The topic for this week specifically asks us to look at knowledge, wisdom, and gnosis. I will admit, this topic hit one of my personal prejudices here. Talk about knowledge? – no problem. Talk about wisdom? – got it. Talk about gnosis? Bam!
I automatically associate the Greek word “gnosis” with a level of stuffy high-brow arrogance stereotypically found in outer circle ceremonial magicians. The sort who can expound for hours on the superiority of what they’re doing as ceremonial magicians working with higher realm spirits and archangels over what I do working with lower world animal spirits, and earth-based magic. Thankfully, I’ve met enough who aren’t like this to know the stereotype isn’t the norm.
That association is present though, so I have taken a step back and tried to approach this from my own plain speaking down-to-earth way.
There is a saying –
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing to not put it into a fruit salad.
To which I make this little addition –
Experience is discovering that sometimes, tomatoes go very nicely in fruit salad.
You can find hundreds of books about Paganism these days. A few are really good, a few are really crap, the rest fall somewhere in the middle. And one can gain a level of knowledge about Paganism through reading these books.
I have come across a few Pagans who come across sounding really intelligent and knowledgeable about their particular branch of Paganism. And for someone lacking in either confidence or experience, they can come across as being very knowledgeable. Since they are usually quite willing to share their knowledge to any one willing to listen.
When you actually pay attention to what they are saying though, you realise that while their theoretical knowledge is excellent, they have very little to know experiential knowledge. They’re 20 year Pagans with 1 year experience.
If you don’t close the book and actually do something with that knowledge, you will never move beyond knowing into wisdom, or experience. It is only through experiencing that true understanding can be found. Once you have that understanding, then you can break the rules.
Robert Heinlein in “Stranger in a Strange Land” coined a word to indicate this level is complete and total understanding. “Grok”
Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.
I am very aware that this is a trap that I can fall into all too easily. I love accumulating knowledge, just for the sake of learning. I’ve taken to asking myself occasionally – am I working as a Pagan with 20 years experience, or a Pagan with 1 year’s experience for 20 years?
I’ve heard Paganism (and other religions) described as mystery religions before. This isn’t because there is something hidden, or secret, about them. They are a Mystery because they must be experienced to be fully understood. This holds true not just for Paganism and other religions, but for many life events. Someone who has never felt what it is like to have a Deity speak through them, or to them, cannot understand what that is like from reading about it in a book (or on a blog). Someone who has never had the responsibility of caring for a child 24/7 cannot fully understand what it is like to be a parent. A person who has never driven a car cannot fully understand what it is like to be a lorry driver.
Knowledge, wisdom, and experience are all needed. From knowledge comes wisdom, from wisdom comes experience, and from experience comes further knowledge.