Sacred names, sacred knowing, sacred unknowing

Posted: December 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

Yesterday I wrote something most unexpectedly and entirely unplanned and it was angry and riddled with a over-abundance of emphatic profanity. I like what I wrote. I’m not so sure about the picture at the top, but hey, I went with it.

PSVL brought up an interesting point about where e disagrees with me on the subject of naming things:

aediculaantinoi says:
December 16, 2013 at 8:38:15 PM 

On one level, I agree entirely.

On another level (connected to filidecht), I couldn’t disagree more vehemently if I spent every breath I have left, and every drop of liquid in my body as ink, to express that being able to name things–which I think is very different than labeling them–is one of the only authentically “human” things that can and has ever been done, when it is right and effective and done well. (And, most often, it isn’t.)

Much more could be said, but the vocal cords photo is kind of grossing me out, so maybe some other time. ;)

anomalousthracian says:

December 16, 2013 at 9:01:58 PM  

PSVL, thank you for bringing up an important point. There is indeed a great and sacred power in naming things, exactly as you have described here.

But I don’t think that is what I rambled about here, in ranty fashion. There is no “dependence” and nothing “lazy” about the process you are alluding to. It is not a crutch. And it is also not a big part of one’s process of “experience”, but rather, is an experience unto itself.

I don’t see these two things in conflict, and I may well write something up to navigate that. What I am discussing so critically is the naming-for-the-sake-of-a-false-sense-of-ownership, born not of sacred function (ala filidecht) but instead of insecurity, fear, and uncertainty.

There is an important thread in this: the difference between naming a thing, and labeling a thing. But I also don’t think that these words are terribly useful to differentiate because very few people would describe their process as “labeling” when they assign something a name or categorical term of association, even if that is exactly what it is. And certainly very few people would call their own practices lazy.

I would also like to point out, however, that my post is certainly not directed at the practice of filidecht (sacred Irish poetry and lyrical magical word-slinging, of great power and appropriately fearsome renown, as I understand it) but rather at basic human-level assignment of names, or even the desperate seeking of names.

As I recently mentioned in another entry, I did not know the names of my gods at first. I don’t think many of us do, really, even when it is a “big name” god popular in the polytheist-or-pagan-or-magickal-or-mythographical milieu. For those of us who have less commonly known gods, there frequently are not readily available books or studies or popular sages to help sort and suss it out, and I find that a trap many people fall into is in attempting to engage the “are you my mommy?” deity butt-sniffing routine in order to have a name by which to know their god(s), or the spirits that they are experiencing, not necessarily because the gods have asked for this but because humans loath and fear the uncertainty of unknowing. And yet, there is profound power in names, profound transformation and gnosis in knowing:

“When I encountered the name of a particularly important one of my gods for the first time, it was in a book, by accident. I wasn’t searching, wasn’t eagerly pouring through dusty tomes hoping to find it; it came up by accident, while I was attending to something else, in an altogether inconvenient location for such. The moment that I read Her name, which was the first time I’d knowingly done so, I was struck as if by lightning and a cold wind at once, and thrown back from my chair and against a metal radiator mounted to the wall some distance behind. My chair broke. Attention was drawn. My head was bleeding. Profound, life-changing, literal experience of being lifted off of the ground through a wooden chair and set on fire with the sheer power of that sacred knowledge, which was felt, confirmed, known, and embodied all in one painful, glorious, sacred fucking instant.”

My argument or suggestion is that the desperate pursuit of names and “identification” of the gods or spirits or beings who show up for us experientially is, most of the time, not a thing that we’re asked to do but instead a thing that we seek out and selfishly climb toward, out of fear and insecurity. Fear of madness (because a thing becomes inarguably more real, in our perception of it, when it has a name!) or of mistaken devotion (what if this isn’t a spirit you “should” be working with..?), or out of misplaced “discernment” (because very few people actually discuss what a process of discernment looks like, and in practice most seem to think it is just a simple linear process or trajectory). I have personally witnessed the sacred unfolding of a person — even a decades-devoted polytheist — experiencing the pure fucking revelation of sacred knowing, striking them from far outside and yet infinitely expanding from the inside out as well. As the baptismal waters of sudden awakened knowing are splashed upon us, the sacred unknowing that was seeded into the soils of our souls and psyches through divine and direct experience blossom forth and expand out, as the inner connects and entangles as two serpents with that which comes from the outer.

And, fuck, that shit is the stuff of Mystery and apocalyptically important transformation of everything you ever thought you knew

But that process can be interrupted or obstructed or fucking cock-blocked by the desperate reaching for answers before they’re there. In some lucky cases, a person may reach for a name and receive one through syncretistic understanding, finding the sacred name or title of another (similar, related?) deity or power, which can itself be a beautiful thing, and then this relationship can itself be expanded in time and further communion as the “new deity” (e.g. the syncretized power) enters the equation, and perhaps assists in guiding the person toward the “original relationship” that led to the seeking of names and knowledge in the first place. And that can be fucking spectacular, and hey, I’m all for syncretism done right and as a polytheist I’m in full favor of more gods being drawn into a right practice of devotion.

However, syncretism can go so horribly, horribly wrong, to the extent that it isn’t even syncretism anymore. It’s just lazy equational deity-reducing bullshittery.

Think of it like this: if Kelly works in an office with thirty-two other employees, and begins to receive secret anonymous love-notes and gifts of (not creepy, not stalkery) endearment and adoration, he’s probably going to want to know who they’re coming from. Because he’s going to be made uncomfortable by the unknowing state, and even if the statements on the cards or the thoughtfulness of the gifts would otherwise make him feel good and loved and nourished, the lack of context for where they’re coming from (and the very fact that some unknown force or agency is making him feel something, anything at all) can and frequently will be processed internally as an assault on Kelly’s comfort. The uncertain cancerously devours our comfort. So Kelly will want to squirrel out an answer and find out who the fuck is assaulting them with so many feels, because damn, that’s not cool. Or it’s totally cool. Or it’s both. Or, oh fuckity, human emotion is complicated and contradictory, isn’t it? So Kelly goes around “investigating”, seeking to “discern” the identity of the gift-giver. And let’s say that he figures the gift giver is James, the up-and-coming-but-still-young-and-shy new guy down the hall, with the pretty eyes. Kelly might find some evidence to support this — the time that the gifts appear compared to James’ schedule, the taste in gifts correlated with Kelly’s assumptions about James’ own personality and so forth — and he might either like or extremely dislike this thing. But because they’re secret gifts, Kelly chooses not to immediately “call him out” on it, and instead lets the game continue, comfortable now in his own esoteric knowledge of the origin of these gifts, these notes, these experiences.

But it turns out that James doesn’t like guys, and the gifts are actually coming from Sally, the serial-killer mail-room-girl who has been eyeing Kelly’s ears with a mind for trophy taking. The assumption that the gifts came from James (and the comfortable “easy” acceptance of this “fact”) wasn’t about actually determining the truth of the matter, it was about finding a resolution to the discomfort of the unknowing. And now Kelly is dead somewhere with no fucking ears because when Sally finally approached him in the parking lot that one night, direct and in the open, Kelly was still are starry-eyed about James and warm-all-over with the comfort of his freshly achieved state of knowing, and totally didn’t see the linoleum knives in her hands. Had he found a way to accept the fear of unknowing and not leapt to conclusions about the experience that made him uncomfortably conflicted with good/bad warmth/uncertainty blah blah blah, maybe he could have been a bit more open and attentive in the parking lot that night.

I am advocating for an increase of courage in the face of the unknown. For a suspension not of discernment (for that is an important, VITAL thing that we need to see more proper employment of!) but of rash assumptions that are called discernment, by the lazy and insecure masses (which is to say, mostly everyone) who are made unnerved by an unknowing.

Names are potent, sacred, profound: but that potency is lost if the wrong name is applied. Truth is empty of meaning when it is clung to merely to have something, instead of a real something.

I once broke up with a girl in a cold December not unlike this one, because the relationship had gone terribly unsteady, unstable, unhealthy. I had a terrible fever at that point, as my immune system was even worse then as it is now, and I had spent several days in feverish delirium, and I recall recognizing that she found my illness to be an inconvenience as it shifted focus and attention from her whimsical needs. Which is fine. But instead of doing anything mature about it, she was awful to the guy with the hospitalization-is-probably-warranted fever. When I told her that it was over, she said, “Can’t we just stay together a little while longer? Until Spring? It is cold this time of year, and would be warmer together. Especially with your fever.” My reply was cold and steady and immediate: “I would rather be cold and alone than artificially with you, just to fill the space.”

And I hold to this; there is a desolate chill that comes from not knowing a thing, from not having an established truth or having yet received the names of the gods or spirits who dance around you or bring sacred fire to your inner being. There is a shiver that is appropriate to feel rise through you from the bones when you just don’t know, and that is what I say we must find comfort with, to breathe through: the fear that we must let pass through, until only we remain. I believe in sacred relationships, with humans and with gods and with spirits and with my environment. I feel that the cleanest, deepest way that I can relate to another being or force is to do so as wholly and authentically realized as I can, which is to say, with as much self-knowledge as I can master. Mastery isn’t about not being afraid, or not shivering when cold, or not pissing in terror when the things that come out of the shadows of the unknown and besiege our senses and pysches do their dance through us. Mastery is about doing the work anyway, piss-stained and bone-cold and squinting into the darkness. Naming shit just to feel more comfortable with it is not just lazy, it is cowardice; natural, human cowardice.

And I think we can do better than that.


  1. I really feel bad about Kelly. If it had been James, they might have maybe both quit their jobs and went elsewhere, enacting their lust upon each other’s flesh under the wheeling stars with the forest as patient, approving witness. Mayhaps they’d let me join in, or at least play recorder from the trees.


    Also, ugh. You’re right. And that’s terrifying; not the mail-room killer (well, her too) but the recognition that maybe one jumps to conclusions just to have a workable answer.

    But do you think perhaps we might also err by waiting in permanent caution in expectation of a more comfortable answer?

    • Indeed, on the erring in wait. Enter “discernment” to the orgy of mayhem and conflict.

      By which I mean “real discernment”, not “lazy assumptions and conclusatory leaps to stave off the terrifying unknown”. Which involves some patience, some humility, some openness AND some structure. You know, moderation, in other words.

      It’s a terrifying thing when the barbarians are preaching moderation. What the fuck, society. Get with it. I’m stealing your lines AND still blooding myself against your walls. If you’re gonna be all domestic and civilized and shit, at least act the part and practice the cornerstone teachings of your own asshattery so I can go back to being a feral fuck in the woods and shit.

  2. Either I hit a nerve or the synchsprites are having fun.

    I’ve only known bliss with the female that I speak of. She’s never been cruel to me. Though I have always known the possibility lay there. It’s quite possible I’m experiencing a bit of that right now after something I did or rather didn’t do. Hence some of the searching. Usually the atmosphere she is showing up in is not fun to say the least, but her presence itself is the very definition of peacefulness. So on that end of things there has never been this fear for me. The difficult part for me has been everything else that has went along with it.

    Having allowed nature to take it’s course for over 40 years, floundering on my own, I can say that there is both peace and absolute hell in it. And you’re damn right about fear coloring things. I admit that openly. Have for a very long time. In my case, it’s pretty confusing to have this image you’ve known your entire life, this presence that as quite clearly the same presence that has made themselves known to you in waking and in sleep. It’s just a part of your life and in all that time she has looked one particular way. Oh I was given plenty of hints, if not outright told, that wasn’t always the case. But it’s still what I have come to associate. To then have this other image given to me, that in my heart of hearts I know is the same, but it is so very different. It is a confusing, fear stricken moment. Anyone who claims otherwise I would totally call bullshit on. But you are totally right in the reasons the fear are there. There’s no denying that at all. And even in that moment, I knew that was the case. I’ve never denied that to myself.

    The thing is, I don’t think anyone’s path is the same. Though I explored a lot when I was much younger, I haven’t done so for many years because I came to the conclusion that nothing I found would matter. My experience was mine and would fold out as it was meant to. I had found a comfort in that, in all of it. Though parts weren’t easy, they were still as they should be in my mind. I didn’t need anyone’s approval, I’d grown past that. Still don’t need anyone’s approval. Been down that road and learned the stupidity of it. Something occurred which I haven’t wrote about or shared with more than one person on the planet. That something made me wonder if maybe I had been doing wrong. Perhaps I was supposed to be trying to discover more. Not through the many hours of mediation and other things that I do which are personal and very rarely do I share. It’s easy to wonder when if you do happen to step outside and look into the many voices out there that claim this great importance to their god and that we should be doing this or that or this and that, maybe that this and that while upside down, rubbing our tummy, and patting our head. Rarely. Hell, yours is the first time I’ve ever read someone say what you’ve said.

    So yeah, I typed in the description of what I drew. Looked through images first and found nothing even close. Then I started reading. Came across similarities, but they didn’t feel quite right. Saw a name mentioned in parenthesis but not in any actual context other than being perhaps a previous version. As soon as I saw the name, I saw her face. I read of some others, as I had several tabs opened up. Then I looked up this name. A very old name Sumerian name that I had never heard of. The funny thing is, that I didn’t want to know a name as if to verify my own experiences. As I doubt I’m going to behave much differently than I already do, though there is a lot going on now because of that. So maybe I am wrong in saying that I will behave differently. I wanted to know a name so that I could read stories that others who have known her have written. The discovery of what I thought to be another similar to me had absolutely nothing to do with the desire to know the name. And I still standby your answer being what I needed to hear.

    Learning stories, learning others practices, learning varied information albeit always taken as it is humans writing this down doesn’t mean it’s going to change the relationship. It doesn’t mean the relationship needs changed. But I can’t deny that it would be nice to read about. It’s information. To see what cultures said or believed about her when she was a point of everyday life to many, openly so. I’ve read about so many other entities, knowing they weren’t right but also wondering what the story of this being so important to me. I know what’s been shown to me. Hell, I’m pretty sure I could offend lots of people by sharing some of those things. They’re not offensive to me though, because they simply are as they are. I’m a curious person. Unpologetically so. She likes me that way. I have no doubt of this.

    And to think so many sentences put together, and conversations had after a single question. I do love me a question.

  3. Thank you for clarifying this more. I don’t disagree at all! 😉

    The “who is it” question is kind of one we’re given as exemplary use of filidecht‘s sine qua non, i.e. imbas forosnai (“great knowledge which illuminates”), which is one of the “Three Things Required of a Fili.” And, Finn mac Cumhaill is the one who always ends up using it, it seems, in various tales that involve “Who is doing this crap to us?” or whatever…and, of course, he’s always right. So, it’s part of what a fili is, ideally, not only accustomed to do, but is supposed to be able to do in any and all circumstances. (And Irish medieval monastic scholars likewise did a lot of “Guess who I am!” games, too, so perhaps that’s part of it, since they wrote all we have on this…)

  4. I had a relationship for, oh, eight or ten years with a God I couldn’t name. I just had these experiences of His presence, and they were clear and striking and well-featured (e.g. I could describe Him visually) but He never gave me a name. He became That Nameless Horned God in my mind. Or The Hooded One. I was pretty sure that I could have found out about who He was if I’d gone researching. I wad pretty sure he wasn’t one of the commonly listed Horned Gods of popular Paganism but that He had some body of lore about Him somewhere. But I didn’t go look Him up, because my experience of Him was so potently resonant of His faceless, nameless quality that I felt He wanted to be nameless. Or at least, He wanted *me* to be. So I accepted that, and He continued for years to be That One.

    Forward to some years post my Feri initiation, and I ended up in a ritual with some other initiates working with one of the deities peculiar to Feri whom I’d always kind of assumed was basically made-up out of Victor’s schizo-syncretic trickster mind, because nobody ever seemed to be able to point me to any historical lore or even a basis for the name… Nope. It was Him. Laughing at me, now. As real as I was, at least.

    I tell this story because I think it’s illustrative of what you’re talking about. And also, because it brings up a different aspect – the isolation of the mystic.

    Because I didn’t have a name for Him, it wasn’t possible for me to really connect with anyone else who knew Him. I did talk to a few people about my experiences, and occasionally we would note similarities between what I’d seen and what they’d seen, or between what I’d seen and some lore of one God or another. But it was never possible to go very deep with that, because no locking onto that recognition, no “You know Him too? Let’s talk!” And so even though I was literally embedded in a network of hundreds of people who worked with Him and had an extensive body of ritual liturgy and lore, I was paradoxically alone in my relationship with Him for almost a whole decade. I sometimes feel that set me back a long way in my relationship with this deity.

    Language is a two edged thing. It cam be a crutch and a prison. It is also what connects us to each other and allows us to have shared knowledge.

  5. Also, totally off-topic, I rather wish your blog site had an option for subscribing to comments on a post, without having to go through a whole two-step confirmation-email process every time. Possibly a setting you can adjust?

    • (Longer reply coming when I can — thank you thank you thank you for this wonderful share, and YES on all of it! I will check in on settings on following comments. Very new to this WordPressing process, I’ll have my guru wave a magic wand at it and make things happen. While I drink. And/or snuggle a goat.)

  6. dunkelza says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling for awhile now to put a name to “Godzilla” and your article gives me some peace in the not-knowing.

  7. disirdottir says:

    Catching up on some reading (obviously). This and the preceding post are so very in sync with thoughts I was documenting on the bus this morning but that my tablet consumed. . . I was frustrated at that, but no need. Tablet is wise, you’ve got this shit most excellently covered.

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