Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pagan Values: Gnothi sauton

Know thyself.

We discussed how to work with, deal with, and work around your inner demons at our weekly discussion group last Wednesday. The offspring refers to it as "kind of Pagan church," but only because she knows that some Christians go to church on Wednesdays. I keep hoping that someone will invite her to a vacation Bible school, just so she can have a better understanding of what Christianity is all about, but I digress.

My student led the discussion and did a pretty bang-up job of it. I found myself nodding through most of it because he managed to hit just about all the important points in how to confront those aspects of your personality that are bothersome or otherwise a hindrance to your spiritual progress. For him this is anger and for me, it's control. For others it could be anxiety or even being too friendly and cheerful. Whatever it is that hinders your spiritual progress and gets in the way of your connection with deity, it must be dealt with sooner or later.

This is especially true for someone working on the second act of the path to priesthood. It's like Empire Strikes Back. The most troublesome thing you're going to ever have to deal with is yourself. That was the point of the whole Degobah vision quest where Luke whacks off "Vader's" head and sees his own face behind the mask. Sure, it was partly foreshadowing about the whole Vader is his father thing, but Luke has to find balance within himself before he can confront the great evils of the universe. This is true for a priest or priestess and the one thing we kept moving back to in the discussion was "Know thyself." Without the ability to find and name all the parts of your personality, we go about reacting to what the universe is inevitably going to throw at us, whether it be a difficult coworker or an evil emperor. The difference between Jedi Luke and Empire Luke is that in the last chapter, he has begun to accept that he must deal with his own dark side. He becomes aware of his impatience and anger and eventually brings about balance within himself. It's still a challenge to him at this point, but he is able to do it. Reactive New Hope Luke had no chance of defeating the Emperor and, likewise, those of us who don't know how to look within run toward difficulty without realizing that we have no idea how to use the force.

Delving into omphaloskepsis is not all there is to being an effective priest or even an effective human being. We need more than this, but applied self-knowledge can help us be much more skilled at living in this world. I place it amongst Pagan values not only because it helps us confront the difficult aspects within our own personalities, but because discerning what is truly ourselves is to understand what is beautiful and divine. We often repeat the words of Doreen Valiente, "If that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without." In other words, if we want to know kindness and beauty, it's not there unless we can find it within ourselves. If we want an end to suffering, we must know that suffering originates within.

Perhaps this isn't Pagan Values in the sense that environmentalism or acceptance of all paths may be, but it is in the sense that it is a thing we hold to be important or precious to us. By looking within, we become better able to act (and not react) to these external things that need attention and by understanding the divine within, we can see it in others. We see that we're no different than Bob the Baptist next door or Mariam the Muslim down the road a piece or Quincy the queer guy across town.

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