Do you remember when you first heard about the burning of the library at Alexandria? For me, it was a feeling of deep, gnawing devastation that still bubbles up after all these years. All that information – gone! The horrible tragedy of so much collected wisdom wiped out!
As a young Witchlet, I felt the same level of pain over thinking about the Burning Times, and what died with those people. Yes, we know that the majority of folks killed as Witches probably weren’t (at least in how we see Witchcraft today) – but there were cunningfolk, midwives, and other healers and mystics who were killed because they made excellent scapegoats.
Both of those things seem vast and very far away from us, but we suffer similar losses on a daily basis. If you have worked with computers for longer than a hot minute, you have more than likely experienced the failure of a harddrive. Vital information about our lives and businesses – often lost or fragmented forever. Then there is the loss of familiar history when a loved one dies. It may seem odd or cruel to mention those two things right after each other, but they both have a loss of knowledge in common. Plans to write down or record a parent’s or grandparent’s stories right from their mouths – the opportunity lost with their passing.
But really…is knowledge truly lost forever? Is it a scarcity?
The more I walk my path, the more my mind has changed on this topic. Prevalent in Slavic and Mediterranean cultures is the belief that your ancestors and recently deceased can reveal knowledge to you – dreaming as well as in waking hours. (Yes, there are other cultures who believe in this too, but as these are my roots, that’s where my nose was when I first started coming across it.) I not have only read about it, I have personally experienced it countless times.
The idea that the dead, spirits, and ancestors can pass on information is not a radical or new concept by any means, but much of modern magical practices rely on a scarcity model focused on the living and club mentalities. That there are hidden, almost-lost things that you can only discover through very specific gates. That’s more about preserving power and a sense of hierarchy than it is about wisdom and safe-guarding knowledge.It really doesn’t make any sense when you think about it. Sure, we can temporarily lose information, but if it was discovered once, it can and probably will be discovered again. Also, just because it wasn’t “preserved” by a white rich dude doesn’t mean it’s been lost for all time. To see information as scarce and elusive is to see everything in a very narrow, linear progression. If the gods or spirits or plants or places revealed knowledge once before, why would they not do it again, NOW? If it’s important, they’ll make it known now too.
Being an artist and designer, there’s a thing I like to call “the slutty muse.” This phenomenon is when a similar idea will emerge from very diverse, unconnected sources, all about the same time. No one is copying or stealing from someone else (that happens later of course) – they each were tapped into a common collective consciousness or subconsciousness. I like to think of it as, the Universe wants to get an idea out there, so it seeds the field far and wide, hoping some will take root. Repetition of motifs and ideas is how things get established (for better or for worse).
It’s human nature to be worried that we’re missing out on something. That even though we’re functioning just fine and coming across things in a decent progression – that maybe, somewhere, somehow, somebody else has a secret knowledge of hidden wisdom that we’re missing. Particularly because they’re TELLING us that they do. That they have a big secret pie that is limited to only the chosen, the elite, the special.
Yes, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass to “reinvent the wheel” – but learning and re-discovering things is not the end of the world. Consider how many things we are told to do or not to do, that we do the opposite of anyway. We learn best by doing and experiencing, experimenting and sorting it out in real time.
The reality is, there isn’t a singular knowledge pie. Or a couple of them, safeguarded by the chosen few. The whole universe is a free-for-all kitchen and buffet of wisdom. There’s all sorts of pies out there, made by all kinds of people. All you need to do is choose wisely, eat your share and do some work in the kitchen yourself.
(Yes, I’m hungry. Let’s go stimulating the baking economy…)