Mishkan ha-Echad

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Purpose Of The Magical Motto

"Each of the Golden Dawn women chose a motto to define her personal search for meaning and her link to the Divine. The motto became her magical name, because in naming herself after the image of a central principle, each woman strove to make herself over in that image. Yeats said, "There is some one myth for every man, which if we but knew it, would make us understand all that he did and thought." Through their mottos we an glimpse the inner myths through which these women gave life to their souls. As you read their stories and discover how their mottos weave through their decisions and actions, you might think about the magical motto you would choose for yourself to express your own inner myth. What is the central principle or image by and for which you would wish to live? Wisdom, Light, Peace, Joy, Justice, Bliss, Strength, Truth, Unity ... to quest, to love, to learn, to dare, to persevere. Is it symbolized by a Heart, Fire, Stars, a Sun, Divinity? All of these appear in the mottos of members of the Golden Dawn, and always they tell something about the character of the person so named and about the central principle or image that motivates them. Through their mottos we will find the character, motivation, and aims which the women of the Golden Dawn aspired, which can be seen through the related concepts of principle quest, and task."

Mary K. Greer, Women of the Golden Dawn

The magical motto is one of the most misunderstood elements of a magician's repertoire. The frequency with which I see new magicians ask what the magical motto is and how one should pick one is quite high. Indeed, some people suggest something along the lines of a Wiccan name, stating the need for an animal, a season, an element, or some other such element of Pagan tradition. These sometimes appear to be chosen on whim or personal interest. If the person likes foxes, they adopt that into their name. If they are a fire sign, they utilise that in the name. Suddenly they end up with something like Firefox, and, as you can tell, I was even influenced in my example by a certain well known browser which shall remain anonymous (yes, that is a joke).

This kind of tradition does not apply to the magical mottos in Ceremonial Magic, although it is valid, if not a little cheesy, in its own right. Golden Dawn mottos, for example, are usually in a foreign language, adding to some element of mystique, and this language is predominantly Latin. This is most likely due to the fact that most mottos in general, be they for a school, a town, a club, etc., are usually in Latin. A smaller few are in Hebrew or Greek, or another similar language, or sometimes, though very rarely, a mixture of a few.

But what is the magical motto actually for? What does it do? Why is it utilised? In the Confirmation ceremony of Catholic tradition the person will adopt a "Confirmation name", which shall, thenceforth, follow their first and middle names. This is more of a ceremonial adoption, as I do not believe there is any legal backing for the addition of a fourth name to someone. The purpose of it is to symbolise the new life that the Catholic in question is undertaking. Indeed, it is also designed to symbolise a certain principle or goal that is deemed important to the person taking the name, and thus tradition has it that the name must be one of a Saint. The taking of this name, therefore, is like the adoption of a patron saint and the values and principles that this Saint epitomizes.

This is how the magical motto of Ceremonial Magic works. It symbolises the end of the old way of life and the beginning of a new. The candidate in the Neophyte ceremony of the Golden Dawn, for example, symbolically sheds his old identity and takes on a new one ("I give permission to admit [name] who now loses his name and will henceforth be known among us as [motto]"). This magical identity is donned much as the robe and nemyss is, and contributes to the growth of the individual in question. It also symbolises their magical goal, and thus should not be chosen lightly. Sometimes people choose a motto that is not their goal, and thus they are reinforcing something that they do not want to become. Careful consideration is essential before the adoption of a new motto, for, as the old slogan goes, "by Names and Images are all powers awakened and reawakened". By the Name you choose to represent you and your spiritual quest, great powers in the Universe are awoken, and they will be continuously reawoken and tapped into every time you utilise that name. Thus it is vital to choose a name which signifies powers, attributes, values, and goals that you wish to evoke and invoke. I will close with the Declaration of the Motto segment of the O.'.S.'.D.'.L.'. Aspirant Initiation Ceremony, which I feel aptly evokes some of the gravity of adopting a new motto:

Initiate: “From the darkness of the days when I did not know these Words, I walked a Land that was wild and dim, shrouded in Ignorance and Folly. The Letters, expressions of a Living Fire, join into Words, expressions of a Living Being.”

Initiate: “I am the Utterance of My Name.”

Initiate (declares): “AMGEDPHA (motto)! ZIR (motto)!”

Initiate: “I am the Light in the Darkness. I am the Knowledge of My Name.”
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