A Pinch of Salt

pinch of salt
21 Jan 2009 — Hand sprinkling a pinch of sea salt — Image by © Lupton, Steve/the food passionates/Corbis

Academia, books, libraries and academics are like the larder, the place you keep stored food. Gnosis, adventure and research are like going out into the forest to hunt fresh fruit and greens and game. Both enable us to live and, since we moved out of tropical forests 3 to 5 million years ago, both help us live, and live well.

I check my larder regularly (and my fridge and freezer); things go off, being to rot, dry up, go from being good, wholesome nourishing food to poison. The same goes for knowledge. Think about that … once upon a time some humans believed the Sun went round the Earth, that the Earth was the centre of the universe. Then Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus – discovered that reality was actually the other way about, the Earth goes round the Sun. He caused all sorts of ructions with his discovery, upset whole religions full of people, and there still some folk about who truly believe he got it wrong! That was one of those facts that went way past its sell-by date, began rotting and stinking in the larder of academia, and would have poisoned everyone if we’d kept it any longer. That’s just the one case, there are hundreds of thousands of them, millions.

Academic facts about history, archaeology, how our ancestors lived and thought, have lots of rotting cabbages amongst them too. We need to, at least, take them with a pinch of salt. That phrase comes from Pliny’s Naturalis Historia and translates into modern English thus: After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day. We need that pinch of salt to make us proof against the poison of out-of-date facts.

There are lots of those in the current new age, probably always have been. Someone’s own experience is questioned because it does not agree with “facts” stored in some academic larder (university library) somewhere. Far too often nowadays, and perhaps for hundreds of years, we believe books before we believe our own eyes and experience; we allow ourselves to believe other people – who weren’t there during our experience – before we trust ourselves. That’s not good. It makes us gullible, leadable, conformist and – perhaps even worse – it completely stagnates all future learning an knowledge and wisdom, dumbs it down into acceptable, bland mash, so everyone slowly dies, drowning in their own shit!

If you take that pinch of salt, question, take time to make up your own mind, those around you often make life hard. Why? Because your questions add salt to their current belief systems. Swallowing raw salt is a way to make you vomit, very useful after you’ve swallowed something poisonous, be it food or ideas. But most folk hate vomiting, it hurts, is frightening, we mostly try to stop it happening. The same goes with ideas. If somebody seems to be feeding you salt, making you vomit up old ideas you’ve lived peaceably with all your life, you tend to resist! Not always, not everyone, but most folk, most of the time.

This happens when people choose to follow the old ways, follow the deer trods. There’s very little written on them and most of what little there is was written by commentators – from Pliny to christian monks to ‎Mircea Eliade to Michael Harner – not the actual folk themselves. The commentators all have interesting and potentially useful things to say but they weren’t born into it, not taught by family and friends equally born into it. and, what little writing there is is in what are often called “fairy tales” or else in folk songs, or else cunningly hidden in those things called “superstition” or “old wives’ tales”. Academic types have a strong tendency to discount these – big mistake!

Much of this superiority-complex began in what is often called the “long 18th century” circa 1685-1815. European politics, philosophy, science and communications were radically reoriented during this time, and the movement is often referred to (by its participants) as the Age of Reason, or simply the Enlightenment. And boy, did this shake up the whole of our Earth in the subsequent years, quite often not for anyone’s good. Like most things and ideas, what came out of the Age of Reason has both good and bad points: we have anaesthetics, new good medicine, flushing toilets, washing machines, and we know more about the universe: but we also have wage-slavery, plastic pollution, cruel industrial farming, massive selfishness that just wants money-money-money, etc blah, all the things that are killing Mother Earth.

That’s largely because the participants of the Age of Reason successfully turned themselves into a hierarchical religion that most people venerate on autopilot – not good! And 90+% of “educated” people blindly continue this veneration and all its works as “facts of life”. If you are not “educated”, have not had “the right schooling and university” you’re thought of as less-than – Hitler and the Nazis called people like this Untermensch. The word was used to describe non-Aryan inferior people, those who have features similar to a human but are actually subhuman, lower on the spiritual and psychological scale as well as the physical. One might wonder if, very subtly, this happens nowadays through education.

I’m not writing off the whole of academia as that way inclined – ye gods, no! but we are back to that pinch of salt again. Just because a “fact” can be found in an ancient tome does not make it real and true, at least for today; it always needs to be assessed within your own mind, using your own instincts. Your instincts won’t always be right; they often get clouded with your emotions, dawn into some lovely romantic fantasy of how you (currently) wish the world to be, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! Instincts, like minds and feelings, need on-the-job-training and lots of use and practice to be honed to sharpness, so use them as you begin to follow the old ways. Use our old hunter-gatherer techniques too, hunt stalk the knowledge, look deep in the fire for wisdom, watch how animals and plants do things for they know-in-their-bones far better than we do.

My old plantsman horticultural teacher used to say, when we found something unexpected in the garden, “The plants haven’t read the book”. They didn’t write the books either … and neither did our ancient ancestors. But read books, listen to academics, enjoy them … but also carry a bag of salt in your pocket, and take a pinch now and again 😊

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