The Name Game
by Jake Block
“They say that there’s a sacred chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord”
— Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
I was once asked, “Why don’t you have a ‘magical name’?” My first reaction was, “WHU?” My visitor said, “I’ve always been told that you should have a ‘magical name’ that relates to some famous magician, demon, god or object that you choose… sort of like a witch’s familiar.”
So, I asked what his “magical name” was, and he told me that it was ABRAXAS. Ok. Now I know that the name Abraxas has a long association with demonology and magic. It was considered to be the name of a pagan god, later demoted to the status of a demon. documented in Colin de Plancy’s Infernal Dictionary. In it, he wrote that Abraxas was considered to be the supreme God of the Basolidans, Gnostics whom he called “heretics of the second century.” One fairly cool notion is that the name Abraxas was composed of the letters corresponding to all seven of the then known planets. Carl Jung also used Abraxas as the name of the demon that mixed the natures of God and the Devil into one. You could go on and on with this one.
And of course, Abraxas was the name of Santana’s second studio album from 1970. This is the album that gave us such great classics as Oye Como Va, Samba Pa Ti and of course, Black Magic Woman. All cool bits of trivia and interesting, but none of these things were the reason he chose Abraxas to be his “magical name.” The reason for that was simply that, “I don’t know man. I think it just really sounds cool.”
Sounding cool as a basis for names is nothing new. The names we give our children at birth has a lot to do with popular culture and celebrity. People have named their kids from musical selections, and when Fleetwood Mac was really big in the 70s, there was a crop of baby girls named “Rhiannon,” from one of their hit songs. How many Johns, Pauls, Georges and maybe even “Ringos” were named during the reign of the Beatles? How many Eltons, Micks or Jimis? People named their kids after those they admired, perhaps in the hope that in doing so, their son or daughter might somehow bring themselves fame and fortune with a guitar in their hands.
Satanic “magical names?” Just take a run through most “satanic” places on the web and you’ll find a lot of ersatz Antons, Szandors, and LaVeys. When I was at the Black House, we would receive stacks of mail from people asking questions of Anton LaVey to people wanting to join the Church of Satan, to people just sending mail to somehow be in touch with the “base.” You wouldn’t believe how many people wrote to us with the “magical name” of Belial. There was a Belial Smith, a Belial Cunningham, a Belial this and a Belial that. Liliths by the dozen, Lucifers by the score, and every time the mail would come, there would always be one more! Phone calls that went like, “This is Belial! Belial who? You know, Belial! Ok, is this the Belial from New York, or Boston or Swansea, Illinois”?
Back in 1964, there was a popular song by Shirley Ellis, called The Name Game. It was about a game where you could use anyone’s name to make a rhyme. It seemed like someone was always singing it, like some kid’s jump rope ditty. “A little luck with Chuck! Chuck chuck bo buck banana fana fo fuck…” or “Mitch Mitch bo bitch, banana fana fo fitch…” It made little sense. Probably as much as assuming that one name could be more magical than the next.
Names aren’t magic, but the use of names to indicate one’s magical propensities is almost a tradition. The coin operated fortune telling machines had names like Zoltan, Zoltar and the one I have is an Omar. Female types were often called Esmerelda, Grandma or Witch Zelda. People seeking magical reasons and remedies seem to want their magicians and psychics to have mystical names or names that connote an idea or feeling of esoteric wisdom.
The idea that certain names or musical chords can hold power because of their tonalities has been around for a long time. Vibrations do seem to have an almost universal effect on the human ear, but can they influence others? The reason that a gong is used in ritual is as a vibratory tool to accentuate and also cleanse the air as the gong’s note ripples through the room. The vibrations that become sound do indeed have the power to affect change. We know that the deep droning of infrasound can cause physical distress, loss of equilibrium and concentration. Some animals communicate in sound frequencies that are unavailable to human ears, but can be heard with crystal clarity for miles on the grassy veldt of Tanzania’s Serengeti plains. The deep blue seas reverberate with the whale songs by which the massive creatures “whistle and hum,” conversing and relaying messages across the seven seas.
These things in and of themselves are the stuff of legends. So too are the greatest wizards, magicians and conjurors of history. Their names remind us all of a time remembered only in books and movies, where dragons plied the skies, commanded by kings and wizards. The times long past resonate to the names that were legend even then, Appolonius of Tyana, Gwydion of Wales, Nicholas Flamel, Michael Scot, William II de Soule, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, John Dee, Baal Shem, Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey, and of course, the great one, Merlin.
Would their legends burn less brightly if Merlin had been named “Bob?”