U is for UPG and Reconstructionism

I’m either brave or stupid for tackling the topic of Unverified Personal Gnosis, right? It’s, like, the cornerstone of much of the Pagan and Recon communities in how they conceptualise their religious experiences. I feel like it’s got a ‘Mess With This At Your Peril’ sign hanging off it.

*shrugs, charges in anyway*

You see, I have Thoughts about it that I’m not expecting everyone to agree with, or even adopt for themselves. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, particularly as I try and figure out where I am in relation to reconstructionist religions, and how our approaches differ. I’ll add that I will mostly be talking about Kemetic reconstructionism, though, for anyone playing at home, as it’s the one I have the most experience with. It may not ring true for any other flavours of reconstructionism. It probably doesn’t and nor is it meant to.

Some of this ties in with what I wrote about last week. I have this … vague notion that UPG is perhaps hindering the telling of new myths about our Gods. Our experiences have a label now that separates it from what you find in dusty history books. (No offence to dusty history books intended.) It’s akin to a scriptural adherence to canon that makes new myths not-canon, so new myths aren’t really A Thing. And they should be. We should have our own myths that talk to our own experiences with the Gods as modern people. But I digress. That was last week’s rant.

For anyone who hasn’t encountered the concept of UPG before, it’s a term that refers to personal experiences/knowledge about the Gods that isn’t backed up by canon sources. I’ve mostly encountered it with regards to offerings, such as which foods to offer to which God, that are not of the standard old historical offerings. It is also used in the context of personal experiences with the Gods that fall outside of canon, or have no source. My Celestial Twins thing is UPG in that regard, because it is not a historically attested form of Sobek and Heru-sa-Aset, nor would I ever claim it as such.

But as I’ve been path-building, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my relationship to UPG, and what I’m doing with my religion. I’m syncretic, not reconstructionist. I’m not trying to recreate what once was, I’m trying to build something based on my own experiences, and what my Gods wish me to do. Because of this, I feel like the concept of UPG has no real meaning within my own path. Everything is potentially UPG.

Let me try and word that another way. I think I have come to see that when I reflect on my experience, I’m not doing so with a historical benchmark in mind. The historical texts are an excellent guide, and it is important to know the history of the Gods you’re working with, but we live in a different world. We live in a world the ancients would not have recognised. And yet, the Gods have adapted to it. These old Gods we serve have found a way to work with us modern people, and the world we inhabit.

(Oh. ‘Holding On’ by VNV Nation is playing at the moment, incidentally. Some choice words were brought to my attention. Felt a shiver from Sobek. Felt a touch of loneliness from Him, from when no one was calling His name. See? Gods can totally adapt.)

I suppose that’s kind of why I don’t find UPG all that helpful a concept? Because, to me, it implies that the Gods are static, or at least, that these modern experiences are aberrations, and outside of canon. And I suppose they are if you use historical sources as a benchmark. Yes, the Gods have distinct personalities and attributes, because I am a hard(ish, most of the time) polytheist, so perhaps I am biased that way. But IDK. To me, it’s the difference between filing out character sheets and actually writing your characters’ stories. It’s in the experience of writing that your characters come to life, and sure, they will change and not be the way you first conceived them. But, as a writer, I know that if your characters aren’t alive, if they don’t change as the story progresses, you’re doing it wrong. /apply to Gods as appropriate.

And, yeah, most of the information we have about the Gods comes from those historical sources. And that’s a great place to start when getting to know a new God. Look up their character profile and see what They’re like before you start working with them. Totally sensible idea. I wholeheartedly endorse it. There’s nothing wrong with traditional offerings, either, if you’re short of anything fancy. I mean, I live in Australia, and it’s very dry here. Water as an offering is just as precious of a thing to give as it was to ancient Egyptians. It has value, and it has meaning to me as a modern person. But it’s not going to stop me offering non-traditional things either if asked/nudged. Aset will not be refused Her Baileys.

I think the issue I have with reconstructionism is the arbitrary choosing of which canon to follow. Which part are you calling ‘canon’? What are you rejecting? And I know that’s a ridiculously unique thing for every reconstructionist, particularly solitaries. It’s an arbitrary decision that I will admit makes it easier to do reconstruction, because you can stipulate a point in history that you’ll use as a guide to base your practices on. I do totally understand why people do that. Egyptian history spans over 3000 years. I totally understand wanting to narrow it down, and I don’t see anything wrong with that if you’re aiming for reconstruction.

I also understand why the Graeco-Roman period isn’t usually considered part of the canon. Kemetic Reconstructionists are after a ‘pure’* form of the religion, and that rightly excludes canon that comes from non-Egyptian sources. I get that, if your goal is reconstruction. *Insomuch as that description is useful in this context.

But that’s not my goal. I don’t do reconstruction. I don’t think I’ve ever done reconstructionism properly, nor had the inclination to get very serious about it. I have a different mindset, and a different approach that makes UPG, well, not very useful. I tend to see any documents relating to the Gods, no matter who wrote it, as a valid experience, and all part of the collected canon associated with that God. I feel that, if I exclude, say, the Graeco-Roman stuff, I feel like I’m arbitrarily pronouncing their experiences as somehow invalid because they don’t adhere to my idea of what’s canon. I … I just don’t feel like I have any authority to do that, nor should I.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of being devoted to a lesser known God like Sobek, where there isn’t a plethora of information available about Him and His cult, so I’ll take anything I can get that mentions Him, no matter where it comes from. I can’t afford to exclude anything lest I miss something that might offer insight into His nature. So few people work with Him that any experiences are important to me. Maybe it’s different if you work with a much more popular God, like Ra or Amun or Aset or Wesir, for example. I don’t know.

I suppose I keep coming back to what Aset told me regarding the Roman Isis, that She was a different face for a different people. Even back then, the Gods were adaptable. I also don’t think any human can conclusively say what the Gods are or aren’t, and what They can’t do. They are reaching out now to anyone who’s listening. They don’t divide us the way we divide ourselves.

Actually, I’m going to return to fandom language to explain what I think it is. You know what it feels like? It feels like Red Dwarf, or even Doctor Who. It’s not replaying the old episodes as if they were new. It’s making brand new episodes, tailored to the way the world is now, and gathering a new audience. And, sure, they won’t be the same as the old ones. But they’re still part of the same canon, yes? (Insomuch as ‘canon’ makes any sense in Whoverse terms. But you get my point, I hope.)

That’s the way I see it. I’m adding to the canon with my own experiences and lore. That’s why I don’t find UPG to be a meaningful concept for my own practice. It’s syncretic. It’s not how the ancients did it. But I’m not an ancient Egyptian. I’m a modern person, and I live in a modern world. My religion – and my Gods – adapt to that. It’s not the only way to do things, or the best way, or the right way. It’s just my way.

0 thoughts on “U is for UPG and Reconstructionism

  1. I think it has to be kept in mind, though, when you consider the “pure” religion vs. the Greo-Roman stuff- that politics played heavily. I personally don’t use LP stuff, because Set was equated to a/pep. And I just don’t buy it. I think things got manhandled by foreigners, and things got changed- and when I sit with Set, he’s just not someone who would want to uncreate creation. So perhaps the need to use later period stuff will vary on the deity that you follow?

    With UPG, I think it’s a double edged sword. Some people take UPG, and treat it like canon- and I think that’s where the problems start to occur. Take Wpw wiki, for example. It’s a very popular site, and it’s filled with mostly UPG stuff- which is all good and well, except that many people treat it like canon (i.e. the Set and water myth that runs around). And in other cases, if you offer something once, and the world didn’t end, surely it needs to be put on ‘awesome things to offer’ list….

    For me, I think it still all comes down to discretion and balance. Knowing that you are, in fact, working with gods and not netjeri or head goblins. Testing things and trying things multiple times before saying “yes, this is a concrete UPG thing for me”. And then finding ways to adapt old into new, etc. I still think we should all look to the past to get a good foundation- and branch from there. I am usually considered a recon person (if you ask others, at least). But I have many little tidbits and ideas that I’ve been given by the gods that breaks with what is generally accepted as ‘fact’. Not being afraid to delve into unknown territory, but not completely ignoring everything from the past- it’s a juggling act, I guess.

    And I’m rambling XD So I guess I’ll leave it with that 😛

    1. Yeah, I’m a politics major; I know how politics can bend anything to meet its own ends. I also think Set might’ve been too Kemetic in a way, and He just didn’t translate well to other cultures, unlike Aset, who kind of went global. So, yeah, I do think it depends on the God in question whether the Graeco-Roman stuff is relevant or not. I wouldn’t dare suggest it’s compulsory material that should be included, though being familiar with it probably isn’t a bad idea, even if it’s not your own personal ‘canon’.

      …I think I’m doing that think where my brain holds ‘what the Gods were like’ as separate from ‘what people did with Them’ in two separate parts of my brain. Don’t ask me how. I have no idea. XD

      I definitely agree that when UPG is proclaimed as canon at the expense of historical canon, then there are problems. The two can be balanced and work well together, but it requires work and common sense to keep it all sorted. And, yeah, the Wepwawet Wiki. Collecting UPG in one place is a noble idea, but it’s not tempered enough with historical information, so the UPG seems to win out more often than not. I’m still not sure how to feel about that, other than ‘vaguely irritated?’

      I suppose my other reluctance to call myself a recon is that, well, I just don’t think I’m actually reconstructing anything, rendering the word meaningless in the context of my own path. So. Yes. Different approach. Different ways of integrating UPG and canon. Fun times for everyone. 😛

  2. I have just stumbled across your blog and am loving it. Well, I suppose I was actually led to it, but by Whom I do not know. I have not yet reached that stage in my fairly new path that I can tell the urging and nudging of different gods apart. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say Aset, as She came to me on Samhain with the intent of helping me restructure my practice after doing much what you did and tearing it all down to start over,like a spiritual phoenix, and find what works for me.

    All you have written here speaks to me. One of the goddesses I work with is more obscure, Britomartis Diktynna, a Cretan goddess, and whenever I find stuff about Her I go berserk with joy. And this post especially speaks to me as recon has never spoken to my spirit, but UPG seems an unfitting word to describe my experience.

    tl;dr awesome blog, will enjoy reading through it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad this post resonated with you. UPG is one of those tricky areas for pagans, because discernment is critical in being able to ensure you’re not just making shit up, and discernment takes some time to develop. Aset is a great goddess to work with, and I’m sure She’ll help you figure out where to go from here. Tearing down and rebuilding can be painful, and you have to learn to let go of things you once held dear. But once you find something that works, and settle down with it, that’s when the work justifies itself.

      I like hearing from people who work with obscure deities. It’s always a lot of hard work and graft, but totally worth it in the end, I think. I think I’ve heard of Britomartis Dyktynna round the traps, but I don’t know much about Her. How did you meet Her?

      1. I am so worried that the visions I see in meditation are just my own wishful thinking, or that when I work with the Tarot or pendulum I’m somehow influencing it to say what I want rather than speak with the Being I want to. I look forward to growing in discernment so I can be secure in my path with the Gods.

        I definitely agree that working with obscure deities is so worth the effort of sussing out information on them. Britomartis Dyktynna came to me one evening as I was getting ready for bed at my partners’ place. (It was a poly type thing). The word “Britomartis” started echoing in my mind nonstop. I thought, “Hmm, what’s a britomartis? Whatev.”

        Only it didn’t stop. The more I tried to ignore it, thinking it was my OCD brain going haywire on me, the louder it got, and I realized it was Someone. So I thought back, “Okay! I will Google you tomorrow. Please stop yelling your name at me.” And she did. Only when I did not immediately Google Her, She started chanting Her name again and again until I did, and learned who She is. The one surviving myth of Her is about how She ran for nine months from the king of Greece, who wanted to force her to marry him. She jumped over a cliff and was caught in fishing nets by fisherman below, who rowed Her to shore.

        Turns out She was telling me to run.

        That poly “relationship” was abusive in every way a relationship can be abusive. Deep down I knew it, I just didn’t want to believe it was happening to me. I dug my head in the sand, She got frustrated and left, and it took Athena coming into my life and basically saying “Look, sweetie, this is how it is” to get me to see the truth. And when I did, I realized why Britomartis had come to me. I don’t know how I got on Her radar, but I’m glad I did because I started the slow process of opening my eyes to the abuse and deciding to leave because She took the time to call out to me.

        She was miffed for a while, but when I tore town my practice on Samhain and sent out the open invite to Anyone who wanted to be in my personal household cult, She came with Artemis. There is another myth that Artemis found Her after She came to Greece, and they fell in love, which I think is beautiful. I would love to write a fuller myth of their love story. We need more queer lore.

        Ack. Sorry for the novel!

        1. Nah, novels are fine by me. 😀 I mean, I once wrote a 5k word blog post on one of my UPGs, so. /not concise at all.

          So much of it is just practice and experience, and this is where the recon methodology can help, because if you find a god showing you something in meditation, you can check it with the historical records to see if it fits in, and whether it’s ‘in character’. And of course, you can always ask other diviners to check for you to see if it’s legit, if you don’t think you can tell for yourself. If you don’t already keep a journal of some sort, you might want to start, just to keep a record of your experiences and divination logs, just to see how you’re developing. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed, if that’s not your style. Doesn’t matter if it’s paper or online, whatever works for you. But record-keeping is important, particularly during path-building.

          Though I don’t use pendulums myself, because I don’t trust it to be accurate, so I rely on tarot, which I have a much better strike rate with. You may even want to try runes, or dice, or perhaps the Greek alphabet oracle, if you’re working with Greek deities, just to see if you click with them. Each divination tool is best suited for different sorts of questions, and one system may gel much better with you than another. Play around with them until you find something you feel is reliable. And practice. You will get better, and more comfortable with them, the more you use them. This is another reason to keep records. 🙂 /believes in record keeping

          Looks like you’ve been through a lot. At least Britomartis was looking out for you. But I can also understand the nagging, and not wanting to believe it, particularly when it’s an obscure god and you don’t know that’s what it is. I had Yemaya come to me like that once. I woke up with Her name in my mind, and I didn’t realise She was a goddess until I googled Her.

          She sounds like an interesting goddess, though, and clearly She’s willing to stick around. I imagine you’ve got an interesting road ahead of you. Good luck with the path-building. It takes work, but it’s worth it to make something that works for you.

          I would absolutely love to read any queer myth you write about Britomartis and Artemis. Artemis is queer as fuck with me too, and I rather quite adore Her. More queer myth is always a good thing! 😀

          1. Novel lovers unite! 🙂
            I have considered recon paths in Hellenism and Kemeticism but am hesitant because I don’t want to get boxed in by having to toe the ancient line, so to speak. I haven’t quite read through your entire blog yet, but I did see that you were once with the House of Netjer. How was that for you? I looked into it and it sounds like a good way to build a foundation with historical practice and belief, but I am a staunch polytheist, not a henotheist or monolatrist if that is the better word, so again I hesitate to do the study program.
            I have sporadically kept a journal in the past, and am getting better at it. I’m a rambler who likes to think out things on paper with pencils. I’ve recorded some interesting dreams I’ve had, including one in which Athena gave me my username to use among other Paganfolk and introduced me to a white owl that is apparently a spirit animal. That was probably the closest I’ve come to a direct experience of the gods so far in my baby-Pagan path.
            Thanks for introducing me to the Greek alphabet oracle. I had no idea there was such a thing. I’ve always liked runes, but couldn’t get the Norse ones to work for me. I have a Tarot journal I have also used sporadically, so it sounds like busting that out and dusting off the cover would be a help . 😀
            When I look back at some of the things I’ve been through, however trite it may sound, I see the hands of the Divine. There were so many times I could have died (angry men with knives pounding on the door at 10 pm at night? Check), and yet here I am. I’m a tough little shit (lol) and I’m glad Britomartis has an eye on me.
            I love Artemis too, and can’t think of her any way but queer. 🙂 I think I will work with Her and Britomartis to write this myth. You’re so right – the world needs more queer myth.
            Thanks so much for your advice and for talking with me about these things. 🙂

          2. Concise is for twitter. 😉

            If there is one thing that the House was good for, it was teaching me how a functional Kemetic practice worked. And that can be really valuable information if you’re trying to pathbuild. There’s no obligation to even join the House after doing the beginner’s class, so it can’t hurt to just do it anyway, and see how you feel afterwards. From what I’ve heard from those who are still part of the House, the polytheism thing isn’t as much of an issue as it might seem. But just be aware that Kemetic Orthodoxy works really well for some, and not very well for others. Whether it’s your thing, I don’t know. But I’d still do the class anyway, because it doesn’t hurt to have more information about these sorts of things. That, and I don’t know if there is even any sort of equivalent for Hellenic practice, so the House might be your best bet for learning about how a reconstructed practice works.

            At the end of the day, it’s mostly about letting your practice evolve with you and your gods. Let the past inform what you do, but give yourself the space to create something that works for you. Like, the way I formed the ritual structures for my morning and evening rituals was to look at the Kemetic temple rites, find the core elements of the rites, and use that basis to create something modern, and able to be done at a home shrine, with one person, in about five minutes while half-asleep in my pyjamas.

            Oh yeah, also. Knowing whether you are a ritualist or not also really helps when you pathbuild. This also comes from trying ritual and keeping notes on them and what works for you and what doesn’t. Use this time to try anything you feel interested in, at least three times, just to see how you like it. Keep what works for you, and build things around that.

            Like, I am not a ritualist. Which is why most of my rituals are simple and pared back, and also short. I do longer rituals for high days and festivals, but most of the time, my rituals are short. Because I don’t have the mental energy to do long formal rituals all the time. This is also why I was never a good Kemetic Orthodox shemsu. The senut rite, which is lovely in is own right, was too long for me to do every day. And that was mostly because of the purifications required for it. I could never find the space and time to fit it into my routine in a way that made it feel natural. The best daily rituals fit into your life without you thinking about it.

            It takes a bit of persistence to get on the regular journaling thing, and even I’m still not very good at doing it regularly. I tend to just do it when I need to. I also keep far, far too many journals, both online and on paper. I don’t know why this is. I feel like it’s my brain’s inability to just let these things get scrawled down together in the same place. So I have a paper journal for Artemis, one for Hekate, one for Sobek, one for my ADF things, another one for my Greek ADF rituals, one for magic spells, one for heka, and probably a bunch of others. I am a terrible notebook collector. (I have bought four during the last week. FOUR. And I need specifically none of them, except the 2016 diary. I AM TERRIBLE. XD)

            The online blogs I currently keep are a private blog for meditation logs and other private UPG things, a dedicant’s blog for my ADF DP work, Per Sebek, and probably one other one, I think. But yeah. I have all the blogs. I think my brain copes better with segmentation than anything else, so. But yeah. Find what works for you in terms of recording your experiences, and keep at it. Your future self will appreciate it when you look back over them, and you can see how far you’ve come.

            I didn’t either, until I heard some other Hellenics mention it. It’s not something I’ve used before, but I plan on getting/making (one or the other) a set of tiles, and figuring out how to work with them for myself. Mostly as a curiosity thing, but we’ll see. I don’t actually have a lot of divination tools, I only use my runes, and a set of tarot cards with any regularity. I also want to play around with dice, and see what sort of divination I can do with that. Dice as a divination tool are also attested in ancient Hellenic worship, so that might also be another thing for you to investigate.

            I had a similar feeling, looking back on my life and where the gods were. Though my life has thankfully been much less full of drama than yours. That obsession with crocodile from such a young age, knowing (somehow) when I was 9 or 10 that I didn’t want to be baptised because it wasn’t the path for me, yet still knowing something was out there if I could just find it. It was that suggestion, from a friend, that if I loved ancient Egypt so much, why didn’t I just worship those gods? I don’t know what I expected when I called out for the first time, but I found Isis. I’ve known Her longer than any other god, even Sobek. But They’re always around. If I ever need to know They’re listening, Sobek just reminds me that His name means, ‘watching over you’. That’s all I need to know He’s still around, even if He’s off doing god things. The gods changed my life, and for the better. I can’t imagine my life without Them.

            Artemis is so fabulously queer. I love Her. Write this myth. The world needs it. And I really want to read it, so. /selfish reasons 😛

            I’m always happy to chat to people, and offer any advice that might be useful. 🙂 If you want to chat further, shoot me an email: ibdjehutyATgmail.com.

          3. “Concise is for Twitter.” ~ exactly! 😛

            I submitted an application a few days ago but haven’t heard back from them yet. I really want to email them and see if they will let me re-submit, as I’ve been mulling more over the questions and more nuanced answers have occurred to me, but I don’t know if they will accept that. Never hurts to ask, right? 😀
            The only equivalent to Hellenic recon paths with a study program I’ve found so far is through Hellenion. http://www.hellenion.org/AdultEd.html I haven’t tried it out yet, and I’m not sure if the site or organization are even still active. But it seems worth a look. Like you said, learning never hurt anyone, and there’s no such thing as being too education on a topic of interest, in my opinion. 🙂
            Whether I’m a ritualist depends on how much time and energy I have, haha. When I’ve got the time, a long, beautiful, well-planned ritual is something I enjoy. I once did a two-hour spell (Wiccan style). I also did a 90-minute Welcome Bast ritual after the statue I bought of Her arrived and I set it up with an offering bowl and some candles and other things She wanted. It was enjoyable and the Tarot reading I did at the end indicated She liked it, so, yay! But there is definitely something to be said for short ‘n sweet rituals that I can do before work or after work or before bed in five minutes or so.
            I am with you on the notebook love! I need them for work, but I also just collect ones that are pretty/interesting/have Avengers characters (cough*geek*cough)/cats being cute. I’m also that way with folders, because they Hold Stuff. Lol. And because I am fantastically unorganized in an organized way, I tend to write on napkins or scraps of paper that then need a safe place to join the rest of my info and scribblings on a certain topic. I like the idea of multiple notebooks for different deities, like a portable written shrine just for Them. Time to buy more notebooks! <3
            “Drama” is a very good word to describe my life. Ironic, because I’m drama avoidant – loathe it entirely. And yet I seem to attract it. Hooray for therapy! 😀 Maybe I can turn off the Drama Magnet and have some peace.
            Thank you so much for giving me your email! 🙂 I would definitely like to chat more. If you see an email from silver_unicornATpacbell.net, it’s me. (I was 9 and I regret nothing :P)

          4. Ehh, don’t worry about it. They can usually take a while to organise their classes, particularly since they seem to be a helluva lot larger than when I took the class a decade ago. But yeah, if you’re keen to change some of your answers, it never hurts to ask. And at least they may be able to tell you how long until the next class, so you know how long you may need to wait.

            I’m pretty sure they’re still active, but I think most of that activity happens elsewhere on the web. I like that they have a study course, though, but I think they’re far too group-based, and too reconstructionist, for me to feel like I’d fit in with them. It seems to suggest you need to be a member to participate in the course, but you might want to check that, just to be sure. It’s probably not a bad course to do, though, if you’re keen to learn more about Hellenic worship. It is only one approach of many, and it may work for you, or it may not. You may not know until you dive into it and find out for yourself.

            Yeah, I’m with you. I don’t mind doing hour-long rituals for major festivals, or if I’m doing vigils, but I can’t sustain that every day. I don’t have the brain power or the energy for that. Which is why my morning rituals are so short and sweet. Five minutes, tops. The only reason they might become longer is if I take the pause to do some meditation. But that’s not a common occurrence.

            Man, srsly, I have started doing a bit of a cleanup, and discovering just how many notebooks I have lying around that I’ve either a) never used, or b) used 10 pages or so then left it alone. I apparently find it difficult to throw notebooks away. Go me! 😀

            Don’t get me started on all my pagan journals, though. I currently have one for Sobek, one for Hekate, one for Artemis, one small ritual book, one ritual book for my ADF Hellenic druid rituals, one divination log, one sketch book for devotional art, two for magic/heka, one for spell correspondences, and one for idk random thinky thoughts about my path and practice. Though I might be missing a few idk. XD /I am terrible at keeping track of all these things.

            We can all do with being free from drama, for sure. I find cutting the cord spells to be adequate for dealing with the spiritual/emotional ties, though ymmv depending on what you’re trying to achieve. I have one due tomorrow to try to dampen the work drama people keep trying to drag me into. -_- Not comparable, of course, to your life, but sometimes, these things are necessary to get people to fuck off and leave me alone.

            Not a problem. I’m always happy to chat with other pagans. You can always learn something from them, no matter what path they’re on. 🙂 And your email is adorable, ngl. 😛

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