Thursday, December 30, 2010


This post is inspired by a friend of my mother. She had her name legally changed to Triskele when she became an American citizen (she's from Poland originally). I've never heard it used as a name before, but had the vague idea that it was the name of a symbol that involved the number three. When I looked into it and first saw the actual symbol, I thought, "Hey, I saw that at Newgrange!"

The triskele (pronounced "TRYS-kee-ul" or "TRI-skee-ul", but the person I know pronounces it "TRYS-kul") is a symbol that looks like three interlocking spirals. It was carved into a number of ancient Irish buildings, including the rocks of Newgrange. Newgrange is believed to be a prehistoric tomb, although this claim is debatable. It was built sometime between 3100 and 2900 BC. Many historians believe that the building must have had some religious significance. When I visited Newgrange last summer, they showed us that the building is aligned so that the rising sun pours in through an opening above the entrance during the winter solstice.

This symbol appears in other countries besides Ireland. The triskele appears throughout much of Western Europe, where the Celts are from. In Brittany (Northern France), the triskele is used as their regional symbol and is placed on many tourism and fashion items.

A similar symbol called the triskelion appears in ancient Greek, Sicilian, Spanish, and Manx art. Both triskele and triskelion are Greek for "three-legged", which should give you a hint as to what a triskelion looks like. It's a bizarre image of three legs bent at the knee and joined together at the hip. It's found on ancient coins, pottery, and is an emblem on the flags of Sicily and the Ilse of Man.

No one knows what the triskele meant to the ancient Pagans. In modern times it has been used to stand for a number of different things. This symbol is important to many Neo-Pagans that focus on Celtic traditions, like Celtic Reconstructist Paganism. In CRP the symbol stands for the "three realms": land, sea, and sky. It is often used to symbolize the Irish god of the sea Manannan mac Lir (probably because it kind of looks like waves, but I think it looks like a thumbprint, personally), but is sometimes used for the goddess Brigid. Wiccans sometimes interpret the symbol as the three stages of the Goddess (Maiden, Mother, and Crone). Christians have used it to represent the Holy Trinity, and it appears in many illuminated manuscripts. It has a less honorable connection as well: a variation of a triskele (three interlocking sevens) was invented by the Nazis.

As I said before, I've only ever heard of this name on my mom's friend. I have no idea what her original name was or why she was so attracted to Triskele. No baby name resource I could find lists it. A quick google search came up with at least one Neo-Pagan that goes by Triskele, but that's it. My spellchecker doesn't even know what to make of it. But I think it's an awesome name for anyone, even with the tricky pronunciation. The familiar "Trish" and "Kelly" could be reasonable nicknames. For those unfamiliar with the names origin, it might not even register as a "witchy" name. Just a highly unusual one. Trinity's an accepted name, so why not Triskele?


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The photo of triskeles on Newgrange is my personal photo.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Continuing with my names that are vaguely inspired by Christmas, sugar plums seem to come up a lot during the holidays. There's the Sugar Plum Fairy and the visions of sugar plums that are supposed to dance through our heads. And yet, I've never actually seen or tasted a sugar plum, which made me curious.

Today, you might see "sugar plum" candy in stores that are literally plum-flavored and plum-shaped. However, real sugar plums are a traditional holiday treat back from the days where there were no candy shops. They're not necessarily made from plums; at one time "plums" was a term used for any dried fruit. The candy was made by combining chopped prunes, cherries, apricots, figs, or dates with almonds, honey, or spices. The mixture was then rolled together in a ball and coated with sugar or coconut.

The country that produces the most plums is China, followed by Romania, but plums can grow wherever there's enough rainfall for them. If the climate is too dry, the fruit never grows past it's bud stage. Plums and prunes taste sweet and tart, and are known to be good for digestion. Plums are used to make a variety of different alcoholic beverages. Wiccans can use plum wood for wands, and make plum tea and pudding. This fruit is particularly popular in Asia, where they are dried, pickled, or made into wine. In early spring, the trees blossom with beautiful mei flowers, which is the official national floral emblems of the Republic of China.

Plum is also a color name. It describes a deep purple, and while the damson plum does indeed have striking indigo skin, other species come in red, green, and yellow. The color purple symbolizes spirituality, wisdom, and knowledge. I've notices that when a witch costume in a store isn't black, it's plum. I don't really know why.

Despite some familiarity, this name is rare in the United States. It's more common as a surname from what I can tell, and until a while ago the only Plum I knew was the professor. However, I've actually seen this name pop up a lot on birth announcements from Great Britain recently. This might be due to Plum Sykes, an English writer and socialite.

It's a lovely, quirky, feminine name that sounds like it belongs to a bookish girl to me. And most people won't immediately catch that it's the name of a famous ballet-dancing fairy.


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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Today is Yule! So what better name to profile than Yule!

I've talked a lot about this holiday in prior posts and today I'm going to talk about it even more! Yule (all my sources say it's pronounced "EWE-elle," but I've only ever heard "YOOWL") was a holiday that was celebrated primarily by Germanic and Scandinavian Pagans. It occurs during the winter solstice which is the shortest day of the year. Which means that only Neo-Pagans in the Northern hemisphere are celebrating it today. Those in, say, Australia, will be celebrating Midsummer right about now. Happy Litha, guys!

Wiccans believe that the Goddess gives birth to the God every Yule. When this happens, the days grow longer as the God grows older. All Wiccan holidays have to do with God and the position of the sun.

In the olden days the Yule celebrations would have lasted until early January. Many winter traditions started with the Pagans. The Yule log is one of the biggest. There is some debate among historians whether the Yule log had any religious significance for ancient Pagans, but it is still the highlight of the celebrations for many modern day Pagans. The Yule log is either given as a gift or harvested from the forest, then decorated with seasonal greenery, doused with cider and flour, then lit by the remnants of last years Yule log. Yule is sometimes used as a surname (in fact, it's probably a more common surname than a given name). This would have been an occupational marker for someone who's job it was to keep the Yule log burning during the celebrations.

Wiccans still like to bring in seasonal botanical decorations (well, not me, since I'm allergic to them) into the house in order to invite nature sprites into the celebrations. If you hate being caught under the mistletoe, you have Pagans to blame for that too. They associated the plant with romance, fertility, and virility. Wiccans also enjoy "wassailing" the trees and crops by pouring wassail on the ground. Wassail is not unlike fruit punch. Oranges are a traditional Christmas present, throughout my Grandfather's childhood that's the only Christmas present he got. Wiccans also use gifts of oranges to signify the sun.

In 46 BC Julius Ceasar created the Julian Calender, which would later turn into the Christian Calender. In it, he established that the Winter Solstice would be celebrated on December 25th all throughout his conquered territories. And that's where we get to why this is "Wicca-lite." The reason this name is Wicca-lite is because the term Yule is still used interchangeably with Christmas despite the fact that Wicca is the fastest growing religion in America and people should really know better. The name has been appearing in a lot of Christmas baby name lists on other websites. Variations in spelling include Yul, Yool, Yoole, Euell, and Ewell. As a boys name it is really not very common, it has never appeared in the American top 1000 baby names and the only namesake I can think of is classic film actor Yul Brynner. However, it won't stand out as much as a Pagan name as much as, say, Ostara and Mabon would.

But to me, Yule is obviously Pagan. And a wonderful thing that is. Blessed Yule, everybody!


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Monday, December 20, 2010


We've talked about Ivy, now lets talk about Holly.

Holly (pronounced "HALL-ee") is an evergreen bush that's been used as a decoration during the winter solstice by the Druids, and they were also sacred to the Romans who associated the plant with Saturn. It is the plant of death and rebirth. Their winter berries are an extremely important food source for many species of birds. The word is derived of the Old English "holegn" meaning "to prick," which is telling. Their leaves are very spiky and birds like to hide in their branches in order to be protected by predators. Today, many species of holly are becoming rare or even extinct.

Holly has been used for many other things besides decorating. It's wood is ivory white with no grain, which makes it perfect for white chess pieces. Some species are used to make herbal tea. A bag of holly leaves or berries carried by a man is said to increase his ability to attract women. Holly is used in spells that have to to with sleep, rest, or death, and is sometimes used to make wands.

Yuletide is not the only time of year that Neo-Pagans associate with this plant. It is sacred during the Summer Solstice as well. The Celtic Tree Month of Holly occurs from July 8th to August 4th, and it's Celtic name is Tinne (pronounced "CHIN-uh," I think). The month of holly is a good time to perform magick to bring about a successful harvest. Holly water is made by soaking the plant overnight under a full moon, this is then sprinkled over infants to keep them happy and safe. Keeping a holly tree in the garden will protect the house from unfriendly spirits. Make sure the branches are truly dead before burning them, as burning branches that are still alive is considered unlucky. Holly intertwined with ivy are made into crowns traditionally worn for handfastings.

There are other gods that are associated with holly besides Saturn. During the Yuletide season many Wiccans believe in, tell the story, and act out plays of the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King. This story is celebrated in most Celtic based traditions of Neo-Paganism. The Holly King kind of looks like a woodsy Santa Claus; he's a bearded old man that wears red and a crown of holly. During the winter solstice, the younger, virile Oak King slays the Holly King, and rules until Litha, or Midsummer. On Midsummer, the Holly King comes back and slays the Oak King. He rules until Yule when the whole cycle begins again.

Some practitioners believe that both kings are two aspects of the Horned God. Sometimes he's just called God, or The Lord, or a wide range of other options. But a lot of Pagans picture him as a man with antlers or rams horns, which is why he's called the Horned God. The Goddess gives birth to the Horned God every Yule. The God grows older as the days grow longer, until he reaches the peak of his life at Litha. He then ages until he dies at Samhain. Then the cycle continues on Yule again. The young god (Oak King) and the old god (Holly King) cannot live at the same time, and yet one cannot exist without the other.

Despite the name's masculine traditional associations, Holly as a given name has never been a boys name as far as I can tell. Holly is a girls name that is extremely popular in pretty much every English-speaking country. It's currently at #20 in Scotland and New Zealand, #27 in Australia, #30 in England, #33 in Ireland, and #122 in British Columbia. In America, the name reached it's peak in the 1970's at #53. In 2009 it ranked #380. Holly has tons of namesakes and a fictional Wiccan from the television series True Blood is one of them.

Holly shows up on a lot of Christmas baby name lists, too. It is a lovely winter name no matter what you celebrate. It has been so integrated into Western culture and yet the layman won't know about it's Pagan associations, which makes it Wicca-lite.


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Saturday, December 18, 2010


Recently I joined a Wiccan social group online, which I'm using partially to look for more names. The number of witches that use Seraphim as a magickal name was surprising to me. I suppose that means it should be the next profile.

Seraphim (pronounced "SAIR-ah-fim," the plural of Seraph) is of Hebrew origin and means "burning ones." They appear predominantly in the Old Testament, which makes them a Jewish creation. Medieval Christian theology gave them more attention than Judaism ever did. However, all of the references to them are more from Christian folklore than from any official cannon.

The Christians describe the Seraphim as one of the highest orders of celestial beings. They are depicted in human form (and appear to all be male from what I could find) with three pairs of wings. According to Jewish historians Seraphim were originally fiery, flying serpents. It is said that whoever looks upon a seraph will instantly burst into flames due to the intense heat and light that radiates from them. So it's a good thing that seraphs don't involve themselves in the affairs of humans very often. Their main job is to keep Divinity in good order, and they have direct communication with God. Due to their "bright and burning" reputation, the Seraphim are associated with unending energy, chasing away darkness, and clarity. Some well known Seraphim include Gabriel, Metatron, Nathanael, Kemuel, and...Lucifer.

So what does any of this mean in a Wiccan context? No, it has nothing to do with Lucifer.

According to the Wicca and Witchcraft for Dummies book, all Judeo-Christian celestial beings can be summoned for ritual the same way gods or fairies are. Although if my memory serves me right, it would be very rare to call on the highest choir of angels for petty human problems. That's what angels are for.

Over the years Seraphim, and angel-like creatures in general, have transcended their Judeo-Christian origins and become universal. They appear in art, literature, music, film, video games, comic books, and advertising. The idea of angels has assimilated into a lot of different religions and cultures, including Neo-Paganism.

There is a Saint Seraphim from Russia, so this is an established given name and quite old. Seraphim has a lot of different variations for both sexes: Seraphina, Seraph, and Serafine among many others. But today, Seraphim is rather rare and has never been in the 1000 most popular names in America. Some people believe that it's more appropriate for a girl, since most angels are depicted as feminine beings today, even though this is not historically correct. This is just another instance of the changing naming fashions of today in which names that were once unquestionably masculine are now switching genders.

It's not as popular as Raven or Wolf, but Seraphim is more prominent as a magickal name than I thought it would be. It just goes to show how much of a "patchwork" religion Neo-Paganism really is.

Wicca for Dummies by Diane Smith

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Thursday, December 16, 2010


If you're a Sagittarius, you could go by gemstone name Topaz. The month of Sagittarius is upon us right now, it starts on November 22 and ends December 21. But before we get to that, lets talk about birthstones in general.

Using a stone associated with a zodiac sign might be better than using a birthstone. As it turns out, different cultures have different birthstones, so there's a lot of disagreement. When looking for the gemstone for December I found that different sources listed different stones: blue topaz, turquoise, ruby, onyx, and zircon. In 1912, Jewelers of America made a list of the "modern" birthstones in order to standardize what everyone would offer in stores. So the birthstone list of today is basically a ploy to get you to buy things. Which is why I'm going with the less disputed Greek zodiac stones.

The etymology of the word topaz (pronounced "TOH-paz") is a little bit of a mystery. There are some who say that the word comes from the Greek "topazion" meaning "to seek." Others say it's related to the Sanskrit word "tapas" meaning "fire."

In nature, topaz is a clear, colorless crystal unless it's tainted by impurities. The impurities is what gives the topaz it's hue. It's most commonly associated with yellow, but it also comes in blue, red, gray, and brown. In the Middle Ages, the word topaz was used to describe any yellow gem, but now the term is specific to a stone of a certain chemical make-up which I'm to uneducated to understand and reiterate here.

Many Neo-Pagans believe in gemstones abilities to heal, and according to tradition topaz has many medicinal and psychic properties. Yellow is a color associated with the wind element, which is in charge of communication. Because of this topaz is believed to heighten intellect and creativity. Pagans will use it in rituals in order to repair tissue damage and prevent colds. Because of it's association with the sun, topaz is believe to ease depression and anxiety.

This is a gem name that isn't really established as a given name the same way that Jasper and Jade are. But it's recently been done, mostly in naming little girls (why is it more socially acceptable for a girl to have a creative name than a boy?). I've seen this name periodically as a magickal name, but the most well-known witch named Topaz is a fictional one. In the Marvel comic book series "Witches," Topaz grew up as an orphan in India and was gifted with magical abilities as a little girl. She is adopted and trained by a sorcerer named Taboo, and has an on-and-off romantic relationship with Wolf by Night (guess what he is). She gets kidnapped by a demon named Mephisto who tells her that by her 21st birthday she'll be powerful enough to destroy him. She's held prisoner for a time until she is rescued by Doctor Strange. Afterwards, she becomes Doctor Strange's apprentice. If you're planning of using this name and are nervous of this association, I doubt that many people are familiar with it.

So if you're looking for a name for the Sagittarius in your life, Topaz is truly unique. I just wish I knew about the preventing colds part before I got one.


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Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I see this name come up quit a bit on websites and books that suggest Wiccan names. Maybe it's because cinnamon is used a lot in holiday cooking, but I feel like making this one of the first profiles.

The delicious spice that I use in my baking comes from the inner bark of cinnamon trees, which are native to Sri Lanka. The word cinnamon comes from the Greek "kinnamomon." The spice has been used since ancient times, as early as 2000 BC, but was rare and very expensive in the West. In ancient Egypt, it was essential in embalming. Cinnamon was a gift fit for kings and gods, there are records of cinnamon left as offerings at the temples of Apollo. Both Christians and Pagans agreed that this plant had a spiritual energy and used it in their rituals.

However, the origin of this plant was a mystery for a long time, as those working in the spice trade kept it a closely guarded secret in order to avoid competition. Stories of the origin of cinnamon became fantastical: one was that it was transported by giant cinnamon birds from an unknown land to Arabia where they built their nests. It wasn't until 1270, when an author named Zakariya al-Qazwini published the true location of the cinnamon trees, that anyone in the West knew where the spice came from.

After that, a barrage of European countries conquered Sri Lanka in order to monopolize the production of cinnamon. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch, then the British. But by the time the British took over, the popularity of cinnamon was declining in favor of chocolate, sugar, and coffee.

Today, cinnamon is grown in many countries including India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, Madagascar, Egypt, and more. However, the top producer is still Sri Lanka, supplying 90% of the world's cinnamon. The spice is used mainly as a flavoring for deserts or as an ingredient in perfume. But Neo-Pagans can use it for other things. Folk medicine uses it as a gentle, natural cure for a variety of bodily complaints. The oil from cinnamon has been used to prevent and treat colds. Cinnamon tea eases many pains like menstrual cramps, sore joints, gas pain, stomach aches, and flu symptoms. Although not officially tested, many swear by it's ability to repel insects.

It's not uncommon for Neo-Pagans to root through different spices and herbs for name inspiration. But unlike Ginger, Basil, and Saffron, Cinnamon is not really established as a given name. Personally, I think it sounds like just a word. That's why I imagine this more as a pet's name than a baby's name. But it's not completely unheard of. On the Baby Name Wizard website, Cinnamon is listed with a note from one parent who wanted to name her oldest daughter something special and different. She sure accomplished that.


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For a good, strong man's name associated with Yuletide, you could always go with the name of the awesome Norse god Odin.

Odin (pronounced "OH-deen") is one powerful dude who's folklore is incredibly lengthy and complex. He ruled over Asgard, one of the nine worlds and the capital city of the Norse deities. He is the god of magic, prophecy, poetry, hunting, wisdom, war, death, and victory. Worship of Odin dates all the way back to Proto-Germanic times. Odin has lots of cool toys and pets, a eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, a spear named Gungir, two ravens, a magical gold ring called Draupnir, and a pair of wolves named Geri and Freki. He's also a shape shifter, and can travel the world in disguise. He is the subject of many ancient poems and stories, and gives the mead of inspiration (made by dwarves) to worthy poets. Odin is also associated with trickery and deception, using his cunning to swindle the blood of Kvasir from the dwarves.

So what, precisely, does any of this have to do with the holiday season? What if I told you that Odin is Santa Claus?

"But that's Saint Nicholas!"

Well, yes. They're both Santa Claus.

The Christian Saint Nicholas was a Greek Bishop living in Myra (part of modern-day Turkey). He had a reputation for giving gifts to those who had nothing. He especially loved children, and is the patron saint of children among other things. In the most famous story, Saint Nicholas gives money to a poor man in order to save the man's daughters from a life of prostitution. My aunt married and had children with a Dutch man, and when I go to their house on Christmas they have pictures of their Santa Claus, who still looks like a bishop.

Christianization of Scandinavia was slow, where they celebrated the pagan winter solstice holiday of Yule. In countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, Yule involved Odin. After all, Odin lead a hunting party through the sky during the solstice. Children would leave boots filled with carrots, straw, or sugar near the chimney for Odin's horse Sleipnir. When they woke up the next day, they found that Odin returned their kindness by leaving gifts in the shoes.

The combination of Saint Nicholas and Odin was easy. They both had long, white beards, and they're both known for giving gifts. And so the tradition survived despite Christianization. Today there is some variation of the old boot tradition in many cultures. Mexican children leave their shoes outside their door or by the window on The Day of the Kings. Americans leave stockings by the chimney instead of boots.

Odin still remains important to Neo-Pagans. He is particularly important to the Asatru movement in Iceland and the Asatru Folk Assembly in the United States. The Asatru strive to emulate the religious practices of the Norse before Christianization, relying on historical texts and ancient poems to do so.

Some Neo-Pagans believe that children shouldn't be named after gods, but that hasn't stopped some people. As a given name, Odin is enjoying some mild popularity. The name first appeared in the top 1000 baby names in 2008. So far, it peaked in 2009 at #981.

So if you're looking for a strong, masculine name with a tons of history for a boy born during the Yule season, consider Odin. As the song from Emerald Rose says, "Santa Claus is Pagan, Too!"


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