At some point, if we talk about our experiences in Heathenry, someone inevitably brings up Unverified Personal Gnosis. I’d actually would prefer to ignore the whole UPG side of Northern paganism, but seeing as UPG dragged me into being a heathen, I suppose I should talk about it in some rational manner. (Rational manner, Rational Heathen — get it?) So, I’m tackling the tough questions and looking hard at the section of UPG.
Warning: UPG Ahead!
“Unverified personal gnosis” are code words for interacting with the divine. It can be something as simple as idea that we get that we think is “divinely inspired,” or it can be a full-on visit by a deity. It’s “unverified” because nobody else experienced it, or we can’t hold it up to the light of science and measure it as “real.” In fact, you could take the whole lot of UPG experience and claim we’re just a bunch of crackpots who are off our meds (or smoking way too much shit), and I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you. It could be that, but some of the UPG I’ve experience was when I was stone-cold sober, and talking with gythias seem to confirm what I experienced. So, I have one of two choices to consider: I’m crazy and this is all in my head, or this could have happened and I’m mostly sane.
The problem is how do you know?
Am I Crazy, or was that Thor?
Lots of people have what could be considered UPGs when it comes to their religion. The fact that there are some 5000 religions out there, each with people (alive or deceased) claiming they’ve spoken to gods, suggest that there are plenty of people who are either delusional or who actually have gods who speak to them. And a majority of people out there tend to believe these people, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, or any other -ism or -ity you care to name. The simple answer is often the most likely: we’re all fucking crazy and we’re all in some sort of state of self delusion.
But look at the numbers of Christians who believe that the wine and bread becomes Christ’s body and blood through transmogrification, or believe that Christ rose from the dead. Look how many Muslims believe that the archangel Gabriel spoke to Mohammed. Look at the people in other religions who believe in ancestor worship, such as in Shintoism. Then there are plenty of pagans who have spoken with their gods. What gives?
At this point, you’re thinking I’m probably recommending that you stick with atheism and be done with it. That’s really not what I’m thinking, although atheism would probably do some folks a world of good, methinks. At one time, I would’ve told you that it was all in your head, but having experienced UPGs, I have to reconsider them from a rational point.
What Changed My Mind
A few months after Tyr approached me, I nearly died in an accident. I’ll spare you the gruesome details but suffice to say I woke up in the hospital not remembering much except a bunch of convoluted dreams. These dreams were actually reality–they happened. But they were unlike any reality that I experienced. For one thing, it took awhile for me to remember them or what may have happened. To this day, I can’t say with any certainty what did happen precisely. On the flip side, I remember some dreams better than reality — and that left me totally unnerved. It still does, and that brought into sharp focus what reality exactly is: reality is how we perceive it. Our senses and our mind can be tricked at any time, and even at the quantum level, things can get weird and be perceived one way when we observe it and another way when we do not.
What is Reality? — the 64 Million Dollar Question
I realized by this accident that we really don’t know what reality is in the true sense. We can think we imagined things that were true, and think things that are true that we have imagined. The line can get extremely blurry from time to time when people witness something, as any good cop or detective will tell you. Unless you have a camera or a trained observer, people are likely to come up with all sorts of eyewitness accounts. My question is does it make it less true because someone saw it differently? Can the camera “fix” the state like the quantum physics experiment? Probably not, but who really knows?
Our senses tell us whether things are true or not, but our senses can be deceived in all sorts of ways. Our mind can think through things logically and still be wrong because we don’t have all the facts. So, I was left feeling incredibly insecure about what everything really was.
That’s when Loki showed up.
Enter Loki, Stage Right.
Apparently I wasn’t dealing with the entire concept very well, and I wasn’t really taking care of myself. I was out of the hospital and working hard to bring in money again. (You think you’re poor? Get injured when you’re self employed.) Loki showed up at Tyr’s request and nagged me to take care of myself. At first, it was amusing. Then, it got annoying. Loki took great delight in annoying me. Then, he got bored when I started to pay attention.
Loki is truly the ADHD kid of the gods. A lot of people see him as evil, but I don’t see it quite that black and white. He’s capable of great mischief when he wants to do it, but I recognize the times when he can be a great ally. This doesn’t make me a Lokean, but it does make me somewhat more sympathetic to him than some people are.
But Back to UPG…
At one time, our religion had to have some sort of UPG or it would’ve never existed. Humans did have to communicate with our gods somehow (or made up good stories about communicating with our gods) or we wouldn’t have Heathenry or Asatru today. If we truly believe that our gods are living, then perhaps this is the way they communicate with us.
My thoughts on UPG are kind of mixed. I’ve seen some shit others have also seen that I can only attribute to a god or goddess (or weird blind luck). My thoughts are if you get UPGs, and they help you along in this world, and harm no one, then who is to say they are bad? I mean it’s one thing if a god tells you to care for yourself, and it’s another thing if you think that god tells you to harm someone. As long as they are not hurting you or someone else (or don’t tell you to do destructive things), I’m willing to consider that you’ve heard them. And if your UPG matches mine and others, I’m going to think it’s a distinct possibility.