The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
I’ve been thinking a bit about names lately, inspired in part by an episode of Peter Paddon’s recently revived Crooked Path podcast (episode 4, to be precise), wherein he talked about the power of magical names, and the importance of treating them as distinct from online personas. The show made me realize that although I’ve talked a little about the origin of the name Oraia Sphinx, I haven’t talked about my approach to names in general. I encourage you to go listen to that episode of the Crooked Path, because I agree with what Peter says about names, but most of what follows is my own take on the subject (with inspiration from T.S. Eliot) and isn’t meant to represent his thoughts on the matter.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily
We each have a name we were given by our parents, the name that’s on our birth certificate, driver’s license, tax returns, and other official documents. That name may have profound meaning for us, especially if we were named for someone special, or if we have come to identify with the original meaning of the name. Or, it may simply be the name by which we are known to most of the world, important to us only out of long familiarity.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified
Whatever we may think of our given names, though, many of us have chosen another name, one that we use in Pagan circles to represent our spiritual aspirations, our connection to a totem animal, or simply that part of ourselves we identify as magical. In ceremonial magick, the parallel to this name is the magical motto and the initials thereof. “Oraia Sphinx” is one of these sorts of names, and it’s one that I could see using at public events as well as online, but it isn’t the same as my magical name.
(When it comes to these names, of course, one might argue against the “more dignified” part of the quote when contemplating names like Lady Sparkle Moonstone Fluffybutt, in which case I encourage you to emphasize the “peculiar” part of the same line. *grin*)
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
And then there is the magical name, what one might call the True Name. This is a name that is known only to the individual and the Gods, and perhaps his or her coven, grove, lodge, or working group, as appropriate. Whether chosen or conferred, this is a name of great power because it forms a direct link with the magical self and, I would argue, with the Divine Self or personal Godhood of the individual. This power is not meant to be squandered through the indiscriminate use of the name in public contexts, and the revelation of it should not be taken lightly.
While the second name, the public “craft name,” may change several times as we grow in our practice, this third name is less likely to change, though it may well do so after profound shifts in our spiritual awareness, such as initiations. In ceremonial magick, this corresponds to the name of one’s Holy Guardian Angel, and though there are (in)famous examples of such names being made public, I would still argue that doing so is best done after a great deal of contemplation.
At this time, my magical name is known only to me and the Gods, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use it. One thing I have been doing as I create a body of ritual to work with, is incorporating this name as a sort of self-invocation. After I intone the names of my primary deities, I vibrate my own Name as well; this has the effect of aligning me with my own Divine Self as well as my Divine patrons. There are different ways to incorporate this, depending on your particular path, but even if you use your everyday, given name, you might find it interesting to try, and see what happens.
Personally, I think all of these names are meaningful. We can look at names like layers of an onion, or octaves of a single note. Perhaps all of our representations of ourselves are nothing more than variations on a theme, ways of expressing the inexpressible essence of our
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
(Quotes are from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Naming of Cats,” from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.)