|Merlin the Great by Mark Stefanowicz|
–Nevill Drury, Merlin’s Book of Magick and Enchantment, p. 64
I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for high school again. Maybe it’s because I’ll be missing my five-year reunion soon. Really, does anyone even bother going to five-years? Or maybe it’s because I’ll be getting to see my family this weekend. Probably the latter. Regardless, all these nostalgia feelings inspired me to crack open a book that is and always will be near and dear to my heart: Merlin’s book of Magick and Enchantment by Nevill Drury. Naturally, the author’s name does not appear on the cover; you have to dig for it, or else what’s the fun in pretending it’s a book written by the famous Merlin of Arthurian Legend?
The first Pagan book I ever owned was given to me for Christmas by my best friend, Amphitrite, back when I still considered myself a good Catholic girl who sang in the youth choir every winter and executed faithfully the duties of an altar server the other four seasons. I went to mass every Sunday with my parents and brothers. I wore a crucifix almost every day. I gave up makeup, AIM, candy, cursing, and fighting with Little Brother for Lent. And then…my very Baptist friend gave very Catholic me an ornately bound, gorgeously illustrated, and poetically written book that explained—in narrative form—the basic tenets of (modern) Druidry. I doubt the irony of this situation is lost on anyone who regularly reads my blog.
When I first unwrapped it Christmas morning, I stared in awe at the cover and then proceeded to flip through all the illustrations. The artist in me salivated over the colors and the symbolism in each picture (if you can get you hands on a copy of this book, however cheesy its premise, I highly suggest it if for no other reason than the artwork). Of course, even at fourteen I was well aware that it wasn’t actually written by Merlin (I’d watched a thousand History and Discovery channel specials on Aurthurian legend by then, even, not to mention Mists of Avalon, so I was well familiar with the historical evidence versus the myths), but my spiritual world was still very narrow. I had never heard of Paganism, Wicca, Asatru, Druidry, anything. To me, the myths of the Old Gods were just that—myths. Fabulous stories created by men (and, perhaps, women as well) throughout the ages to explain natural phenomena they could not otherwise understand. I had studied the Roman and Greek gods since elementary school—the mythology curriculum was always my favorite—and then again in Latin classes. I had a basic familiarity with the gods of the Egyptians and the Norse from my own reading, just for fun. I knew that other ancient cultures had other deities, but that Christianity had replaced them all. I didn’t have the first clue that these Old Gods were being revived. At least, not until I started reading Merlin’s Book of Magick and Enchantment.
I can’t say that was the start of my journey to Paganism—that would have to be when I was seven and first questioned why God was a dude when (S)He always felt feminine to me (pretty sure my parents thought that I thought way too much for a seven year old after that one)—but it was a major milestone. Several years later I was writing my (high school) senior thesis on the resurgence of Goddess-worship in the form of Neopaganism. By college? Game over, Catholicism. You’d officially lost another follower.
I remember having a discussion with Amphitrite’s mother shortly after she had given me the book. Her mom specified, “Well, it’s not for reading, we just thought you’d like the pictures.” I nodded and smiled and said “Of course! Lovely pictures. Won’t read it.” I’d already read it. Twice. My own mother, giggling surreptitiously nearby, just shook her head. She knew. I do, after all, inherit my curious bones from her side of the family.
One of the chapters of the MBoM&E has to do with choosing a “magickal name,” or rather, a method for divining one. I’m aware that a magical name is a topic of some debate in the modern Pagan community, and there are good arguments from all sides on the matter. I have my opinions, which I’ll present briefly here. Anden Jade is not my given name, but I consider it my “working name,” or for you non-Pagan readers, the name I present to the larger Pagan community…on the rare occasions I encounter any members of said community, that is. It’s my public name, hence my using it for my blog and for my music website. However, I don’t consider it my true name, or the name by which I call myself when I come before my Deities. That is a name I hold close to my heart and only two of my closest confidants—Amphitrite is one of them—know it. They keep mine; I keep theirs.
Words have power. Names have power. Naming something gives it form, meaning, purpose. Naming begets understanding. What I can name, I can visualize. What I can visualize, I can recreate (through art, through music, through magic). What I can recreate, I can control. At least, that’s the theory of my perspective.
I did not divine for my true name. I did not consult runes or tarot or alphabet soup. I did not ask for it and get an answer in a dream. I did not stare at a crystal sphere until my eyes crossed and letters appeared before. I did not wait for anyone else to name me. My true name has always been a part of me, long before I knew what it meant. Ever since I can remember, I have called myself secretly by a name separate from the one my parents bestowed upon me at birth. I distinctly remember being five or six, scampering around the woods, spinning in circles and thinking to myself, “I am not Lissa, I am ____.” (Melissa is my first name, by the way. I was Lissa until I was around eight years old. After that, I decided “Lissa” sounded childish, and began to use the full version until college, when suddenly people just started calling me Mel.) Funny how these things work out. And to think it took me over a decade after that to finally figure out that I’m not a good Catholic girl, I’m a Pagan. Sometimes I think I’m not as smart as my family and friends and coworkers seem to think I am. You’d think between the statue of Diana my grandfather carved for me and my lifelong obsessions with running through the woods, dancing in the rain, Celtic folk music, Amazons, candles, history, and mythology that I would have figured that one out a helluva lot sooner. Oh well. Better late than never, eh?