To Know really refers to two things; firstly it refers to another pagan virtue ‘to know thyself’ or the knowledge of ourselves and our paths. Secondly it refers to knowledge in all its forms, be is academic or experiential, visceral or long considered.
To Know thyself is an important concept within paganism at all levels. To achieve an understanding of ourself both interms of who we are and what are our strengths and limitations are allows us to continue to grow within ourselves. Without this knowledge and experience of ourselves it is not possible to fully access our personal power or deal with deities and spirit on an honest level.
The biggest barrier to knowing yourself is ego. We hide as much of ourself from ourselves as we do from people in the world around us. Its said we have many personalities based on our relationship with others. For example Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Co-worker, Friend etc. These personalities over lap but differ in subtle ways in order to maintain a partition between the roles. “To know thyself” is in a sense to see past these individual egos and to see the greater whole, even those personality traits that we don’t really like in ourself.
This is by no means easy, or even attainable for everyone. The Ego is a powerful force and it is hard to escape it. Attempting to achieve this kind of self knowledge is an on going process and one way in which a Pagan is an eternal student. In my personal experience some of this self knowledge is acknowledgment of my magpie mind and attempting to reform this. Greater perseverance in my projects and life in general will in turn help my journey on my pagan path.
To Know can also relate to your path itself. Knowing and understanding the path which you yourself walk might seem a little obvious in the academic sense but really this relates to lived experience of your spiritual life. Practical experience and application is certainly important in gaining knowledge, to fully appreciate the power of ritual, deity etc you need to participate in it as there is only so much that you can learn from the book, however it will only take you part of the way.
Something that has come to light on various Facebook groups I frequent in recently weeks is the interplay between Paganism and academia. In some, particularly New Age, circles there is an almost rabid objection to anything faintly academic. The emphasis is put upon personal experience and UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) to the exclusion of anything else. Sometimes this comes from the belief that the only true understanding is that achieved through personal experience and that facts, history and the experiences of others play no part in their spiritual development. In other cases it stems from the feeling of being intimidated by the academic approach to sharing and presenting information. In others its a feeling that scholarship and paganism don’t mix on any level and that a scholar can’t objectively research paganism and that Pagans can’t be scholars. In my opinion the latter statement is wholly untrue. Whilst not all scholars write for a pagan audience it does not mean their work is irrelevant, equally many pagans have the ability to be objective scholars in presenting information for pagan and non-pagan audiences.
When it comes to intimidation by academic works I can understand this to an extent. Not all academic authors are accessible to those not familiar with the style and format and in a society where it is incredibly easy to self publish those who feel less confident about identify quality publications either feel it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff or take the cheapest path. There are some high quality pagan publications at all levels which responsibly source their material and present it as accessible. A good key indicator is good referencing and bibliography in the back of the book. This aids research and creates a sense of confidence in the author. With works dealing with the experiential side of practice it is really the opinion of the reader that counts. A critical eye is useful in assessing such things.
Knowledge comes in many forms. We’ve already covered experiential knowledge in the form of ritual and communication with higher powers and this is as equally important as academic knowledge. A lot of my path is driven by a visceral ‘gut’ sense of how I feel I should do things as much as anything else however I tend to temper this with knowledge gathered from books as well as my peers. I spend a lot of time mentally recreating the magical wheel, thinking through points and issues from as many stand points as I can. I’m not exhaustive by any means but I’ve been lucky enough to encounter Mentors on all levels which have encouraged this in me.
That isn’t to say I am blindly lead by others. I will often ask a question and gather as many opinions as possible before drawing my own conclusions and deciding on my own course. There is a vast pool of information within the Pagan community, and it can be just as hard to separate the wheat from the chaff here as well. Particularly online the approaches and behaviours on both sides can inhibit sharing of information. I don’t particularly have a whole sale answer however I would say that if you ask a question in an open forum you should be prepared to be questioned and challenged, and be open to all responses you are given even if it means taking a step back and deep breath before flaming out.
And finally, we get to the brass tacs of Paganism; practical application. Armchair paganism, like armchair history, is all well and good and sometimes a situation dependant necessity however for continued growth and development it is necessary to practice. It is one thing to read about a particular ritual or deity but you only gain a one dimensional experience, and from a single perspective.
In order to Know we need to draw all the layers discussed here, and probably more as I am sure that I have not been exhaustive, together in order to move forward to the next stage; To Dare.