Our past is being rewritten. This isn’t a recent phenomenon, but something that has been worming its way into every aspect of our culture for hundreds of years. Whether it is a new age author’s innovative interpretation of a certain spiritual tradition, an age old scholar under the patronage of a king or even a film portrayal of an historical event. Everyone has a bias and sometimes surprisingly an agenda too.
By reinventing our past to suit our needs we are not harmlessly changing a detail here or there for maximum effect in the retelling of an event or story. Whatever is changed, no matter how seemingly insignificant will eventually end up influencing our future. We are not playing an innocent game of Chinese Whispers. If one inaccuracy is placed on top of another inaccuracy then we will arrive at a point where we would have completely reshaped who we are: our traditions, our folklore, our mythology and our history; which in turn means everything that connects us to our ancestors.
Modern literature and films as well as television series that portray ancient history, mythology and spirituality are all gateways of inspiration for those of us who wish to return to a more meaningful life without the trappings of religion and consumerism. However, due to the fact that these gateways are so easily accessible and a huge part of today’s popular culture, many people accept these portrayals as fact, when sometimes this couldn’t be more further from the truth.
I fell into this trap myself in the beginning when I first began reading and researching European pre-Christian faiths and traditions. Thankfully, the phrase ‘Heathenry is the religion with homework’ saved me. By diligently doing my homework I began to realise that the more I was reading the more easily I was able to see discrepancies between different sources (dates, names and places for example) and this taught me very early on how to be more discerning when it came to the books I was choosing.
So how can we be sure that the sources we are using are the real deal? How can we sift through the lies to reach the truth? I am going to share with you some of the things I do to ensure, to the best of my knowledge, that I am reading facts not fiction when it comes to history, religion and mythology.
Firstly, I visit second hand shops and garage sales. These are excellent places to find old books especially published before 1945. After World War II particularly with the arrival of Wicca, it is important to understand that a lot more disingenuous information began being published. Of course I am not saying that everything you read before this date can be trusted either; just look at how Roman and Greek scholars portrayed the Germanic peoples or the Gauls for example. However, many authors before this date were not censored to the extent that we are today and I believe that they had an easier time as well when it came to finding original and authentic sources. So much material has been lost, destroyed or edited.
It is getting harder and harder to find old books, especially ones that are reasonably priced. So for those of us who are frugal I can assure you that you can continue saving your money. I rarely buy a book now unless I am one hundred percent sure of its integrity and instead I either borrow books from the library, many of which are very old or I make the most of public domain books online. These are the sites I use the most and that I recommend: gutenberg.org, sacred-texts.com, forgottenbooks.org and jstor.org. You will need to register for some of these, but it is free to do so. I guarantee that you will have several lifetimes of material to get stuck into with these websites. They are fantastic resources and I have read many great books.
I will add that when it comes to old history books be aware that some of them will have a heavy Christian bias and if you are reading books that have been translated, do your best to read the original translations. It has come to my attention that a certain modern translation of Eyrbyggja Saga has replaced the word ‘Yule’ with ‘Christmas’.
If you are wanting to buy a more recently published book then I would encourage you to lean more towards history rather than spirituality. You can learn so much about the spiritual practices of our ancestors from a history book based on facts with a decently sized bibliography rather than a neo pagan spiritual book which can be heavily biased towards the author’s own views and personal practice. Authors that I have recently read and respect are Kathleen Herbert, Stephen Pollington and Sinead Spearing.
Also, I would just like to add that there is nothing overly wrong with using the internet for information, but only use it as a springboard for getting a broad overview of a topic before diving in deeper with other sources.
Please be wary of new age books that are contributing to the rewriting of our past by completely innovating our ancient traditions. These books are guiding us along a disingenuous spiritual path that has no links to our heritage whatsoever. Be mindful of the bias, prejudice and assumptions that can be made and start making a conscious effort to be discerning with everything that you are reading and watching.
Lastly, when you come across someone on social media who is stating something as fact and you know that this isn’t the case; find the courage to speak up, kindly correct them and point them towards original authentic sources. These untruths worry me deeply and I hope that I have inspired you to think about how you search for and share information. It is our duty, as custodians of our heritage, to defend its integrity.
If you have any tips or tricks on how to be more discerning when it comes to choosing what you read then I would love for you to share them.