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Archive for the ‘Paganism’ Category

A rare little gem for this week’s pick of the week.

You may think it is Arabic, but it is not.

It comes from a related but much, much older language.

It’s actually Akkadian — the Semitic language of Ancient Mespotamia — one of the earliest ever written languages in the world.

Often separated into its two principal dialects — Babylonian and Assyrian — it flourished between the third and first millennia BCE.

Zaqar derives from the verb zakāru, meaning “to speak,” “to name,” and “to swear. ”

The Hebrew cognate is zakar, which crops up a few times in the Bible meaning “to remember,” “to call to mind,” “to remind” and “to invoke.” It is also found in the name Zachariah — often Anglicized as Zachary — “Yahweh remembers” or “memory of “Yahweh.” and all its related forms.

The Phoenician was identical, and featured in the name Zakar-Baal “Baal remembers” or “memory of Baal,” the name of a king of Byblos in the eleventh century BCE.

Meanwhile, the Arabic cognate gives the names Zakir (also transliterated as Zaakir), meaning “remembering,” and Zakoor “narrator” and “speaker.”

Zaqar was the name of the Mesopotamian God of dreams — also known as Zakar and Dzakar — who acts as the messenger of the moon God Sin.

Unsurprisingly, he delivers these messages in dreams.

As such, he represents one of the oldest examples of the belief that dreams contain messages and prophecies from supernatural or divine sources.

The peoples of Mesopotamia, like their neighbors the Hebrews, were particularly prone to reading a great deal into dreams.

They read a great deal into everything.

Divination featured very highly in Mesopotamian life, and strongly influenced people’s lives — including decisions taken by kings on matters of state.

In the Epic of Shulgi, for instance, Zaqar takes a message to the Sumerian King Shulgi telling him that the Gods will aid him in battle. Secure in this knowledge, Shulgi trots of to war and successfully annihilates his enemy.

Fast-forwarding a few millennia, and Zaqar is now one of a number of Egyptian and Mesopotamian deities commemmorated in the names given to craters on Jupiter’s largest moon (and the largest moon in the solar system), Ganymede.

So if you’re looking for a more unusual long form of Zac, Zack, Zak — or even Zaq — with history and excellent Pagan connections, why not consider the evocative and exotic Zaqar?

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Happy St David’s Day — from a sunny (yes, it is!) Wales!

As a St David’s Day present, here are the entries from Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names for David and Dewi.

David ♂ Biblical name of Hebrew origin. The meaning isn’t all that clear, but seems mostly likely to derive from a root meaning “beloved,” although, interestingly enough, the Hebrew letters which make up the name David are exactly the same ones used for “mandrake.” 12th C. St. David is the famous leek- and daffodil-wielding patron saint of Wales — but his real name was actually DEWI.

Diminutive forms: Dawe (historic); Dave, Davey, Davie, Davy.

David in other languages: Welsh: Dafydd; Dai (diminutive), Irish: Dáibhead, Daithí, Gaelic: Dàibheid, Dàibhidh, Cornish: Daveth, Czech, French, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish: David, Hungarian: Dávid, Lithuanian: Davidas, Italian: Davide, Latvian: Dāvids, Pol: Dawid, Arabic: Da’wud, Hawaiian: Kāwika, Maori: Rāwiri, Finish: Taavetti, Taavi (diminutive).

Bearers: two medieval Scottish kings (d. 1153 and 1371); David Copperfield, the eponymous hero of Dickens’s 1850 novel, and the stage-name of  American illusionist David Kotkin (b. 1956); David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George, (1863–1945) and David Cameron (b. 1966), both British Prime Ministers; David Eddings (1931–2009), the American novelist; David Bowie (b. 1947), the British singer-songwriter.

Dewi ♂ ♀ The boy’s name Dewi is a very old and very interesting name. Dewi Sant is the Welsh name for St. David, and many people believe it is simply the Welsh form of David. It isn’t. David is simply the name adopted to render Dewi in English, a long time ago. Almost certainly, his name actually derives from the Common Celtic *dOEwo- “(a) God,” cognate with Zeus, Latin deus, Sanskrit deva and the Irish Dagda, etc.

The element is well attested in given names in the Roman period — examples include Deomiorix, Deiana, and Deieda. Some have attempted to derive the name from Dewydd, an alleged “old form” of Dafydd—the Welsh form of David — but the argument works just as well the other way — Dewydd may well represent an attempt to synthesize Dewi and Dafydd. The simple fact is, biblical names were not used in sub-Roman Britain, and thus the likelihood of someone genuinely being called “David” in sixth-century Wales is, quite frankly, about as likely as someone in the period being called Jayden.

Dewi was used as a given name in the Middle Ages, probably in honor of the saint, but then disappeared until its revival in Wales in the nineteenth century.

By coincidence, the Malaysian girl’s name Dewi means “Goddess.”

I love coincidences! ;)

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus!

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It’s really quite surprisingly how many names in the UK and US top 100 have Pagan roots when you start to dig below the surface.

Take Genesis, currently ranked 89th in America.

Most of its use is no doubt Christian, an adoption of the name of the first book of the Bible, a name which was first applied to the Vulgate — the Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible commissioned in the fourth century when Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire.

In Hebrew, it was known as Bere’šyt meaning “in (the) beginning” — the opening words of the book.

The Greek genesis was chosen for the translation.

It’s a noun which comes from the verb gignomai  meaning “to come into a being,” and thus “to be born,” “to begin” and “to become.”

Thus in its most basic sense, genesis means “origin” and “source” as well as “beginning.”

It carried a number of other senses such as “race,” “descent,” “generation,” and “age.”

It also meant “birth,” and was used in astrological language to mean “(birth-calculated) horoscope” and, by extension “lot” and “fortune” too.

Later, it passed into Latin with similar meanings, and also came to be used of a person’s natal-star.

Genesis also features as an element in a number of compound words.

One of my favorites has to be parthenogenesis, which combines it with the Greek parthenos “maiden.” This is a biological term used of reproduction from a gamete without fertilization, a process which occurs mostly in invertibrates and some plants.

Even the Oxford English Dictionary makes reference to one of this word’s most famous outings — in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man.

It gets its mention when Edward Woodward is paying Lord Sumerisle a visit at his stately pile and witnesses the village girls conducting a Pagan ritual at the stone circle in the hope of experiencing parthenogenesis for themselves.

Needless to say, Edward isn’t impressed.

Genesis is also a close relation through the Greek and its Latin cognates of many other words relating to birth, beginnings and descent, such as “genes,” “genetics,” “generation,” “generate,” “genus,” “genuine,” “general,” “generous,” “generic,” “genial,” “genius,” “gender” … the list goes on and on.

Not to mention quite a cool rock band.

It has also featured in the title of many a book or comic, film or TV show.

My favorite has to be Doctor Who’s Genesis of the Daleks.

Related elements can be found in other names too, such as Eugene.

So you see, there’s a great deal more to Genesis than just the title of a book of the Bible — with plenty to please a Pagan. :)

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From the cycle of the seasons, and the fruition of hope and perseverance of Jera, Eo takes us to the cycle of life and death itself.

For Eo — more formally Ēoh — is yew, a slow-growing, very long-lived tree which has long been symbolic of both eternal life and rebirth.

It is another rune which exists only in the Anglo-Frisian and Eldar Futharks; its Elder Futhark name is known by more than one form: *Iwaz, *Eiwaz, *Ihwaz and *Eihwaz.

The old rune poems emphasizes the solidness of the tree’s wood, its rootedness, and the fact it brings blessings to a person’s land.

And although the Ash is usually regarded as the “World Tree” (Yggdrasil) of Norse mythology, it is sometimes said to be the Yew.

Modern rune interpretations focus on the what is perceived as the yew’s steadfastness and patience; the yew takes a long time to grow, but its growth lasts eons.

It also points the way to spiritual growth, and the importance of experience in gaining wisdom.

As for names, the various forms of the rune name are certainly distinctive. Eo isn’t a million miles in appearance (and possibly not meaning either) from the Greek  Io and is probably the most usable.

But there are numerous other names meaning “yew,” many etymologically related to Eo — including Yew itself.

  • Bërshen — Albanian for yew
  • Cis — Polish for yew
  • Éber — from Irish mythology
  • Eibe, Eiben — German for yew
  • Eoghan — Irish form of OWEN
  • Euan, Ewan, Ewen — Scottish forms of OWEN
  • Hagina — Basque for yew
  • Ia — a Cornish female saint (another name for St Ive)
  • Idho — the Ogham name for the yew
  • Ifor — Welsh name, probably cognate with ÉBER and IOBHAR
  • Iobhar — also from Irish mythology
  • Ìomhar — Scots Gaelic form of IVAR
  • Íomhar — Irish form of IVAR
  • Iona — the Scottish island
  • Ivar — from the Old Norse Ívarr “yew-bow”
  • Ive — a Cornish saint, and a medival form of IVO
  • Ivo — Old German name
  • Jarri — Hittite deity
  • Jura — another Scottish island
  • MiloMilon — the Greek Milo comes from a Greek word for yew
  • Owain — Welsh form of OWEN
  • Owen
  • Serkhedar — Persian for yew
  • Tasso — Italian for yew
  • Taxus — Latin for yew
  • Teix — Catalan for yew
  • Teixo — Portuguese for yew
  • Tejo — Spanish for yew
  • Tis — Czech, Russian, Slovak and Ukrainian for yew
  • Tisa — Croatian and Slovenian for yew
  • Tisovina — Serbian for yew
  • Tiszafa — Hungarian for yew
  • Yolande — though traditionally linked with Violet, it is probably in fact from the Old German iv “yew” + landa “land”
  • York — use as a name is an adoption of the surname, from York, Yorkshire
  • Ywain, Ywein — medieval forms of OWEN
  • Ywen — Welsh “yew”

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Jera is one of those runes which features only in a couple of alphabets — the Elder Futhark and the Anglo-Frisian.

The runic alphabet shifts again with Jera, with what at first seems an inexplicable leap from the depths of winter to the other side of the wheel of the year and the harvest.

Or is it?

For after the hardship and difficulties of the last three runes, Hægl, Nyd and Is, Jera represents the fulfillment of hope, the rewards of perseverance against all the odds. With Jera, we reap what we have sown, and reminds us that all things have their season.

Change — for good, for bad — is inevitable. Enjoy the fruits of Jera while you can.

Literally, it means “year” and “harvest” — and carries the sense of “prosperity”. Interestingly, it is etymologyically related to the Slavic words for “the spring,” and the Greek for “hour.”

Jera itself certainly has fairly good name potential, Jeran possibly even more, while Jeraz offers that slightly more exotic edge. With its meanings and associations of prosperity, there are lots of other names in harmony with Jera, such as those I listed under Feoh, and Wynn.

And I’ve already covered some harvest-related names in my post on the Equinox.

Some other names, and name suggestions, which resonate with Jera:

  • Aika — Finnish: “time”
  • Amser — Welsh: “time.”
  • Anna Perenna — Roman Goddess of plenty, who presides over the wheel of the year. Both this Anna and Perenna may have links to the Latin for “year”: annus. It also means “circuit.” Perenna is usually derived from perennis “through the year.”
  • Annona — another Roman Goddess, who personified a year. Also from annus “year.”
  • Berry
  • Calendula — the botanical name for the English marigold. It acquired its name, from the Latin kalends, used of the first day of a month, because it has the ability to flower all year.
  • Carme — Cretan Goddess of the Harvest
  • Chakana — ancient Incan symbol of the Wheel of the Year.
  • Chronos — the Greek God of time.
  • Consus — Roman God of the harvest
  • Crop
  • Denbora — Basque: “time”
  • Ekin — Turkish name: “harvest.”
  • Gather
  • Harvest
  • Hour
  • Idő — Hungarian: “time”
  • Kausi — Finnish: “season”
  • Mimela  — Lakota: “to be round,” “to be circular.”
  • Ona — Hebrew: “season”
  • Pomona — Roman Goddess of fruit.
  • Reap
  • Saison — French, German: “season.”
  • Season
  • Sezona — Latvian: “season”
  • Teamhair — Old Irish: “time,” “season”; this is the Irish name for TaraTeamhair na Rí, and the name of the Goddess who presides over that place.
  • Tempest  — derives ultimately from Latin tempus “time.”
  • Tempo
  • Tempus — Latin: “time.”
  • Time
  • Tími — Icelandic: “time.”
  • Tymor — Welsh: “season.”
  • Zaman — Persian, Turkish: “time”
  • Zeit — German: “time”

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It was the full moon last night, which is the inspiration for today’s pick of the week, the little heard Argent.

Argent falls into the categories of both “surnames as first names” and “word names,” though they share the same source: the Old (and Modern) French argent “silver.”

Silver’s association with the moon goes back to ancient times. It has long been believed to enhance the power of the moon, capable of forging a strong link between the the physical and metaphysical worlds.

The surname probably arose as a nickname for someone with silver hair, while the word has been used in the past as a noun (for a silver coin) and an adjective.

Nowadays, it is mostly confined to heraldry, where it is used of both silver and white in coats of arms.

The Old French word came from the Latin for silver argentum, which gives us the chemical symbol for silver — Ag.

It is cognate with the Welsh arian “silver” — which is still used to mean “money” in Welsh — which is found in more than one Welsh name, such as Arianwen, which combines it with gwyn “white,” “pure,” and “blessed,” and Arianell, which combines it with gell “yellow,” and “shining.”

It may also feature in the name of the Goddess Arianrhod — which is popularly interpreted as meaning “silver wheel” and a reference to the moon.

Caer Arianrhod is the Welsh name for the Milky Way.

The Common Celtic word from which arian derived was *arganto-, and the “g” is preserved in the medieval name Argante — used by Layamon in the twelfth century epic poem Brut as the name of the Queen of Avalon.

She is usually identified with Morgan le Fay, and there are those who argue that the name derives from an older form of Arianrhod.

Another old form is Eraint, which features in the epithet of the mythical Welsh figure Lludd Llaw Eraint “Lludd of the Silver Hand.”

This form also happens to demonstrate well the etymological relation between arian and the Modern Welsh Eirian “shining.”

Meanwhile, its Sanskrit cognate is Arjuna, a name borne by a hero of the epic Mahabharata. The modern Hindi form of the name is Arjun.

Argent itself is first found as a given name as early as the sixteenth century, interestingly enough as a girl’s name. This probably represented a simpler form of Argentea, which was taken directly from the Latin argenteus meaning “silvery” and “of silver.”

By the nineteenth century, it is more commonly found as a boy’s name, often as a middle name, indicative that the surname was now the principal source.

Today, Argent is a rarity. It has never reached the top 1000 in America, and only even appears in the data at all on one occasion, in 1926, when five girls were given the name.

Bursting as it is with heritage and meaning, I think it makes for a great unusual and contemporary choice for a boy or a girl. What do you think?

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First of all, apologies to anyone who happened by yesterday when my blog was temporarily “suspended/archived.”  Thankfully it was a system error, and the nice people at WordPress sorted it out very quickly — though I did have a litter or two of kittens in panic in the meantime!

A couple of weeks ago, I included Agatha in my list of “Grannies” worthy of resurrection, and the eve of the feast day of the saint of the name seemed a good day to feature her properly.

For it was Saint Agatha whose popularity in Britain in the Middle Ages made Agatha a common name in medieval times.

Hers is a particularly gruesome tale, even by the usual standards of hagiography.

For refusing to succumb to the advances of the (naturally) Pagan Roman prefect of Sicily, Agatha was tortured — which included cutting off her breasts — and executed.

These scenes have been popular in art across the centuries, with Agatha usually portrayed carrying her breasts on a tray as though they were macaroons (inspiration, perhaps for the minni di virgini cakes, which are a speciality of St Agatha’s day in Sicily).

However, contemporary evidence for her existence is non-existent, and the first references to her date from the sixth century.

All the rest is pure legend and folklore.

So who really was Agatha?

Agatha is a straight-forward name to interpret. It is simply the feminine form of the Greek agathos “good.” Hence Agatha, at its most literal, means “the good (female) one,” in her case, it could be “good woman,” “good lady” — or  “good goddess.”

And, as fate has it, there was a Roman Goddess called exactly that, word for word in Latin — Bona Dea, “the Good Goddess.”

The Bona Dea is quite a mysterious deity. what we do know is that she was a goddess strongly linked with women, and her festival was celebrated only by women (and only well-born ones at that).

Ancient writers interpreted Bona Dea as a title or epithet, concealing her real identity, which was believed to be a closely guarded secret kept by those admitted to her mysteries.

This didn’t stop the writers speculating that her real identity was the fertility Goddess Ops (“plenty”), Magna Mater (the “Great Mother”) and/or Ceres, and she was also identified with Juno and Isis.

Intriguingly, there are many vestiges of the worship of Isis in the festivals of St. Agatha on Sicily, where the cult of Isis was strong in ancient times. These include the greeting of the cult statue and its procession on a carriage and an enormous party.

A further interesting “coincidence” is that these festivities begin on February 2nd—with one of her areas of patronage being protection against fire, linking her to Brigid, who is also sometimes equated with Isis, and whose feast day is suspiciously close.

On Sicily, this connection with fire is particularly linked to Sicily’s volcano, Etna; Agatha’s veil has supposedly protected the island from the volcano on more than one occasion.

Agatha, like Isis, is also closely connected with cats; in France, Agatha is said to appear in the guise of an angry cat to women who work on her feast day, and in Languedoc she even used to be referred to as “Santo Gatto.”

In the Middle Ages, Agatha was very much the “Sunday best” form of the name, used in Latin documents. Like many — if not most — names, the vernacular forms were simpler.

In Agatha’s case, they were forms such as Agas, Agase and Agace, and Agacia was commonly found in Latin documents rather than Agatha.

Two significant medieval bearers were Agatha, the mother of Edgar Atheling, and Agatha of Normandy, a daughter of King William the Conqueror. The name is also ascribed to the mother of the famous fifteenth century “Mother Shipton” — Ursula Southill.

After the Reformation, Agatha plunged out of fashion, becoming unusual until the Victorians with their love of all things medieval plunked it from the history books.

Even then, however, it never became particularly common, while many an Agatha naturally became an Aggie.

The best-known real-life bearer of modern times is the British writer and archaeologist Agatha Christie (1890-1976). I’ve loved Agatha Christie’s books since childhood, and feel an additional bond because my Director of Studies at College, who excavated with Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan in the 1950s. It was rather thrilling to hear about her from someone who knew her personally.

In fiction, there’s more than one witch of the name, such as Agatha Harkness, a witch in the world of Marvel Comics, and Agatha Cackle, the villain of Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch.

But probably the most famous literary Agatha has to be the formidable Aunt Agatha of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories.

Until recently, this battleaxe image has rendered Agatha virtually unusable. But things are changing, and little Agathas are starting to make appearances.

In Britain, the name’s prospects may have improved due to the children’s TV show Guardians of the Museum, which is hosted by a pretty 1930’s ghost called Agatha. Certainly, my Small Child associates the name with this character, and thinks it’s a fabulous name.

So even if the current generation of parents can’t appreciate Agatha’s qualities, the next is distinctly hopeful!

Happy St. Agatha’s!

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