Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ve tasked myself with leading you on a meandering tour of the virtual garden of delights and curiosities and thoughts that make up my world – all through the lens of unusual, obscure, or simply charming-to-me words.
S is for…
sapience: (adj) state of having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment
As is my wont when working with something intensely, I like to keep a touchstone or some kind of symbol handy to help me focus my attention and intentions. One of the things I chose for an ongoing exploration I’m in the midst of is the symbol of a crown – a wisdom crown.
It’s a richly-layered symbol for me, as all the best always are. But certainly one of the appeals has to do with the connection to hats which are another source of interest to me.
Today as I was snapping a photo of various objects on various altars in my house for another project I’m working on, my attention was really drawn to this pointy-headed woman I created a million years ago when I was obsessed with paper mache. People often think she’s a witch with her pointed hat, but that isn’t really what I had in mind when I created her.
I was thinking about how things get negative associations and how we have to really work hard at reclaiming more positive images, and how much simpler life would be if we didn’t have so many things that needed reclaiming. Wisdom is one of those things.
When I made this pointy-head I was thinking about the term pointy-head as the idiomatic disparaging definition of stupid, or alternately “intellectual, especially in a self-important or impractical way.”
I wanted to reclaim pointy-head as wise – as reaching an upward pinnacle.
While I didn’t necessarily mean her to look like a witch, once when I looked at her it occurred to me to wonder if there was some connection between the pointed witch hat and a dunce cap. And what exactly was a dunce cap?
Praising the readily-available research capabilities of the internet, here’s the answer. There was a philosopher theologian contemporary of Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages named John Duns Scotus. He recommended the wearing of conical hats to stimulate the brain. Alas, as other of his theories were rejected in later times, Duns (dunce) became a pejorative which meant someone “who foolishly held on to outdated doctrine.” And from there it deteriorated into anyone who was considered stupid. And then of course the wearing of the conical dunce hat made its way into the educational system as a shaming tool. I, myself, prefer to imagine that those poor recipients of the dunce hat actually got a dose of brain stimulation and reminder that they too might actually be a wizard.
There’s a long history of wizards wearing pointed hats, although the first known ones were actually rigid and carved with astronomical symbols. Research also suggests that cloth conical hats were actually popular in cities at one point and eventually made their way into the countryside at the point they became out-of-fashion. And so the country women most likely to practice the herbal and magical arts, and most likely to be ostracized as not-mainstream were wearing these hats and identified as witches. I’m not sure about the accuracy of that, but again I like to think there was some delightful brain stimulation going on no matter what.
So in my way of thinking these conical hats are actually the thinking caps they originated as. And that leads me back down the circuitous path that once had me pondering that wisdom was really something that could be contained in a wise dome (one’s head) and that every wise dome required a decorative hat. Because that’s how it works in my world.
When I saw my pointed-headed woman with fresh eyes, I came up with my personal definition:
“Wisdom – Having a good head on one’s shoulders which is covered with a wise dome.“
And just to make sure this is truly clear to anyone who sees my pointy-headed woman, I’ve filled the glass jar on which her head rests with sage leaves. A wise sage indeed.
What about you? What’s your definition today for wisdom – knowing that it’s perfectly acceptable, even desirable, for it to be fluid? Do you have a symbol you associate with wisdom? Want your thinking to reach a higher pinnacle? Is there some image/idea/perception you’d like to see reclaimed to hold it’s positive origins? Do tell, I always love to hear.
This word I knew before I read your definition. A first for me, I think.
Wisdom is the magical spot where education | experience | empathy meet.
That’s a wonderful definition of wisdom – I love it!
We can have all the knowledge in the world – knowing how to apply it with no self-interest and no harm to others requires wisdom. I have found that many think of wisdom and knowledge as being one and the same thing. They are not. Wisdom requires that numinous quality of understanding that we might call ‘spirit’… YAM xx
Although at first thought I’m not sure I would use exactly the same words as you do Yamini, I don’t believe knowledge and wisdom are at all the same thing. There is that essential spark that enlivens knowledge so it can be used in a way that gifts, and I see upon reflection that might indeed be called spirit.
I find the history of dunce fascinating! I love to delve into the history of language. To me, wisdom is a combination of knowledge and the compassionate, caring and insightful application of it.
Thinking about dunces made me consider the book Confederacy of Dunces, which I’m not sure I’ve read or not, athough I have a vague suspicion it was required reading in some literature class.
I like the parameters you’ve defined for wisdom Margaret.
I do enjoy reading your perspective on things, and I learn from those perspectives. Never really thought about the various forms of pointy caps and their meanings, but there are a lot of kinds. I look at them also as amplifiers, where the energy comes from above, goes into the small end and blossoms into our skulls. I love the wise-dome/wisdom connection you made.
And that’s a wonderful perspective as well Jade. I definitely see the energy as flowing in both directions – drawing up from the Earth and bringing down from the cosmos, and we’re planted in the center as a bridge.
A wonderful post that made me ponder over the fact that how deep and how wide the domain of wisdom can be. To me, wisdom remains a relative term always. No matter how much wisdom you gain over the years with experience, knowledge or any other means, there is always someone wiser than you. I liked your perspective too!!
And I like your perspective Navita. I find it reassuring that when we work collectively and share we have access to a myriad of experiences and wisdom. There’s always wonderful things to expand us.
I think part of wisdom is knowing that you can’t possibly know everything, and you can’t be right all the time 🙂 The more you are aware of how much you don’t know, the wiser you are.
The Multicolored Diary
A most wise conclusion!
Reading this post today felt like I was walking through a secret garden. Through its mazes and labyrinths I passed–guided by your words and kept discovering little treasures on the way.
You would’ve thought that a word for wisdom would go past a dunce cap? Or perhaps, that’s what it is–wise people have often been labelled as fools by their peers throughout history.
For me, owls have always been a symbol of wisdom. They have such wise-wide-eyes to see clearly, especially when the rest of the world sleeps.
I love the reference to a secret garden Arti. Doesn’t it feel like the whole of our life is meant to be seen as a walk through such a special place?!
Owls are a wonderful symbol. They seem quite magical to me and I love reading folktales about them – they do seem like wisdom keepers for many cultures.
I’m glad you shared what the jar underneath contains – I wanted to know more than I cared about whether her hat was pointy 😉
Now… a symbol for wisdom? A spoon. Let me explain why. In German we have a saying “jemand hat die Weisheit mit dem Löffel gefressen”. It’s a disparaging way of stating that someone thinks they’re so clever, they must have been spoon-fed their wisdom 😉
Other than that, I think wisdom is the proper way of applying knowledge, which includes to shut up in certain situations because there’s nothing appropriate anyone may say right then and there.
The admonishment to keep silent is a great one, and I love the spoon saying.