Saturday, 11 April 2015

The gods and UPG

I should start out by saying that this is my own viewpoint, but I know a number of people who see things similarly to me. Theology, religion, and spirituality have always been an interest of mine. I'm drawn to it, because my scientific mind is always trying to make sense of the things I read, see, hear, and experience.

The questions we really need to ask are this: what are gods? Who are they? Why do they differ depending on culture, and why are there similarities in tandem with the differences? How do we define them in our modern age of reason?

To me, the gods can be many things. I have seen them described as an energy force, as living beings, as archetypes, as parts of a giant whole, as venerated ancestors. Depending on the culture and the other permeating beliefs, you see different parts of these more predominantly in some cultures than others. To the Egyptians, the gods represented the natural world - figures melded with animal parts, with recurrent themes of life, death, resurrection. To the Greeks (and Romans), the gods were tempestuous archetypes, mingled with sex and fear and anger, full of vengeance. To the Celtic, Germanic, and Scandinavian people, the gods were living beings, venerated ancestors or great kings and queens who were mortal and flawed but wise and eternal. In some cultures, the gods represented a physical feature - a hill, a mountain, the sea.

The ancient people were superstitious and wary. They did not have the scientific enlightenment we do now, but they had a very deep relationship with the land. Even the ancient kings and queens relied heavily on their farmers and serfs to provide food for their people. Everything that we know now - ph levels of the soil, herbicides to keep pests away - would have been considered magic back then. We have science and reason to explain things (and even so, we cannot explain everything), they had the gods. Whether the gods themselves existed before the people started praying to them, or the prayers brought the gods into being is a chicken/egg question. The people were seeking to please the gods, or work the will of the gods, or curry the favour of the gods. In the case of venerated ancestors, the same clause stands. You have someone who is renown for being brave, wise, and cunning - people admire, honour, and seek to emulate that person. Stories are told, embellished, and gods are born.

The gods, like most deities, are products of their time. Practices that would have been very common 2000 years ago are not something we would necessarily practice today - at least, not in it's original form. We may offer sacrifice, but it is doubtful we would use a human, or even an animal (without consuming the animal, at least). We do not necessarily fear the gods, as most cultures did then - we now seek to work with them and gain their favour, and we relish their attention. We live in an age of advanced science, where it is unlikely we are surrounded with likeminded believers. While we all recognize that each sect of pagan theology is gaining and maintaining followers and celebrants, we are not as populous or plentiful as we once were. To most modern day people, believing in any of the old gods seems silly and superstitious (and to some, outright stupid). It goes against the grain, and we are the minorities.

There are theories that the belief in something somehow makes it’s stronger - many people funnelling their energy and focus to one being gives that being more standing and power. Could it not be said that the opposite is also true? As people converted their belief from the pagan gods to the Christian god, would those beings not wane in power? The centres of power for these gods - the Parthenon, Gamla Uppsala, and Stonehenge, for example - have been christianized, left to ruin, or left to neglect.

Thus, I wholly believe that in order for the gods to survive, they need to adapt. They need to evolve and grow, as people and society have done, in order to remain in tact. I think that recognizing our roots, ancestry, and where we come from is very, very important. I think honouring those things is also important. However, I think that everyone experiences the gods in a different way, and I think these gods are wise enough to be able to choose with whom they cavort. People, especially in North America, are more diverse than we would have been 2000 years ago - how many of us can claim a vast cultural canvas as our genetic makeup? I myself have French, English, Scottish, German, Swedish and Danish (with bits of Dutch, Luxembourger, and Irish), but large parts of my family have been in Canada since the 1500’s. Which parts of our genetics should we tap into? Should the circumstances of our birth force us to turn our backs on what we are drawn to work with? What about those who are adopted, should they just guess, or choose the genetics of their adoptive families?

The gods, if they are as powerful as I believe they are, are not foolish. They know that to survive, they must adapt. It is a very scientific way of thinking - sort of like behavioural modernity. Just as we evolved to start making clothes out of animal hide or how we evolved lactase persistence (which allows modern humans to continue drinking milk past childhood), the gods have had to be less picky and learn new ways in which people worship. It’s not that they are settling or that it’s somehow lesser than it was - it’s more learning to work with new tools. Like moving to a new climate and having to adjust how you dress and travel.

This theory that I hold is why I am so vocal in supporting people working with whichever pantheon they are drawn to, and why I think UPG is so important.

UPG (unverified personal gnosis) is almost essential when you are working with gods or doing any manner of ecstatic practice. Wikipedia states

“… attempts at recreating or restarting ancient religions continue, the difficulty in telling the difference between historically attested sources and modern, personal interpretations grows. All myths and legends started at some point in the human past with one person or group's experience; thus it would be inappropriate to dismiss out-of-hand a new experience. UPG grew out of the need for a shorthand in differentiating the two.” 

Dismissing someone’s experience simply because it is not something you experienced is like dismissing someone’s pain experience with a sunburn because you have never had one. All we have as human beings is experienced - we are constantly taking in information, and outputting thoughts and ideas. All of our innovations and inventions came from experiences that the inventors had that others hadn’t.

If someone’s personal experience isn’t the same as yours,  it is not a slight. It’s simply something they have experienced that you haven’t that holds significance to them and not you. That is okay and perfectly normal.

I think if we constantly work in a state of historical accuracy, we are missing the mystic, and if constantly work in a state of UPG, we are missing the sage. There is wisdom in the lessons and words of others - we need those to ground us and centre us. There is enlightenment in personal experience - we need to think outside of the box. It is a beautiful marriage of both of these halves that gives us the enriching experience of working with magic, the gods, and the universe. We seek to emulate the gods, and so we should evolve as they do.