Monday, 15 March 2010

By Any Other Name

Names have power. Knowing a thing's name concretizes that thing, makes the thing itself knowable, gives us a place to begin in our understanding. A name can exhalt or humble, can color our perceptions, can make the beautiful ugly or the plain profound. Most of us have more than one name, even in mundane life, and those of us on occult or pagan paths sometimes have far more names than might seem necessary. But just as we each have multiple titles in life--daughter, son, sister, brother, wife, husband, mother, father, doctor, teacher, minister, and so on--so do we have those names that help shape and define our places in other realms, identify us among our fellow travelers, announce us to our chosen gods.

When I first went online in the early 90s, I used my Craft name as my online name. I'm still known as such to a handful of people whom I've known since then, but I've stopped using that name online for the most part. If you knew it, and knew me, you'd either laugh at the irony of it or be offended that I of all people would take that name. (I pronounce it oddly, for one thing, and while I have my reasons you might just think me illiterate. You might also think me beholden to a particular deity, which I am not. Worst of all, the name has a connection to a practice which I eschew. Why don't I change it? Well, because it's mine, for reasons that have nothing to do with any of that; plus it's on my papers, and inscribed on expensive things that I can't replace.) In some places, I'm also known by my Shemsu name, which was given to me when I took my vows as Kemetic Orthodox. I have blogged extensively under yet another name, and I've got yet another one here at Blogger, since that previous one was unavailable. I tried on two other Craft names early on before I settled on the one I discussed above. I also have a confirmation name from when I was baptized into the EGC a few years ago when I was more actively practicing Thelema.

The Egyptians knew well the power and importance of names. To grant continued immortality to the dead, it was necessary to "make their name to live," that is to speak of them often, and to recite the funerary offering formulas for them. A New Kingdom text tells of how Isis gained power over Ra by tricking Him into revealing His secret name. For those in the esoteric arts and religions, most of which are still misunderstood and mistrusted by the mainstream culture, having your identity revealed in inappropriate situations can reap consequences ranging from embarassment to open harassment. In a very real sense, knowing someone's name can give you power over them.

Ceremonial magicians have long taken on magical mottoes by which they are known; witches, at least of GBG's type, took on pseudonyms by which to be known at larger meetings, with the idea being that if one of them were taken and tortured, they couldn't reveal the true identities of the other witches if they only knew false names. Nowadays, grandiose and pseudo-fantasy character names have become the norm among the pagani, making it sometimes hard to take people seriously. I wonder how many of the Raven SummerStars and Orion BeltSanders in the world put more than a moment's thought into their naming, choosing something they thought sounded cool or witchy rather than something that expressed some part of themselves. I'll concede that if I were to go back in time, I might well choose a different name than the one I'm known by in the circle; but I don't really regret the choice, and do believe it suits me on some level. And if I'm not, on the surface, the person you might expect me to be based on that name, then I'd say you don't know what lies beneath. Maybe you never will; but that's for me to reveal or not in my own time. Your name carries its own secrets, and its own responsibilities.

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