On the Topic of Spiritual Names

Spiritual Names.

That’s a hot topic with a lot of pagans. Whether you call them pagan names, craft names, coven names or what have you, I mean the same thing. I’m going to preface this by saying I do have a name I use in spiritual practice, but only in spiritual practice. I used to use it more openly in pagan circles and on websites and things… but that’s changed. Because given how I got my name, I’ve chosen to make that between me and deity and very little more.

I use my legal name in all practices outside of ritual or private meditations. I don’t feel I would be taken as seriously in my community if I went publicly by Winterstar Morningmoon or something like that. I really don’t. If that’s your spiritual name, great, more power to you. For me, my legal name is how I want to be remembered.

I’ve had people over the years come up to me and say, “I’m surprised by how normal you are, Dawn.” Now, while my friends and close acquaintances might argue that ‘normal’ moniker, I don’t look, act or speak like your stereotypical pagan. I wear normal clothes I buy at chain retail stores, I style my hair in the morning (usually), I have a 9-5 job at a large corporation, I’m not poor, I’m not dripping in pentacles, I listen to regular music and read regular books and I don’t spew forth the gospel of the goddess at every waking moment.

I am very active in our local pagan community. I am president of a non-profit organization I helped found in 2003, and that makes me rather public about my religion and spirituality. If I didn’t use my legal name, the business we pretty much take over once a month for our coffee nights probably wouldn’t reserve space for us, knowing we are not going to ruin the image of the business. If I didn’t use my legal name, the conference room we use for our monthly education days would likely not let us use it for free, as being unable to verify our non-profit status or who I represent. If I didn’t use my legal name, the interfaith work I did with our LGBT Christian Church (still Christian and even though LGBT they’re not as open minded as you would think) would not have happened. If I didn’t use my legal name, the professors of religious studies at our local university probably would not send their students to us for interviews and research for their classes and papers.

I have to use my legal name in federal and state documents that support our non-profit status. It’s the name that registered our domain and hosting for our website. If people really want to find me, they can, and no amount of hiding behind a pagan pseudonym is going to stop that.

I understand, though, that I am blessed to have never experienced true persecution for my path. I had one group of christian mommies at the dance studio I used to teach at throw a fit when they found out my religious persuasion, but my boss came to my defense. The place I work now… could care less as long as I’m not defaming them or doing anything illegal. There’s no point in using another name.

Some people aren’t that fortunate and I get that. But please, by Odin’s Beard can you put some thought into your chosen name and not come up with something that looks like a random name generator threw up on your ‘Book of Shadows’. If Ravensong Chikadee speaks to you, great. Just try to understand when some of us chuckle at you.

A word, then, about taking deity names for your spiritual names. I understand that you might feel a connection with Athena, or Loki… or what have you. But taking a god’s proper name as your own always felt a little… arrogant to me. Now, I know you might say, “but Dawn, don’t you have a goddess’ name for your spiritual name?” Yes and no. She’s more of a daemon than a goddess, and she’s certainly not one of the Big Twelve. She’s gone to the Underworld to stay, and being that her name was given to me by deity, I feel more than comfortable using it in discourse with deity. I’m not talking about lesser gods. If you want to call yourself, for example, Philotes (Greek underworld goddess of friendship etc.)… by all means. But going by Zeus is probably asking for a thunderbolt to hit your house. Just sayin’. The bigger the god or goddess, the more likely is it that they aren’t going to like you using their name, or like you acting like an ass and using their name.

Now epithets, on the other hand, I think are perfectly fine as long as you research the etymology behind them and live up to what that means. If you chose the Greek epithet for Zeus of Xenios… which comes from the Greek notion of Xenia. That’s hospitality. It’s an unwritten ethical law in Ancient Greek society, so you better be prepared to be a hospitable person.

Another bit about arrogance. I have an issue with people who call themselves Lord and Lady. Unless you are a Wiccan officiant at a Wiccan ceremony and calling yourself that because you have invoked deity into yourself and you are the representation of deity, stop it. Lords and Ladies are people with titles that they have either earned or were born with. Just like calling yourself Sir Blahblah is probably going to irritate someone who was actually knighted.

So, Sir Dagda is probably a bad spiritual name, then.

These are just my opinions, mind you. But I’ve been involved in the pagan community… the greater pagan community, for over 10 years at this point and I’ve seen some seriously silly spiritual names that people take, then sit and wonder why they don’t get taken seriously. All it takes is a little common sense, some creativity and a connection to come up with something that suits you perfectly and doesn’t sounds like something a two-year old would name her dolly. And if you have to use your pagan name in public for whatever reason, be understanding and respectful when people don’t understand why Joe Schmoe goes by Set Blacklaird. It’s going to make them think you are hiding something illegal, or are embarrassed by it.

Just… be prepared for that.

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