Magic Names by Barbara Ardinger
Many modern pagans adopt magical names. I think I’ve found one for myself. It’s a good motto, and even saying it aloud reminds me of the daily blessings of the Goddess to her children. The Latin name I’d choose is Beata elle. “Blessed is she.”
When I attended a pagan studies conference recently to read from Secret Lives (and sign and sell a few copies), I listened very carefully to another presenter who spoke about magical names. When we go through an initiation, he said, we receive a new name. It’s a custom that is familiar to people through the ages and around the world. The presenter spoke about why people adopted magical names during the 19th-century European occult revival and why pagans still take magical names. And he set me to thinking. When you earn your Ph.D., you don’t get a new name. The Ph.D. is indeed an initiatory experience. Ask anyone who’s done it. You go through multitudinous ordeals both physical and intellectual. You face judges, speak what you’ve learned, and finally attain gnosis. But all you get for all your work and suffering are those nifty letters to put after your name. But I digress.
When the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was established in England in 1887 by three Masons—William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers—they set up a splendid hierarchy of people who got to wear splendid faux-Egyptian costumes. perform splendid rituals, and rise in the hierarchies. They also adopted splendid magical Latin mottoes, which were the names they were known by in their splendid magical work. Woodman became Magna est Veritas (“Great is the truth”). Westcott first became Non Omnis Moriar (“I shall not wholly die,” a line from Horace) then Sapere Aude (“Dare to Know”). Mathers became Deo Duce Comite Ferro (“God as my guide, the sword as my companion”). Mathers’ wife Moina (the sister of French philosopher Henri Bergson) became Vestigia nulla retrorsum (“I never retrace my steps”). My favorite modern poet, William Butler Yeats, became Demon est Deus inversus (“The demon is the reverse of God”). After the Golden Dawn went through a rebellion and was reorganized as Alpha et Omega, psychologist Violet Furth became Dion Fortune (from Deo, non fortuna, “By God, not by chance”). While one purpose of these magical names was to separate the magical persona from the mundane person, the names and mottoes also signaled the bearers’ ambitions and wishes.
Many modern pagans likewise adopt magical names. These names give them a semi-secret identity that protects them from prejudice and persecution by people who don’t understand that pagans are not devil worshippers. They also distinguish the named persons from Muggles. Occasionally, the magical name reveals a touch of hubris in the personality of its bearer. These magical names are most often taken at initiations, and a lot of them come from Tolkien. I satirize this in Chapter 16 of Secret Lives, where three college students who are first-degree Gardnerians decide the old women in the book aren’t doing the magic the right (i.e., Gardnerian) way and set about correcting them. What the kids learn of course is that you don’t want to mess with grandmothers who do magic.
Though I’ve never adopted either a magical pagan name or a nom de plume, when I was initiated into a Grand Lodge back in the late seventies I was given a magical name and the title Grand Venerable. I initiated a number of candidates and did some ceremonial magic (which, unlike witchy magic, is very cerebral), but then I got really bored. I packed up the codices and sent them back to the Head of the Lodge. And now, try as I may, I cannot remember what my nice Latin magical name was.
I’m still pondering that talk at the pagan studies conference, and now I think I’ve found a magical name for myself. Not that I’ll ever use it, but it’s a good motto and even saying it aloud reminds me of the daily blessings of the Goddess to her children. The Latin name I’d choose is Beata elle. “Blessed is she.”
Beata elle is the feminine form of beatus ille, “blessed is he.” In case this sounds familiar…
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Yes, the Beatitudes come from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10), the biblical passage I wish more Christian would keep in mind when they talk to and interact with people. I think the Sermon on the Mount is the most valuable teaching of their great teacher. I wish we’d all learn the lessons of the Beatitudes and be humble and meek and merciful and make peace with all the children of the Goddess, no matter what church, synagogue, temple. mosque, meeting house, or circle we go to.
During the late 18th century, the so-called Augustan Age when English art, architecture, grammar, and literature were modeled on the culture of the early Roman Empire, there was a series of beatus ille poems. These weren’t based on Matthew, however, but on the Georgics and Eclogues of Virgil, which are pastoral poems about agriculture and bee-keeping and similar topics. What the English poets wrote, basically, goes like this: “Blessed is he who leaves the crowded, noisy city and moves to the country and raises bees and cattle.” Does this remind anyone else of the mid-20th century pagan revival when people left the cities and started rural communes? Pagans still like bucolic outdoor settings for rituals. Most of us do, that is. Not me. I don’t like to get the outdoors on me. But then, I’m one of the Goddess’s thoughty devotees. (BTW, it’s thanks to the Augustan Age that we have grammar rules like you can’t split an infinitive. In Latin, an infinitive, “to love,” is one word, amare. You can’t split one word.)
Beatus ille. Beata elle. Say it out loud and send the blessing of the words out into the air you breathe. Blessed is he. Blessed is she. Blessed is the air. Blessed is the land. Blessed is our beautiful mother planet. Blessed are we all.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.