Archive for the ‘Pagan-friendly’ Category

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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Over the course of today and or/tomorrow, most Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere will be celebrated Imbolc (down under, it’s time for Lughnasadh).

Both Imbolc and Lughnasadh are what are often dubbed “Celtic fire festivals.”

Both names are Irish, and are the names by which the festivals were known in the early medieval period, but it is thought that the fire festivals were celibrated across the Celtic world.

The other two are Samhain and Beltane, and they all fall midway between a Solstice and an Equinox — hence their other generic name “cross-quarter days.”

Imbolc — also called Imbolg, and correctly pronounced “i-molk” — marks the transition between the deepest, darkest days of winter and the Spring Equinox.

It seems to derive from the Old Irish for “in the belly,” although a medieval glossary said it meant “ewe’s milk.” Either way, its association with the burgeoning new life of spring is clear.

It’s still cold. It’s still dark, but signs of spring are increasingly everywhere, from the trembling, delicate snowdrops, to the shivering catkins on the hazel and the buds on the blossom trees.

It is the time of the Maiden.

Not surprising that the saints most strongly associated with early February are Bridget and Agatha, Bridget — often now called by the Irish form of her name, Brigid — on the first, Agatha on the fifth.

It is Brigid who has become most associated now with Imbolc — though not the saint. The Goddess who lies behind her. The great Irish Brigid, so beloved in Ireland in pre-Christian times that instead of trying to eradicate her worship, the Christians turned her into a sixth-century saint.

She is equally revered among many modern Pagans, especially Wiccans and Druids.

Many Christians — particularly Catholics — still contend  that the saint just happened to share the same name as Pagan Ireland’s favorite Goddess, that she just happened to found her monastery on the site of Bridget’s cult center in Kildare, and just happened to have a thing for fire, etc.

Similarly, the widespread nature of St. Bridget’s cult in England and Wales is often ascribed to the spread of the cult from Ireland when — although the form “Bridget” is Irish — her worship in the British Isles is probably much older; Bridget and the famous Brythonic Goddess Brigantia are almost
certainly the same deity.

The form Bridget developed from Brigitta, a Latinized form of the Medieval Irish Brigit and Brigid. It derives ultimately from the Common Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power” combined with the Irish fem. suffix –ait. This has become Brighid in Modern Irish Gaelic. The variants Bríd and Bríde are also used.

In England and Wales, Bride and Bryde  were also commonly used in the Middle Ages, surviving in place names such as Bridewell.

Bridie — an Anglicized form of Bríde — is not uncommonly heard in Pagan circles too.

Bridget is found as a given name in England from the fourteenth century. In Ireland it wasn’t actually used until the seventeenth; it was considered
too sacred for everyday use in previous centuries (so much for the saint just happening to share the Goddess’s name!).

In the nineteenth century, the pet-form Biddy was so common in Ireland that it became a nickname for an Irishwoman (in the same way Paddy was used for an Irishman). It has lost this meaning now, but “old biddy” is still used in Britain as a mild slang term for an old woman.

Many wonderful old traditions surround Imbolc and St Bridget’s. One of it’s other names — Candlemas — comes from the tradition of making and blessing candles at St Bridget’s; the connection between candles and Brigid’s fires is obvious.

In Ireland, the tradition of making a Brigid’s Bed has survived until modern time in some parts; women and girls make a corn dolly, and a bed for her to lie on beside the fire. They then keep a vigil on the the eve of St Bridget’s, and the men visit to pay Bridget their respect.

In the morning, the dolly is sometimes taken round the village from door-to-door, a bit like a guy on Bonfire Night in England.

Due to the believe that Brigid goes abroad on Imbolc eve, clothes are sometimes placed outdoors for her to bless as she passes.

Candles are often placed in all the windows to welcome her.

But probably best-known is the Brigid Cross, with it’s four spokes, it almost certainly is a vestige of the Pagan Celtic sun-wheel. Generally woven from straw or rushes, they are placed in the chimney as a protection against fire. Although the general tradition was that they were renewed each year, with the old burnt on Imbolc fire, old ones are not uncommonly found forgotten up the chimneys of old Irish houses.

A bright and blessed Imbolc, one and all!

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One of my favorite book series in the mid 1980s was Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

And it was Sue Townsend who first introduced me to Coventry as a name, in her 1988 novel Rebuilding Coventry.

The title is a nod to the post-war rebuilding of the city of Coventry, which was all-but razed to the ground during the Blitz; but in the case of the book, the Coventry being “rebuilt” is a woman called Coventry Dakin.

The name stuck in my head.

Later, I came across the real life Coventry Kelsey Dighton Patmore, a nineteenth century English male poet. In his case, the name represented an adoption of the surname.

Which also comes from Coventry.

As a given name, despite the poet and the book, Coventry remains extremely rare.

It was, in fact, more common in the nineteenth century than it is today.

But with the growing interest in “place names” as first names, perhaps Coventry’s time might be coming. After all,  while Coventry has never registered in the SSA data, the name of its twin city, Dresden, was given to sixty-one little boys in America in 2010, and eight little girls.

True, modern Coventry is not the prettiest of places. The rebuilding after the war was unsympathetic — putting it kindly.

Since then it has become a modern, largely characterless sprawl.

But that doesn’t — cannot — take away the fact that Coventry is an ancient place, and one of the most important medieval towns in England.

It was the scene of Lady Godiva’s legendary naked ride through the streets to protest against the taxes of Leofric, Earl of Mercia — her husband.

The medieval Coventry Cycle Mystery Plays had their home in Coventry, as did the hauntingly beautiful fifteenth century Christmas Carol — The Coventry Carol, which may have first been sung as part of the plays.

And, although the town’s name actually has nothing to do with a witch’s coven, the similarity does still lend it a distinctly witchy, Wiccan edge.

Rather than a combination of “coven” and “tree,” which it appears to be on the surface, the first element is Old English cofa meaning “cave,” “shelter,” and “chamber” — possibly used as a given name — Cofa.

It occurs in the genitive form in Coventry — i.e. it means “of Cofa.”

But if it was a personal name, it may be that it actually arose as a short-form of some other Anglo-Saxon name, and its resemblance to cofa is superficially. A plausible candidate being the charming and neglected Cuthbert “bright-fame.”

But the second element is “tree.”

And thus Coventry means “Cofa’s tree.”

What, I wonder, was special about Cofa’s tree?

To be singled out as significant enough to define a place, it was presumable noteworthy in some way.

And, of course, it barely needs to be said, that all trees are are held in high regard by most Pagans.

Another reason why Coventry as a given name has a bit of a Pagan edge.

So, will Coventry join the growing ranks of “place-names”?

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The darker mood of Hægl and Nyd remains as we reach Is — Ice — in the runes.

The forms it takes in the various runic systems are:

In the runic poems, the focus is on ice’s appearance and nature — it is “the bark of a river,” and “a floor forged by the frost.”

But emphasis is also placed on the danger it brings, both tangible (such as slipping on it), and more metaphorical (for the perils that cold presents, both to the body and environement).

But ice also stands for winter, and as well as its dangers (so real and frightening in those days when famine was always a hair-bredth away), it is a time of rest and introspection.

Nature turns inwards, and so must we. After its sleep beneath the ice, new life will come in the spring.

Modern rune interpretations follow on from all this. Is is a distinct, virtually physical obstacle placed before us. It can represent sudden frustration in endeavours, something that stops us in our paths and threatens to prevent us from moving forward.

Indeed, to some extent it is actual tells us that we might need to stop and take time to think. Time to allow what will be to be. Just like Nature in wintertime. The spring will come.  We just need patience…

And so to the names…

Is is, of course, identical to “is”; I have encountered it as a nickname for Isabella and all her forms, and, after all Will’s resemblance to “will” hasn’t hindered him. Isaz is distinctly exotic, though not a thousand miles from Isis and Isaac.

His? Maybe, maybe not.

But lovely Isa has to be one of the best “rune names” of all. An old short form of Isabella, etc, particularly in Scotland, it has that “great-granny” charm going too, but has yet to be rediscovered in her own right (only 5 in 2010 in the UK), though it features in a lot of other names. In addition to all the variations on Isabella, there’s all these among the girls:

Aanisah, Alisa, Anisa, Anisah, Annalisa, Arisa, Beatrisa, Denisa, Elisa, Elisabeth, Elisabeta, Elisabetta, Ellisa, Eloisa, Elouisa, Erisa, Faisa, Ibtisaam, Ibtisam, Isadora, Isatou, Isatu, Larisa, Lisa, Louisa, Luisa, Khalisa, Khalisah, Maisa, Maisarah, Mandisa, Marisa, Melisa, Nafisa, Nafisah, Nisa, Nisanur, Parisa, Raisa, Ramisa, Romaisa, Risa, Rumaisa, Temisan, Tulisa, Unaisa, Unaisah.

Then there are all the great names beginning with Is-. As well as Isaac, the Isabellas and Isadora, there’s:

Isabèu, Isaiah, Isambard, Isamu, Isao, Isca, Iseult, Isfael, Isfandiyar, Ishaq, Ishara, Ishkur, Ishtar, Isidore, Isioma, Isis, Iska, Iskander, Iskra, Isla, Islay, Islwyn, Islyn, Isra, Issachar, Issoria, István.

Then there’s the meaning; and what leaps out first is Ice itself, along with Icie and Icy and “ice” or “icy” in other languages:

  • Ais — Malay: “ice”
  • Akull — Albanian: “ice”
  • Akulli — Albanian: “icy”
  • Bīng — Mandarin: “ice”
  • Buz — Turkish: “ice”
  • Duramen — Latin: “ice”
  • Eis — German: “ice”
  • Eisig — German: “icy”
  • Gelido, Gelida — Italian: “icy”
  • Gelu — Latin: “ice”
  • Glace — French: “ice”
  • Glacial — French: “icy”
  • Glacies — Latin: “ice”
  • Hielo — Spanish: “ice”
  • — Welsh: “ice”
  • Izotz — Basque: “ice”
  • Jää — Estonian, Finnish: “ice”
  • Jäine — Estonian: “icy”
  • Jäinen –Finnish: “icy”
  • Jaleed — Arabic: “ice”
  • Jég — Hungarian: “ice”
  • Jeges — Hungarian: “icy”
  • Kerakh — Hebrew: “ice”
  • Kori — Japanese: “ice”
  • KryerosKryera, Cryerus, Cryera — Greek: “icy”
  • KrymosKryma, Crymus, Cryma — Greek: “icy”
  • Krystallos, Crystallus — Greek: “ice”
  • KryosKrya, Cryus, Crya — Greek: “icy”
  • Led — Croatian, Czech: “ice”
  • Ledas — Lithuanian: “ice”
  • Ledovy — Czech: “icy”
  • Ledinis — Lithuanian: “icy”
  • Ledus — Latvian: “ice”
  • Lód — Polish: “ice”
  • Lyed — Russian: “ice”
  • Oighreata — Irish: “icy”
  • Oighir — Irish: “ice”
  • Pegylis — Greek: “icy-cold”
  • Rhew — Welsh: “ice”
  • Stiria — Latin: “icicle”
  • Thalj — Arabic: “ice”
  • Xeado — Galician: “icy”
  • Xeo — Galician: “ice”
  • Yax — Persian: “ice”
  • Yelo — Filipino: “ice”

It also inspires the following in English:

  • Berg
  • Cryo
  • Crystal
  • Diamond
  • Floe
  • Frazil
  • Frost
  • Frostflower
  • Frosty
  • Gelid
  • Glacier
  • Glacieret
  • Glaçon
  • Glaze
  • Glitter
  • Glittery
  • Hail 
  • Icicle
  • Kittly
  • Kulfi
  • Lollipop
  • Lolly
  • Nilas
  • Popsicle
  • Rime
  • Rone
  • Sparkle
  • Sleet
  • Star
  • Thaw
  • Varve
  • Winter

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Q is one of my favorite letters for names!

Here are some interesting options for unusual Q names from surnames of Old English, Old Norse and Anglo-French origin.

  • Quaife — Old French: coif, the name of a type of close-fitting hat worn in the Middle Ages; used of someone who made them.
  • Quant — Middle English: cointe “crafty,” “clever.”
  • Quantock — from the Quantock Hills in Somerset. Celtic *canto- “circle” + Old English wudu “wood” or tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Quantrell — Old French: cointerel “a beau,” ” a fop.”
  • Quarles — from Quarles, Norfolk. Old English: *hwierfel “circle,” a word related to “whirl” and “whorl”; thought to refer to ancient, but now lost, stone circles.
  • Quarmby — from Quarmby, Yorkshire. Old Norse: kvern “quern” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Quarrier — Old French: quarreour “a quarryman.”
  • Quartermain — Angl0-French quatremayns “four-hands,” i.e. “mail-fisted.”
  • Quartermass — from Quatremares in Normandy. French “four seas.”
  • Queech — from Middle English queche “thicket.”
  • Queldrick — from Wheldrake, Yorkshire. Old English hwēol “wheel” + Old Norse drag, the name given to the iron rim under the keel of a boat, suggesting that there was originally some rollers for moving boats up a weir.
  • Queniff — Old English: Cwengifu “queen-gift”; medieval forms included Queniva and Quenyeve.
  • Quennell — from the Old English girl’s name Quenilda.
  • Quiller — Old French: cuiller “spoon,” used of someone who made them.
  • Quilter — Old French: cuilte “quilt.” used of someone who made quilts or mattresses.
  • Quinnell — a variant of QUENNELL.
  • Quinsee — a variant of the well-known Quincy, from Cuinchy in Normandy, or one of the places in France called Quincy.
  • Quintrell — a variant of QUANTRELL.
  • Quixley — from Whixley, West Yorkshire. Old English personal name *Cwic + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”

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Pagan Name of the Month features a name currently in the American or English top 100 which has what I like to call “Pagan umph.”

This month’s choice — Evan — features in both the American and English chart, ranked 36th in America, and 76th in England and Wales.

Superficially, it might seem an odd choice, for today it is generally regarded as the Welsh form of John.

Which it is. Sort of.

It is actually the now standard Anglicized form of Ifan, just one of the Welsh forms of John.

Others include Ieuan and Ioan, made familiar by the Welsh actor, Ioan Gruffudd. These were Anglicized in the early modern period as as Javan, Jevon and Jowan (now considered purely Cornish).

Evan itself evolved from the older form Yevan, from the Welsh Iefan, with Evan itself first appearing in around 1500.

Although its roots were in the Hebrew John, it became regarded, quite rightly, as thoroughly Welsh, and remained one of the few Welsh names to remain in popular and regular use until the Celtic Revival in the nineteenth century.

Hence why Evans is one of the commonest surnames, especially in Wales. It also lies behind Bevan (from ap Evan “son of Evan”), Avens and Heaven.

Another old variant was Even, which is also found as a variant of Euan in Scotland and parts of England. Indeed, it seems to have been the
most common form of EWAN still prevailing in “the Old North” in the early nineteenth century.

There are also (rarer) modern feminine forms: Evana, Evanna, Ifanna and Ifanwy. A well-known bearer being the Irish actress, Evanna Lynch, known for playing Luna Lovegood.

So far, so good. But you might be wondering what it is about Evan that gives it a Pagan edge, apart from a fairly flimsy connection to a fictional witch?

The answer lies in a more unexpected source — Classical Latin.

For Evan also happens to be one of the alternative names of the Roman God Bacchus — identified with the Greek Dionysus.

I bet you weren’t expecting that!

Of course, the Romans didn’t pronounce it the same as we do; they said it “eh-wan,” and it is also written Euan. Other forms include Euhan, Euius and Evius.

It probably arose from the ritual cry used at his festival by worshippers — euoe!  or euhoe! — which even had a special adjective derived from it, which was used of worshippers, particularly Bacchantes: euans, meaning  “shouting ‘Evan.'”

So if you’d like a mainstream name with a nice little Pagan twist, Evan might be just the one for you.

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Yes, as in Holmes.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Only — Sherlock doesn’t say that anymore.

There is no question that Sherlock Holmes is one of the best-known, best-loved fictional characters of all time.

But largely thanks to Basil Rathbone’s marvelous — but distinctly middle age and very, very cold — Holmes, and a succession of wannabe Basil Rathbone interpretations which followed, it has, until now failed to enamor many parents.

That, however, might now change, thanks to two very different, very compelling new Sherlock Holmeses on the block: those of Robert Downey, Jr, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Asking which I prefer would be asking whether I prefer a good cheddar or a good stilton. Love ’em both.

And what they both do, in very different ways, is rescue Holmes from the cultural cliché he had almost become and inject him with new life; the one by giving it the Holywood action-adventure-spy treatment, albeit preserving the late nineteenth century setting (well, kind of); the other by bringing Holmes bang up to date with clever new twists on the old tales.

Cumberbatch’s Holmes may be out of his original time (not that that hasn’t been done before — most of Rathbone’s films had a contemporary setting too), but in my opinion he’s actually the most faithful to Doyle’s original.

And, let’s not beat about the bush, both Robert and Benedict have “seriously attractive” stamped all over them.

If they can’t make people start to seriously consider Sherlock as a name, nothing will.

Plus, it really is a great name.

A surname, no less, in origin.

Nowhere is it stated in Conan Doyle’s work how Sherlock got his name, but it is a safe bet that as a man who came from a clan of “country squires,”  somewhere in his family tree, it featured originally as a surname.

It may have been a family name in the Holmeses for centuries, or it may have been his mother’s maiden name, or it may have been the surname of a family friend. We simply don’t know.

It derives from the Old English scīr “bright,” and “shining” (the same source as “sheer”) and loc(c) “lock (of hair),” which as surnames-as-first-name meanings go, is appealing.

And while any child called Sherlock would have to get used to being called Holmes, there are certainly many names, some of them quite popular, with far worse and more irritating “jokes” lying in wait to torment someone with.

If I were called Sherlock, I might adopt Holmes as a nickname myself, and have done with it. Rug from under feet and all that.

There’s also the contemporary Lock, which I’ve personally liked for a long time.

And if you were to be very daring, and like turning things on their heads, and gave Sherlock to a girl, then Sher and Sherry naturally present themselves.

What Sherlock Holmes himself would have thought to being called Sherry though, I wouldn’t like to say!

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