Lupa’s Den #2 – I Want My UPG!
March 21, 2007 by Lupa
Filed under altered states of consciousness, columns, lupa's den, magick, mysticism, perception, self-created styles, self-transformation, shamanism, therioshamanism, totemism and animism
Alrighty, this month I’m going to diverge from my usual fare of animal magic to talk about something a little different that’s been bouncing around in my head: UPG.
Depending on where on the internet you hang out, you may have run into the acronym UPG. Unverified or Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis is essentially any information about a deity or other entity, magical topic, or related spiritual item of interest that is gained through one’s own intuition and experiences rather than third-party sources.1 It originated in the heathen communities in the 1970s or 1980s, but has been used with greater frequency, particularly with the advent of the internet.
UPG is used to differentiate historically/mythologically accurate material, particular with regard to the reconstruction and study of pre-Christian religions, from things that people either acquired in personal experiences or otherwise couldn’t show any outside evidence for. Reconstructionism, especially with regard to Celtic, Germanic and Norse cultures and religions, tends to be meticulous about details. There’s debate in the respective communities about how much UPG is too much; for example, the Celtic Reconstructionism FAQ provides some guidelines for dealing with UPG in relation to accepted lore.2
Anyone who’s been in the pagan community for any length of time knows that it floats on a sea of UPG. Many pagans quite happily mix traditional mythology with personal experiences to meet their own spiritual and magical needs. A survey of various books on the market aimed at the pagan crowd shows a wide range of scholarship that traverses the wide spectrum between Uber-Serious History and What The Hell Were You On? and UPG can be found in a large selection of these texts.
Unfortunately, problems arise when UPG is presented as historical evidence (with or without other poor sources). The many books on “Celtic Wicca” are a good example. One particular thread of ficti-myth is the persistent “Irish Potato Cult” that arose in the early 1990s. Despite the fact that the potato wasn’t imported into Ireland until a few centuries ago, it’s been claimed that the pre-Christian Celts saw the potato as a fertility symbol and even created rituals around it.3 Whether this was UPG or just some really shoddy scholarship, nobody’s quite sure.
Still, it resembles the sort of thing that often ends up as UPG, and the issues that can occur when it is then presented as historical fact. Additionally, various pagans may combine several threads of myth and religion from assorted cultures because of UPG; again, the problem comes when this blended mixture is presented as something historically accurate. And then there are cases in which UPG goes entirely against the accepted canon surrounding a particular topic; for example, someone viewing Kali as a loving, gentle innocent maiden, or Aphrodite as an ugly hag.
It’s entirely possible that deities may show sides other than the most commonly seen ones to individual pagans. In my opinion, deities are not one-dimensional characters, and I don’t believe they are limited solely to their mythical portrayals. For example, Artemis is a maiden goddess in the Greek pantheon; technically, when I got married I should have given up my relationship to her. Despite this (and the opinions of some modern radical feminists that Artemis only likes lesbians and hates all men), she never had a problem with the idea. In my private conversations with her, her main concern was that the relationship was a healthy one, and that I had enough room to be myself.
Granted, I’m not a Hellenic pagan. I’ve never really studied the details of Greek religious practices with regard to Artemis or any other Olympian. And honestly, I have no interest in doing so. I like the relationship I’ve developed with Artemis (or at least the independent, masculine female, wild-loving deity who refers to herself as Artemis in my presence). I’ve been maintaining that relationship for a decade or so, and it’s been quite spiritually fulfilling. My worship is through emulation, my offerings through actions and prayers. And that’s what works for me.
I admit it — I want my UPG. I am not a Reconstructionist of any sort, nor am I a Wiccan. In fact, I rather dislike pigeonholing myself with regard to religion — “Pagan” or “Neopagan” works quite nicely. The bulk of my spirituality and practice is UPG-based. My writing on Totemism? UPG-based Neopagan Totemism, not traditional. My relationship to and understanding of the Divine? My UPG coupled with observations of others’ UPG, as well as psychology, mythology and occultism. I tend to bristle a bit when people attempt to limit Paganism only to the modern worship of ancient deities; while I acknowledge the presence of deities, I neither see them as the ultimate manifestation of Divinity, nor even believe there is such a thing other than the sum total of all Realities.
To me, Paganism is the path I take to understanding my relationship with regard to all forms of consciousness and energy in the Multiverse. Deities and spirits are simply some of the other entities that I coexist with. In order to figure out where I stand, I have to use a lot of UPG to formulate my individual perspective on what’s both within and outside of me. For some people, preexisting religions and philosophies are sufficient for explaining Life, the Universe, and Everything. There’s nothing wrong with that; I just prefer to blaze my own trail, occasionally crossing those of others along the way.
Of course, there will always be those who are appalled that I’m “just making it up as I go along.” So what? I know that my beliefs aren’t Holy Writ or Accepted Canon. But they explain things to me, and in my worldview, that’s more important than making sure they match up perfectly with what works for others. To each hir own; I believe we’ll all end up in the same place eventually anyway.
- Anonymous (2006). Unverified Personal Gnosis. Retrieved 6 March, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UPG
- Laurie, Erynn Rowan, Kathryn Price NicDhana, et. al. (2006) The CR FAQ: An Introduction to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism (How much UPG is acceptable in CR? How do you know?). Retrieved 6 March, 2007 from http://www.paganachd.com/faq/intermediate.html#howmuchupg
- Hautin-Mayer, Joanne (1998). When is a Celt not a Celt? Retrieved 6 March, 2007 from http://www.irishwitch.org/grove/When_is_a_Celt_not_a_Celt.shtml
©2007 Lupa. Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.