UPG: An ‘Ugly and Misguided’ Term

In a Wikipedia article on Heathenry in Canada, you will read, “The acceptance of such UPG can be a source of controversy among practitioners.”

UPG here means Unverified Personal Gnosis or Unusual Personal Gnosis or Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis, defined (also in Wikipedia) as “the phenomenological concept that an individual’s spiritual insights (or gnosis) may be valid for them without being generalizable to the experience of others. It is primarily a neologism used in polytheistic reconstructionism, to differentiate it from ancient sources of spiritual practices.”

And as the entry notes, it is a derogatory term.

Heathen/Germanic Tradition writers seem to spend the most time evaluating the idea of UPG, as possibly “worth considering” if certain preconditions are met or as highly suspect unless rigorously examined in the light of “the lore”: “The key is that [UPG] has little to no basis in the lore as we have it. Most assumptions about the Gods, myths, and rites are based on careful research of the lore often involving years of study.”

Based on limited discussion with practitioner-scholars, I see less concern about UPG among Germanic Tradition Pagans in Europe and little concern among Baltic or Slavic reconstructionists, for example. Perhaps this concern is largely a North American issue? More study is needed.

Pagan scholar Sam Webster, in fact, goes farther, calling UPG an “ugly and misguided” label.

Experience is the center of all spiritual and religious life. Text is at best derivative. By creating and using such a term as UPG, “Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis,” we privilege text over experience. (This is a rather Christian move, and those who have been following my writing know how I feel about that. . .) Even more damagingly, by framing someone’s experience as a UPG we dissociate ourselves from the primary data of spirituality.

Good point. But not everyone respects phenomenology, even in religious studies.

2 thoughts on “UPG: An ‘Ugly and Misguided’ Term

  1. I was certain at a fairly early phase of consciousness that the (authoritarian) other was not going to restrict my experience or experimentation or creativity or screw-ups or world view vis a vis gnosis or how I got it. That is, if I as experiencer had it happen to me, that was all the verification I required.

    Totemic spirit communicated with me in the wild–no approval by the other needed or sought. Pagan wild, free, and aware of things beyond the envelope.

    But I know that a current of authority-mindedness and restriction runs through plenty of Pagan and Heathen Trads. Practice within and guided by the resources of a Trad may lead to experiences that some would exclude from that Trad. Because they cannot or will not verify it as legitimate and permissible.

    As if deities, powers, spirits, entities, and presences never, ever tell us anything new! As if it has to be real for us to hold it in consciousness. As if no wisdom is crazy?

    What rule number is it that declares: If there is experience of it, somebody will assert that it’s unverifiable?

  2. In my experience in the UK (where, as far as I have gathered from casual observation of face to face and online gatherings, we have far fewer reconstructionists per head of Pagan population) UPG tends to be an affectionate term, used by people about their own experience, sometimes as a way of reassuring others that they aren’t crazies who think everyone should accept their one-off message about something as The Truth. It’s more a marker of “I am an intelligent, rational person, who also engages with embodied and intuitive knowing” than a way of downgrading non-textual knowledge.

Comments are closed.