Amongst some circles of polytheists, the term UPG (Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis, for those just joining the party) has long been a dirty word, particularly for those with a more reconstructionist bent. UPG is “fluffy bunny” or “just so Wiccan” or “unscientific”. (Yup. That’s because we’re practicing a spirituality, not conducting an empirical experiment.)
Anyway, for much of the past 10 years or so, in an effort to legitimize UPG in the face of the lore-thumpers, there was a move towards PCPG (Peer Corroborated Personal Gnosis) or SPG (Substantiated Personal Gnosis) as a solution. The premise is that if a bunch of people are experiencing similar things when interacting with the gods, then maybe those experiences can be used to build modern lore around these beings.
To be blunt, this led to a lot of oversharing.
Remember the old chestnut of “to know, to will, to dare, to keep silence“? There are some very good reasons why keeping one’s own council is important, and why it is rarely, if ever, appropriate to make any sort of UPG the basis for group policy.
Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones with agendas. Not every spirit is going to be benevolent, nor is every spirit going to have the same goals as you. Plus, spirit communication–true spirit communication, not just mental masturbation–is often very unclear. Even when talking to another human we can have trouble understanding each other. When the other person doesn’t have a body and may have a completely different ethical structure, things can get sticky. What we would call a lie, a fae may simply see as stretching the truth. This isn’t the spirit’s fault, it’s ours for not understanding what we’ve gotten ourselves into.
When dealing with spirits, it takes patience to sort out what they’re trying to tell us. They often have a very different time-scale from humans, and what we perceive as something that has to be acted upon RIGHT NOW may in fact benefit from taking a step back and sitting with the information for weeks, or even months. Getting independent confirmation from a diviner outside your group or a priest in the service of that entity can help, but ultimately, you have to use your own discernment as to the veracity of what the spirit or god is telling you.
And until you’ve figured that out, keep it to yourself.
The next layer of complication occurs when the person sharing the UPG lies, whether knowingly or not. Let’s start off with the old glass/light analogy for communicating with the gods and spirits. Ideally, when we listen to the gods, we are as if a clear, flat piece of glass which flawlessly (ha!) lets the light of the spirits pass through us.
In reality, however, we are imperfect. We all have things we carry with us that change the color and shape of that glass. As those imperfections or lies-to-self creep in, instead of us being that piece of clear glass through which the light of the gods and spirits can pass, those fibs and half-truths warp and silver the glass. We end up experiencing a reflection of our own psyches rather than the messages of the spirits–or worse, some mix of the two.
I experienced this first hand when I was part of an online pagan echo-chamber (I refuse to give it the dignity of calling it a “community”) in the late 2000s. It screwed up my spirituality big time because I listened to what my peers were saying instead of heeding my own heart; the influence was insidious. What started out as a genuine desire to share information and experience of the gods slowly became a fap-circle of delusion and fantasy. People would subconsciously begin ever so slightly changing their stories so that they lined up with the larger narrative of the group-think–it wasn’t so much outright lying as it was fibbing to ourselves about our experiences in order to fit in. Before we knew it, there was one “gatekeeper” of the official narrative and anyone who stepped out of line with the PCPG was slandered and shunned.
Now, that is an extreme example. The kicker is, most people really don’t mean to lie to themselves, but even these small untruths can have a huge impact on others when they are shared in the context of being divine messages. What we expect to happen in our journeys and meditations warps to fit the expectations of the established gnosis. If the line between personal visions and public revelation becomes blurred, it is shockingly easy for good folks to get sucked into a maelstrom of drama. Which brings us to…
Someone may start out thinking they’re doing the right thing by passing along messages that they believe have been given to them by their gods or landwights or whatever. However, our experience of any spirit will always be tinted by the state of our own minds and hearts. The temptation to manipulate social situations to our advantage is strong and often driven by a subconscious fear for survival. Four times out of five when someone has shared UPG with me about our past lives together it’s been an attempt to place themselves into a position of power on the basis of the past–it’s not done maliciously, but out of insecurity and a desire to define the current relationship.
This is the crux of the problem with PCPG. You take that same insecurity about one’s place in the group and then multiply it by the number of people involved in the shared gnosis. Inevitably, one or two people will share their UPG to make themselves look more important or to gain status in their community. If they are the ones with the only true connection to the land or the gods, you’re swiftly moving into cult territory (ask me how I know).
It comes down to this: PCPG can feel wonderful, and even bolster a group’s cohesion for a time. Nevertheless, “spirit” drama is intoxicating in its excitement. Increasingly, people feel a false sense of importance, aka ego inflation, rather than focusing on their own growth and healing. Anyone who won’t tow the party line, well, they usually either try to slip quietly away or are actively cast out of the ever-dwindling inner circle. It’s heartbreaking and it’s entirely avoidable if it’s caught early enough.
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s this: don’t cede your power to someone who claims to speak for the gods, the land, or the spirits. Forge your own connections. Listen. Breathe. Trust the land itself, trust your ancestors, trust your gods. And question every. single. thing. they tell you.