And the pagans have it.
I preface this by saying that I am a pagan, and I have nothing but affection for other pagans. Do not be offended if your name is, in fact, Raven Silverwolf or Silver Ravenwolf or Sparkle Glitter Starlight Wolfpuppy. All that I am about to say is filled with love and concern for you.
It's easy to mock pagans. We stick out. We're kind of dippy and strange, we wear funny clothes (at least a few times a year), we insist on lecturing you about how St. Patrick actually murdered Druids and the whole "snake" thing is a smokescreen while you're trying to chug your third mug of green beer in peace. A good portion of us have read too much Tolkien for our own good, and our version of church seems to involve buying a lot of weird stuff at stinky shops. We're easy targets. But it doesn't help when a vocal portion of the "community," (a word I use loosely, as there is a great deal of variety in pagan beliefs and groups, and I certainly haven't noticed a "community" pitching in when I'm out of incense over here), insists on naming themselves ridiculous things like Raven Summerhaven and Wolfheart. And forcing their Kinko's co-workers to call them by that name in public. (Sometimes they spell it "Ravyne," which makes my brain bleed. But then I don't spell it "majick" either, so I'm out of the club, anyway.) Now, there is nothing wrong with new names, and the Native American tradition of animal names is a long and noble one. But in addition to making the rest of us look like a pack of rabid D & D players who got their hands on a copy of Let's Go To The Zoo! somewhere along the line, these names show a stunning lack of creativity, or even an understanding of the traditions of which they claim to be a part. Mostly, it's about looking cool.
There would appear to be only 5-10 animals deemed attractive and noble enough to name oneself after, if one is to be a proper little pagan. Ravens and wolves top out the list, followed by lions, hawks, bears, owls, the occasional deer or crow. A handful of others pepper the landscape--I am not even going to address the bile-summoning trend of naming oneself after dragons, griffins, or any other mythical animal which can be found in a fantasy paperback featuring bikini-clad chicks with swords. Some pagans also choose flowers or trees, or gods and goddesses, but at the moment, I want to address the much more common HELLO- My Name Is (fill in animal here) phenomenon.
I would venture to say that very few of those named thusly actually feel a deep spiritual affinity with ravens or wolves. Liking Poe is not a deep spiritual affinity. (And I am far from convinced that the raven predeliction doesn't come from reading The Mists of Avalon one too many times. Yeah, I liked that book, too, guys. Fiction is fun.) But we, as part of the western tradition, invest certain animals with qualities of nobility and courage, regardless of their actual nature. For instance: the wolf was reviled in Europe for centuries--hence the typical "lone wolf" image, though wolves are pack animals. (Know what you call a lone wolf? Fucked. It's cold in the tundra without your mates.) Those who choose a wolf name rather more often simply feel cast out by society, and latch onto the idea of a shunned but essentially honorable and powerful creature.
And there's the problem. Wolves are no more noble than scorpions. They'll happily rip your face off between munching on fluffy rabbits and sweet little mice. But wolves are furry and gorgeous and they look off into the distance as though they contain some unspoken wisdom. Bitch, please. They were thinking about how nice some noble caribou would taste right about now. But this seems to be the prerequisite for liking an animal enough to name yourself after it--that the animal is adorable or fiercely beautiful, which reflects well on the namee. No one ever names themselves Salamander Mangymoose, or Swift Ostrich, or Starmanatee. Yet these are perfectly lovely animals--they just don't make you look dark and cool, do they? Yeah. I'm onto you.
Even more strangely is the phenomenon of the "fluffy pagan." The main tenet of pagan belief, I think its safe to say, no matter what cultural spin one puts on it, is a reverance for nature as the literal expression of divinity. Fluffy pagans believe that nature is a happy, bouncy place where little bunnies cuddle up with the fuzzy tigers and no one ever gets turned into a goon or, well, eaten. The vast majority of members in the Ministry of Silly Names are more or less fluffy. Yet they continually choose predatory animals for their namesakes! Or even better, carrion birds like ravens. Nobody wants to be a prey animal, no matter how genteel they think the law of the jungle is. Birds of prey are not whistling Mary Poppins birds. A spoonful of sugar makes the hamster I ripped to pieces and chewed up last night go down... These "totems" are being chosen for their coolness factor, not their nature--which is not inherently naughty just because they enjoy a nice titmouse or fawn for dinner. These are human judgements and human moral compasses--it's called projection, look it up. No one ever thinks: I am a loner, and sexy in my aloneness. Therefore, my animal name is...Orangutan! Yet the orangutan is a creature who lives alone, seeking out others only to mate--but their fur is an unattractive shade of orange, and they shit at unfortunate times when you visit them at the zoo. So ixnay on the rangutanay.
Another excellent example is the hyena.
Hyena are wonderful symbols for the average pagan. They are matriarchal, fiercely pack-loyal, and skilled hunters. They scavenge when they must, but prefer to hunt. Yet they are scruffy and ugly and make irritating laughter-type noises, and so there are a dearth of pagans called Hyena Hoarfrost. But lions? Oh, everybody wants to be a lion, they're so pretty and strong and noble. And bullies who scare off other animals from their kills more often than hunt down their own. But why actually read a book about nature when you can read a Dragonlance novel? It's more important to have a name that makes you look cool.
Only, sweetums, it doesn't make you look cool. It makes you look just like everyone else. It makes you look like you aren't serious about your faith. It makes you look like a Hot Topic shopper. I speak most of all to the Ravenwolves. Please stop before you put your eye out. No one thinks it sounds mysterious and sexy, no one thinks you actually embody the traits of these animals. If you do, I have a nice rotted sparrow carcass for you to snack on. At least try to be creative. Come out of the RPG. Put the Marion Zimmer Bradley down. And understand that it is just possible that a mystical name is a private and powerful thing--and thus should stay private. You are not Neo. You do not get points for forcing everyone to call you by your handle.
Or come to me. I'll give you a name NO ONE else has. You'll be the snazziest kid at the Sabbat. Otherwise, Bob, Sally, and Jenny--let's lay off the sparkles and velvet portion of the freedom of religious expression, shall we?