how much more tollerant we pagans are…), or all manner of other accusatory angst-muffinry on the part of those you are trying to advise.
Names have power folks, but they also have a context. Names are a part of how we interact with the larger Universe and the world around us, knowing what to call yourself and when is an important part of being an adult. If, for example, you have the nick-name “Doobie” or “Keg-man” you are simply NOT going to want to mention it, or have it mentioned, at a traffic stop.
Context is always important in communications, there are folks in the Pagan community who know that if I am outside of a Pagan context I may very well not answer to “Pax”, because I am not listening for it in that context.
When I decided to be out of the ‘broom’ closet (if you’re Heathen is it a Hammer closet?! What about the Hellenismos and Celts?!) I just started signing pieces with both my names. Partly, because it’s important to be open and honest in our communications, and partly because “Pax” is fairly tame compared to “Lord Mountebatten AutumnWolf von Gardner”… and by associating Geoffrey with Pax I wasn’t in a position to do either of them harm
Well I really don’t have a satisfactory one… this is one of those aspects of Paganism where each of us must make our own decisions, hopefully being a bit more conscious of how our words and choices and actions affect and interact this folks around us and our own lives.
I would also direct you to the continuing conversation at The Wild Hunt…
Pax and Geoffrey
Not to be missed!