Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Role of UPG in Heathenry

The issue of UPG and what role should it play in Heathenry has been getting under my craw for the past few months, so here's my rant/take on it.

For anyone who doesn't know, UPG = Unverifiable Personal Gnosis, which means some kind of "knowing" or intuited information. It didn't come from reading the lore or any kind of actual evidence.

Every so often, ok- way too often, the issue of UPG comes up in some Heathen discussion, and it quickly turns into an argument between two camps: 

  1. If it's not in the lore, then it didn't happen, isn't true, has no place in Heathenry, etc.
  2. One's intuition is more important than anything else, no matter how wacky or out of sync with what is known it may be.

Both extremes irk me, because both (in my opinion) miss the mark. On one hand, the first approach can become a bit sterile. However, I do appreciate the need for evidence, and not everyone easily connects with his or her intuitive self. So I tend to be more tolerant of that extreme end of the spectrum. 

It is the second approach that bugs me far more. Most of the time, the excuse is some variation of, "We can never know what they believed because too much information was lost, so let's just believe whatever we want."  

Frankly, that's a lot of nonsense. There is a lot of information about the customs, values, and practices of pre-Christian Northern Europe available. Why place one's sole focus on speculation of what might have been lost, when there is ample existing evidence?

One excuse I heard recently is a real doozie. Apparently, it doesn't even matter what elder Heathens believed because every generation does things differently than their parents. Thaaat's right. A religion that holds ancestor veneration to be one of its more important aspects apparently doesn't need to concern itself with investigating what those ancestors might have believed- because it would have just been scrapped anyway. Gotcha. 

One way or another, it all boils down to some excuse to ignore what is known in favor of one's own pet theories, inner voice, etc. I suppose it's easier to believe the voices in one's head, as opposed to picking up a book. I also suppose there is some vanity in believing that you have this or that god on speed dial, or that you're so gosh darn special that a particular god or goddess is sitting on the edge of their seat just waiting to give you the inside scoop. 

So, what role should UPG play in modern Heathenry? This is just my opinion, but I think it can play an important role, within certain parameters: 

  • If UPG is in agreement with what is known, or at least doesn't conflict with something easily provable, then it might be something worth considering. 
  • If UPG doesn't require imposing the beliefs of another religion onto Heathenry in order to make the UPG work, it might be something worth considering. (Beliefs/practices from one faith to another are not automatically interchangeable.)
  • If UPG is in clear opposition to what is known, perhaps it is time to consider that it's not a direct communication from a god, ancestor, wight, etc., and perhaps it is merely one's own ego "talking." 
  • If UPG isn't in agreement with what is known, how far off is it? Is it just a little, or is it way off? Maybe there is room for some of the UPG that isn't too far off, perhaps it is more representative of our modern culture, where we live in the world today, and so on... just be honest about how far away one is actually stepping and why.
  • The possibility exists that the UPG may be something appropriate to only that individual, or perhaps for an individual kindred, and not across all of Heathendom.
  • If one is considering UPG to be a viable "source" of information, then it should be just as open to scrutiny as any other "source" would be. 

I'm not anti-UPG at all, and I have plenty of my own UPG moments. I am, however, anti-make-it-up-as-one-goes-along because that lacks a Heathen foundation. If that's what a person wants to do, that's their choice. But, just admit that what you're doing is making up your own new faith, and stop using the "we can't ever know what was believed because too much information was lost" excuse to get out of doing some reading, or to avoid the possibility that maybe it's not the gods talking to you.