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theories were rejected in later times, Duns (dunce) became a pejorative which meant someone “who foolishly held on to outdated doctrine.”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.