This past Sunday, Car and I renewed our marriage vows in a handfasting during a Beltane ritual. The event was held at Artes and Craft, and officiated by our friends Pat and Paul, who in addition to co-owning the store are the High Priestess and Priest of a local coven.
In one part of the ceremony, Car and I were asked to share our names and the request to be handfasted. A few days before the ritual, we met with Pat and Paul to rehearse our parts in the ceremony and were asked a very important question:
“Do you want to use your legal names or magickal names during the ritual?”
You might be wondering why this might be a big deal. After all, what’s in a name? However, I found the question to be worth serious consideration. A name is a very powerful thing. A name can imply a certain expectation, obligation, destiny or sometimes even become a curse upon a child before they are old enough to understand the implications.
For instance, my mother was an elementary school teacher for thirty years. She worked with five- and six-year-old learning-disabled children who were also emotionally challenged and could not be placed in a regular classroom. One year she had a child with severe and troubling behavorial issues. My mother never came out and said she believed his birth name triggered his emotional disorders, but she implied it to me based on how his parents pronounced the child’s name – demon – and the suggested connotations.
Parents name their children for all sorts of reasons. My eldest child’s middle name is meant to express the joy I felt in carrying a healthy baby to term after experiencing a miscarriage with my first pregnancy. Our youngest child’s middle name is in honor of Car’s grandfather for whom he held great love. Family names can hold a lot of weight or meaning behind them. Sometimes there may be emotional baggage attached to a name. My grandmother hated her birth name, although I’m not sure why. She chose to be known as “Jeanne” instead, to the point that over time people forgot or never knew her legal name. Eventually, Jeanne became a family named passed down to future generations. And of course, people claiming their identity based on their self-recognized gender, rather than biological assignment, create life in choosing their name.
As I said, names are powerful.
For a person choosing whether or not to take a magickal or Pagan name, the experience can be just as profound. For this reason, Car and I chose to be handfasted using our magickal names, as we married under our legal names in the Christian church but the handfasting symbolized both a renewal of vows and the joining of our Pagan spiritual paths.
To that end, Car has always been very open about his chosen name as a Druid – Cara Na Dagda or “Friend of the Dagda” (although listen to our “bloopers” episode, if you want to find out how he called himself “Automobile of the Dagda” for a little while).
As for myself, I’ve had two magickal names as a Witch.
Twenty years ago, when first dedicating myself to the study of the Craft I struggled to find a magickal name. As a Solitary, there is no requirement which says a Witch or Pagan must have a magickal name. I wanted a Craft name as a way to separate the spiritual from the mundane in my own mind and life. At the time, I honored Artemis and Brighid, although Gaia, Aphrodite, Hekate and Morrigan were honored and called upon as well.
The problem: nothing seemed to fit me as a name.
Several months into this fruitless quest I’d come to the point of giving up. “Fine. No magickal name for me,” I said. Seemed kind of par for the course. Life was a bit difficult, so I chalked it up to one more thing not working out. Then one night, after a conversation with my sister which left me feeling defensive and upset, Brighid spoke to me in a dream. Now, I’d had many conversations and visitations with both Artemis and Brighid in meditation, but she’d never come to me in a dream.
In the dream, I found myself standing within in a circle of fiery, red gemstones. There could have been chaos or darkness whirling around outside but amidst the glow I felt powerful, safe, protected and at peace. Then I heard Brighid’s voice – “Your name is found within the stones.” When I woke up the words jumped out at me and I knew my name was Red Krystal. A name which I used for years until I renounced it upon a return to my former religion for a time.
However, when I stepped back onto the witchcraft path a few years ago, that magickal name no longer fit and I balked at the idea of taking another magickal name. Why? Burn-out. Caution. No longer desiring to be a “religious” person but a secular witch.
Taking a magickal name feels sacred to me.
Brighid did take matters into her own hands, however, and gave me a new name. One which I have kept to myself for the most part, using a shortened version of it for the 3 Pagans and a Cat podcast, my work as a Psychic Medium, and now this blog. So when Pat asked me if I wanted to say my vows using my legal or magickal name I had to stop and think about it.
Even after Car and I decided to use our Pagan names for the handfasting it didn’t occur to me until the morning of the ritual that I would be speaking my Craft name in public for the first time. Saying my full name for all to hear felt like an act of magickal and spiritual intention because when she named me this time, Brighid made it personal.
She gave me this name to remind me who I am because names are powerful.
If you want a magickal name, take your time finding out what it is. There are a variety of ways to determine one from random online generators (not my thing but hey it’s your name so do what feels right), to online language translators, using divination, or being given your name by deity through meditation, dreams and/or visions. There is a great article by Patti Wigington on Learn Religions called Finding Your Magical Name with some great information including do’s and don’ts to consider when it comes to magickal names.
Remember, don’t rush the process of figuring out what you want to be called by your spiritual community. And if you decide you never want a magickal name, don’t feel pressured to pick one just because other people say you should (unless it’s part of your tradition). Your legal or birth name has power too. The important thing is to remember who you are as a Witch or Pagan and go from there.
Gwynneth Iníon Brighid