(or) Learning and the Quest for Wisdom as Pagan Values
If the Abrahamic Faiths are the Religions of the Book,
then the Pagan Faiths must be Religions of the Library…
~An old, old joke about Paganism
It is not just that in order to become a Pagan many of us have had to amass, and/or read, a library of books or sites in addition to what other forms of learning we have had the privilege of having on our life journeys. It is also the fact that in all of the Pagan cultures out of history we can see knowledge and wisdom and learning were much valued.
Of course, I am a bit biased on the matter of the value of learning. I grew up in a house that, while not Pagan, was similarly devoted to learning.
“Ignorance means there are things you haven’t learned yet,
Stupidity means you aren’t able to learn.”
I grew up in a house whose walls were almost literally lined with words. The house I grew up in was a split-level Ranch style house with the lower level being a sort of daylight-basement where it was half-underground so at about chest level to your average adult there was a shelf along several of the walls. Above that shelf on many of the walls that would support them, were book shelves. Books of all sorts, reference works and classics and various treasured novels both intellectual and popular in hardcover and paperback.
I grew up with a mother who had originally planned on being a school teacher and who had double-majored and double-minored in College… only to marry at a time when most respectable married women did not work outside the home. I could ask that classic child’s question “Why….” all the live long day and my mom would either answer, or if she wasn’t sure aim me at a dictionary or encyclopedia… often both because of course a child’s stock of “Why…”‘s is often much larger than even 5 average adults schedules can allow…
Once the Internet started getting navigable and usefully informative (to those of us in the general populace) sometime in the 90’s it was a boon to me… especially as informational and educational sites blossomed at the turn of the 21st Century. While I am aware of its limitations, I consider the Wikipedia project to be one of the noblest endeavors of the 21st Century. I find it invigorating and exciting to live in a time where society is changing because of a new information technology… a time of change and transformation as big as Writing, or The Printing Press, or Radio.
I am sometimes surprised when, at local Pagan events or in online chats, I will bring up ideas from Psychology or (my own admittedly limited understanding of) Physics, or History, or any of a number of other subjects where my interests and reading and willingness to look stuff up have cross-polinated…. and then finding myself having to explain ideas like Entrainment, or Venn Diagrams, or Transference and Counter-Transferance, or the blossoming of the Spiritualist movement in the late 19th Century and the 20th Century Occult revival starting in the 1960’s as a continuation of The Great Awakening, or… well stuff that I am surprised not everybody knows about.
“Well, maybe my frame of reference is a little obscure…”
The ancient societies featured Bards, and Skalds, and Law-speakers, and Philosopher’s and traveling Poets; all of whom had to memorize hundreds of books worth of material. Our Pagan ancestors created great Temples and Store-Houses of Learning in the Philosophical Schools and the Mouseaum/Mousaion (a Temple to the Muses/University of which the Library of Alexandria was but one part) was a wonder of the Ancient World that has continued to inspire humanity down through to the present day. Never mind the surprising technical sophistication of even the near Stone Age monuments, much less Greece and Roman technology. Pagan Culture’s have always valued learning and wisdom, and I feel our Contemporary Paganism’s are striving in our own ways to do the same, this is why you see a LOT of Pagan content online and why we seem to be early and eager adapter’s of technology.
Unfortunately, Pagans have not always had a firm line between the categories of History and Folklore… and between honoring and being inspired by our ancestral cultures and slavishly trying to recreate a world-view that is better adapted to the world of the 9th Century BCE than for the 21st CE…. and of mediating between our metaphysical beliefs and our understandings of the Hard and Soft Sciences. We live in a world where it is becoming more and more common to be isolated from ideas and information that challenges our world-view as we ‘like’ and select certain articles and sites which results in your various media sites aiming only certain types of information in your direction; we also live in a world where discussion and cooperation and compromise are being replaced by screaming and rhetoric and ideology. What can we do to balance these issues?
Listen. Learn. Read. Be open to conversation and knowledge and ideas.
When I was thinking about writing a piece for Pagan Values Month, I was originally thinking of either Hospitality or Community as my topic and I was reminded of the folk-tales of Gods or Culture Heroes who go abroad in the world disguised as mortals/regular folk, how they go amongst the humans and reward or punish their hosts depending upon their treatment. The Gods (Divine, or The Good) are, or can be, present in any person … or book, or idea, that we encounter so why not be open to them.