Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Why the Term 'Wiccaning' Doesn't Work, and What to Replace It With

I always cringe when I hear the term “wiccaning.”

Moral of the story: Let the borrower beware.

“Wiccaning” is a name given by the poetically-challenged to a rite of child-blessing. It's a blatant steal, a Wiccan calque of “christening” (literally: “Christianing”), i.e. the rite of baptism.

(Nobody is born Christian; you have to be made into one.)

The problem with borrowing from other people's cultures is that, all too often—as here—there's unwanted baggage attached.

Even aside from its transparently derivative nature, the word “wiccaning” is conceptually problematic. Does the rite of wiccaning actually make the child into a Wiccan? No. That comes with initiation. Apart from its parallel with Christian ritual, the word “wiccaning” is therefore, essentially, meaningless.

Note to self: Good borrowings need to make cultural sense in the internal logic of the borrowing culture.

Well, it's a central principle of pagan culture that you have no right to criticize unless you've got an alternative to offer. If we jettison “wiccaning,” what do we put in its place?

When in doubt, says theorist Ceisiwr Serith, consult ancestral precedent.

6000 years ago, the act of bestowing names was profoundly important to the ancestors. Although writing had not yet been invented, we can, from surviving daughter languages, reconstruct in the Mother Tongue the phrases to give (and to bear) a name. “The persistence of these expressions,” writes Indo-Europeanist Calvert Watkins, “attests the importance of the name-giving ceremony in Indo-European society” (Watkins xxii).

Traditionally, a newborn is not given a name right away. It's bad luck to do so; it calls attention to one who is vulnerable and may not live.

So, for the first nine days of its life, the child is spoken of as the Little One, the New One, That One.

Then, on the Ninth Night after birth, you hold the Naming feast. That's when the child is held up before witnesses and publicly named for the first time.

With this act, the child officially becomes one of the People.

(“On my ninth night I was named Artorius,” says he who would later be known as King Arthur, in Rosemary Sutcliff's scintillating novel Sword at Sunset. “But mostly men call me Artos the Bear.”)

6000 years ago, the ancestors held Namings to bless and protect their newborn children.

6000 years later, we still do.

 

Calvert Watkins, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Third Edition (2011). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.
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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 28 June 2019

    Wiccaning makes me think of weaving a wicker basket. Naming sounds right.

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