Why Unverified Personal Gnosis should not be Dreaded

Why Unverified Personal Gnosis should not be Dreaded

If you’ve been a Heathen for any amount of time, you’ve heard of UPG or Unverified Personal Gnosis.  If you don’t know what that is, let me explain.  It’s when you have contact with our gods in the forms of communication, thoughts, or inspiration that cannot be verified because they are personal.  They can be little things, such as knowing that Freyja loves chocolate (she does, by the way). Or UPG can be big, such as the hand of Thor grabbing you and demanding that you become his gothi or gythia.  (Far be it from me to tell you otherwise.)  So, what’s the big deal with Unverified Personal Gnosis, and why is anyone fussing over it?

What’s All the Fuss?

People fuss over Unverified Personal Gnosis because it is something that isn’t easily provable. It’s personal, meaning that only one person has had that revelation.  We can’t go back and quantify that the gods really did speak to that person.  To use logic, it’s very hard to prove a negative.

Let’s take my assertion that Freyja loves chocolate.  You might ask me how I know that.  It could be anything along the lines that chocolate makes people feel like they do when in love, Freyja always accepts my petition when I offer a blot of chocolate, or Freyja told me she loves expensive organic, fair trade, 95 percent pure cocoa chocolate.  Any one of those could be the reason I give you, and it’s up to you to decide if that really did happen, if I’m a bit crazy (or on mind altering substances), or if I lied to you.  Maybe you talked to Freyja and she told you she hates chocolate.  Or maybe she likes the cheap chocolate from two Halloweens ago.

Whatever.  The point is that as Unverified Personal Gnosis, the knowledge obtained can’t be readily verified because it is personal. It’s my word against yours.  And with some people, it’s in the realm of woo-woo and make believe.

Can Unverified Personal Gnosis be Verified?

The question then is whether UPGs can shift into the realm of being verified.  That is a good question, but I suspect that since we just can’t call up the gods any time we feel like it, the answer is no.  Even so, sometimes people can corroborate experiences.  When I received some very amazing UPGs, I actually mentioned them to a gythia or two.  They could confirm that the information I received fell in line with what they knew of those particular gods.  Some of what I experienced were similar to what the gythias’ own UPGs were about.  In other words, I felt fairly certain about my experiences.  Whether anyone else thinks they’re real is another matter.

I’ve known people who have claimed to be god-wives.  I honestly can’t say that I believe their experiences 100 percent, but that is their UPG and not mine.  My UPG doesn’t conflict with theirs, so I really can’t say that it didn’t happen.  But at the same time, there’s no proof that someone hasn’t married Odin or Loki or Thor, just as there is no scientific proof that any of the gods actually exist.

The Burden of Proof Lies with the Person Making the Assertion

Logic dictates that the person who makes the assertion is the one who needs to provide proof.  For example, if I assert that there is a pink unicorn on my front lawn, I have the duty to prove to anyone that there really is a pink unicorn on my front lawn if I want people to believe it.  Otherwise, it’s my lawn and my imaginary pink unicorn amusing just me and the rest of the world doesn’t care. Likewise, we can claim there is a Thor, Tyr, and Odin, but if we don’t provide substantial proof, their existence is a matter of faith.  In other words, you won’t win any logic debates with an atheist if you pull out the faith card.

Proof in the gods’ existence doesn’t mean people had oral traditions about them and wrote them down some 800 to 1000 years ago.  Archaeological finds that verify people worshiped these gods is not proof, either.  Proof means that you can produce undeniable evidence of the gods’ existence which can be duplicated by others using your methodology.  So, our Unverified Personal Gnosis is just that — unverified.

Enter the Recon (Or Why Accept Historical UPGs and not Modern Day UPG?)

(Oh shit, someone knew I was going to drag them into this.)


Some reconstructionists tend to be lean more toward the atheist beliefs (or lack thereof) and less toward faith. ( I say “some” because I do know some recons who do accept UPGs as part of our religion.)  These so-called Heathens will tend to dismiss, and even make fun of, other people’s Unverified Personal Gnosis.  This is a religion, not a LARP with extra study.

That being said, I have to wonder why they are quick to accept past Unverified Personal Gnosis and not modern day UPGs. At one time, every story we have about the gods and wights came from someone’s UPG somewhere.  It stands to reason that we can’t possibly verify any of the myths and legends we have about our gods, so either we accept them as UPGs and move on, or we thoroughly discount them as having any basis in fact.

Just because we find some stories in the Eddas and other documents as being historical does not mean that the entire piece can be taken as purely factual.  We know this because science proves that our world isn’t made from the body of Ymir, there was no giant cow licking rime ice to create the first gods, and earthquakes do not come from Loki being splashed in the face with venom.

Accept Unverified Personal Gnosis for What it is

UPGs are, by definition, personal.  My UPGs may sometimes contradict yours, should you have them, and other people’s UPGS may contradict each others.  Some UPGs will be shit made up by people, whether because they want to feel important, misunderstand what happened to them, or because they are mentally ill.  I suspect that Unverified Personal Gnosis acted that way with our ancestors.

UPGs had to be the way our ancestors learned about the gods.  Think about it.  There wasn’t a giant classroom with a bunch of Heathens sitting around throwing spitwads at each other while Odin tried to teach them cosmology.  (Or was it Tyr?)  I can just imagine Loki teaching everyone how to misbehave while Thor comes in to maintain order.  Yeah, warped mind.  Deal with it.

But I digress.  Our myths and legends sprang mostly from UPGs.  People in certain kindreds accepted UPGs from others who were respected in the community and UPGs from those whose stories corroborated.  Different places most likely had their own stories and even tutelary gods and goddesses, but their stories have morphed or outright disappeared with the coming of Christianity.

My point is that we should not shun UPGs, but we should embrace them.  We have a chance to rebuild our Heathen past and blend it with today’s knowledge.   We can do so by recognizing UPGs for what they are and accepting those that make the most sense.

16 thoughts on “Why Unverified Personal Gnosis should not be Dreaded

  1. I love this!!. My UPG is Thor likes Espresso Stout. It came to me when preparing a ritual. Yeah mead is traditional, but I’ve always thought of Thor as a beer guy. Again my UPG. Love your blog by the way.

  2. We need Heathen philosophers. A layer between “there is only this absolute truth” and “all notions are equal, truth is an buffet where you can pick and choose to your liking”. UPG is vital, but we should be prepared to defend our notions beyond “Its my truth”

    1. That’s a tough road there. Guaranteed someone will try to become an Asa-pope and declare that certain truths are the only truths — right or wrong.

      1. Right now we have folks doing that very thing with their narrow and often false understanding of history. There is a difference between notions that where thought about, and feel good nonsense, but our online presence refuses to differentiate between them. So now we have people using Loyalty to mean blind trust, and spread memes about committing random manslaughter as if they where religious text. I understand the risk you are taking about but I think the risk of going forward like this has proven to be greater.

        1. And yet we have those who claim to be Heathen philosophers advocating human sacrifice and other atrocities (as well as just utter nonsense) because it was done in the past. And I’m not certain that Loki wives cause more damage than someone like that. Who watches the watchers? That is a real tough place to go.

      2. The biggest gurantee I see is that the way things are going now, is bad. People take their own (lack of understanding) of a view out-of-context taking texts and present that as some sort of absolute truth, while at the same time all kinds of rubbish gets shared around in a way that you can’t even discredit because everybody’s own truth should somehow be considered equally valid. What I propose it not some sort of unified doctrine, just people that are widely trusted (have a good reputation) with good reason, who’s ideas warrent more consideration then those of someone who just really wants to break army regulations so he can keep his beard.

      3. The biggest gurantee I see is that the way things are going now, is bad. People take their own (lack of understanding) of a view out-of-context taking texts and present that as some sort of absolute truth, while at the same time all kinds of rubbish gets shared around in a way that you can’t even discredit because everybody’s own truth should somehow be considered equally valid. What I propose it not some sort of unified doctrine, just people that are widely trusted (have a good reputation) with good reason, who’s ideas deserve more consideration then those of someone who just really wants to break army regulations so he can keep his beard. Right now, for newcomers and outsiders, there is no way to differentiate between ideas that someone has given some thought to, and that stands up under scrutiny, and ideas that are just plain stupid.

        1. And yet, who proposes this unified doctrine? You? Me? Some white supremacist organization? Some Asa-pope with his head up his ass? A recon who believes UPG are all nonsense? Someone from the AFA? Someone from the Troth? What about the Urlaawge folks? Given the nature of Heathenry, it is more like herding cats than getting a group of diverse people to follow one doctrine.

          And honestly, I don’t necessarily think it is a bad idea to have the randomness we have now. Sure, there are going to have people who want to break army rules over beards. Sure there are going to be bigots whom we disavow because the rest of us aren’t racist or sexist. The majority of Heathens can police the egregious side of things and we can be sure that we stay the fuck away from the white supremacists and the Nazis.

          When it comes to UPGs, not everyone is on the same page. And I suspect in Heathenry, you didn’t have consensus back then either. There were enough Heathens spread throughout Europe (not just the Scandinavian lands) who worshiped different gods, and the same gods as well. An Anglo-Saxon Heathen who had a UPG wasn’t being told his UPG was wrong by a Rus Heathen who had a UPG. A Germanic Heathen wasn’t told by some Arch-Heathen in Norway that her visions were wrong and she got it all wrong.

          Even if you could come up with some sort of guidelines for what constituted a real UPG versus some wishful thinking by someone, how, pray tell, are you going to enforce that? The Christians enforce their rules on their followers with the threat of the Christian hell.

          Most of us Heathens know we’re already going to Hel. Just not for eternal damnation.

          Anyway, some interesting points you’ve made, but I think they’re impractical.

          1. ”The majority of Heathens can police the egregious side of things and we can be sure that we stay the fuck away from the white supremacists and the Nazis. ” I think this is the crux of our difference. I have no faith in people in larger groups. Besides, I am not suggesting any degree of unified doctrine, and I am quite adament about that. Ideally, we would have a situation where there are people that are respected, and who’s ideas and formulations broadly accepted simply because there are good reasons to accept them. Right now I find myself repeatedly arguing against the same few concepts (we should all want to go to Valhalla, the Edda’s are holy gospel, Viking-Larp is an essential part of the religion, Vikings meme’s are relevant to the faith etc). People read that and think its a situation of two points of view that are equally valid. Now I do not claim to be objective but I can oppose those notions with multiple approaches, and many others have do so quite sufficiently already. This makes it very hard to move beyond the baby-Heathen phase basically.

            If nothing else, we should have some clear community-groupings. In ”the olden days” people where largely confined by their cultural identity and geographical location, but in these days most ”community’s” need not be confined like that. Now this can be a good thing, but it also brings out the issue of ”lowest common denomenator”.

            As for enforcement, a broader understanding of basic things like ”reputation” ”honor” ”worth” ”responsability” and ”wyrd” should be enough enforcement. The issue is more breaking the current downward spirale and starting an upward one.

        2. I read your last comment (and for some reason the comments won’t let me comment further on a lower level.) I think you and I are pretty much on the same page, but we have differences as to how to solve the problem. In the end, I don’t know if the problems you mentioned can be solved. People are going to take the Eddas as holy scripture, people are going to think that playing Viking-LARP is part of our religion, Viking memes, etc. Granted, I use Viking memes all the time, but I use them for levity and am not serious about them. So, I’m not sure what the solution is.

          1. By now I oppose Viking Memes in all situations because 1 I personally derive no amusement, inspiration or information from them. Just frustation and 2 they generally do nothing but reinforce the position of Heathenry as wannabe warrior idiots. Every time they get shared, that position becomes that much more ”the norm” shall we say. (I am not good at shared levity, especially when combined with a religion I feel should be taken more seriously.)

            In the end it is not that much of an issue when people are going to do those things, as long as there is a clear and understood difference between those people and actual, respectable Heathens. Right now however we all have one shared reputation and Wyrd, and that gets dragged down.

            I must say, I appriciate how you managed to have this conversation and have yet to call me a facist wannabe asapope. Credits to you.

          2. Do you feel I should call you a fascist, wannabe asa-pope? I could, if it will make you feel better. Seriously though, I don’t have a problem with people having different viewpoints than I do. It is how we learn about each other’s opinions, and even if we don’t agree with each other, we have learned something. I’m not really into ad hominem attacks and I’d swat you if you started off name-calling, but I’m happy to have a conversation with someone whom I disagree with as long as we can be civil.

            As for the memes, I get your point, but I think humor is called for so we do not think of ourselves too seriously. Plus, I like humor and most of my audience tends to respond well to it. Ack! Another place where we disagree! Thanks for the kudos on being civil. I try, even if I do swear a lot.

  3. I completely agree with this. One of my biggest frustrations is dealing with the people who are so stuck on arch-heathenry and what’s in the Eddur. Subs on Reddit are really bad with it. As I’ve said before, they’re worshipping literature and ideas, rather than the living gods.

    It’s particularly bad with Loki. (Aww shit, here he goes). I’m so so tired of hearing how he’s the Heathen devil, he’s evil, he’s the frith-breaker (despite all the gods doing things that break frith – sometimes worse than Loki), etc etc.

    Yes, some kids (and adults) take UPG too far. Like you mentioned, I’m overly-skeptical of people who claim Thor married them. (I myself find that incredibly disrespectful to Sif; it’s one thing to be a mistress, quite another to claim to be a second wife). I roll my eyes at the “omg you guys, Loki just told the funniest joke!” A lot of it is attention grabbing. But we certainly should not stifle and reject new ways of thinking and viewing the myths just because some Harvard suit didn’t put a stamp of approval on it.

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