There has been a lot of talk on the topic of personal gnosis lately and I thought I would chime in with my 2 cents on the topic. Simply put, personal gnosis is a direct revelation from a deity to a person. It is usually grouped into three main categories:
- Verified Personal Gnosis
- Unverified Personal Gnosis
- Shared Personal Gnosis
Verified Personal Gnosis
Since I’ve had the most experiences with personal gnosis with Hekate, I will use her and my experiences to demonstrate each of these. Verified personal gnosis is the easiest one to explain. Simply put, it’s when you have an experience with a deity and then later find out that it’s part of their lore, mythology, history, or traditions. In other words, there’s evidence that this revelation isn’t anything particularly new and is indeed part of the legacy of the deity.
One example is a couple experiences that I had with Hekate where she and I were in a cave with little to no light. There was a feeling that the cave itself was somehow important to her. So I left these experiences thinking that she was associated with caves somehow, but didn’t know how. Upon doing later research I found that she is indeed linked to caves, though this is an aspect of her that is often not highlighted. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, it states that “…only tender-hearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl (Persephone) from her cave.” Also, Hekate has an epithet, Zerynthia which signifies her worship in Samothrace. The name Zerynthia is related to “Zerynthos [on the island of Samothrake], cave of the goddess to whom dogs are slain [Hekate]” according to Hellenic poet Lycophron in the third century before the common era.
Another example is that in my experiences with her higher aspects she has called herself the “molten rose heart of the Earth and the Universe which pulses with rays of lightning”. This seemed totally odd to me and I brushed it aside until I later began studying the Chaldean Oracles:
“In the cosmological scheme described in the Chaldean Oracles, Hekate is referred to as the “flower of fire” (“rose of fire” in some translations) in Her role as the Cosmic Soul:
‘…from there, a lightning-bolt, sweeping along, obscures the flower of fire as it leaps into the hollows of the worlds. For from there, all things begin to extend wonderful rays down below.’ (Fragment 34)
‘For implacable thunders leap from him and the lightning-receiving womb of the shining ray of Hekate, who is generated from the Father. From him leap the girdling flower of fire and the powerful breath (situated) beyond the fiery poles.’ (Fragment 35)
Hekate is again called the “flower of fire” (fragments 37 and 42)
This most compelling image of Hekate refers at once to both her fiery nature and her divine feminine being. In the form of a flower, the fire of Hekate is life-giving and ever unfolding and creating the cosmos.”
– The Covenant of Hekate
While the above is not the exact same thing, it’s close enough in its imagery and language for me to place this as verified personal gnosis.
Unverified Personal Gnosis
“The information that comes from our direct experience of the gods, ancestors, and spirits is often called UPG – Unverified Personal Gnosis. UPG can come in dreams or waking visions, in rituals or in divinations, or in intuitions another person might say came from your subconscious but you’re sure it didn’t. Sometimes these are explicit messages, while other times they’re less specific feelings that point you in a general direction.”
– John Beckett, The Path of Paganism
Unverified personal gnosis is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you have a revelation with that deity and there’s nothing that seems to back it up. For example, one of my strangest experiences of UPG with Hekate is that I link her to shapeshifting, wolves, and werewolves. It began with a vision of her as Triformis in an atavistic form with wolves at her side instead of dogs and wolf heads for each of her heads. The wolves howled and the moon above her turned red. She sliced my finger and the blood began raining all over the ground from my finger and from there aconite (also known as wolf’s bane) began popping up and I saw my hand turning into that of a werewolf’s.
Several months later I took a group trip to New Orleans to learn a bit about New Orleans Voodoo and other magickal practices. One night during the trip I woke up in my room and there was what terrifyingly sounded like a wolf snarling at me right in front of my face with an odd musky smell. While the experience was terrifying, for some reason I don’t feel like whatever it was wanted to harm me despite its growling. When I reached out psychically for help I got the sense that the wolves were either Hekate’s or that she had dominion over them. So I called upon Hekate in a whisper and the growling and sense that it was in the room vanished. Later when I was back home, in conversation with a Voodoo Priestess I had met in New Orleans, I relayed my story and she told me that I had experienced the Loup Garoux, the werewolves of New Orleans.
There’s a little bit of history linking Hekate to wolves, but very little and pretty much nothing when it comes to werewolves. There’s a connection to the mormolyka being part of Hekate’s hoard of spirits and that spirit is sometimes depicted as a wolf humanoid woman, but I haven’t found anything super concrete in these areas. So for now, these experiences and these links are totally unverified personal gnosis.
Shared Personal Gnosis
Shared personal gnosis is usually unverified personal gnosis that several people are having. For this I’ll talk about dreams I used to have. I used to have dreams that a giant crow would come to me with a key in its mouth. Sometimes I’d have dreams where there were three of them that would pass the key amongst themselves. At first, I assumed that it was associated with the Morrighan as that animal falls in her domain. Later as my relationship with Hekate developed, it was clear that these birds were hers and the key was supposed to be the obvious signature of her that I wasn’t picking up on. Hekate since has used crows as one of her symbols in working with me. Now, to my knowledge, there’s absolutely nothing that historically links Hekate with crows. Nothing. However, I have come across so many people that have had experiences with Hekate and crows that it seems hard to dismiss.
Everything Was Once Unverified Personal Gnosis
Revelations are always unverified personal gnosis in the beginning. Everything we have to verify personal gnosis against history was once personal gnosis itself long ago, that others may have scoffed at as well.
“All of the stories from long ago about deities are filtered through the consciousness of someone who had his/her own personal gnosis. Why is his/hers more honored than mine? In some non-writing cultures, the story was passed on, sometimes for several generations, before it was written down.”
– Starlight Witch
Hekate is thought to be much older than Greek Religion, and there’s evidence of that. Her myths, rituals, and things associated as sacred to her probably drew on the past, but most likely had radical changes. Likewise, I’m sure that Chaldean Oracles were rejected by many Hellenic Greek Pagans as well as being unorthodox. The Greek Magical Papyri takes an extreme turn when it comes to what was held as true about Hekate and is filled with many things that seem very out of alignment with Hekate historically. There are also stark contrasts between Hekate of Greece and Hecate of Rome.
The Rejection of All Personal Gnosis
Some feel that if something is not recorded historically or if they haven’t experienced it that it is therefore inaccurate. I have found that there are two common themes with those who reject all personal gnosis experiences of others. The first is that a large portion of them are not well trained in meditation, trance, or psychic ability and do not have direct interaction with the gods and are operating purely on blind faith. Since they haven’t had any experiences, others who have must be either delusional or mentally ill in their eyes. The second group of people tends to be infatuated and fixated with a particular time period, culture, or religious path and willfully refuse to see beyond it. I have met Hellenic Pagans (few, not all) who completely reject Roman lore, practice, mythology, and history about the same deity and who also don’t acknowledge (for example) that Hekate has a history that precedes Greece.
Sometimes Personal Gnosis Is Meant To Be Personal
“Recalling what I have learned from my studies concerning the gods I remembered an important understanding. The gods give us what we need to help us.”
– Angelo Nasios
Sometimes the information we’re given is meant just for us. Sometimes it has nothing to do with that deity itself, but rather the work they’re doing with us. Perhaps the werewolf example of UPG that I gave above is meant only for me. Sometimes we’re being taught something specific, so our experiences won’t mirror that of others. Sometimes shared personal gnosis is meant for a very specific group that works with that spirit in a certain capacity. I am involved with different traditions and groups. My role is different in all of them, just as my relationship with each person in that group or tradition is. I imagine that the gods are very similar, they have different relationships, goals, and work with different groups. For example, some traditions of witchcraft work with Hekate as a crone.
“I was once adamant that Hekate is never a crone, and any such representation of her as a crone was not only incorrect but offensive. That was until she decided to show up as a crone, with a feeling that she was relaying the message, “I will show up however the hell I please”.
– What Does A Goddess Truly Look Like?
I got the sense that she can and does appear like this for some, but that this isn’t our relationship or the work she has for me and as such isn’t needed for where I am on this path.
Personal Gnosis Doesn’t Change Other Traditions
Personal gnosis should never contradict or override another tradition. Those in specific traditions are working with a specific current and interface with that deity. Having experiences in the present does not change the past. While I work with many Greek deities, I am not a Hellenist. My experiences with Hekate doesn’t override what is true for that tradition. Now, that isn’t to say that it doesn’t override what I hold to be true for that deity. I will always believe what they say about themselves over what ancient religions or traditions say, but we must remember the importance of tradition. As mentioned above, all we know about the deities, even in ancient times was once unverified personal gnosis. But we must also understand that there’s surely more unverified personal gnosis that didn’t stand the test of time. That means some things were preserved and passed down for a reason. I believe that we shouldn’t let the past limit our relationship with the gods and our personal gnosis experiences shouldn’t change established history. This is an attitude I adopted from Jason Miller and I think it’s a very balanced one.
Personal Gnosis Alone Is Not Enough
I have written in the past that I will always take Hekate’s words about herself over that of others talking about her in ancient writings and that it would be ridiculous and arrogant not to. However, I think it’s just as ridiculous and arrogant to ignore the past, and the established history and traditions. For example, if you have a UPG that Hekate is the wife of Ares and the sister of Lilith, you’ve most likely gone way off track. History should be seen as a guidepost to tell us if we’re on track or way off track in regards to our experiences. To go around proclaiming that Hekate is the wife of Ares and the sister of Lilith, without history backing it up (or in this case outright proving it wrong) and that the Greeks had it all wrong is beyond arrogant. If a deity is also telling you that you’re someone extremely important such as a special prophet, a witch-queen, a chosen one, a messiah, or better than everyone else, there’s most likely a problem.
If you’re unsure if your personal gnosis is real or not ask for omens and signs. When I started suspecting that the crows were coming from Hekate and not the Morrighan I asked for an omen. That week when I went to my crossroads to leave offerings three crows were there staring at me and not flying away. When I asked if this was the omen I asked for they flew away. Earlier that week I saw someone post in a Hekate forum that they have had experiences with Hekate and crows and were asking for the sources about their link. There are subtle and apparent omens that the god will give you. If they feel something is important enough to know, they will be more than happy to relay omens to you. Building a strong relationship with that god will also help you to discern when you’re genuinely interacting with them, when it’s your own mental creation, and in some cases when it’s a different spirit trying to pretend to be that god.
Addendum From Sorita d’Este
Sorita d’Este commented on this article and I thought it was too cool not to share and add to this article.
“I will firstly need to clarify that I don’t believe that UPG exists. If you have an experience, you either have the experience and gain knowledge from it, or you had a deluded episode. The latter happens a lot when the magical or ritual practices are ungrounded, but that is another story.
So back to your “unverified” knowledge (gnosis) gained …
The first part of your experience, dogs = wolves = aconite > totally verifiable through myth. And even the werewolf bit …. ! You need to just think about it slightly differently, and then the historical myth supports your experience…
Firstly, shapeshifting – lots linking her to taking of different forms, in fact shapeshifting was pretty normal for many of the Hellenic gods!
Then werewolves – … I know of at least three other people who have had experiences of werewolf type creatures who came to them at night during periods of work with Hekate, in one instance the person believed the creature to be Hekate, and in the other two it was interpreted as creatures sent by Hekate. In two instances it was the result of something they did to upset the goddess, which they rectified (one didn’t realise they had rectified it until years later, when realisation dawned!). The other links to the other major connection with werewolves / wolves to Hekate. Hekatos.
Hekatos, or Apollo, is closely linked to Hekate. They are often worshiped alongside each other, and here we need to remember that only a fraction of ancient texts survive – so we don’t always know the reason for this. The striking link the epithet Hekatos, and Hekate is only part of the story.
Not really about Hekate, but if you can find Gershenson’s “Apollo the Wolf God” (unfortunately expensive for a small volume, my copy of which is bound like a paper pamphlet!). However, it goes into the the connection between Apollo and Wolves (incl. wind-wolf, other characters in Greek myth who are Wolf Heroes …. Dolphins and Wolves … and Werewolves! You may also want to look at Dionysos, and the Bachantes – and how Hekate, as the Mother of the Gods, might have been understood in that tradition. Lots of clues.
And finally, Hekate does appear with the head of a wolf, which technically does earn her the right to be considered by the more modern term werewolf … and there are many other stories in antiquity too.
There are examples of definite “shapeshifting” incidences involving Hekate on p.142 of Circle for Hekate (not involving wolves, but does support her as a shapeshifter, if you are looking for specific examples). For some bizarre reason shapeshifting is not today discussed much as something linked to Greek / Roman religions, but in reality you don’t have to look that deep to find dozens, if not hundreds, of examples.
ps. There might be some interesting things here too: Hekate, Isis and the Dog Star Sirius: Welcome to the Dog Days!”