Interpreting mysterious signs

I get angry about this one. I suppose in Pagan circles where people explore arcane things, the idea of secret, mysterious knowledge at least makes sense, kind of. Even then I still find it offensive when it is used to justify otherwise insane leaps of logic. Would that it were just a Pagan issue. It turns up all over the place: People who assert that they can interpret the runes, the stock exchange, the entrails, or whatever else they latch onto, and tell you what it really means, based on no more evidence or logic than their own assertions. That might be harmless when it’s your handwriting, but far less so in other circumstances. I’ve no issue with a reasoned argument, logically developed, it’s the great leaps of illogic that make me reliably furious. A+B clearly equals nine hundred and fifty kind of logic. 2+2 equals a Freudian metaphor. You get the idea.
It happens a lot in books about history. You’re offered a piece of evidence, and then the author says something like ‘clearly what this means is that…’ what follows is often neither clear, nor obvious. It’s amazing the kind of logical leaps that can be made this way. It’s a nightmare when the statement goes ‘clearly this is pagan’ because other things will then be figured out based on that. Assuming for example that violent death signifies sacrifice, not murder or formal punishment and that this in turn means something about beliefs for example. Where would that leave the hanging, drawing and quartering of Guy Fawkes and his friends? Strange rituals can exist with no reference to religion.
When it’s a case of being down the pub and listening to some random person asserting random things, this is merely irritating. I hear it on the radio in the way politicians interpret and use data. I hear it in every selective bit of journalism, of which there are many. So often when we start ascribing meanings to data, what we do is roll out the story we had all along, the prejudices we cherish most, with a view to making the data fit. Look at anything long enough and you can join up the dots in it to get a nice unicorn shape. When bullshit comes from people who claim or hold authority, disbelieving it is a hard sort of job. How can I, with no doctorate, no formal training, no proof that I am clever, go up against the words of academics, politicians, media folk and the rest? Well, I do anyway, because I have to.
Hallucinogenics in a grave do not prove Druidry and divination practice, for example, although I’ve seen that one claimed in newspaper reports. They could just mean we’ve dug up the world’s oldest raver, for example.
There’s a whole chapter in Druidry and the Ancestors about how to deal with the melons. How to go in as an unqualified reader and work out if a line of logic and explanation is dodgy and should not be trusted. I wrote it with an eye to shoddy history books, of which there are many, but it works for other things too. Try it on news reports and pretty much anything the politicians say. Try it on advertising jargon too. In fact, try it anywhere someone who claims more authority than you is trying to ram an idea down your throat without having the decency to explain it properly.
You see, if an idea or an argument is good, the logic of it can be traced through. The person who invokes secret hidden knowledge that they alone understand, is bullshitting you. The person who claims that they alone are capable of making the all important interpretations, based on their vast knowledge, is not playing fair. We are smart enough to understand. If there’s a sleight of hand magic moment to make the argument work, you’ve been conned.
From which we can obviously conclude that I was hatched out of an egg and spend my waking hours constructing BDSM toys out of old cheeses.
Trust your own judgement. Read closely. Do not accept the magic tricks and claims of secret knowledge. Demand the details, and if they are not forthcoming, know not to trust what you’re seeing.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Interpreting mysterious signs

  • Elizabeth Rimmer

    Yes! Yesyes yes, absolutely! This is the official party line of my own Church, (so-called ‘infallibility is very limited) – the word we have to deal with it is ‘illuminism’ – but you still get many people, priests, teachers, so-called mystics, newspaper pundits banging on about how they have the inside track on tradition, the ‘official’ teaching of the Church’ ‘revelations’ ‘discernment’ and a whole lot of other stuff and making you feel small if you don’t go along with their nonsense (as for the crap people talk OUTSIDE the tradition, don’t get me started). Your point cannot be made too strongly, too often and in too many places.
    Can’t tell you how much I get out of your blog, Nimue!

  • Buzzard

    Wise words indeed. You really have to be gullible to let some of the balderdash get through to you but, the blaggards are convincing.
    I would say pretty much trust your intuition.


  • Jennifer Tavernier

    …LOL! Spot on,there. Aside from the fact that this behavior is rather rampant and stupid, where you know the person speaking should be placed back in the nursery and given some blocks and shapes, and asked to describe simply “what’s there as he sees it” – (A flat surface, a corner, a shadow shaped like a triangle, etc) – and then be switched a bit when they start adding in intangibles – “it means…” “It stands for…” It portrays… LOL!
    – Rather like the Artsy-schmartsy crowd that utter the most confused bleats regarding existentialistic shadowings. Arrrgh.
    …Many people, I think have lost the ability to see simply what is there, without the significance and gobblety gook. They have missed the whole beginning or basic. They are so fraught with significance, one wonders how they can find and tie their shoes in the morning. (normally, a physical action. I have found that actual practical action is not their forte.)
    …I had a surprise the other day, in which a quite normally fun acquaintance, who follows an eastern leaning, turned on me and tried to lord it over me with some “I have secret knowledge – but you’re not ready, blah blah blah…” Quite out of the blue, almost! LOL! She was upset because I pointed out for the 50th time that I didn’t want to hear speculations about a boyfriend she hadn’t seen in months, because it makes my head explode, since I have no direct observation or ever met the fellow. (She is still a bit OCD on this, but it is in a weird way )- like he couldn’t have made his own decision regarding ending it. It HAD to be coercion, drugs, his ex-wife, mind control, aliens, another girlfriend, yada yada. My take was, “Don’t ask me what I think about it! Stop speculating and go and confront him and have it out!” (Direct empiric observation, and action in confronting will stop all this, usually.) So punch him out, or kidnap him to never-never land, but quit Dithering!
    Sadly, this will not occur, because there are “reasons”. I suppose that the bubble she is holding is serving some purpose, and would leave a horrid stain if pinholed. Hey, I’vedone that. So it goes…
    …I don’t go out of my way to puncture balloons, but I have noted that these types generally can be handled quickly, with a bit of common sense. (If they are in one’s immediate vicinity.) I do not fear them, and this seems to make them leave quickly.
    …It’s always amazing what happens when you render a simplicity to someone who’s got their panties in a vacuum of snits. You can render them speechless, and become the most uneducated bore. For me, Huzzah for the Emperor with No Clothes. Please, I have no time for sophisticated mumbo jumbo, over simple truth. However, we don’t have to worry about them inheriting the earth, just being major annoyances, because in the end, they can’t see it, anyway. They will climb their beanstalk to the heavens, and then go tumbling off into the fog. They don’t actually last long, once they begin twisting their own truth.

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    And, Oh!
    The other half -I can not claim to have seen secret signs, but have had things speak, impose themselves to me, rather strongly. But that is to ME, not a ‘Thus and such is true for everyone’ my truth is what I have gained, and is true for me. Not public consumption. Yes, I can be very opinionated on some subjects, but I do preface it with “for me, or the way it works for me, instead of a blanket – It is like this – you should be thinking this way….
    …There are those who are very good at extrapolating or seeing ramifications, and usually it is regarding something concrete. But I am not really good at listening to smoke in the wind sightings, unless it actually comes through to me also… and sometimes it has. I find that things can speak or come through when one gets rid of the fixed ideas surrounding it. It certainly lends itself to much more calmness or serenity, in viewing it.
    …But if I pick up secret messages or strong impressions,implications, non-verbally, that is for me, and my business. And as such, it generally works out quite nicely.

  • Tim Holland

    Theres the text of an archeology podcast I heard regarding the archeology of the homeless in bristol; only those in the know knew what the bits of screwed up cling film was used for, and the elastic band round the cigarette lighter. Ritual objects.

  • emilyjgrimm

    Very well said! The last bit made me fall off my chair laughing. Nothing like humour to send your point home.

  • Natalie Reed

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have raved for years (to anyone willing to listen) about the proclamations of science regarding this or that “sacrifice”. Poor folks were just as likely murder victims or muggings-gone-wrong as sacrifices in most cases. This type of “science” is what will cause archaeologists 10,000 years from now to proclaim Elvis the most worshipped god in the American midwest!

  • silverbear

    My wife has an interesting way of doing Tarot. Instead of reading them for people, she asks them to look at a card and explain what it means to them. After they give her an answer, she will read what the book says about it and ask the person if they feel it correlates to the question they were asking. I find that when she does this for me, often I am able to answer my own question. I do not see it as divination from some magickal place other than from within which is very magickal!

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    Quite canny, Silverbear! Say hello to her!

  • Speculating wildly « Druid Life

    […] been talking a bit lately about the issues of shoddy history, and crazy interpretation, which comes up a fair bit in the new book, Druidry and the Ancestors. […]

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