UPG Is a Reconstructionist Practice

November 23, 2020 | Filed Under Devotions, History, Things I Think About | No Comments

UPG = Unverified Personal Gnosis. If you are not familiar with this term, or why some people have issues around UPG vs. Historical Lore, I recommend this article by John Beckett and this article from The Rational Heathen as background.

I spend a fair amount of time on Academia.edu, a wonderful trove of well-researched, well-considered papers on a myriad of topics (some not-so-great ones as well—as with everything on the internet, think critically when viewing the site).

During a recent browsing session, this quote was highlighted in a paper I was saving to my library to read later*:

“The Roman religion consisted of worshippers holding disunified polythetic sets of beliefs. The overlap of these sets of beliefs might produce some beliefs that were more common than others, but the lack of an orthodox mandate for uniformity meant that the beliefs of an individual need not be affected by the variant beliefs held by another Roman. A man who believed that the di manes had powers to preserve life in their own right and a man who thought they preserved life by posthumously invoking the help of other supernatural beings could both believe, on a practical basis, that honoring the manes could help preserve their lives. A Roman who thought the lares were another form of the deified dead and one who thought they were the children of a nymph could both believe that the lares were important guardians of the home who needed to be worshipped. Worshippers could disagree about the nature of the God Mars or the god of the Lupercalia while all agreeing that these gods existed and had powers that could benefit the lives of the worshippers. Rather than searching for orthodox doctrines in the Roman religion (or seeing their absence as a weakness) it is better to study clusters of beliefs in the understanding that each individual variation could be important to the belief holder’s understanding of how to obtain the benefits that Rome’s pantheon of gods could offer the individual.”
Charles W. King, “The Organization of Roman Religious Beliefs” (2003)
(This is the actual paper which contains the quote.)

Does that sound like UPG to you? Because that sounds like UPG to me.

And, yes, the paper concerns the practices of the Romans. However, we have no evidence for a universally accepted, formally codified Norse mythos during the earlier centuries (you cannot read The Lore and sensibly conclude that such a thing existed). This paragraph (and much of the paper itself) could easily be rewritten with Norse references, and reasonably apply to the Norse traditions. Our gods have multiple by-names; it is difficult to conceive of an orthodoxy that would somehow include this extensive and diverse labeling.

So, next time someone insists they are a strict reconstructionist, refer them to King’s paper.

Meanwhile, know that UPG is historical, and continue to honor your gods, ancestors, and wights, in the ways that ring true for you.

*I cannot die until I have finished reading all the papers marked for later, and thus I shall live forever.


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