How Do You Know A Magical Working “Took”?
Author: Bronwen Forbes
How Do You Know A Magical Working “Took”?
How Do You Know A Magical Working “Took”?
Author: Bronwen Forbes
A few months after adopting my red and white beagle mix Herman, I was trying to sleep in one Saturday morning when I began to idly wonder, “There are so many Goddesses with dogs as part of their symbolism. I wonder what Gods are associated with dogs, too?” And then it hit me like a two-by-four to the forehead. Herne, Lord of the Wild Hunt, is very much associated with dogs, especially red and white hunting dogs, than you very much. (I warned you I’m a little slow sometimes) .
Needless to say, sleep was no longer an option. I sat up and looked at Herman (who had spent the night, as he usually did, asnooze at my side) who was already staring at me with a definite, “took you long enough to figure it out” expression.
And just like that, I not only had a familiar, I had an avatar.
I’m defining “avatar” here not as a recent hit movie or a small picture that represents you on various blogs or discussion boards, but as the earthly representative of a deity. And for the love of me, I hadn’t a clue what to do with mine.
Four months later, we adopted a German Shepherd mix named Katie – and lo and behold, she was also what my husband likes to call a “God-touched” dog. But unlike Herman who was also my familiar (notice the past tense; I still miss him) , Katie let us know pretty quickly that she had no interest whatsoever in being my husband’s familiar, but would happily attend her Goddess Nehelennia’s tasks of safe travel, healing and commerce. Period.
Since acquiring Herman and Katie in 2001, I’ve alao gotten the clue what to do, not just for my special dogs, but for anyone else who may wake up one morning and see deity shining through the eyes of their pet.
First and foremost, and I know this sounds obvious, you have to keep treating your pet like a, well, pet. Your animal companion is your spiritual and or magickal support (familiar) or a little bit of deity (avatar) but he still needs proper food and water, adequate shelter, regular veterinary checkups, exercise, training, vaccinations, etc. After all, it’s not like the Gods can or will take care of your pet for you.
But once the regular, responsible pet ownership duties are taken care of with your familiar or avatar, there are still some things you need to think about to keep your relationship with your animal companion – and your deity – as smooth and fulfilling as possible.
1. Remember that, despite her spiritual role in your life, your pet is still going to act like an animal. Herman used to drive me crazy with this. He was a daily reminder of my relationship with my patron deity, helped me work through some serious ritual issues, was a whiz at helping new students ground and center simply by sitting in their laps during ritual – and he was also a master escape artist. He could climb or dig under any chain link fence, and did so on a pretty regular basis.
Katie, a born healer, is also a big dog and an unrepentant counter-surfer. I can’t begin to count how many times I packed my lunch, left the kitchen to get dressed for work, and came back to find my lunch bag and food containers in Katie’s crate and my ex-lunch in her stomach. She may be God-touched, but she’s still a dog!
2. Give your familiar and/or avatar full autonomy regarding ritual attendance. This includes personal workings, small group rituals, festivals, and rites of passage. Shortly after my Saturday morning revelation about Herman, my husband and I took him with us to visit my parents for the weekend. While we were there, I helped my parents bury the ashes of our old family cat in the side yard garden – an understandably emotional activity. Herman was in the back yard, separated from me by a picket fence. He could see me through the fence, but couldn’t get to me. As my father dug a hole for the ashes, Herman went nuts, for want of a better word. Instead of pursuing squirrels (his usual pastime in my parents’ backyard) , he was throwing himself against the fence and barking frantically, trying to get to me. I should have stepped over the fence, opened the gate, and allowed Herman to join the small ritual. After all, he only wanted to do his job.
There have also been instance and rituals where Herman or Katie did *not* want to attend a particular ritual, and we quickly learned to “listen” to their opinions – rather like knowing that it doesn’t feel right to take a certain tarot deck with you when you go do readings at a community event. We learned this lesson the hard way when we took Katie to a ritual she clearly didn’t want to go to and she had a seizure.
3. Give your pet enough down time. Just as you can’t be in ritual 24/7, it’s unrealistic to expect your pet to be “on, ” i.e. actively acting as a divine representative or helping you with your spiritual work all the time. Don’t bug him to help you if he clearly doesn’t feel like it – the fact that he’s asleep or ignoring you are clear signs that he “doesn’t feel like it.”
If you find yourself needing extra protein, water or sleep after a working or ritual, offer some to your familiar or avatar as well.
If you have a pet that also enhances your spiritual practice or connection with your deity, you have been given a gift beyond price. Very few animals, at least in my experience, can do this, and if you get one or even two in a lifetime, you have truly been blessed. It’s also not something you can actively look for; it’s like love (actually it *is* love) – the more you try to find that special animal, the less likely you are to succeed.
Be patient. If and when you’re ready, the right animal will come.
Like most good jokes, it has a lot of truth in it.
So rule number one of how *not* to choose a good magickal name is: pick one that’s already been used to death.
Rule number two of how not to choose a good magickal name: pick one that’s unpronounceable. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people with magickal names like Aistiranpaistinfionncoinini have gotten really annoyed with me because I can’t pronounce their name. If you must*have a name longer than ten letters, do your friends, fellow coveners and community a favor and allow us to use a nickname. “Aistir” would work for my example. It means, “star” in Irish Gaelic.
Now that you know what not to do when picking a magickal name for yourself, what doyou do?
First, decide whether or not you really need one, or if your legal first name will work just fine. Back in the 1980s (when I first realized I was Pagan) , most of us had a special name we used in the community. Even though we were on the cusp of the 21st century, we still felt the need to hide our legal identity in order to protect our jobs and our children.
If you have a career, a potential career (if you’re still in school) , children that might be in danger because of where you live or who you’re divorcing, or a work situation that could be jeopardized if people outside the community knew you were Pagan, you might want a magickal name for public community use.
Also, many groups and traditions only use their magickal names when they’re in ritual – it’s another way to move them into ritual space, just like putting on robes and lighting the candles do. For these folks, the privilege of knowing and using their ritual name indicates that you are “family” to them. The rest of the Pagan community calls them Lynn or Bob, i.e. their legal names.
If you still decide you want a magickal name, it’s best to pick one that a) tells the Pagan world something about you, b) is a reflection of your path, or c) invokes something into you that you feel you lack. A really good magickal name will fill all three criteria.
Let me explain. When I joined my first coven, I was required (as were all members) to choose a name from Tolkien’s made-up Elvish language. I was a theater major at the time, and was intrigued by the comedy-tragedy masks that not only summed up the human condition, but also in the balance implied by the smiling face and the sorrowful face. After some reflection, I chose Nienor Lailaith, which, loosely translated, means “sorrow joy.”
I was called “Nienor” in the community for roughly my first year. It definitely told the Pagan world that theater was sacred to me, which was something I wanted everyone to know. The coven I was in used a lot of symbolism from Tolkien’s works, and when I met people and used my Elvish name, there was no question in their minds what coven I was in and what path I was on.
Finally, I was twenty-two years old. “Balance” was not in my vocabulary – but I knew it needed to be. I remember thinking that maybe a nice, balanced name like “sorrow joy” would help me learn how to better juggle my schoolwork, home life, and coven responsibilities. As magickal names go, Nienor Lailaith was a pretty good one.
So in case you’ve accidentally or deliberately misplaced your copy of The Silmarillion, how do you pick a good magickal name?
Here’s what I did when it was time to retire Nienor and find something else. I took a piece of paper and a pen and started writing down every word or name that I liked from my favorite books — fiction and non-fiction — my favorite movies, mythology – Greek, Roman, Celtic, Slavic, Norse, plus plant and tree identification books, baby name books (they’re not known for historical accuracy, but they do have some names you might not otherwise think of) , animals I particularly liked, zodiac correspondences, birds, history… every source I could think of until I had a list of about thirty names.
I then started to cross off the ones I liked the least until I had two left. One, not surprisingly, was Bronwen. I liked the sound. I liked the spelling – there are several ways to spell “Bronwen, ” more if you want it to look exotic. I played around with what little I know about numerology and discovered that Bronwen spelled with an “o” and an “e” (as opposed to, say, “Branwyn” or “Bronwinn”) was a one, a number that balanced my birth number very nicely. So, Bronwen it was.
(On a side note, I legally changed my first and middle names in 1994. “Bronwen” is now my middle name. You don’t have to go as far as legally changing your name. In fact, considering all the expense and annoyance of changing all one’s legal documents, including driver’s license, social security card, medical insurances cards, etc. I strongly recommend you have at least one major compelling reason to do so. It’s really a pain to do!)
Whatever you do, don’t use one of those Pagan name generators on the Internet. They’re a joke. They’re meant to be funny. They are not for real! You’d think everyone would know that, but I’ve run into about one too many “Lavender Mermaid of the Sand” who got her “special” name from one of those sites and took it seriously. In fact, I just now played with the Pagan name generator and got Ariadne Bard Dragonfly.
Hmm. I think I’ll stick with Bronwen, thanks. But if Ariadne Bard Dragonfly works for you, feel free to take it!