Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG)

Our religion is a living religion, our gods are living gods. Because of this it is our belief that the gods speak to people, that they are active in the lives of those who form relationships with them. They send us messages and signs, they respond to prayers, they visit us with dreams and visions; communication between us and them is in this way not a one way road. Yet we must temper this belief with the understanding that entities can and do misrepresent themselves and can and do lie. Because of this we cannot throw ourselves completely to the wind with whichever entity knocks on our door.

When discussing receiving divine inspiration it is important to first discuss the generally accepted vocabulary. You may already be somewhat familiar with some or all of these terms:

UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis)

SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis)

VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis)

It is important to discuss these terms by breaking them down. “Gnosis” is a term of Greek origin that indicates religious knowledge. There is unfortunately nothing inherent in this term that really implies it is knowledge recieved from gods or spirits. Gnosis could in this way be any knowledge, learned from any source, even a book or a teacher. This is a shortcoming in the modern terminology I will discuss in a moment. But when we apply the “personal” to the gnosis it is implying that the knowledge has direct personal links to you, the gnosis is your personal knowledge recieved by you.

The proper term for “personal gnosis” should technically be “epiphany”. An epiphany (another Greek term) originally was an insight gained from a divine source. This is somewhat different than the term for a vision of a god themselves which was called “theophany”. A theophany was a specialized type of epiphany in this way because while it is relatively accepted that all epiphanies are generally of divine origin they do not always concern the gods or show the gods. Instead the epiphany becomes a theophany when the diety involved in sending the epiphany manifests themselves in the epiphany. Most of the time these days when people use the term “UPG” they are really meaning epiphany or theophany.

The P in UPG is important. If you are watching a movie, if you are reading a book, if you are listening to someone else explain something and you decide it jives with you and you put it into your practice – it is not your UPG. You didn’t have the epiphany, someone else did, it is impersonal to you, it is not your UPG, it is someone else’s. You’re merely along for the ride because they convinced you to join into their UPG. UPG is more than just a feeling of “alright, that seems reasonable, yeah okay”, UPG is supposed to be your epiphany or theophany. If someone is telling you about something it doesn’t just become your UPG any more than you would become the inventor of the lightbulb upon learning about Thomas Edison’s invention.

It is both unfortunate and fortuitous that we have UPG as our go to term; it is unfortunate because proper terms like epiphany and theophany already existed but it is fortuitous because the U in UPG is a saving grace for the term. The U in UPG is Unverified. This means that inherent in the term is the need for verification. Verification occurs through one of two avenues – research into the pre-existing religious material to see if it is supported in the lore or through time when many others over generations have recieved the same or similar UPG which has been substantiated independently.

Shared Personal Gnosis (SPG) in an of itself is not substantiation. The shared aspect does not mean you tell someone about your UPG and they agree with it. It is not your UPG if someone else recieved the vision, it’s still their UPG no matter how much you jive with it. Instead, SPG occurs when two people in unrelated events have the same epiphany such that there are two people who recieved the same piece of knowledge independently from the gods. It is SPG between those people who shared the message of the epiphany because it is personal to them. This does not in and of itself substantiate the UPG but it does provide a route for it after a long time of many people independently corroborating the information over decades or longer.

Verified Personal Gnosis (VPG) is essentially when someone receives an epiphany which upon further research they find out is directly supported by something in the lore. At that point of verification the personal nature of the gnosis is valuable only to the person who recieved the epiphany and it become more communally valuable to share the lore source as well when discussing the epiphany. Alternately, as stated previously, when many others over generations have recieved the same or similar UPG which has been substantiated independently it can also become verified. But that is not a process which generally is instant gratification but would be an organic growth over generations of use.

I would then define these terms as:

UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis): knowledge of a religious nature that was recieved by you from a divine source such as an epiphany (general religious understanding recieved from a divine source) or a theophany (an epiphany in which a god manifested themselves).

SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis): UPG which has been recieved by you from the divine which you have also found to have been recieved by several other individuals independent of one another but which corroborate the given information.

VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis): UPG that has been recieved by you from the divine which you have been able to corroborate through sources in the lore (or far in the future, through generations of being SPG).

I would also point out that in some cases our UPG will be directly contradicted by the lore. This presents a personal quandary. Is the lore, which was the culmination of generations of people’s epiphanies, incorrect? Or are the forces behind that specific epiphany misleading us for their own purposes? The lore can have it’s flaws and is Christianized in some places which flavors the text; all of that must be weighed against the world view and how the epiphany fits into the totality. But I feel it would be folly to ignore the lore entirely because while it is not gospel it is our best glimpse into those ancient religious traditions which were substantiating lore for generations before they were written down. I have personally set aside some of my own UPG because it did not mesh with the lore or with ancient world view. In the end though, it is up to you if you choose to believe your UPG. You are under no obligation to believe your UPG or anyone else’s because deities can and do lie. You are under no obligation to believe or trust a god just because they come to you. In the case that your UPG is contradicted in the lore it remains UPG, because it remains unverified, but it is up to you if you choose to act upon it.

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I’m under no obligation to believe my own UPG

I’m under no obligation to believe my own UPG. Seems strange to say, but just because it pops into my head doesn’t mean I have to or even should believe whatever it is.

I’ve been a pagan for a long time, and over the years I’ve accrued some measure of UPG. Lots of little events, a couple sanity shattering events. However, just because it comes to me doesn’t make it the truth. A god could beam the whole story of the universe into my brain and tell me it was the gospel truth and I would maintain a measure of skepticism. Why? Because the gods are not infallible.

Our stories and myths are filled with instances where the gods don’t know something; they don’t know something so they go searching for answers. Furthermore, their understanding of whatever it is is only as good as the source of their information. Our stories and myths also have beings that lie to our gods or the stories even have our gods lie. The gods can and do lie. Also the gods can and do make mistakes. If the gods can make mistakes, can be mistaken, can be lied to, and can lie in turn then why would we trust divine communication wholesale?

And here is why the lore is important to me. The lore is the accumulated stories and myths of the ancient heathen peoples. They lived and worshipped and practiced their religion for thousands of years, it was engrained into their culture and even left indelible signs that have persisted to today. Those people, over hundreds of generations and across numerous cultures and subcultures, developed and evolved their beliefs as time progressed. That came to a halt at conversion, those beliefs were distilled and sometimes interpreted by Christians before being written down. That snapshot of the lore represents a moment in time right at the end of the cultural and religious development of pagan beliefs in the ancient times. But also it represents the combined collaborative effort of untold hundreds of thousands or even millions of ancient heathens over thousands of years who had experienced the gods, understood their nature, and lived a life connected with them who had then transmitted the stories of the gods to the next generation who each added new confirmation with every new person those stories interacted with. And the high level of agreement across different Indo-European groups for certain myths shows further confirmation. The names shifted with linguistics, but the stories, well, the details would morph depending but not the core truths of it. The undedstandings of Thor and Thunor and Donner remained very much in line with each other across the centuries and across a vast region filled with many different tribes that were very diverse. That overall continuity in belief shows the value in the lore. It’s tried and tested by those ancient peoples, and yeah it got a tiny bit touched by some Christians but their hands are usually very obvious and can be looked around as needed.

But here is the rub. Sometimes we try to put our UPG as tantamount to gospel even if only to ourselves. However to assume that the gods who are fallible and who do lie somehow cannot or will not or do not lie to you alone just doesn’t fly in my book. And if my UPG goes against the lore directly, am I to assume that somehow those many thousands of people over thousands of years were all somehow misled or mistaken and yet I alone have the right of it? It seems kind of hubristic. No, for me, I choose to be skeptical of my own UPG. I choose to research it and weigh it out and see where it could fit and see if it’s true, partly true, or a misunderstanding by me or a lie by divinity and in those cases false. Not only do I not hold my own UPG as gospel, I don’t carry any illusion that I should misconstrue my own UPG as anything close to fact towards others. I am under no obligation to believe my own UPG and you’re under no obligation to believe it either.