Posted in:   Goddess
Words are a fundamental part of our humanity. The physiology of our brains is designed to make sense of ourselves and our world through language. We name things with words, and then load value and meaning onto these names. Every aspect of our shared society, interpersonal relationships and inner self-talk are dictated by these word-names.
There’s immense power in names. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the names people give to us, and the ones we give to ourselves. This naming can either narrow or expand who we are, and how we engage others and our greater environment.
Oppressors, those who conquer, dominate and control others, have used this power in names throughout history. Take away the names people give to themselves — taint and distort them, make these names a weapon — replace them with other, socially acceptable, domesticating names — and you’ve set up a system of control that becomes a normal, entrenched part of our social fabric. And not just names are taken away, but also language, story, dance, art, and other forms of culture, self-identity and expression.
All marginalized groups — on the outside of the white, male, heteronormative, Judeo-Christian ethos that dominates our Western society — have been impacted by this system of control through names.My Story of Names
I’m a white woman of British descent, born into a working class family of moderate means, and raised in a middle-of-the-road city in the eastern part of Canada. My upbringing was mainstream, banal and seemingly innocuous. And this is my story of names.
If I had the conscious awareness to name myself in my youth, I would have called myself a good girl.
I was a domesticated creature — nice, sweet, pretty, and well behaved. I did what I was supposed to do: work hard at school, follow the rules, hang out with other nice girls, date boys that my parents approved of, and keep a smile on my face, even when boys and men said and did not nice things to me.
No one in particular, and everything around me, gave me this name and the very narrow band of personhood that went with it.
In my early adult years, I named myself professional woman.
This was just another form of my good-girl domestication, set by a hyper-masculine corporate environment.
I had the right qualifications to excel: an MBA, competitive instincts and workaholic drive. The price of admission was to mask my womanhood in an androgynous wardrobe of black, gray and navy suits, to emulate the work-hard, play-hard ethos of the successful man, and to keep a smile on my face, even when men diminished and sexualized me.
Like so many women, these straitjacket names of good girl and professional woman squeezed my bigness of being into a half-life dictated by rules that I had no say in, and that were designed to keep me small, tame, fearful, and disconnected from my true nature.
In my late twenties, something woke up in me and I found a new name for myself: feminist.
I rebelled. I wanted to live an authentic life, in alignment with my undomesticated womanhood, and my true, deep Self, outside of the dictates of a male-dominated, woman-negating society.
With this new name came seismic shifts. I left my corporate career, and returned to graduate school to become a feminist academic, studying power, change and organizational gender issues. I became educated about the deep-rooted and daily discrimination faced by women, and the negation and undervaluing of the qualities and skills we bring to society and the workplace; and I made a commitment to myself to become an agent of positive change.
In my early thirties, as this journey of claiming my true, undomesticated womanhood deepened, I found another new name for myself: witch.
Again, this new name came with immense transformation. I discovered the Goddess and Wicca, and with them a whole, hidden story of feminine Divinity and power, and a wild, delicious, empowering, life-centered reality that was the antithesis of my years of domestication.
My world became infinitely bigger and more nourishing. For the first time in my life, I felt whole, inside-out powerful, and my Self.
Now in my mid-fifties, I fully inhabit my reclaimed name: woman.
Piece by piece, I’ve been reclaiming the lost fragments of my true, untamed womanhood, until I’ve come to know and honor my Self as woman, outside of the strictures of a society that fears and distorts women and feminine-based power.
I now know that my womanhood is a complex thing, woven of many, diverse threads: feminist, witch, writer, dreamer, dancer, wild thing, mother, partner, friend, ally, and so many other things that are too big and mysterious to name.
I’m whole, sacred, a being of infinite love and resilience, honed and evolved through my personal story and shared woman history of light and shadow, beauty and wounding, and the wonders and horrors of this mundane and magical world.
The outer voices have lost their control over me, and there’s no squeezing me back into the half-person I’ve been. Woman I am, and woman I will be, on a journey of self-discovery and evolution that will last all the days of my life.The Power and Shadow of Names
In my journey of names, my life and womanhood were profoundly, positively transformed when I shifted from the names of good girl, and its adult variant of professional woman, to feminist and witch. Yet I was discouraged from claiming these names for myself by well-meaning friends and family members.
In our shared culture, feminist and witch are dangerous names, weighed down by negative projections and horrific histories. Good girls — nice, sweet, pretty, and well behaved — are safe, happy, and well-adjusted. Free-spirited, empowered women — feminist, witch, or any other name you choose to give yourself outside of the dictates of a male-centered society — are an aberration, heretical, and dangerous.
This negation of uppity women has been burned into our collective psyche, literally. During the Burning Times of the 14th to the 18th century, the name of witch was demonized by the Church, and used to justify the brutal rape, torture and murder of an estimated sixty to hundred thousand people, predominantly women — healers, practitioners of witchcraft, community leaders, independent women, and other marginalized people caught up in the madness. Any indication of women’s spirituality, feminine-based power or an uppity nature could condemn you as a witch.
These horrific events have left a deep scar and shadow on our human psyche through our fear and distrust of women and feminine-based power.
Call yourself a feminist, and you tar yourself with the societal stereotype of the feminazi: an angry, aggressive, male-hating woman battling for female supremacy.
Call yourself a witch, and you conjure up the frightening specter of the wicked witch: an evil, devil-worshipper who uses their power to harm others.
These are lies and distortions that feed on our fear and distrust of women and feminine-based power. To use these names is to risk misunderstanding, discrediting, censure, and rejection. But to not use them when they speak to your soul and true Self is to remain small, silenced, powerless and domesticated.
What my story of names taught me is that there’s only one way to release the power in a name, be it feminist, witch or whatever power names we claim for ourselves and community: confront and step past the shadow in these names, and claim them as our own, not just for ourselves, but also in service of our greater society.Your Story of Names
How we name ourselves and others matters deeply. These names can either trap and diminish us, or heal and free us to become more fully, deeply our Selves.
You can start by exploring your own name story, and those that apply to the groups you’re part of. Consider the defining features of your humanity, for example: your biological gender and gender identity, skin color, sexual orientation, ethnic and cultural heritage, religion or spiritual practice, socio-economic status, and the history of your people.
What names have been used to domesticate and marginalize you and the groups you’re part of? What names have empowered you, and helped you grow and evolve? What names do you choose for yourself? What are the shadow and power in these names? How can you heal and reclaim these names? How can you support others, especially marginalized groups, in healing and evolving our collective names and language?
Your journey of names is a lifetime in the making. The more consciousness you bring to this journey, the more you can find and claim the names that capture your true, deep Self, and heal the shadow in the names that can set you and others free. And perhaps someday, names will be used to connect us to ourselves and each other in power and beauty, and in the making of a better, kinder, saner world of acceptance, love and justice for all.
Photo Credit: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash