I recently spent four days in the rain and sun at PSG, or Pagan Spirit Gathering, one of America’s oldest and largest Nature Spirituality festivals. This was my second year in attendance having attended it in 2016.
Last year, as a PSG “virgin”, I was overwhelmed with all of the experiences that were to be had by one who had never, in all their years of identifying as a pagan, attended a pagan festival. I was ecstatic and at times, unsettled, by all that I encountered. I met people from all paths, both traditional and eclectic, and from all walks of life. Sharing the same space with people like Selena Fox, who I idolized when I was younger, was amazing. I’d recommend such an experience to anyone who has never attended a festival.
I danced, I chanted, I sang, I held space for others.
I felt transformed during and after an intense men’s ritual in which all present called upon our own gods to bear witness. We entered as ordinary men, but left as heroes and warriors, each of us taking a name that was inspired by that moment, inspired by our gods, inspired by our treasured myths and legends. As the ritual leader went around the circle of what could have been one hundred men or more (I could be mistaken), each of us said our secret names aloud. When I was younger, and read one of a dozen books on the craft and Wicca, I was informed that having a secret name was vital in the course of one’s magic(k)al life. I would be one of many who chose a name for themselves, a name that was distinct. The name I chose sounded exotic, to me anyway, but it never fit me. It was like wearing a poorly fitting Halloween costume. Saying it aloud even felt silly. Referring to myself by that name? Even sillier. I wasn’t Symwyse Bryarwood.
The ritual leader moved clockwise around the inside of the circle, and as he did, those in attendance shouted their names for all to hear. I stood, panicked. My heart raced. What would I call myself in this circle of men? I could hear waves in my ears as my blood seemed to roar, my heart beating faster.
Years ago, when I was challenged by a close friend to delve deeper into my own spiritual path, I pondered the idea of having a patron god. Others seemed to share a special affinity for one or another, why shouldn’t I? Oh, but who would I choose? Who would choose me? I thought of the gods I knew, I counted their names, I spoke them in my heart. I spoke their names aloud, sometimes in ritual. Inanna Who Is Ishtar, Enki Who Is Ea, Hekate Enodia, Ra of the Two Horizons. It was Marduk whose name seemed to stay in my mind, whose name I found myself saying more times than I could count. In hindsight, I find this to be an interesting experience. I am not a warrior; a soldier for my country. I am not a peacekeeper; a member of law enforcement. I am not what one could consider a martial individual. But Marduk is more than a god of war. He is the Babylonian king of the gods, and presides over justice, mercy, and magic. He is the healer and savior of his people, and is the subject of numerous prayers, hymns, and philosophical works. Perhaps my insatiable need to fill the Christian superstructure I left behind was found in him. I’ll never fully know.
A name occurred to me, briefly, as I heard those to my right continue to shout their names. Ben Mordechai. I laughed to myself. Son (of the) Servant of Marduk. It seemed to be the perfect fit, the blending of Judeo-Christian sentiment with paganism. In swift succession, I found that the time had come for me to say my name aloud: my hero name, my warrior name. I shouted the name: BEN MARDUK! as loud as I could muster. My head was swimming, my heart was racing, and I was elated. It is this same sensation that I felt years ago when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. I mulled the name over and over, familiarizing myself with how it felt in my mouth. How it felt to speak it aloud or whisper it to myself.
I never used the name outside of that ritual, that transformative experience. The thought occurred to me once to use it as a pseudonym in my writing. But in the end, I wouldn’t. I associate that name with that event, I carry that name with me, I think of it often, but I am still Sam. Not Ben. Not Symwyse.