The Pagan Experience’s Monday Musing: Knowledge, Wisdom and Gnosis – What do these words mean to you? How do you express these principles in your spiritual work? Is any one of them more important than the others? Why?
Knowledge as the theoretical or practical understanding of a concept in both the individual and aggregate human body of knowledge can be an intoxicating thing to pursue. Geeks pursue thorough knowledge on a topic or topics, and become experts, whether recognized with formal education degrees, acknowledgement of time spent and quality of knowledge, or unrecognized. The more topics they study and gather knowledge about, the more expertise grows and they can make connections about principles that apply widely, and this gives more of the big picture and more surety that they know where they are and how to navigate reality. It can be exciting to make these connections!
If you really love knowledge, you don’t limit yourself to just one way of knowing. You’ll explore it through all the epistemology you can…through reason, experience, mythos, logos, etc.
Our culture currently values logos (words/discourse/reason) more than mythos (stories/poetry/values), and reason has begun to trump experience. There are times when one is more appropriate to be using than the other, but culture doesn’t always make such distinctions, as the information travels in a giant game of telephone and someone hears that experiential anecdotes don’t disqualify statistical trends, so they might interpret that and think that experience is unreliable, and start spreading that meme around. Culture is not always the best of teachers. It can become sick with bad memes. Formal education has been a good remedy to much of this, thanks to its valuing of epistemology, but it can also propagate bad memes, as it is subject to the culture it exists in, and is also a subculture, itself.
Please don’t get the idea that I think culture is bad. It is a necessary part of humanity, a fascinating concept, and I actually love studying it, and I happen to think that medicine applied to the culture can cure a lot of what ails us. One of the medicines would definitely be philosophy, but it would have to be a more holistic philosophy, as it’s trending now… more inclusive of women, other genders, and more intuitive ways of knowing, more open and careful and done for the “love of wisdom” and of the world, more than the love of being right or righter-than-thou. Oh let’s not even go there right now, okay?
Okay. So gnosis is defined at GnosticTeachings.org as:
“knowledge from experience, especially experience of divinity or that which is beyond the five senses. The word Gnosis does not refer to knowledge that we are told or believe in. Gnosis is conscious, experiential knowledge, not merely intellectual or conceptual knowledge, belief, or theory.”
I would almost say that culture falls under this heading, except for what is known as material culture… the things you can touch with your senses like foods, clothing, art, language, etc. You could hear about the concept of culture and kind of understand, but you definitely grok the concept on a whole new level when you compare other cultures to your own experienced home culture and see the patterns and cultural constructs and imagine other customs feeling as familiar as your own. Experiencing another culture becoming as familiar as the one you were born into is quite a revelation! It can be hard to explain… maybe impossible. You’d have to experience it and then we could talk more productively.
I would say that love also has a gnostic element. We can lay out all kinds of knowledge we have about love, but the experience of it is something besides the chemical content of our brains during the experience and the behaviors we perform and the art we generate (even if art comes close, and can evoke the experience of love in others. 😉 )
I’m also going to say that I can’t imagine a wisdom that does not have love in it. I would say that compassion and empathy are necessary components in wisdom. You aren’t wise if you have missed these, somehow… Wisdom gathers knowledge, creates insight, and uses both for the good of the world rather than simply cataloguing it. More than only Ontology (what is) and Epistemology (how do we know), wisdom incorporates Ethics (what is right, or how should we live). Science’s study of what the human senses perceive cannot tell us how to live, which is why there’s a branch of philosophy for that (Ethics), using all the epistemology and ontology at its disposal (unlike some religions which only use certain ways of knowing, like using mythos while excluding logos… some do act as the antithesis of science. Both are methods for gathering knowledge, but not the answer to everything since they’re limited). Wise Ones are open-minded, open-hearted, and gathering knowledge and finding insight out of love for the world as well as love of knowledge. They apply knowledge like medicine, solving problems and serving existence, for the good of all. Wise Ones don’t scoff at you for being wrong, they offer you more than what you’ve been working with. They offer it to everyone, knowing it’s your choice whether to change your mind in light of new evidence, and if you choose a destructively ignorant path, others can use the truth to counter that, and halt or heal the damage. Wise Ones illuminate. They heal. They love the world whole. They get ever better at understanding what that means and how to achieve it. Working together, they are all the more effective.
I will only choose to be part of religion that is open to all knowledge and gnosis and which values and facilitates wisdom. I’m not interested in telling a particular story and selecting only that which supports the story. Our story is grand enough as it truly is, and uncovering what it truly is will always be a worthwhile adventure full of beauty and love. I say that from experience. 😉