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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Following Personal Gnosis

   I write a lot on my blogs and various other places about a more academic view of my spirituality - facts, myths, translations. Hard, verifiable, provable things. Sometimes I think this may lead people to think I don't get as much into the experiential side of things although I do try to write about that as well - its just harder to talk about the more personal end of things. In reality personal gnosis is a huge factor in my spiritual life, but because it is so personal it doesn't lend itself to sharing much. Its hard to discuss a personal experience without reducing it to something that sounds silly or opening it to skeptical review.

    Gnosis is of course a pretty big topic in paganism, something that is both often misunderstood and just as often misused. The word gnosis itself just means spiritual knowledge, usually with the understanding that its knowledge obtained through direct experience or insight. What may perhaps otherwise be termed an epiphany, although in my experience it is also knowledge often gained directly from Gods and spirits. Gnosis is often shorthanded in the modern community to u.p.g. meaning unverified or unsubstantiated personal gnosis but honestly I prefer to just call it personal gnosis, because how can we verify that Freya likes strawberries or the Morrigan likes whiskey? Certainly - and this is the usual view - we can rely on seeing if this gnosis is shared by other community members and how widely (becoming then shared personal gnosis or s.p.g.) but the flaw there is that - in my opinion - the vast majority of gnosis is never meant to be shared. Certainly some of it is and should be (as the above examples are) but much of the 'knowing' we get in our spirituality is personal for a reason I think.
  I'm keenly aware that much of what I perceive as personal gnosis is just that - personal. It is something that applies to me in the specific context that it occured in but it may not be relatable at all to anyone else. And you know what? That's okay. Personal gnosis doesn't require validation on a public level. If I feel that something is true to me then I may not need anyone else to share that belief for it to be true to me. Just because I believe it doesn't mean you have to believe it too.
     And this is where I believe that gnosis is misused in the community because I often see people taking what is, to me, clearly meant to be insight for themselves and then projecting that outwards as a general belief for everyone. Sometimes this works out okay, but sometimes it doesn't, because there may be a good reason that a deity or spirit tells someone to do something a certain way that is only meant to apply to that person, but not to others. Or why someone perceives a deity in a certain unusual way that is meant to be unique to them. It becomes a matter of 'I believe this so everyone else must believe it too', and good rarely comes from that.
   The other issue with gnosis is whether or not to accept it at all and this is also a sticky wicket. Some people reject all gnosis entirely but that's no better than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. On the other hand though there are people who accept absolutely every notion that goes through their head as if it were sacred writ, and that isn't any better. either extreme - total rejection or total acceptance - is ignoring the importance of discernment and I think discernment is absolutely vital in spiritual matters. Sometimes a dream is just our subconscious trying to work a problem out - or as Scrooge would have it 'an undigested bit of beef' - and it would be an error to take every dream as a deeply significant message. However that doesn't mean that some dreams aren't messages or communications from spirits; land spirits and deities are well known in folklore and myth to talk to people in dreams and I don't think that should be discounted. In the same way when we use methods like meditation and Journeywork there is always the possibility that we are interacting with our own mind, but there is also the possibility of genuine connection and gnosis. The key is to learn how to tell when we are talking to ourselves and when Something Else is talking to us.
  My basic rules when it comes to personal gnosis:
  1. Is it something I would tell myself? - basically does it sound like me talking to myself: is it in words I would use, is it something I have said to myself before, does it reinforce something I already believe.
 2. Is it exactly what I want to hear? - is it a message that is what I would expect to hear or want to hear? Basically if I was daydreaming is this how I would imagine this going? Not that the gods and spirits can't give us messages that we want sometimes but in my experience often we don't get exactly what we expect or would like. Much like in dealing with other people the experience shouldn't feel like its in our control. To use a personal example that illustrates - I hope - my point: I had suspected a certain connection between myself and something else for a long time without any real reason for thinking that way but I had always hoped I was wrong (personal reasons) but recently had my suspicion confirmed in a personal gnosis moment. Part of why I trusted it was that it wasn't really something I wanted to hear.
  3. Can it be independently verified? - some gnosis is unprovable and as I mentioned that's fine when it's personal. I'm firmly convinced Nuada likes offerings of Gentlemen Jack, but there's no empirical proof of it. However I have had gnosis before that provided knowledge which was verifiable. I've had several dreams involving the herb yarrow, for example: once I was told a way to prepare it to use it as a cleanser, and when I checked later I found out that yarrow does indeed have anti-bacterial properties*; I also had a dream relating to yarrow as a symbol of fidelity in love which was later verified in folk tradition as well. So I recommend always checking what you get to see if it can be verified.
  4. Does it contradict known folklore or mythology? - I'd be really cautious of anything I get that actively goes against existing folklore. This requires a lot of questioning and extra checking.
  5. Is it dangerous or does it encourage dangerous behaviour? - I'd also be really, really cautious of personal gnosis that is harmful to you or encourages harm to you or others. Spiritual insight should *not* be actively dangerous to life and limb.
  Beyond those basic guidelines I see personal gnosis as a set of personal beliefs and knowledge which may or may not be shared but that should, ultimately, shape the person's spirituality in positive ways. It is, you might say, the bones of our spirituality. Vitally important and deeply personal, and unique to each of us.
  . *with anything related to herbs do not play around with them please. Consult an herbalist.


  1. "5. Is it dangerous or does it encourage dangerous behaviour? - I'd also be really, really cautious of personal gnosis that is harmful to you or encourages harm to you or others. Spiritual insight should *not* be actively dangerous to life and limb."

    This is one point I strongly stress when working with my patients. Many feel comfortable opening up to me in regards to experiences they are having, as I don not make my spiritual beliefs a secret. "Donna speaks with the dead...she believes in reincarnation..she'll understand what I'm hearing." lol My general response to those, especially those who self harm..." If you hear your deceased grandmother telling you to go cut yourself, I'm pretty confident that is NOT your grandmother you are hearing, but rather your own inner self-hate talking. Our ancestors, whether they were good or bad in life, truly do not want us harming ourselves. We are their way to continue existence. However, if your hear Grandma telling you go do something productive that will be beneficial to yourself and your future...I'm going to go with yes..that probably IS Grandma talking." While I am under no misconception that I am saving the world, I truly do believe that this sort of explanation has helped a few. I have seen it. Nice article, Morgan!

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. This is good food for thought, and I agree on your points...but deviate on one slightly. I believe one's personal "knowing" is to be shared, very carefully and cautiously...and that the "knowing" is part of it...knowing who to share with. Sharing with one who is not "knowing" is merely teaching at best. Just as the birds know the way south and salmon know where to mate, I believe part of our knowing is born with us, and accompanies our birth, with spirits attending just as the ancients "knew." Finding others with that same or similar "knowing" is such a joy in this variegated human world. It is especially important to share with an awakening one, like coming into contact with an unknown spiritual relative after a long separation. It gives the younger awakening one such reinforcement that they are on the right path, helps them validate what their spirit is telling them. I have had this experience recently and work with many who are "searching" for that unknown connection and it is almost a "relief" for them when you open to them and let them know "you are one of us." That is how I view your blog, incidentally. "You are one!"

    1. that's a fair point that some gnosis is meant to be shared. I think it just takes time and a trial and error to figure out which is which.