Note: this was originally posted on the Pagan & Witches Amino app for their Official Weekly Challenge, “Name Game.”
When I first began investigating “alternative spirituality,” witchcraft, and magick, it seemed like everything and everyone had a name. Everyone had a neat and tidy label for their spiritual path, from Wiccans to eclectic pagans to secular witches. And a lot of these paths came with craft names.
Now, I really like the idea of magickal names. A lot of them are very beautiful, and many of them perfectly capture the essence of the person’s role as a witch. But every time I’ve thought about taking on a new name for myself, I’ve gotten very uncomfortable.
Similarly, I’ve spent the past two years trying to find a label for my spiritual path and for the type of magick I do. I was excited to find a community of people who believed and practiced the same things I did. I’ve researched Wicca, Heathenry, Irish Reconstructionist Polytheism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Western occultism, and more. And although there have been bits and pieces of each of these systems that have appealed to me, none of them felt right for me. Even calling myself an eclectic pagan doesn’t quite fit, because my spiritual path is strongly influenced by some non-pagan sources.
Recently I’ve been really into shadow work, and it was by doing shadow work that I discovered why the idea of labels, and specifically of taking on a new name, makes me so uncomfortable.
I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, better known as the Mormons. The Mormon church is a Christian cult, according to Walter Martin’s definition of a Christian cult as “groups that follow the personal interpretation of an individual, rather than the understanding of the Bible accepted by mainstream Christianity.” (Quote from Wikipedia) Although they are most famous for openly practicing polygamy in the 1800s, there’s a whole bunch of skeletons in the church supply closet — but that’s an issue for another post. For the sake of this post, all you need to know is that it’s a very conservative, pseudo-Christian group with a lot of secrecy around their rituals. Even members of the church aren’t allowed to know what happens at these rituals until they’ve experienced them… but of course, because it’s 2019 and the Internet is a thing, you can find out with a little bit of digging.
The Mormon church has one ritual known as the “endowment,” which is sort of like the final level of initiation — after your endowment you’re a full member, with access to secret teachings, and a guaranteed place of honor in the afterlife. (The ceremony itself is actually really similar to a lot of pagan rites, with reenacting myths, anointing with oils, and swearing oaths.) This ritual is also where the infamous “magic Mormon underwear” comes from. During this ceremony, the participant is given a new name (note that this name is given to them by someone else, NOT chosen for themselves). This name must be kept a secret, to be revealed only to a select few, such as church leaders and the participant’s husband or wife (assuming that they marry another Mormon).
Here’s the catch — you know those myths about how telling the Fae your true name gives them total control over you? Turns out, Mormons operate in a similar way. According to one common teaching, women cannot enter the highest level of heaven unless their husband (who has to be Mormon, of course) calls them in by their secret name. Whereas magickal names in pagan circles are often a source of personal empowerment, secret names in the Mormon church are a means to control people.
Maybe that’s why I’ve never wanted to choose a sacred name. In the Mormon church (and in other Christian traditions, such as Catholicism), choosing a spiritual/religious name comes hand-in-hand with making a covenant with God and promising to give up earthly pleasures. Maybe this is just me being a godless heathen, but I kind of like my earthly pleasures. A God who wants me to swear away things that make me happy isn’t a God I particularly want to swear myself to.
I see myself as a part of the same divine Source that birthed the gods and goddesses. I approach my gods as equal partners, not as a subservient slave. I am worthy of their patronage as I am, and I don’t need to change my identity to be deserving of their blessings, or to be in touch with my own spiritual and magickal power.
I feel sort of like Agnieszka, the main character from Uprooted by Naomi Novik (which is one of my favorite books). In the story, Agnieszka is being initiated into a magickal order, and is expected to choose a new name as part of her initiation. Here’s what she says:
“But it all felt wrong to me, anyway. I’d gone along with the elaborate dance of the thing, but I knew abruptly that I didn’t want to change my name for a new one that trailed magic behind it, any more than I wanted to be in this fancy gown with its long dragging train that picked up dirt from the hallways. I took a deep breath and said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with the name I already have.’”
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