…Or, Are You There, Gods? It’s me…Lady Dragonwillow Morrigan Sehkmet
New Pagans have a lot of challenges. So much to learn and in world of Gods to explore. The journey’s first few steps open up worlds of possibility.
So, why, then are our first steps usually a) buying a ton of candles, quickly followed by b) choosing a new name for ourselves? At least with the candles you’re prepped for an emergency should the power go off, but so-called “magical names” are somewhat difficult to justify.
Magical names are useful and even necessary in some situations. If you live in rural area Paganism is confused with anti-Christian belief (because, let’s face it – worshiping Satan is just Christianity from loser’s perspective, and has nothing to do with Paganism), your first steps along your path might bring you a whole lot of heartache. If you fear (rightly so) that you can be fired from a job, lose custody of your children, or otherwise be dragged into court for being a Pagan, you have good reason to use a magical name in public forums.
Are lots of other, lamer, reasons to use magical names, and these reasons probably do more harm than good. If you ever venture into the world of Pagan conferences, gatherings or rites, you’re bound to meet those who use magical names, justifying it with some lame reasons. As in a lot of former underground communities (gay/lesbian, gamer culture, bear culture to name a few), self-esteem can be in short supply. People who’ve been made fun of, physically attacked and discriminated against sometimes start to believe all the horrible behavior aimed at them is justified at some level, even if they don’t think so consciously. Somewhere in the back of their minds, a little voice keeps telling them that they aren’t as worthy as everyone else, and this unfortunately frames their identity without their even knowing it.
These self-esteem-challenged folks start doing to their compeers what’s been done to them: seeking power over, establishing cliques, denigrating those around them, and throwing in a modicum of torture just to show everyone how important they are. In your travels, you’ll probably meet Lady Dragonwillow Morrigan Sehkmet, or High Priest Reverend Pope Voodoo King Percival. Names and titles, for them, serve two purposes – they tell you how important they are (because you’re not a Lord yet, are you?), and they serve as thick shells that prevent you from knowing who they really are (Jane Smith, accountant and her pimply, unemployable boyfriend, Dave).
A healthy identity is a well-integrated one. You’re not just a Pagan – you also have a familial position, a sexuality, a profession. You have hobbies, political leanings and dozens of other labels you can stick on yourself. While some eschew labels, the important thing is that you are all those things collectively. They make up who you are, and you want all of those aspects of your life to improve and be enjoyable. By segregating your faith and your profession, or your sexuality from your politics, you keep people from knowing who you are, if just a little. The trick is, though, that the Gods aren’t fooled. They know you, and They see through your attempts to hide bits of yourself. To paraphrase Paul Simon, they’d like to help you in your struggle to be free, so give Them a break.
Two other, larger, issues to do with magical names have to do with community. First, some people attempt to hide past trespasses and wrongs against other Pagans by changing their names like their ironic t-shirts. These types avoid ever owning up to their mistakes by hiding – Pagan message boards and sites are chock-full of them, as are local Pagan communities. If you believe in living an honest life, don’t ever consider this as a way to avoid making amends.
Second, sticking to your given name allows your good reputation to follow you wherever you go. If you use the skills you gleaned from your travels along the Pagan path for benefit, others magical names can sometimes confuse others (and allow other, unscrupulous folks to take credit where it is definitely not due). Let how you live speak for itself, with one clear voice and a long list of honorable deeds. Allow others to see who you really are (warts and all, ’cause none of us are perfect), and learn how to integrate everything into one, honest being treading a path meant just for you.