Wisdom, weid and fios

Back to pondering virtue as it relates to my Druidic path.

In ADF, the first virtue listed in the dedicants’ program is wisdom. It’s in Aedh Rua’s list as well, although further down the list: fios, with emphasis on knowledge of the sacred.

What is wisdom? The better part of valor, traditionally — meaning that it’s better to know what you’re getting into than to act from sheer bravery or will. It’s intertwined with knowledge — not the mere recitation of facts, but the deep consideration of them, the truths therein, the patterns created.

It comes from the Indo-European root weid, “to see.” Wisdom, then, is about seeing what is — in all its complexity. Interestingly, one of the etymologies of druid — according to the handy-dandy Indo-European root guide at the end of my third edition American Heritage Dictionary (well-worn and well-loved) is dru-wid, “strong seer.” This makes sense for a spirituo-religious caste.

Wisdom is caught up with making the right choices, which comes from perceiving matters correctly and weighing multiple factors when making judgments. Thus, you need not only knowledge — the factual basis for said decisions — but an intellect that’s capable of seeing the relationship between different factual points. Simple black-and-white or either/or dichotomy thinking isn’t wise; it’s conceptual laziness, albeit a culturally approved form.

Sheer knowledge and thinking ability, however, don’t necessarily lead to wisdom. One can have an encyclopedic memory, but be unable to use it to any real effect. One can be capable of, say, theoretical physics but make foolish decisions regarding relationships, careers, personal safety, or interacting with the sacred. Someone can have a brilliant yet inflexible mind that refuses to see patterns that fall outside a particular template, whether religious, political, etc.

Wisdom requires a flexible mind willing to engage contradiction and difference. It requires a willingness to see and acknowledge mistakes and learn from them, rather than flee or deny. And it also requires sheer time — the wealth of experience that age brings (although someone who’s older isn’t necessarily wiser; she may have an inflexible mind, an intellect that cannot cope with complexity, or a lack of knowledge, for example).

Young people traditionally aren’t seen as wise because they don’t have the wealth of experiences — including mistakes and missteps — to learn from. The developmentally disabled — Forrest Gump aside — don’t often have the intellect required to make clear judgments. The mentally rigid are too invested in particular beliefs or world-constructions to truly see things as they are.

It’s understandable that a Druid should aim for wisdom, especially considering the Druid’s historic role as an adviser to chiefs and kings. You want your priestess to have deep knowledge of the sacred before she leads your rite, and your clergyperson to have the knowledge and experience of human relationship before he guides you through the troubled waters of a struggling marriage, or whatever problem you’re coming in with.

But can you be a virtuous person without wisdom? What if you’re six years old or developmentally disabled, or otherwise incapable of the mental flexibility that wisdom requires through temperament or circumstance?

I think so, but I’m not exactly sure how. In some senses, you may be in a protected class — a class of people who requires care (children, Alzheimer’s patients, etc.). Your dharma (borrowing a Hindu term here: duty/life path/what you’re mean to be) is different from the person who cares for you. Those who cannot choose their actions freely and clearly — an infant, the mentally disabled or mentally ill — seem to be exempt from the concept of virtue itself. It’s not that they lack virtue, but that they’re outside the system entirely.

I think, however, that those outside the system can still have virtue if they act in accordance with their best selves as far as they are capable. A woman with schizophrenia who is on her medication can quite possibly fulfill most or even all of virtue’s requirements. Another woman with the same illness may not because the same medications cannot treat her. I just have a problem of kicking folks outside of the circle of virtue for factors they cannot control.

What do you think?


About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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