In Alexandrian tradition there comes a point after initiation that you will be asked to think about a magical name.
The magical name, I was told, should be something that embodies or carries a quality you aspire to. If you’re Roman Catholic and this statement rings a bell click the like button and write amen, LOL!
Snide jokes aside, Alexandrian Tradition borrows heavily from Roman Catholicism, as do many ceremonial magicians of various denominations, and of course by default, Dion Fortune.
Alexandrian training teaches to identify oneself with the chosen magical name. Usually the name of a god or goddess. This identity is quite literally whipped into a person’s subconscious ritually, with the scourge. The person is made to stand at the centre of the circle while the High Priest or High Priestess whip away as the rest of the group pushes and shoves the initiate around demanding to know their name and calling them liars when the initiate repeats his/her new name. This goes on for 5 to 10 minutes, until the initiate is then acknowledged with their new name. Some witches believe it will be their true name while others just take it as the name they will be known as in the circle and the tradition. The name is usually associated to a particular function they may assume in the coven. It is also what they will be introduced as when initiated guest join the coven for ritual.
Someone failing to call you by your magical name in a circle, in front of guests is quite a serious faux pas that would warrant a challenge. Some in High Priesthood use it as a test, to check if the name has taken. It can present a number of conondrums for an initiate when it’s your turn to introduce yourself but a member of the High Priesthood takes over and putting words in your mouth, introduces you with your mundane name. In theory, you can’t respond aggressively because it’s kind of like, wrecking the party for everyone else and will only attract their wrath but I should add that pretending to ignore it whilst seething might seem a plausible alternative but does not take away the public disrespect shown to the deity under whose name you’re practicing the craft. The High Priest/ess may well be the circle’s authority but that does not give them leeway to get away with insulting a deity, so you have every right, if not a duty, to be pissed off. There’s a better way to deal with it, keeping it respectful but mounting a challenge nonetheless. You can stop the introductions, stand up and plainly state ” With all due respect, I didn’t say that.” Most would be intrigued enough to see where you’re going with it, if only to scorn you and that’s your chance to turn it into a game in which all but the person who has spoken on your behalf should try to guess your name or pay you a tithe. Before you introduce the game step on the inside the circle. This act is loaded with significant symbolism and done with the intent of acting in defence of your deity’s honour, there’s a strong possibility of manifesting within. Walk up to the High Priesthood in charge and ask them to do you the honour to step in the circle with you. Take them to the altar, pick up the scourge and after placing it in their hand, instruct them to use it on you. For each stroke you will ask, “What’s my name?” If they give the wrong name, which they will likely do if carry this task playfully and they have the wherwithal to understand what you are doing, claim your tithe and instruct them to pass the scourge on another to come forward. Carry on until someone calls out the right name. This person is rewarded with a symbolic boon: all of the tithes that have been paid to you. That’s the blessing of your deity on the one that honoured it. Now everyone knows your name, they know that with that name, you can take power away but you can also bestow blessings. You can, if you were particularly disrespected and pissed off as a result, withold it altogether, in which case you should also be prepared to accept that your time with the group has come to an end. I mean, what would you stand to gain from being treated with disrespect?
The function of a magical name is to define your mystical trajectory in magical training and somewhat facilitate a specific aspect of divinity to grow on you. It is not unusual for a namesake deity to become a tutelary inner contact with whom you will develop a strong bond. As the bond intensifies, other spirits and deities with a relationship to that god or goddess may start drawing near to you and expand your field of vision across the worlds. One to watch out for is animal spirits, and people too.
But you should be careful never to over-identify yourself with any deity whose name you take, in order to protect yourself from turning into a megalomaniac and make a laughing stock out of yourself. Even deities manifest in understated ways.
As you grow in your magical power, your needs may call for a change of direction. Your magical name should always reflect that change. Just don’t assume that the formula I’ve given above is the only way to receive a name. That’s what Alexandrians do in their own covens.
Magical names do not only come as the result of magical rituals. Only recently, I ended up with a new magical name. I wasn’t after a new name and it wasn’t a name I’d have considered but it came under the most peculiar circumstances and what made it significant, from a magical perspective, was the random encounter with a stranger who dropped ad verbatim without any prompt or elicitation, answers I had received in vision several months earlier. I had pretty much figured it was not the person but something in the person doing the talking but I wasn’t prepared for having the name dropped on me like a bolt out of the blue.
If I would hear that name said out loud now, I’d instinctually turn around. This is how you know a name has stuck.
Strangers have always played a significant role in the life of magical practioners. They tend to appear as a prelude to a turning point in life and are chracterised by meaningful and often touching interactions, however brief. I always perk up my ears and pay extra attention when a stranger appears, as it signals that something is afoot. Gods, tutelary gods in particular, often ride in ordinary people’s bodies to deliver a piece of information personally to their chosen human priesthood. Most people continue to have a problem with the idea of ‘chosen’ people because the ego demands ‘what’s so special about so and so and I’m so devoted’. This is an envious projection. These people lack the notion that being ‘chosen’ entails carrying a heavier burden and personal sacrifices rather than privileges and ego gratification. I can guarantee that moaners begrudging the idea of chosen ones would soon wish to pass the bucket if put in that position. The gods can tell who is likely to be unconditionally devoted and pick accordingly.
To remain in the theme of Roman Catholicism and Judeo-Christian mythology, I’m going to bring up a story from Genesis which deals both with the importance of names and the principle of the chosen one. Jacob, son of Isaac, had a twin Esau who was born before him. The story goes that Jacob was born grabbing on the heel of his brother, hence his name that means “he who grasps the heel” – in essence, a way to say he displayed deceptive behaviour. Esau was stronger and fierce in character. He was also the firstborn of the twins and as such the legitimate heir of authority and dominion over the household. However, he lacked forethought and gave up his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. Upon Isaac’s death, Jacob tricked his blind father into giving him the blessing meant for the firstborn. This time Esau was so furious he vowed to kill Jacob and so he was forced to go on the run and for 20 years lived as a servant in Laban’s house. Eventually, Jacob and Esau came met again at crossroads between war and reconciliation. On the way to Esau, Jacob was approached by a stranger who, when asked, refused to reveal his name. The two ended up in a struggle and Jacob managed to get the better of it in spite of a hip injury. The divine stranger (the tale implies it was an Elhoim) took Jacob’s name and changed it into Israel – meaning “he who contends with God” which changed the fate and essence of Jacob. The stranger blessed Jacob to become a greater person; therefore, Jacob was ready to become Israel, the ancestor of Judeo-Christian legend.
The stranger asked for Jacob’s name, because he needed Jacob’s essence in order to bless him. Studies in anthropology indicate that since the dawn of humanity, names confirmed the essence and fate of a person. In pre-Christian Scandinavia and even in later cultures, names were often passed on from a decesed person to a newborn or to adults because it was believed that the essence (or hamingja) of the deceased could transmigrate into a living person and enhance their fate.
From personal experience, a stranger is usually a reliable source when they give you a sign such as abruptly revealing some intimate detail about you or your past without any previous conversation about it. The tone with which they speak and often the physical and personality attributes of the the person should suffice to provide plenty of clues by which recognise the deity visiting you. Such events are also opportunities to ask questions such as, “What exactly do you want from me? What do you need me to do for you?” because let’s be honest about it, visits of this kind are not only harbingers of massive changes to come but often involve a calling to collaborate with that deity throughout that phase. You would think that such questions would be met with a puzzled look or a shrug but I’ve often got some quite elaborately detailed replies, all of which again, indicate the human in front of you hasn’t got the faintest clue is being possessed and used as a mouthpiece. Often what the deity wants of you screws up your best laid plans, at which it is also worth mentioning that people may be ‘chosen’ to become priesthood for a deity because somehow entangled themselves with it without fully realising, and may have received their assistance in the past. The change coming for you may well be a consequence of an exchange you hadn’t paid much attention to and forgotten all about. If a bond (conscious or unconscious) already exists with that deity it’s just a matter of getting down to the nitty-gritty. If you don’t, you will need to get as much information as possible and weigh all the pros and cons before accepting, as there will be no going back. Either way, honour the poor bastard ridden by the deity all the same, irrespectively of your final decision and heed their words.
The big deal
What’s the fuss about magical names? What’s in a name?
I’ve already touched on it when I said it has to do with the essence and fate of a person. We have the name given to us by at birth, names bestowed ritually and names given to us by strangers. I have been getting a lot of flack (much as Robin Artisson in bygone years) for using several noms de plumes when writing on forums, chats and blogs. It really goes to reveal there is a huge gap of knowledge and understanding among many witches and magical practitioners for what concerns names, which keeps them stuck in mundane dichotomy of: pseudonymn = liar/cowardice and legal name = truth/courage. This superficiality exacerbates their deepest fears and frustration borne out of ignorance. In turn, by adhering to mundane conventions these people are unable to perceive beyond their immediate sensory perception of reality, which more than a veil, for them is a heavy curtain. Not knowing who they may be arguing against unsettles them and as a defense mechanism play the passive/aggressive ad hominem card: “You can’t even use your real name, you must be a coward. How many names have you got? Who are you really?” The failure to grasp that the real name in one context may well change in another, usually indicates lack of first-hand experience about the effects of contact with divinity – a contact which cannot be acquired or understood by reading books.
Appellatives, pseudonyms, noms de plume, magical names are not cowardly decoys. Names carry meaning and with that, power and secret knowledge. They act as layers of protective clothing used to wield and mediate a particular type of power. To remove it just because someone calls you coward would be really stupid. It would show that you haven’t got a clue of why you do what you do, and likewise, anyone who’s pulling that stunt on you should take up a hobby more suitable to their mundane scepticism rather than dabble in magic. You know only a weekend magician would fail to grasp what names are about and come up with that sort of wisecracks. Weekend magicians like to think the worst of people because by not amounting to much themselves, believe they if they can’t, neither can everyone else.
Made in the image of…
Divinity is a composite ranging from the impersonal source beyond our grasp to the many beings emanating from it, many of which, very close to humanity. It is not uncommon for divinities and spirits to have multiple names, some of which are secret knowledge. A secret name is a security measure, something we/you are not automatically entitled to know.
Take some time to examine mythologies: The 72 names of god, the 75 names of Ra, 50 names of Marduk; even the Charge of the Goddess begins with “I have been known by many names” and goes on to list them. Not to mention Odin who can boast one hell of a remarkable list. Up to 200 according to all sources combined.
Experienced magical practitioners understand that events shape and leave marks on the soul of the magical practitioner and transform his/her essence over time. Therefore, they may end up with more than one magical name, some of which they may keep secret to all except those who unveil it or whom they see fit to disclose it to, others which they may use in interacting with others within specific contexts and so on and so forth and at least one that is theirs alone.
Every name describes a part of a person or deity’s very being and is in essence the person himself/herself. A Pharaoh owned five names (as many monarchs still do), each of which symbolising a manifestation of his power. For gods, the name meant everything. When I stand in the presence of the gods on formal occasions or I petition a spirit I’ve never worked with, I use every single name I’ve been known as, including my genealogy, my lineages, titles, epithets…in short, the whole linguistic representation out there. In essence, it forms a breastplate (I prefer to see it as a totemic iconography) that identifies the initiates to allies and protects him/her from potentially hostile forces.
Yeah, it might sound a hell of litany but when you come up to security, be that the Guardian of the Threshold, border control, social class, or even just telephone banking you’ve got to go through a vetting process and present irrefutable you’ve the right of access. Even in the criminal underworld there’s a code of entry.
“I am a child of earth and the starry heavens” – as earthlings, a hybrid specie of non-material and corporeal intelligence, we all carry a personal password with us in the form of names. When you are crossing the worlds beyond physical existence, if you want to be received and why not, taken seriously and treated with a measure of honour, you need to introduce yourself according to their conventions. No power, no entry. Covens and lodges are merely training ground. The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, Shamballah, Asgard, Olympus or whatever you want to call it, is a different ball game. Your claim will be challenged, therefore, knowing who you are will be essential.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that some tradition’s etiquette and rules are nonsense and others (in principle) not so much. Well, it goes without saying that any name given to you by strangers deserve special attention and should be kept a closely guarded secret. Not even your own High Priest/ess should know about it. That name is for you and you alone. The name you take within a coven should be kept within circle only, as the rules stipulate. That’s so it cannot be misused by external agents with an agenda to interfere with groups within a specific lineage. If you are leaving a coven you can always ask who named you to remove the name you were known as. That way, you’ll leave no information and loose ends behind and should you want to retake it elsewhere, no one would be none the wiser.
I came to this conclusion by making the mistake of letting the new coven strip the old name off me. Like I said in the aforementioned earlier post, the partner of the High Priest only went and took my former magical name for themselves. It wasn’t ill intentioned but it was a fucked up thing to do from a magical standpoint and the reasoning of someone rooted in mundane conventions. There is a very fine line between admiration and vampiric appropriation as in admiring you so much to want to be just like you and possess that part of you I crave for myself. But that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. The consequences are dire for all involved: the usurpers as well as those failing to protect their magical names.
How are names used in power and why what these people did was such a fucked up thing to do?
To answer this question, we need to go all the way back pre-dynastic Egypt. The name was a vulnerable part of humans and even the gods. Like all Ancient Near Eastern civilisations, Ancient Egyptians believed the name could be used to invoke the power of the figure that held it; therefore, a human could control a god by using the god’s true name. The name I put aside was an acquired part of me that had to go, not because I had finished with it but because it gave an unwelcome someone a link to my person and therefore power over it, so it needed to be hidden. The irony is that the person who misappropriated the name was among the ones who helped me hide it and did it with their approval, believing that I’d be flattered and honoured by it. In doing so, they opened themselves up to manipulation.
A human’s true name holds the essence of that person, therefore, if someone obtains or already has a person’s true name, that someone could enact influence on the person whose name is under possession. Magical names come very close to a person’s true name. So, if you and I form an emotional/spiritual/magical connection and you take upon yourself the link I’ve just cast off to get someone off my back, you are inviting trouble on yourself and between us. What is supposed to hit on me is now hitting on you.
Until then I had been an egalitarian kind of person but now I see things in a much realistic and honest light. I see things in terms of how they actually are in the world rather than how I am expected to pretend they are. Magic is governed by natural laws which invariably implies hierarchy in order as in chaos. Whether I liked it or not I was to admit lineage is a divide among magical practitioners and a stumbling block for this person to take the name I let go. Not only was it a threat for this person to obtain the power of a person or a god above them, it was also a threat to Ma’at herself. That’s why it was a fucked up thing to do.
This person could have asked/should have asked (and I’d have said categorically NO) and wanting, because of our magical bond, I would have passed on that name (with due procedures and sealing on both ends). According to Ancient Egyptian thought, the order of society would be disturbed if a being of lesser power obtained the power of a god or someone of a higher status (which, through lineage and name, that’s exactly what I was to these people), because this conflicts with the ordering of society by Ma’at. The secret knowledge through these names also conflicted with the secret knowledge that is given by Ra (the tradition’s inner contacts) to the king (the one who had the authority to bestow me with my former name). The hierarchy would be threatened two fold, and an event of these proportions into the Ancient Egyptian world would have tantamounted to invite chaos and destruction, which is exactly what everyone in Alexandrian Tradition is ooohing and uuuuhing about, now that Loki’s Gazette has plunged an axe 9 inches deep into the skull of that very king/priesthood. Destruction is not a problem but a natural consequence of upsetting the balance.
But let’s get in a little deeper and let me tell you what I took back on magical names from my personal experience. At first I thought, nah…this cannot be…but turns out it can, because I later found out in academic sources that through the power of names, not only would order be threatened but one’s afterlife would be in danger. For humanity, the most important characteristic of Egyptian religion to protect, was/is one’s own afterlife, thus it is essential to protect one’s name. If a person lost his/her name, then that person would have not been identified by the appropriate gods in the afterlife (reason why the aforementioned litany of names); therefore, the person was lost forever in between life and afterlife. Without the name, in Ancient Egypt it was believed that the afterlife was an impossibility.
Still think I’m talking bullshit? Here is the publication I’ve read, go read for yourself: Robert Kriech Ritner, “The Legend of Isis and the Name of Re,” in The Context of Scripture, ed. William W. Hallo (New York: Brill, 1993), p. 33.
Also, Frazer believed, “Every Egyptian received two names, which were known respectively as the true name and the good name, or the great name and the little name; and while the good or little name was made public, the true or great name appears to have been carefully concealed.” (The Golden Bough, p.199)
So come on, lecture me on cowardice one more time!
Names in mythology
The mythology found in various texts shows the existence of secret names for the
gods. In an encounter between Seth and Horus, Horus tried to pry Seth’s secret name
from him. Seth attempted to give false names until he eventually disclosed the true name: “it is the evil day on which nothing can be conceived or born.” (Magic in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch, pp: 29-31) The name is appropriate for Seth considering that he is depicted as a god of death, chaos, and confusion. The secret name reveals the very being of the god Seth and Horus intended to use it to hold dominion over him.
Amun, who later becomes fused with Ra, was also said to have a powerful secret name. Assmann in On God and Gods, p.65, writes, “Even the name of “Amun,” the “Hidden One,” is just an epithet masking the true and hidden name of this god, of whom another hymn states:
“People fall down immediately for fear
if his name is uttered knowingly or unknowingly There is no god able to call him by it.”
The text shows that the secret name of Amun is a source of power and considering that
Amun was present before creation, he is more powerful than the other gods and they are
incapable of uttering his very name. Ra’s secret name is equally as powerful as Amun’s and more so than any other god. Being the creator god, Ra’s name holds magical power. In one papyrus, Ra, as Atum-Ra, states, “Magic is my name.” (Robert Kriech Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, p.26) When Amun becomes Amun-Ra, it amplifies the different hidden characteristics of Ra, who is already a keeper of his secret name and secret knowledge of order. A hymn to Amun implicitly describes the secret name of Amun-Ra:
“All gods are three:
Amun, Re, and Ptah, whom none equals.
He who hides his name as Amun
He appears to the face as Re,
His body is Ptah.” (Assmann, On God and Gods, p.64)
This Ancient Egyptian passage bears a remarkable number of similarities with a passage of a much later poems often assumed to be influenced by Christianity.
“Until there came three mighty and benevolent Aesir to the world from their assembly… Spirit gave Odin sense gave Hoenir blood gave Lodur and goodly colour.” (Voluspa, st.17-18)
This trinity reappears in Norse cosmology as Odin (spirit), Vili (will) and Ve (holy/temple) but it’s in the Gylfagynning (Fooling of Gylfi) that the mystical value of ambiguity and confusion burrows to singular depths. Even the identity of King Gylfi – who plays the main character in the story and is described as a human who tries to trick the gods in disguise as the wanderer Gangleri – seems to be yet another convoluted plot that leaves the reader wondering whether Gylfi is a hypostatses for Odin pitting himself in a contest against himself. The names we have here: Hárr, Jafnhárr, and Þriði, (High, Just as High and Third) are deliberately vague as you would expect from any initiatory tradition, until the following passages give a long list of Odin’s various manifestations, each associated to and recurring in particular events described elsewhere in sagas and poems, two of which identify him with Loki’s brothers, two as Loki’s friend and one as Bragi (a god Loki unloads a great deal of contempt upon). All Norse mythology is one big riddle, with Odin as the ultimate Rubik’s cube.
But in Babylon, the god Marduk’s name was not a secret name at all; in fact, his name was invoked by his followers every year at the Akitu festival. His name was essential to the hierarchy of power – its very power constantly binding chaos from escaping, reinforcing the binding through fifty manifestations. Marduk’s names attested to the courageous battle that shook the foundation of the gods, during the time when he
defeated chaos, describing the different elements to the Marduk’s victory over Tiamat, or
chaos. His names needed not be a secret, for no one had the power to conquer the will of
Marduk. Like Ra with his 75 names, Marduk was given fifty names at the end of the Enuma Elish, and each name illustrated a different characteristic of Marduk’s power, each of which was used to defeat and bind chaos in a special way.
**Note to self: thinking of which I must write about poison chalices, the magical death/suicide: meaning and value of sacrifice – to whom and why, blood rites, judgement in life, the human golem, Odinic mysteries.