What's in a name? Snobbery and Pronunciation in Magick

Kate Hoolu

This article was prompted by a couple of recent conversations and overheard remarks at some occult-y events, and was kind of inspired by Phil Hine’s article arguing against the notion of things in books being ‘right’ just because they’re in books.

This is a related topic. There’s a terrible snobbery about pronunciation in magick, isn’t there? If you can’t say the name of something the ‘right’ way, then are you ‘worthy’ of doing magic or witchery or whatever it is?

I had always pronounced Crowley as “Crau- Lee”, (rhymes with cowardly) and by the time I found out it was (probably) more correct to say “Cro- Lee” (rhymes with holy) it was such a matter of habit it couldn’t be changed unless I tried really hard. Am still working on it. And yet later on at one event, someone who had corrected me about my pronunciation of Aleister Crowley’s name went into a long and supposedly impressive diatribe about the Book of Thoth; but they were pronouncing it like it is spelt, rather than the “correct” rendering of the Egyptian, which is “tar-hoot-teh” (or something similar).

And of course there is Taoism, which may be pronounced “Dow-izm” by those in the know. Or “Doh-izm”. And oh goodness, don’t get into terminology from Hinduism! According to some of the windbags I’ve heard, if you get a click or a sigh wrong in your lengthy repetitions of difficult polysyllabic words you are surely doomed to eternal hells.

The ‘traditional’ Wiccan festivals are another one to sort out who knows the ‘right’ way to say things: - I’ve heard about 6 versions of how ‘Lughnasadh’ should sound, and there is a definite split between “Sam-Hayne” and “Sow-Wayne” for Hallowe’en (spelt Samhain). I believe it was Dion Fortune who ‘reverse-engineered’ an old ritual found in dusty manuscripts; with the impressive God-name of T’GATU (very HP Lovecraft!), only to discover it was a third-generation copy of something Masonic, and T’gatu was a phonetic attempt at saying the acronym for The Great Architect of The Universe.

And don’t get me started on alleged “Reiki Masters” and their blathering versions of the language. Kerrrrrist......

It’s tempting to ascribe a lot of this ‘more grammatical than Thou’ stuff to some very earthly and mundane class warfare or one-upmanship (and one-upwomanship, more often)- it seems to belong often to the same kind of social situation where one compares the size of the fourth bedroom or the second car with dinner-party companions, and discusses the cost of educating young Tarquin.

I think it was Shaw who revised the spelling of “FISH”, via the conventions of English pronunciation to actually be “GHOTI”

GH- the gh in enough, to give the F sound, O – the o from women to give the I sound and TI – the ti from education to give the SH sound.

A funny tongue, for sure. And a funny thing to be discussing in magic- I am reminded of some papers that Dave is researching, from the late ‘King of the Witches’ Alex Sanders. Sanders, from Manchester and of Welsh parentage originally, was an accomplished medium too; and one of his regular ‘visitors’ was a 17th Century ‘cunning man’ (kind of a country charmer, tinker and wart-healer) called Nick Demdike. Compared to many of the angelic entities channeled by Sanders at other times, Demdike is a particularly earthy character, who would be damn refreshing company in some of the events I’ve been to lately, Demdike’s parting words after one mediumship session through Sanders were: “If I come across any angels I’ll fucking have ‘em… they’ll get the end of my stick”.

Brilliant- I can’t see anyone correcting Old Nick if he said summat a bit different for a god name or a witch festival name. Well, only the once, anyhow.

So, the English language is very flawed and magic names are not always ‘correct’ as they are read out. So who’s right?

So what? Who gives a stuff? Isn’t it intention that matters?