I won’t speak to other pantheons, but I feel the Irish pantheon kinda insists on their followers doing a lot of work around knowing themselves. And within that pantheon, I feel like Brigid pushes her followers to know themselves a lot. Her followers speak about going through the anvil almost as a rite of passage, except it rarely is a one-time journey and it demands self-knowledge in a way my experience of organised religion never did.
(side note: as I was typing the above, I could feel other Irish deities kinda poking their heads up and saying “What now?” Brigid is of course not the only deity that pushes self knowledge among her followers, she’s just the one I have most experience with. )
But what does self-knowledge mean? And how does one go about learning about it? We should know ourselves right? After all, most of the people reading this blog have probably been living on this earth for a few decades at least?
Well true, but there’s many people who can live their lives and not delve deep into themselves at all. And when I think of self-knowledge, I tend to divide the knowledge into 3 realms, similar to how I prepare for festivals: physical, emotional/mental, spiritual. In physical terms, “knowing yourself” often comes up in sexual conversations, particularly with women (or at least, particularly in my experience of being a woman, which is not universal) And it usually comes in related to sexual pleasure, which is an important part of life, in my opinion, so I’m not knocking it. Knowing how your body receives pleasure, whether sexual or otherwise, is hugely important. But there’s also other things to know about your body. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What sensations does it like? What textures, fabrics, surfaces does it like? What foods have what effects on it? (Yeah, there are days I live on chocolate, no harm in admitting it, but really, long-term, that’s not what my body looks for!) What movement does it like? You may not be able to give your body everything it likes, but know what works best can help a lot.
For example, over the years, because of my work and lifestyle, my body has gotten used to a lot of sedentary time. In fact, there are days I can go by with fewer than 500 steps if I don’t make an effort. That’s not the preferred state for my body, it works better with more movement. Equally, washing my body daily is a good idea for me, washing my hair daily – less so. It works better if my hair is washed a few times a week rather than daily. Nothing life threatening really here, but it’s about knowing myself.
You can take this and work through the mental/emotional realm and the spiritual realm as well. What works best for you? And while you might think that quitting your job and running away to wilderness would suit you best, maybe figure out how you’re going to live beforehand and pick up a few of the skills you’ll need before such a major commitment?
What brought this to mind? Well, we’re on the May Bank Holiday weekend here in Ireland and celebrated Bealtaine over the weekend. As part of my celebrations, I didn’t spend money between midday 30th April and midday 1st May. And I found it difficult. I rarely spend money physically, at the weekends anyway, but it is a time when I can spend a lot on Amazon and other online sites. I didn’t realise how much of a habit it was until I found myself very uncomfortable on Saturday night, not browsing my usual websites. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’m not spending money we don’t have, but it was interesting to note my levels of discomfort and this is now something I’m going to explore some more over the coming weeks.
It may just be a habit and my discomfort was the usual discomfort of changing a habit, for however short a time. It might also be that this is a soothing activity of some kind for me. It may be completely harmless, but such a marked experience is worth exploring further.
I have heard people ask what use is it following the habits of our ancestors in the modern world and what use they have for us. Well, this is one of the uses for me – it can expose parts of ourselves we might not otherwise have noticed. My husband and I regularly have something neither of us are interested in on the telly at the weekends, while we read or browse the internet, so that didn’t bother me. Stopping myself hitting “Checkout” though was very interesting and caused some internal discomfort so it’s worth exploring a bit more.
This is just one habit of course, at one festival, one person’s experience. And there are other ways to know yourself – journaling is more consistent, if done regularly, shadow work is useful if done with solid theory and foundations, there are loads of ways to explore self knowledge. Hell, lighting some candles, putting on your favourite underwear and having a good explore session with your body is an amazing way to spend an evening, the work doesn’t always have to be difficult and painful!
Have a think over your practices and which bits can cause unexpected reactions in you and see what you can learn or explore further there. You might be surprised what you learn!