I’m sure we’ve all heard this term at some point in our mundane lives. It’s one of those little tidbits that have withstood the test of time, and for good reason. Originally inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, this Ancient Greek aphorism is one of about 150 Delphic Maxims, probably the best known one. Others, like #95 “Rule Your Wife” are a
little lot outdated, and #123 “Admire Oracles” seems a little self serving in my opinion. Either way, Know Thyself is a good one, one that we shouldn’t neglect in modern times even though it seems society is trying it’s best to keep us from doing anything of the sort.
To be clear, I’m going to be talking about and referring to the interpretation of the phrase that means “to understand one’s own nature.” There were lots of other ways the ancients and not-so-ancients interpreted it, but they don’t really concern us in the scope of this post.
Obstacles in the Path: to Know or not to Know
Sometimes the obstacles in the path to self knowledge are so ubiquitous that they appear invisible to us. Like air, they permeate every aspect of our lives to the point that hardly anyone gives thought to the fact we are actually breathing a crazy mix of things; nitrogen, oxygen, pollutants, mold spores,other people’s skin cells, and other free floating molecules.
Unlike air, which we can’t pick and choose which components to breathe and which to ignore, all these roadblocks to knowing your true Self can be identified and often discarded (to some extent). However, that which isn’t known can’t be removed, so the key here is the identify the things in our lives that prevent self knowledge.
This is harder than expected.
Luckily, we have a great power at hand to use to this end: Analysis.
The key to understanding the world we’re living in and separating it from wantonly influencing our Wills, is to first weigh each part against the Feather of Ma’at and if it weighs heaver, to feed it to the crocodiles of annihilation. Analyze, parse, understand. Though it falls to each of us to do this for our selves, I’ll go ahead and outline the major offenders in the War of Self.
Restriction of Freedom of Speech and Chilling Effects
It seems we are running full speed these days into the waiting trap of complete restriction of Freedom of Speech. Not only are we running there, as a society (or at least as the media portrays society, which is different), we are greeting that cold cell with joyous abandon. Freedom of speech means accepting all speech, even speech you find personally distasteful or outright offensive. All voices must be heard, even those we don’t want or like. You don’t have to agree with it, no one is forcing you to do anything, but those voices must be allowed to exist so long as no physical harm is brought to action.
Unless you’ve been completely ignoring recent events, you’ve probably noticed that a culture of offense is being given legitimacy by several institutions, largely college campuses, though no doubt it will spread beyond this before long. Students are demanding that microagressions and trigger words be redacted from common parlance, voices they disagree with not only silenced but ruined from further employment, and freedom of speech wiped out all together. As in the now viral video of the Yale student screaming at the professor, they do not want a place of freedom of thought, they want a protected space from overblown issues they’d rather not confront in any meaningful way.
By effectively putting your fingers in your ears and saying ‘la la la’ when someone says an offensive word, one solves nothing. The world doesn’t stop being racist, bigoted, or elitist. But what does happen is that we stop talking about it and thus nothing else can progress in any meaningful way.
Not so long ago, but already beyond the memory of the 24 hour news cycle, was the whole Confederate Flag debacle. I’d never buy one, I don’t subscribe to that culture or mentality, but I would defend the right of someone else to do so. Failing to do so implies that you feel that your own worldview is completely true, and that all others are false, otherwise known as fanaticism. As a person on the path of the self knowledge, one cannot afford to hold such a viewpoint and hope to get more than a few steps down the path.
The real issue with all these examples is twofold.
First, they lead to a chilling effect where one is afraid that one’s livelihood will be ruined if you express an opinion that others have deemed offensive or otherwise taboo. This makes it impossible for any real work to be done regarding these obviously serious topics. Racism, Sexism, and other isms aren’t going to be solved by redacting them from our awareness, they are going to be solved by humility, humor, and understanding. Acting from fear and animal instinct will solve nothing.
Secondly, if conditions are become such that many topics are considered taboo, people growing up in this environment will be subject to what I like to call the Newspeak effect. Remove the language associations with certain ideas, and they cease to be possibilities in which the mind can grapple with. One doesn’t even know to think a thing if it basically has no verbal ideogram in which to write it upon the mind. What happens when inevitably more and more things are removed from the protection of freedom of speech, that esoteric topics are deemed inappropriate? Or anti-materialist? Will the next generations not even have access to thoughts that aren’t deemed correct? Clearly this is a slippery slope.
Seriously guys watch this one. Goes into detail the implications of surveillance and chilling effects.
Learn to identify this particular virus of thought in yourself, in the media, and embedded in social programming. Others will follow their programming blindly without intention or reflection. Do not fall into this trap. Once it’s acknowledged, it’s easy to see the roots of various policies and behaviors and to follow them through to their conclusions. The media seems to be giving this particular movement a special spotlight, so assume this is the work of social engineering. One cannot know thyself if one cannot have access to the full range of thought and expression. Anything that restricts by definition is anti-magickal. If magick operates in the realm of liminal quasi-reality, then limited and restricting possibilities will produce a negative effect.
Social Media, Surveillance and the Panopticon Effect
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of the Panopticon, I’ll save you a trip to wikipedia.
The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. The name is also a reference to Panoptes from Greek mythology; he was a giant with a hundred eyes and thus was known to be a very effective watchman.
Remember, Argus Panoptes was slain by Hermes. All you smart magicians out there draw conclusions from that analogy.
here’s a pretty succinct video summing up the panopticon and why it’s pretty shitty.
The threat of always being watched leads to a similar predicament as the restriction of free speech, except it’s the restriction of physical being. Depending on what sorts of things being monitored for (and one must assume nefarious ones, as is the nature of power), the panopticon causes more powerful chilling effect and, by it’s nature, reinforces restriction of freedom. Social media is a voluntary manifestation of this, where people volunteer to be watched and suffer constant behavior modification in response. If you think otherwise try posting something others find objectionable (which is basically anything) and see the reaction. Who makes the rules on what is objectionable? Also, what happens when the watchers start also controlling what others see? Not only is behavior restricted it is also directed, usually to the benefit of the sitting powers and corporate interests. These interests run counter to your own. Avoid participation in the never ending toxic shit show.
Jingoism and Corporate Agendas
These two, jingoism and corporate agendas, are two sides of the same self serving coin. Based on an exploitation of the basest of human emotions and fear, these two things combine into a synergist self propelling cycle of misery.
Corporations feed off this to sell products, usually lucrative weapons and arms to governments, but also supporting goods like aircraft, technology, and materials. One also must account for the vast majority of consumerism propagated based solely on people trying to find some sort of comfort in a constantly fearful and anxiety producing environment. War and fear (and by proxy nationalism and jingoism) are the furnace that fuels the modern economy and because of this interested parties are set on keeping you from self knowledge. If you had self knowledge, you would perhaps stop to think that maybe you don’t need this or that new thing, you don’t need the newest car, or that military expansionism is not a super great idea. Examine yourself, understand your drives and wants and fears and decide of what use they are, and if they are indeed being used against you.
Loss of Personal Free Time
This is probably the biggest obstacle to knowing yourself. Many of us work the majority of the hours in the day, and the majority of the days of the week. We have little time for self reflection and ritual. We have a lot of time to be subjected to questionable work ethics, peer pressure based imposition of beliefs, and little room for personal growth. Because of this you must maximize the time you do have, and if the option is open to you, become the master of your time instead of it’s slave.
Cohering A Workable Map
You might come to find, if you set off on the path of self knowledge, that perhaps the map handed to you by teachers, PR firms, and politicians does not hold up to reality seen with true sight.
What does one do? One makes a new map.
Keep in mind that the map isn’t (and will never be) the territory, but it is something. And at least it’s not sponsored by Coca-Cola or Samsung or Evangelicals or Atheists.
Set about adding data to your map and editing out the false territories. Do this with every part of the map, even the places you find most familiar. Especially these parts. Find creative ways to explore the unknown regions, with ritual, yoga, hiking, whatever. Do not compare your map with anyone else’s map. Some parts may overlap, but my map is not your map, nor should it be. Understanding this is fundamental to self knowledge.
Do not be discouraged by the lack of answers your map will provide you, at first. The path of self knowledge is best walked within that liminal space where one accepts all possibilities but believe none.
The easy part about using a corporate sponsored map is that it’s all filled out and all answers are provided, but my guess is if you’re reading this blog you’ve abandoned the easy path long ago. A map that is static and never changes, filled with preset answers, is a map of stagnation. In this light, perhaps it’s best to accept an ever shifting map of reality. Use what works, discard what doesn’t.
The Role of Knowledge
Once one has acquired one’s own map, one must set out to triangulate one’s place in the world. This is easier if one has more aggregate experience to treat as data points. I would suggest educating yourself with reckless abandon, on as many topics as you can get your hands on. No experience is not useful in building your map/pantacle, no matter how insignificant and tangential it may seem at the time. As Crowley states in Book 4 Part II:
All phenomena are sacraments. Every fact, and even every falsehood, must enter into the Pantacle; it is the great storehouse from which the Magician draws.
“In the brown cakes of corn we shall taste the food of the world and be strong.”
So instead of cutting ourselves off from information and experience, as the pre-made maps would fool us into doing, we must set out into the great unknown and assimilate everything, false and true.
In a more practical manner of speaking, we should start with getting a good handle on the basic arts and sciences, and especially history. We should seek out unbiased reports first, but failing that, there is great value in identifying bias and seeking to understand the motivations behind it. NPR is a great resource for this sort of work, as it is more subtle than Fox or MSNBC, but in this way much more insidious. Analyze and identify threads connecting agendas in current events, and compare them to historical accounts. Even here one can see the motivation for revisionist history, since those in power use the same playbook year after year, for anyone that cares to look.
Here is a roundup of a few things I have found useful in making my own map. Your results may vary.
Hardcore History (podcast)
Out There Radio (podcast)
Add to these few things the input of your senses, your astral sight, dreams, tarot readings, runes, and all other manner of strange gnosis. After all, what is reality? Any magician worth their mercury, salt, and sulphur will tell you that the results of their ritual are just as real, if not more real, than the corporate sponsored propaganda they are subjected to on a daily basis.
Like your parents always said, knowledge is power. Know thyself.
Stay tuned for part 3, where I will tackle banishing in all it’s forms and functions.