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On Knowledge vs Wisdom

Karen Follett offers a spell to open oneself to wisdom in Llewellyn's 2004 Witches' Spell-a-Day Almanac. She says…“you can read to gain knowledge, but you have to seek to gain wisdom.”

I’m not sure what that meant so I tried to explain it to myself and this is what came out.

I agree that knowledge is but a messenger that calls you to wisdom, but it is not wisdom. One can gain knowledge, but one does not seek wisdom - one meets it when they least expect it and recognizes it as kindred. Knowledge puts us in the way of wisdom, but wisdom is experiential; it is a truth one recognizes in the external world that already resides in the internal one. One cannot learn wisdom – one must awaken it. Knowledge gives you the tools but never mistake the tools for the treasure. I find that most religions preach the tools and talk wisdom to death trying to reduce it for swift and easy consumption. Shun this habit. Kahlil Gibran said that height and depth are nearer to each other than the mid ground. Do not be misled – there are no fast-food outlets for wisdom. It cannot be found in one prophet, one book, one religion or one school of study. It is found in life and learning from everything - people, books, experiences, pain and pleasure, this age and ages past. My father once said that people can learn from anything, even off of the back of a can of peas.

To view wisdom as outside oneself is to isolate one from the divine and isolate oneself from all those people who have experienced the divine within themselves. It is a very different thing to say you believe the divine in all things and experience this to be true. It is a very different thing to say you accept the divine in you while you continue to treat yourself as subservient to divinity.

Western religions impose divinity upon their followers with promises of pleasure and pain. They also demand humility from our subservient, sinful selves. Pride is a sin and we must minimize ourselves in the name of gratitude. We are impure and imperfect and dare not face the gods. We kneel, we prostrate ourselves, we proclaim our unworthiness.

Pagan wisdom would have us stand tall before the gods in recognition that we are vessels of their blessings. We are vessels of their gifts and the gift of life they bestowed on us. Pagan wisdom would have us fully experience the greatness that lies within us and asks us to awaken that greatness as a tribute to the gods. Then we may stand proud of our efforts to unearth our greater selves, but we are acutely aware that we do not author the treasure. We acknowledge the material that we mine is their gift to us. Even our ability to do this is their gift to us. Thus, we comprehend the full capacity of humanity with gratitude. Where each struggles to accomplish this is in the not knowing how to unearth our greater selves. It can never be done by petitioning the gods to do the work for us. It is the single reason we were placed on earth, to achieve this ourselves.

Knowledge is intellectual – wisdom is divine. The more you seek knowledge (all knowledge) the more wisdom you will experience. But as my youngest daughter, Dru, taught me when she was only fourteen, knowledge and wisdom uses two completely different organs to communicate to you. One is known, the other felt. Knowledge is only the doorway to wisdom, unless you are a prophet, a demigod or a madman. But do not envy their ease of access, they do not live long nor do they live well.

When wisdom is revealed to you – it does not explain itself – it reveals itself full blown, like manna from heaven on a silver platter. It awakens within as an all encompassing flood of warm illumination or like a bolt of lightning that shocks or stuns you. This is why the sages call it enlightenment. Wisdom does not need digesting, deliberating, debating or dissecting by doubt or reason. It breathes within you as calm surety and perfect peace. It is then that you recognize intellectually that this knowledge has always been with you, just waiting for you find it. From head to toe, you have everything you need to become extraordinary.

Being raised within three philosophies, I was born studying comparative religions, Mother a Pagan/Catholic and Father a Buddhist. This flaw in Western versus Eastern philosophy, of imposing divinity upon their followers, requires followers to be trained in how to experience the divine. They teach god as external – outside of humanity, living in some spiritual realm. They teach their followers that to internalize god is the goal of life and that this can only be done through knowledge: scripture (words), law (words), and prayerful petition (words). Many followers fail to achieve this divine goal because knowledge is the language of humans. This failure is evidenced by the slow recession of devotees. Eastern philosophy teaches that the divine resides only in the living – only in life – only in you. Eastern philosophers are born achieving the final goal of Western philosophy. While you live, you are the caretaker of the divine within you. Knowledge tells you that your capacity to love is your proof that the soul exists and your soul is proof of the divine exists. However, love is not an intellectual experience; this alone should tell you which vehicle the divine uses to reveal wisdom.

There is wisdom in Nature and knowledge in Scholarship. Nature teaches us what works and what doesn’t work. Knowledge teaches us how to use our senses, how to observe nature, how to evaluate it, how to record life lessons, and how others did the same. We first learn wisdom in Life by experience, (usually painful experience) and then as we grow we recognize wisdom in Life by example. Though knowledge and wisdom, we eliminate fear, which produces understanding. We begin to understand who we are and why we are here. We recognize with generosity, others stumbling while seeking their way, and develop a keen awareness and love for the miracle that is all Life – and that includes oneself.

There is no spell to achieve this. Wisdom is a life long experience. You must seek knowledge to awaken wisdom. The more we know, the more we realize what we do not know. The wiser we grow, the more we realize the untapped wisdom with us. With each step, we grow larger in each other’s sight, we grow larger in the sight of the gods, and it follows, the gods grow larger within us. Experiencing this knowledge, we find true humility and peace.

But do the spell anyway, to open that first door.

© 2004 – 2010 Ardriana Cahill

NOTE: This essay was first published on my good friend, George Knowles' website at in the Wisdom section of his extensive site. I have long been an admirer of George's superb scholarship and have refered witchlings to his research at for years. When he asked if he could publish my essay, I could not refuse the compliment. Due to its publication there, it has subsequently been translated into German at the gracious request of a lovely Austrian High Priestess named Anufa at work). I decided that since the essay is making the rounds, perhaps I should post it on my website too. I sincerely thank them both for their encouragement and interest.

It has also be modestly edited once since its creation. Top of Page

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