Putting the “P” Back In UPG

druidcraft_minor_swords_10Amongst 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.

Spirits Lie
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.

People Lie
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…

Power Over
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.

 

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12 Days of Yule: Children’s Night

Three dot, a trinity, a way to map the universe: three dot.
—”Growing Up” by Peter Gabriel

mountainsoftibet_forweb-11

Last night was the tale of how One became Two, and the joy they found in recognizing and joining with each other. From that union came a Third.  And once Three was present, the universe as we know it shuddered into being.

Three was not an only child.  Endless young sprang from the love of One and Two.  Those children loved one another as their parents did, finding completion in their divine opposite. Their infinite dances create what will become our sun-star, and later our home, every act of love bringing a new plume of magma to the surface, sending a fresh storm racing across the skies of this planet. Their play, their joyful work, made a home in turn for their own children.

These children, born into the oceans of a cooling world, returned to the way of One, loving themselves into legion. But then some followed in the manner of One and Two, joining with each other to create offspring with the qualities of both sires. And these children continued the dance, changing, growing, until the little blue-green world was covered with all manner of life.

Light a candle for the infinite progeny that defines our universe.  Acknowledge the differences between all beings, and how that diversity makes us stronger.  There will always be a connection, no matter how tenuous as all have arisen from the One, though that was long ago.

Blessings to all children, who continue the Great Dances of Life and Joy.

Fur and feather, scale and skin
Different without, but the same within
Many a body, but one of soul
Through all creatures are the Gods made whole.

Gestation

8310812Tales are funny things, single moments drawn out into paragraphs and nine months glossed over in a handful of words.

They tell of my rage at the child-thief, the one who–however unwittingly–stole the Awen for his own. They tell of my fury as I hunted him through land, sea, and sky. Of my crow of triumph as I swallowed him whole.

“And, as the story says, she bore him nine months…”

Nine months. So much can happen in nine months. A child can be born. Or, a woman can be turned out of her home to wander the forest in madness as her body swells.

The wheat kernel was poison. As surely as I had once devoured the thief, I retched in vain to purge him from my womb as insanity crept through my mind. No herb or decoction would dislodge him. Better I had left him to sprout in the broad earth and reap my vengeance at harvest, than to let him take root in my own body.

Three, four, five times the moon passed from light to dark. My husband had indulged my assignations with the Pheryllt, with the promise the resulting brew would heal our son.  My burgeoning belly belied a different sort of rendezvous.  Tegid would brook no cuckoldry, real or imagined.

So I wandered. I wandered without the comfort of my children. I wandered past the stink of my broken cauldron and rotting horse flesh. I wandered from the first blasts of Gwynn’s horn through the first snows and darkest night. And as I wandered, so too did my soul become lost.

The cursed fires of Awen, locked away within my own body, those flames would not let me die, no matter how many times cold and hunger overwhelmed me. Against nature, the babe within ensured his vessel’s survival.  Repeatedly I sought death to escape the unceasing burning in my head and the torturous visions–ghosts of the future, shades of the past, far-off phantoms of the present.

Again and again I begged Gwynn for the mercy of the teeth of his red-eared pack. Each time he shook his head, turning the host to ride down other, sanctioned prey.

As the ground thawed and the winds warmed, my feet brought me to the edge of the ocean. The first labor pangs cut through the stupor of visions as I stumbled to the water. No warm chambers or soft beds for Cerridwen. No midwife to help me in my pacing, or hand to hold as I moaned though washes of agony. Just the pounding of the surf as it brought me slowly back to myself, and eased the weight of the trespasser in my body.

And so, as the first of the bonfires were lit on the hills, I birthed the wretched creature.

They say I could not murder the babe so wondrous was his beauty. In truth I could not bear to even look at him. I did not take time or care to sew a leather bag. The baby was born with the caul intact and no sooner had it left my body then I flung it away from me into the devouring ocean. Elffin has ever been a fool.

Nine waves passed over me and I felt the madness recede. I let the chill spring tide carry me higher and higher onto the shore, the polished rocks soothing my body. I dragged myself over to the dark mirror of a tidal pool. The moon rose, and she revealed a woman, once beloved and fair, now bent and white.

Now they say the thief reborn has become a bard, the greatest bard the land has ever known. They say he has sung at the courts of at least three kings, and has performed magic and miracles beyond those of the wisest druids. And they say I am the mother of inspiration.

I can no longer bring myself to care.

I returned home. Winter had cleansed the land of much of the poison from the brew. Bones were all that remained of Gwyddno’s horses, picked clean by crow and wolf and frost. My husband’s ire had likewise cooled, between the storm-whipped winds and lack of someone to run the household.

My own vengeance had been purged at the side of the ocean. My children still need me, and my son is still cursed. Perhaps my mistake was to trust another with work that should have been his. It matters not. It will take time, and it will take care, but my son will have at least one blessing in his life.

What? Did you think I would give up so easily?

Dark Moon Tests

7294830668_6ac2134bab_kSeek me in the pine grove, if you would know who I am.

Almost a fortnight ago, I took her at her word. Hufflespawn was with his father and the night was clear, if a bit cool. I grab my druid bug-out bag and head down the back steps into the orchard. With every step her presence grows heavier, and her wishes swirl thickly in my mind.

Pick a sprig of mugwort.

No hands in pockets. You need to feel the night on your skin.

Cover your head.

No light until you cross the hedge.

I scramble my way up the hill to the gap in the stone wall which marks the beginning of the trail. I pause for a moment, feeling fear scamper up-and-down my vertebrae as acorns crash to the ground. Though I had walked these woods many times during the day, I have never ventured into them at night. Reciting the Druid Prayer for Peace, a penlight in my hand, I make my way down to the brook.

My footsteps are too loud. Stealth was one of the many gifts that I set aside in order to make others more comfortable. The relearning is slow and far from perfect.

I miss the first switchback. I nearly end up in a blueberry farmer’s barn. The LED casts a grayish light and my mind wants to make every stump into a crouching figure. The crown of a newly fallen tree blocks the path and requires quite a bit of ducking and wiggling to navigate. I scoot over the first two log bridges easily enough.

9041878957_2b958d0ecd_kBut some jackass has pried half the boards off the third bridge.

I could try to balance on the slick rounded log that remained. I could continue on the path up to the wider, well-maintained bridge. I could use a tool to steady myself.

Choose.

I’m a thinker. I don’t have a lot of physical guts, especially when it comes to stunts involving heights and falls and being soaked to the waist in mid-October on a moonless night.

“If you want me, Lady, you’re getting a tool-using human, not an unthinking berserker.”

I cast around until I find a fallen white pine limb.

Yes.

The branch sinks a good foot into the mud each time it steadies my way across the “bridge.” I thanked my makeshift staff and lay it at the roots of Gog and Nagog as I greet them and make my way into the Grove.

At the triple crossroads I stop and let my light blink out. Lighting the small beeswax tea light from my ritual kit is a struggle in the cool breeze. Dogs howl in the dark beyond the ridges of the valley, and night birds warn each other of my presence. After long moments and not a few curses as wax drips on my hands, the flame catches. And holds.

I call to the spirits of the land. I call to the guardians of the Order. And I call to the Lady who had guided me here. I take stock of my crane bag, fat and distended as an infected gallbladder after 5 years of serving an Ovate who might well be part magpie. What I could no longer use I portioned out as a sacrifice.

Good. Take up your staff.

Surprised, I make my way back to the twin giants and pick up the white pine limb that helped cross the bridge. My hands are already fragrant and sticky with sap. I return to my circle, and thank the Lady for her gift.

“But before we go any further,” I say, “there are some things I want to make clear. I will not do anything that takes me from this land, my home. And I will not do anything that takes me from my son, or harms him or my relationship with him.”

Apparently, that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She said nothing for the remainder of the ritual, nor did I feel her at the edges of my senses any longer.

However, I did feel the warmth of the forest surround me, and an ease in its presence that I had not experienced before. With her silence, it was almost as if a crowd had gathered, watching to see what would happen. I took my knife and trimmed up the staff in order to get it home, thinking hard on what had just happened and easing into the nighttime forest rhythms.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sorely disappointed.  I had been hoping to finally find out who this Lady was, to finally have some answers to my questions about her and what she wanted from me.  It wasn’t the ritual experience I was looking for, but it was certainly the one I needed.

The fact is, you stick me in the middle of the woods, and I will start making things. It’s what I am. I’m not a warrior, though I once tried very hard to be. I’m not an activist, and I’d rather be in my garden then tilting at windmills on the Internet. I am a decent crafter, a sporadic writer, and a determined mother. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then you’d best find someone else.

Still, as I crested the ridge on the way home, I heard

Turn out your light.

And so I did.

Here’s What They Don’t Tell You

IMG_0805My ex liked to move about every two years (just moved again, as a matter of fact)–probably one of the many reasons we’re no longer together.  If you’re always running, you never let yourself have the time to be affected by relationships, whether it’s with neighbors or the land itself.  I hated being rootless.

Listening to the land is what being a Druid is all about though.  If a single sacrament exists that unites all Druids, it would be to Know Thy Lands.  But what form does this take?  We are undeniably people of the Sun; her journey thought the sky dictates our celebrations.  By and large, our rituals are as open to outsiders as they are to the sky.  Knowing the land will bring health, wealth, prosperity. The overflowing arms of a fecund Mother, bucolic prancing lambs, and a piping Pan are among our most beloved images.   And that makes sense, after a fashion, even if it smothers the raw truth of what the land is in a gloss of anti-industrial Romantic bubble wrap.

Here’s what they don’t tell you.  Sometimes being tuned into the land isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Dreams of giant squash bugs, visions of creeping fungus and of garden beds crying out for blood.  Holding a dying mother turkey in your arms as her pullets cry out for her.  Maggots in the compost heap, rats’ nests in the hay.  Keeping a dead chicken in your fridge until the Ag Department can come to determine if it’s bird flu.  You can’t turn your back on the compost, shite and death. The Black Hen of Cerridwen, if you will, that’s one call you can’t ignore.

After five years of watching, writing, listening, tasting, I’m finally settling into the rhythms of being Wachusett’s long shadow.  Even as I know nature owes me nothing, I marvel in being able to eat from my garden and get eggs from our chickens.  And now, at the end of the season, I’ll revel in the catabolic processes that will work their magic in the fallow months to make the land fruitful again come spring.

No, they don’t tell you that before the wonder of Pryderi’s return comes a terrible claw seeking revenge. But now that you know the land, do they really need to?