Gnothi Seauton – “Know Thyself”

I’m consider myself to be an adventurous Neopagan, and I take great pleasure in attending rituals with groups from across the pagan spectrum. I enjoy meeting the different people, seeing how they are living out their Neopagan spirituality, and learning from their experiences. Most of all, I enjoy exploring other liturgical styles and seeing what does and does not work in the context of group rites.

I spent the Autumn Equinox with a group that draws heavily on the CAW tradition. The people were great, the ritual space excellent, and the liturgy was well done. Upon entering our circle, I was smudged and anointed as I had been countless times before. But something was different this time. As he drew a symbol on my forehead with blessed oil, a fellow pagan said to me, “Thou art God.”

I’ve heard the expression before, but for some reason it caught me off guard. I know—or at least I think I know—what he meant when he said this. I think he was paying me a great compliment, telling me that he recognized the spark of divinity that resided in me. This was a good and gentle greeting, but I was not able to respond with words. I simply smiled, bowed in gratitude, and walked into the circle. After I had taken a few steps, he turned over his shoulder and said, “Blessed Be.”

Awkward!

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to return the greeting, or that I am some sort of fundamentalist, a my-way-or-the-highway kind of pagan. The words “thou art god” just caught my attention in a way they never had before.

I know why.

First, I identify as a Druid, and this greeting is not common in my regular liturgical practice. We just don’t say this to one another, so I didn’t automatically respond. Second, although I’m comfortable in just about any IE tradition, my hearth culture is Hellenic. As a Hellenic Pagan, I know that one of the Delphic Maxim reads, “gnōthi seauton” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν). In English, this means, “know thyself.” Or more precisely, “know what you are.”

Delphi

Remains of the Temple of the Oracle at Delphi

This phrase, inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, serves as a warning to humans. It’s a reminder that, in Greek mythology, mortals who forget their mortality or think of themselves as the equal of the gods, do not fare well. In fact, horrible things tend to happen to them. For Hellenic Pagans, comparing oneself to a god is a risky enterprise. And this “thou art god” business gave me a start.

So there is a theological question for me to work out here. To what extent to I recognize my own inherent divinity? How am I to reconcile the clear distinction between humans and deities with the Neopagan principle that divinity manifests in all forms of life?

TBC…

 

 

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