Back when I was growing up it was the done thing to be forced into formalised peer social groups, because apparently by the time we become adults we have completely forgotten what it’s like to be kids and become convinced that it’s lovely to see children ‘playing’ together (preferably with an added element of ‘education’). So I was regularly pried away from my various piles of books (the public, school and van libraries would only let me have four each at a time, respectively, my protestations that they would barely last me a week) to ‘enjoy’ the Brownies, Sunday School, camps, picnics and so on.
Invariably this would involve games, one of which was Chinese Whispers. I hated this game. The whole thing was a setup designed to pervert language and meaning, ideally with hilarious (?) consequences, and that’s before you take account of the one or two who would invariably mutilate the message on purpose.
But yes, it did serve to show how easily even the simple and benign could become warped in transmission, and some recent conversations have shown me just how easily that continues to happen in pagan and similar traditions.
As previous blogs have hopefully outlined, there are a multitude of paths, and variations on paths, and little detours of paths, and it’s a subjective enough area that there are rarely any particular rights or wrongs. However we are also living in an age of ‘experts’ a world where a individuals can and do set themselves up as the foremost authority on this or that tradition or practice. Assuming they’re even quasi-legit, the chances are they will have pieced together this expertise through bits of reading and research, participation in various groups or communities and a healthy dose of self-exploration and practical discovery. What they are presenting though is THEIR path, THEIR interpretation, THEIR truth, and how much that does or does not resemble the origins, history or development of the tradition(s) it claims to be a part of is, like in Chinese Whispers, dependent on the reliability, quality and provenance of the information it is based on.
Let me be clear, this does not automatically or necessarily make it Bad, Wrong or Inferior. But it’s important to remember that when you are reading or hearing about a particular tradition you are only being exposed to one version of it – there may be many additional, and quite different, interpretations, so to dismiss, denounce and denigrate an entire segment without doing your own diligence on something that might open up a world of valuable possibilities to you would be a mistake.
(But remember that an open mind works best with a healthy crap-o-meter in operation!)