Monday, February 7, 2011

Sympathetic Magic

Tell me your name. It's how we greet each other generally. Hello my name is such and such and I do this and oh yes I do seem to have a shrimp tail in my hair. Thanks for noticing.

It's a script that only years of societal hand wringings can wrought and yet, there is something disconcerting about giving away a small piece of yourself to complete strangers. A feeling that with your name that unknown and untested person can now do with it and you whatever they like.

Or that's what countless ancient civilizations believed. To know a person's true name was to know their true nature which was to have power over them. Why do you think it was wrong to take the lord's name in vain? It had nothing to do with the church caring much about curse words. But to dare speak Jehovah was to call upon God himself (who in the early days was pretty big on the smiting and not so much the forgiving so I don't blame them) to try and take some control over the all mighty too. And on the other side if you could learn a demons name then you can control and cast it off.

Even now, the old fears still dance through the pages in fairy tales (Rumpelstiltskin) or even new creations (Gandalf or The Doctor), someone with great power will have many names they answer to and yet never reveal their true being lest everything they worked for would be undone.

This idea that a piece of you can be taken by someone to do whatever they want with is sympathetic magic. A person's essence rests within every cell in her body (kinda like DNA), so with just a tooth or hair a witch could own your soul. IE a voodoo doll.

I've been thinking a bit about Sympathetic Magic and the idea of keeping your true name to yourself and how with the still relatively young world that is the Internet this is once again the case. For fear of someone finding you and doing unspeakable horrors (there were a horrors talked about in the early web days usually with a really interesting weapon like an ice pick or a penguin) people hide behind usernames and avatars.

When meeting someone on the web you feel more secure telling them you're flowerfan143 than Sue Smith from Red Cloud area code 87564. Googling yourself has become not just a pointless exercise in narcissism but a necessity on occasion to make sure that someone out there in the wilds of the web hasn't taken your actual name and used it to do untold damage, or worse link it back to your home and with blackmail get you to do whatever they want.

Some of that is again hyperbole, there are not roving packs of demons outing every username that crosses their path nor are they using the fact that you failed third grade history to get you to send them money in a dollar sign marked bag (demons are such purists). But the idea, the fear, is still there. And that's what I find interesting, the need for humans to through subterfuge and masks keep control over a situation that can be purely random.

Do I believe in sympathetic magic? It's hard to say. All I know is that I shall keep myself somewhat hidden behind my veil of Introverted Wife for a while longer until this new world doesn't seem quite so dangerous.

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