UPDATE: In the tradition I was to be initiated in at the time I wrote this post (California Gardnerian), the Craft name you took was to be used in any Wiccan context, both within and outside of sacred space. In the tradition I now practice (Gardnerian, Whitecroft line), the Craft name is only to be used within circle. I rather thought it would be less problematic to modify how I was known in circle than how I am known here, so “Melissa” is no longer my Craft name, but it is my nom de plume here and in my other Pagan writings.
In many religions, it is customary to adopt a spiritual name somewhere along the line. When I was being confirmed into the Catholic faith, for example, I chose the name “Lucy” to honor the patron saint of writers. Wicca is no different. We do select our magical names with some level of practical purpose: by doing our magical work under these names, we can protect our mundane identities from negative repercussions. However, I think that these days their more important purpose is to help our brains switch over from mundane to magical life more easily. With this in mind, it becomes pretty clear that we have an obligation to ourselves to select a name with a deep meaning to our magical practice. In fact, you could look upon the adoption of a magical name as selecting a power word that will set the tone for your magical path. It is a heavy thing, this magical naming.
Unsurprisingly, I rebelled against the practice for the longest time. Partly this was because I am very comfortable with my legal name, which is so thoroughly “me”, it is almost comical. The other part, though, was poor timing. I found Paganism in the late 1990s, and that was when the EveryMan found the Internet. Cyberspace was practically teeming with “magical name generators” on every Raven, Rhiannon, and Morgan’s Angelfire-hosted website that spouted out names like “Moonbeam Daffodil,” “Rowan Blackthorn,” or “Cirrus Greenoak.” It got to the point where the sheer enormity of similar names made me abandon my conscious search for a magical name. I figured that if the Gods wanted me to have one, they would reveal it to me when I was ready.
Flash forward several years, and you’ve got me asking for a Gardnerian initiation, which comes with a strong recommendation from my HPS to meditate and see if a special Craft name is revealed to me. It’s not like I didn’t have ample time to do so, so meditate I did. The first time I tried, I made a bit of a thing out of it. It was early spring, so I went out to one of my favorite safe spots in nature, nestled down on the flowering lawn with my back to a great stone, and basked in the sun as I let my mind go blank. Well, it wasn’t very long before I got distracted with what seemed to be a sudden buzzing in the air. I cracked my eyes open and realized that there were plenty of industrious honeybees sampling all the weedy wildflowers in the lawn surrounding me. As I unfortunately have been diagnosed with a bee venom allergy, I decided it was wise to abandon my meditative efforts and go back home.
But–wouldn’t you know it–over the next few months I realized I was seeing honeybees everywhere. It struck me as a little odd at first since I couldn’t recall being so aware of honeybees since I was a kid trying to trap them in sandwich baggies over clover blossoms so that I could get a better look at them. And then I started to get all these invitations to events where bees played a large role: academic discussions on Colony Collapse Disorder and food politics, mead tastings, building mason bee houses for community gardens, and even invitations to beekeeping lessons! I attended West’s “Spiritual Beekeeping” lecture at the 2011 Pantheacon (probably where I first began to put together the message that I should consider a bee-related magical name). I started to notice bees in different paintings and drawings I glanced at, and I developed quite a taste for local, “single-source flower” honeys (meadowfoam!). Eventually my ‘name meditations’ I performed indoors had me seeing honeybees everywhere.
Obviously, something was afoot. The more I thought about it with my conscious mind, though, the more I realized that ‘Honeybee’ was a perfect craft name for me. I am deeply interested in building healthy, cooperative communities, and we humans have been using bee colonies as a metaphor for how to conduct our own society for about as long as there’s been language. It might seem disturbingly hierarchical at first, since if the Queen dies without a replacement, the hive falls into chaos and often eventually disperses, but the Queen is no sponge ruler. Her entire life is devoted to sustaining the hive by producing more workers and drones. She is not the leader; she just has a different job in the collective. Bees are also common metaphors for diligence and focused work, and these are things that I am very good at, but I do need a constant reminder to do that work instead of procrastinate. That name would forever remind me to get off my butt and to actually work at my spirituality and improving myself. Bees are also frequently aligned with finding a deeper wisdom beneath an issue, since they collect pollen from so many different sources, but are able to combine it all and transform it into sweet honey: a sum greater than all its parts. Speaking of honey, when you add it into the symbol mix things get even more interesting. In so many ancient cultures, honey is imbued with divine gifts. Placing honey upon one’s lips is often said to bestow the gift of eloquence (and what writer wouldn’t love that?), and–in some cases–prescience. Honey is even the food of the Gods in many myths across the world, and so the bee acts as a sort of natural Priestess: the intermediary between the world and the divine.
There was just one problem.
“Look here Gods,” I eventually said, “I get that this is pretty much perfect, but you can’t possibly want me to be named ‘Honeybee,’ can you? Isn’t that a little too…fluffy?”
I felt like I got a huge cosmic eyeroll at that, and I heard in my mind “This is who you are, but not in these words. Just roll with it. You’ll get it eventually.”
And eventually I did realize I needed to look into how other cultures named and viewed the Bee. My “Aha!” moment came when I examined a list of translations for “Bee” in different languages and realized that two words in this list were very similar to common Western names: the Greek Μέλισσα (pronounced today as ma-LIS-uh) and the Hebrew דבורה (pronounced today as de-vo-RAH). Melissa and Deborah. I could get behind either of those quite happily. I could even use them mundanely and raise no eyebrows whatsoever. Most excellent.
I eventually selected ‘Melissa’ over ‘Deborah’ because of the differing etymologies of these words. Deborah is perhaps more closely translated as “stinging bee” than “honey bee”, since it relies upon the Semitic root dbr, one of whose reflexes is dabar, a Hebrew word for ‘word, sting, or goad.’ Melissa, on the other hand, uses the Greek word for honey, meli. I ultimately chose to emphasize sweetness over sting, since I am worried that my basic personality is perhaps more naturally weighted toward sting already.
After I’d settled upon the name Melissa, I learned even more about the name, and I am fully convinced that the Gods were pushing me toward it all along…but that is a story for another day.