David Breeden
May 23 · 3 min read

Forbidden knowledge. Is there such a thing?

Photo by Alex Pudov on Unsplash

Do a web search and you’re going to find some interesting stuff:

The Book of Forbidden Knowledge: Black Magic, Superstition, Charms, and Divination

Forbidden Knowledge: Revelations of a Multi-Dimensional Time Traveler

Forbidden Mysteries: Ancient Knowledge and Lost Worlds

The Book of Secret Wisdom: The Prophetic Record of Human Destiny

Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography

The Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge

Forbidden Knowledge: 101 Things NOT Everyone Should Know How to Do

More Forbidden Knowledge

The Most Forbidden Knowledge

These titles play on those polar opposites of the human mind: fear and curiosity.

I have to admit I have read one of those books — are you curious which one?

It was written by the literary critic Roger Shattuck, titled, Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornorgraphy.

Yes, forbidden knowledge is a very old literary trope. Remember Pandora and her box (actually a jar — amphora)? Pan in Greek means “all;” and dora means “gifted” or “giving.” Pandora. “All-Giving.”

How did a character once seen as all-giving become someone credited with releasing evil into the world? Hmmm. That’s called patriarchy.

The Greeks, as they learned about Christianity, immediately saw the similarity of their own myth of Pandora with the Hebrew myth of Eve: Both women. Both curious. Both disobey the will of god. And both are the reason why life sucks now.

An old question: “Why is there evil in the world?”

An old answer: “Because women are curious.”

Yes, that’s an age-old answer: It’s those women! They question things that ought not be questioned. They examine things that ought not be examined. They put their noses in places their noses should not go!

Women! We’d better keep their curiosity in bounds! “I know ,” said some guy or other— “let’s not educate them!”

“I know ,” said some other guy or other — “Let’s not let them out of the house!”

“I know,” said some other other guys or other —” Let’s keep them pregnant all the time!”

(Yes, there have been a lot of Alabamas over time.)

All those guys were saying: Those women are just too, too curious.

The root of the word curiosity is cura “care.” Another related word is cure, as in making something better.

Like “pan-dora” that sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?

Unless, that is, you want to keep some knowledge out of the hands of some people for some reason . . .

Should any knowledge be forbidden? That question is more complex than it might at first appear. For a nuanced look at the subject, click here:

What is protection, what is curating, and what is censorship?

Finally, it boils down to this: Who is doing the forbidding and why?

David Breeden

Written by

Poet, translator, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade