Wisdom or Cliché?


Image of Temple of Apollo from gtp.gr

I recently read a blog writing about two phrases that are often parroted in modern Pagan writings.  I first came across these in my early and mid twenties and was interested by one and confused by the other. You will have come across these many times, they might mean something to you or they won’t.  But if you’ve read any blogs or books, magazines about Paganism, Occultism, New Age Philosophy, you will have encountered them:

Know Thy Self”


” As Above, So Below

I looked at them and thought to myself ‘Wow, are we still using those?” I’ll admit to being a bit jaded when I see those quotes.  It’s not so much that I don’t like them, but feel that they are often over used in forums and articles alike.  Y’know? Like a really good song with too much air time.

What I do like about them is that for those who first come across them, they are inspirational! I mean ‘Know Thy Self’ Man! That’s deep! The phrase from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi (Used as a sign in the kitchen of the Oracle in The Matrix- Oracle of Delphi- gettit?) That challenges YOU to KNOW who YOU are.  Yet how many of us do?
How many of us look at that phrase and actually, really examine ourselves? We are complicated meat-bags walking around with emotions and thoughts, feelings and beliefs.  But how many of ourselves actually know ourselves?

To know yourself is to know where you come from: your background, your childhood, your parents or guardians, the environment you came from, the education you received (and what it did or didn’t do for you), the beliefs you found or were indoctrinated with.

If you believe in anything, to know yourself is to challenge what those beliefs are to you, constantly.  How did you come to those beliefs, how did they shape you? Did you come by them yourself or were you taught? What do they mean to you now? Are they applicable to who you are anymore?

To know yourself is to see all your strong points and accept them.  It is to also know what your weak points are and accept them too.  And if you don’t like them, what do you need to do to change them?  What are your limits? Why do you dislike something? What inspires you? What do you dream?

To know your self is to be completely honest with yourself.  It’s no good if all you are doing is painting an image of the person you want to be or the person you are not.

Deep huh?

One of the things I love about studying the Bardic course in the OBOD Gwers is that you learn to know yourself before you can proceed to the Ovate and Druid grades.  Because how can you explore the deeper mysteries if you don’t understand the deepest of mysteries…. You.

And then we go onto: “As Above, So Below” When I first saw that I eloquently came out with: ‘What the fuck does that even mean?’
This only made sense to me if you look at it in terms of the weather: rain makes things wet or floods.  Snow clouds making the ground whiter and whiter, a sunny day makes for dry land and thriving plants, etc….
This phrase apparently comes from the writings of Hermes Trismegistus and even then is supposedly part of what he wrote:

That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing“*

Yes, I’m quoting Wikipedia but only because it provides the source of that translation.
I’d love to know more about that and also about to what Trismegistus meant by the ‘One Thing’. Creation? Life on Earth? Ponder, ponder ponder……
It’s an absolute wonder that our planet generates its own electromagnetic field to protect its multitude of life forms from the solar radiation of our Sun.  From the collection of dust and rock of the ‘Above’ has the ‘Below’ been created.

I’m sure there are very deep insights you can gain from either quote and when used for inspiration they do exactly that.

Writing this post, I am very aware that I have indeed just created another article featuring both phrases.  Well at least I didn’t mention ‘Microcosm’/’Macrocosm’…… Doh!

* https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism


15 thoughts on “Wisdom or Cliché?”

  1. With ” as above, so below” and the concept of “Microcosm/Macrocosm” you are delving into some fundamental theories of Hermetic and ceremonial Magick. These run parallel to Paganism, and have an influence on Pagan Magick, but not necessarily pagan thought on a conscious level. It is about recognising that we are part of the whole and all is contained within and outside of our perception of self. It is the basis of invoking/evoking, sympathetic magic, attainment of the godhead/HGA etc.
    To understand “As above, so below” is, in part, to “Know thy self”.

    1. Thank you very much for that perspective, it was for answers like yours I wrote the post for in the first place. This explanation allows me to see ‘ As Above, So Below’ used in an appropriate context.

      1. It’s one of those complex concepts, boiled down into a sound bite, that is hard to put into words but has far reaching effects. It really is one of the fundamental bases of all Magick.

      2. It really is and has always annoyed me when writers apply it so loosely, as though they read it somewhere and would be cool to write in their own media. My intention was to gain perspectives and get people thinking, to give the phrases the proper thought they deserve.

      3. Thanks for this yes often these phrases get used even in literature meant for those new to the craft without full explanation. I often use the principles of both in health and counselling contexts the as above so below works well when looking at stress and allergies. If you ignore the excessive adrenalin (fire element)being used to work harder or not shout at a boss or colleague then you can get “burnt” in other ways for me a nasty a new rash.

      4. Hello 30plus, thank you for commenting and raising a good point. They do tend to be used for new people to any magical way (often in the Western Magical Tradition) without explanation. This led me to thinking what I did back in those days. It’s also how I held an arrogant point of view upon them for a long time. Without explanation or even a tease into what they possibly meant I simply found them…. Pretentious. Luckily I got over myself. 😉
        I like the fact you have made a practical way of expressing and explaining them to others.

  2. Or perhaps “clichéd wisdom”? Of course, it always sounds better in the original Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. 😉 /hipsterdrood

    I actually first remember learning about “as above, so below” in biology class, in reference to estimate the size of a root ball from the above-ground plant material. But, just like a plant, while the mass may be comparable, the material itself (brown rugged roots vs delicate green leaves) can be quite different. It’s one of those analogies that can set you on an exploratory path, but then you have to realize there are going to be very significant differences between that which is above and that which is below. (Not to mention the fact that there are two other axes you aren’t even exploring with this paradigm…)

    1. Very good! And I’m still exploring ‘ As Above, So Below’ until I fully understand. No! Not those….. Maybe one day when I have the patience for them. 😉

  3. Great post. I really enjoyed it. Yes, I have often wondered about those kinds of quotes. Have they been used so often as to become meaningless? And the answer is all too often yes! Another one that I have seen used in that way too much is the Hopi Indian quote: “We are the one’s we have been waiting for.” While I guess people are free to interpret in light of their own experience. I guess we should at least go to the trouble of finding out what the original intent of the quote was from those who created it, or it does become redundant. I have even seen people post quotes by great spiritual leaders without even citing the person who quoted it. And it pisses me off i take them to task over it. Because it’s lazy, unreflective and creates a disconnect with the great wisdom teachings and the lives of those who gave us these precious gems.

    1. Thanks for your comment Leeby Geeby, believe me when I say I feel your frustration.
      These gems of wisdom are fine on their own and when approached with the respect they deserve can prove very insightful. I will admit to tying myself in a knot with ‘As Above, So Below’ as I’m still trying to fully understand it.
      I get really irritated when writers treat them as whimsy or as a score point on their article to give the appearance of knowing what the author is talking about. As if these are easy! More often we see this in the Mind, Body, Spirit crowds, where the focus appears to be on telling people what they want to hear instead of being given something in order to work out for themselves.

      1. You’re welcome. Yeah I have often wondered about as above so below myself. More recently I have been interpreting it not as a given but as an aspirational principal. And that has been working much better for me! Cheers for your insight, much appreciated. I hope you have a great weekend.

      2. Perhaps that the way to look at it! If I ever work it out, I’ll post it! Have a good one, too!

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