One of the most important parts of a traditional Wiccan training is to teach a seeker how to talk to the Gods on their own, with no intervention of a Priest or Priestess. While the job of a Priest or Priestess is certainly about assisting people in communication with their Gods, any initiate of a Wiccan tradition should be taught how to be able to do this on their own. In my tradition, a great deal of the work and training I do goes towards being able to talk to my Gods directly. I always hate it when I see people complaining about Wicca because “who needs a Priest or Priestess to speak to their Gods for them, isn’t that what Christianity does?” These people clearly don’t understand that the whole point of this process is to put you, the individual, in a position where you can communicate with the Divine. A great deal of the training you receive in a BTW coven deals with how you can talk to the gods directly, on your own: with the knowledge of how to do the work to create a relationship with the Gods and how to do it safely so that you don’t burn yourself out, get stuck, or burn your house or your neighbor’s house down. Speaking to the Gods directly can go really, really wrong if not done properly. Look at the myth of Semele, the mother of Dionysus. Hera tricked her into making Zeus show himself to her in all of his true divinity. She was pretty much obliterated on the spot. There are a lot of stories like this out there. We have learned, through the ages, and a great deal of trial and error, that there are better and worse ways to speak to the Gods, and that it is usually wise to be careful about these sorts of things.
We do traditional invocation in my coven, which is where a Priest or Priestess gives their body and voice up to their God or Goddess so that that Gods can speak directly through us. We don’t simply do an elaborate reading the Charge of the Goddess or some other reading in Circle; our Gods inhabit us. There is a great deal of training that goes into that as well as the knowledge that this is inherently dangerous to the one who is invoking. We speak directly to the Gods. When my partner invokes, he doesn’t remember what he’s said or what he’s done, he isn’t there any longer. When I invoke, I go so far into myself, all I see is Her. My physical presence is no longer there, my body is no longer a consideration, what is going on in Circle is no longer important for me to be aware of. I am held entirely by Her presence in me.
So, with all of this talking directly to the Gods, as one might expect, there is a great deal of unverified personal gnosis involved. The tradition itself has it’s own personal gnosis and stories about experiences with the Gods, and each individual Priest or Priestess has their own personal gnosis that they bring to their covens and their teachings. These are part of the things that my tradition would offer you: other traditions inevitably have their own personal gnosis in regards to the Gods as well. Different paths treat personal gnosis differently. This is a part of the body of work that any tradition would offer to teach you. This is why it is also generally important to take the Gods that a tradition or coven works with into consideration when you are considering joining that group. If that tradition doesn’t work with the Gods and Goddesses that you do, it probably isn’t the right tradition for you.
Personal gnosis is something that differentiates modern polytheism from the polytheism of the ancients. It is something that proves that our Gods and our mythology are an ever living, ever evolving religion. As a modern practitioner, the experiences I have of my Gods aren’t stuck in the past. My own personal experiences move my tradition forward for the next generation of practitioners. We are constantly adding to the traditions we practice.
But, and I think this is the important part, your own personal gnosis doesn’t just simply wipe away the body of everything that has come before.
As a Priestess, it is my job to be a repository of all of the traditional myths and legends of my particular Gods. Before I worked to invoke for myself, I was responsible for learning those myths and learning how to interpret and discuss those myths. Just because we end up with our own personal gnosis does not mean that we get to ignore the creation myths and the early stories of our Gods. Our personal gnosis doesn’t negate those principle teachings.
Part of understanding those early stories is understanding the cultures and the history that created them. It’s in looking at how we know those myths: the Greeks and Romans wrote them down directly for us to read in the original today; the Celts had their mythology translated by Christian monks who either deliberately altered them, or simply didn’t understand that these were myths about the Gods. (Look at the translations of the Mabinogion…we know that these are stories of the Gods, whereas the monks who translated them, changed them into stories of normal humans who do some magical things). How does this change our perspective on these myths and how we interpret them?
Reading, learning and understanding mythology is a lifelong task. Add personal gnosis to the mix and we can begin to see why traditions don’t just die out. Personal gnosis keeps us continually on our toes when it comes to our religious paths.
But I also think it’s important to remember where myths and legends of our Gods came from in the first place. Your personal gnosis is relevant to you, but maybe not to the person who works elsewhere with the same God or Goddess. Elani Temperance summed this issue up beautifully over at Pagan Square. She said:
One of my major struggles with UPG [Unverified Personal Gnosis] is that the mere mention of it often seems to cut short any form of discussion about the subject or, and I find this more worrying, UPG gets used to prove a standpoint. The problem with UPG is that it, by its very nature and definition, can’t be verified. It can therefor never be used to give credit to or discredit a viewpoint or hypothesis. I can’t rightfully say: ‘Athena’s eyes are blue’. What I can say is ‘I believe Athena’s eyes are blue’.
Personal gnosis is important in anyone’s personal path with deity. Some of my most important moments have been through personal gnosis. But my personal gnosis is very small in the face of the wider body of work around my Goddess and God. As a priestess (or priest) I think it’s important to remember that.