The Value of UPG

The Value of UPG

This is a brief interlude, but something that I’m thinking about. Online, the concept of UPG is a rather familiar one – but what is the value of UPG, exactly?

Honestly, it means nothing academically or historically. It is unverified personal gnosis. Knowledge that has no ability to be fact checked, that is unique to a person. My UPG is about as valuable to someone else as an application filled out in my name – sure, you can see what the application is and what it is for, but it is still personal and caries my branding. You may not be able to really use it or get anything out of it in any way. Being that it is intensely personal, the value of UPG is just that – personal. Forming UPG gives us a way to connect with our gods, the spirits around us, and whatever else we may be engaging in. It gives us a way to process and discuss, to really understand what it is that we are experiencing. Sometimes, it can bridge the gap between two people.

Oh, that’s your UPG? I have something similar!

On a personal level, UPG has a lot of use and serves a purpose. We run into a problem at a community level when we start to think that our UPG is How It Should Be, or we feel pressured to adhere to someone else’s UPG because they’re popular or eloquent. This can easily get out of control and lead to bullying within online communities. You don’t think Loki loves Tropical Skittles, especially the green ones? How dare you?! Followed by fifty anon hate messages that probably originate from one person…

Individuals who encounter this kind of pressure to adhere to group think or a popular person’s UPG end up doubting themselves and their perceptions. They’ll feel like the community is unwelcoming, or just not the place for them. They’ll get turned off of a path that originally interested them, and all because the internet is a perfect place for propagating group think and bullying behavior.

Discovering a new religion or set of beliefs can be an amazing, life changing thing. Everyone who follows a pagan path was new at one point, a “baby pagan” or “baby heathen”. There were things we didn’t know or didn’t understand, a learning curve to struggle through. It is really unfortunate that some people get turned off from pagan religions because of the groups that insist that it is their way or the highway, or that someone must believe in their UPG exactly or they’re wrong and should just get out. There also seems to be an expectation that individuals will know everything right off the bat, so asking questions ends up being shamed.

You can probably tell this is something that frustrates me. I want people who feel drawn to Heathenry to feel welcomed, and to feel like they can ask questions without being shamed for something like not knowing the names of all the dwarves, or not being able to recite the Havamal their first month as a Heathen.

I encourage people to educate themselves, and to form their own UPG. What is right for you (Loki always wears a party hat!) might not be right for me (I cannot even begin to imagine party hat!Loki). I openly share my UPG with disclaimers that it is that, UPG. I am happy to discuss it with people, but I don’t expect them to share it with me. In fact, if they don’t, that is awesome because I’ll end up getting a different point of view.

Now, when UPG is harmful… because it can be… beyond being used as a tool to bully, is when it flies in the face of established lore and prevents the holder of said UPG from learning. Let us use a wild example. Thor is established as a “god of thunder”. That is repeated throughout the Prose and Poetic Edda, about Thor. The clatter of his goat drawn cart is the sound of thunder. His beard bristles with lighting and his eyes are fiery. So on and so forth.

Now, imagine if you will that someone has the UPG that Thor is not in fact the thunderer, but is instead a god of childbirth. This person refuses to look at the lore, refuses to talk with anyone else, but spends their time arguing with others about Thor, insisting that he is the guy for you if you’re about to have a baby – and that all the references to him as a “god of thunder” are completely wrong. Silly people, all this time, not realizing Thor’s true nature!

This would be an example of how UPG could be detrimental, because the UPG this person is holding and how they’re maintaining it is preventing them from learning. In this example, they’re also setting out to tell other people how wrong they are about the god, despite the established lore. Informed UPG that does not do harm to anyone else, and does not directly fly in the ace of things that are already “known” is harmless. Pushy UPG with no basis, which contradicts a lot of sources? RUN!

I encourage everyone to develop UPG, even if you’re an academic. Critically thinking about your UPG can make you do more research. Developing UPG makes you think more about the beings/wights/deities/concepts that you’re interacting with.

The featured image for this post is from the History Channel show, Vikings. 

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Deep Waters: Mimisbrunnr

Deep Waters: Mimisbrunnr

The next well in my little discussion is Mimisbrunnr, or Mimir’s Well. Again, we find it attested to in both the Poetic and Prose Eddas.

Tom Hollander’s translation of the Poetic Edda, Voluspa:

 “What seekest to know, why summon me?
Well know I, Ygg, where thy eye is hidden:
In the wonderous well of Mimir;
each morn Mimir his mead doth drink
out of Fjolnir’s pledge: know ye further,
or how?

My Penguin Classic’s copy of the Prose Edda says:

Under the root that goes to the frost giants is the Well of Mimir. Wisdom and intelligence are hidden there, and Mimir is the name of the well’s owner. He is full of wisdom because he drinks of the well from the Gjallarhorn. All-Father went there and asked for one drink from the well, but he did not get this until he gave one of his eyes as a pledge.

It seems that there is a general agreement that Mimir, the owner of the well, drinks from Gjallarhorn. The mention of him drinking from “Fjolnir’s Pledge” has the potential to be confusing. This is more than likely a kenning, referencing the water and Odin’s sacrifice of his eye for a drink. It can be tricky to track all of Odin’s names across the lore, and it can be equally difficult to keep up with kennings.

I have read some contention about what it is, exactly, that Heimdall has in the well. This really seems to depend on the translation, and considerations of dialect and concurrent linguistics – it may be that it is simply his horn, Gjallahorn, or it may be that he has made a similar sacrifice to Odin and has left behind his hearing or ear in order to attain some furthered perception. Carolyne Larrington’s translation of the Poetic Edda (1996, 2015 Oxford World’s Classics) seems to be the origin of this. I have not personally read this translation, but I find that particular interpretation interesting. From the excerpt available through Google books, her translation reads:

She knows that Heimdall’s hearing is hidden
under the radiant, sacred, tree;
she sees pouring down, the muddy torrent
from the wager of Father of the Slain; do you
understand yet, or what more?

This is also a great example of feeling out different translations. You may find that one resonates or makes more sense to you than others. I use Hollander’s, but I am also aware that there have been some criticisms of that particular translation due to some choices Hollander made in order to smooth the poetic flow, as it were. Feel it out. Read several translations. It can’t hurt you.

Moving on from that, I am going to go into my UPG. Again, this is Unverified Personal Gnosis, and as such, is not written in stone. You are not required to adhere to it, and you are certainly not wrong if you do or don’t.

My mind associates Mimisbrunnr more with the present, and personal memory. It is, to me, living and active knowledge that can be obtained and learned in the moment. For me, Mimisbrunnr is “what is” instead of “what was” or “what will be”. It makes sense in my mind for Odin to seek knowledge from Mimisbrunnr, because it is important to know about what is currently happening in order to make plans and anticipate the future. I also mentioned personal memory. What I mean by this is memory that can easily be drawn on, memories that you have formed yourself, and have not been twisted and weathered by time. Personal memory would be, for me, learning to knit as opposed to learning to walk – one I can actually recall the process of, and the other I cannot. I only have stories from others and the evidence of the present that it happened.

I also feel a lot of potential in Mimisbrunnr. For me, this would be the “student’s well” where one would go in order to approach a new subject that they’re wanting to learn about. This can bridge the gap between “what is”, to “what was”, but we must remember that all waters spring forth from Hvergelsmir. The past informs the present, what was informs what is and is not beyond the knowledge of now.

This well is less gloomy than the other. It appears to me more manmade, with smooth gray stones that the dark, deep water laps at. It is sheltered from the sun by the great root of Yggdrasil. It is not warm there, but the water does not freeze – it is far too deep. I most often imagine Mimir’s head as being like the mouth of a fountain, drinking mouthfuls of the deep water while at the same time allowing it to flow back. Some of the stones around the edge of the well are worn smooth by the presence of the All-Father, from the times that he has come to consult with Mimir. Peering into the well, one might be able to make out Odin’s eye – gray and unseeing while strangely omniscient all at once, peering back up out of the waters. I see Heimdall’s horn sitting upon a smooth stone ledge, the waters dripping over it and from it as they do Mimir’s mouth. To me, this is more peaceful than Hvergelsmir – but I can tell you as a seeming lifelong student, there is always a price for knowledge!

Another thought on Hvergelmir

Another thought on Hvergelmir

Edderkopper over on Tumblr brought up some interesting points in response to my post on Hvergelmir.

I found it kind of surprising that out of all three wells, you view Hvergelmir as the representation of aspects that are ingrained and unchangeable. I’m not saying you’re wrong or anything, because as you said, that’s the nature of UPG. I’d be curious to hear more about the thought process that led you to that, though, if you’re willing to share.

My personal take is that out of all the wells, Hvergelmir is arguably the one most associated with flow. It gives rise to all the waters of the world. Nidhogg, a force of primal chaos, churns the waters. It’s a font of change, insurance that nothing is truly immutable. Which still oddly fits with the idea of it being a mortal wound. That’s an interesting take.

Expanding on that with my filthy Manannán-tainted hands, I guess you could say I view Hvergelmir as the opposite of–or maybe the complement to–Mimisbrunnr. The wisdom and other offered treasures (and miscellaneous body parts) that Mimisbrunnr catches, it keeps, for all eternity. It is water in its role of symbolizing the hidden and otherworldly and unknown.

But Hvergelmir flows outward. It permeates everything in the form of mist. It nourishes the worlds, and bestows the wisdom that drips down from Valhalla onto everything…though because of the constant churn, it’s a more earthy wisdom, the stuff that gets passed along rather than hidden. And there’s the beautiful, terrible paradox that we see so often in Norse myth: the same forces that nourish the world also drive its destruction.

This is a very interesting take — and one of the reasons I do enjoy engaging with people online. Edderkopper’s manner of thinking of Hvergelmir is different than mine, but is in no way “wrong”. I can absolutely see why they think this way, and I really appreciated this view point because it made me evaluate mine. Some of the wording in here is just… so true as well, especially “the same forces that nourish the world also drive its destruction”. Very poignant, and true to what information we have retained about the lore.

I responded to Edderkopper with why I think of Hvergelmir as being unchangeable. I view Hvergelmir as being so unchangeable because I heavily link it with the past — things that have already happened. The past feeds the present, and the future. The past permeates everything that we are doing or will do, whether or not we realize it. Because I associate Hvergelmir with primal waters, I also find it possible to think of it as the past that is beyond personal memory. This could simply be things that have slipped from our minds, in that memory is so permeable, or it could go back into the concept of genetic memory. This would also be things that are taken as “common knowledge” with no clear point of conception or why it is considered to be so.

I do not associate it with personal or more present memory because of Mimisbrunnr, which I’ll get into in the next Deep Waters post.

Thank you, Edderkopper, for the discussion.

Deep Waters: Hvergelmir

Deep Waters: Hvergelmir

So, I’ve been wanting to do this “Deep Waters” discussion of the Well of Wyrd and the three wells that compose this concept for a little while. I feel like I don’t often see many discussions on the Wells, though this could very well be due to the community circles that I run in. There will be three posts, one for each well. I hope they’re interesting reading.

Be advised that while these posts will include some references, there will also be some UPG (unverified personal gnosis). I will note this when it is present. I really don’t want anyone to confuse my UPG for concrete fact.

Hvergelmir: The Seething Cauldron

Hvergelmir is to be found in Nifleheim, beneath the roots of Yggdrasil. It is believed that all waters, all streams and rivers, are birthed from Hvergelmir. The waters of the well seethe and boil because the dragon Nidhogg and a great number of serpents churn the water.

Hvergelmir is attested to in the Poetic Edda, in Grímnismál

Eikthyrnir, the hart on the hall that stands

eateth off Lærath’s limbs;

drops from his horns in Hvergelmir fall,

thence wend all the waters their way.

Eikthyrnir the hart (a kind of deer) stands atop of Valhalla. It would be possible to interpret these drops falling from his horns into Hvergelmir as being part and parcel of the origin of the waters. Valhalla would seem to be positioned somewhere above Hvergelmir, if these waters are able to fall from Eikthyrnir’s horns into the well. Whenever one starts to delve into things like this within the mythology, you’re left asking questions… when was Valhalla built, that the hart standing atop it contributes to the well where all waters originate?

Something I would like to think on: Knowing that the sons of Borr made the word of the body of Ymir, and his blood gave us oceans and rivers, could this well be potentially interpreted as the killing wound within the body of the giant?

The Prose Edda mentions Hvergelmir four times within  Gylfaginning. The Prose Edda is where we learn that Hvergelmir is located within Nifleheim beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, the names of some of the rivers coming forth from it, that there are at least 26 rivers, another mention of Eikthyrnir, and that Nidhogg resides within the waters and spends some of his leisure time tormenting the dead (my words).

It truly isn’t much to go off of, but it situates the well within the world and presents us with some beings which interact with it. With such a minor mention, you may be asking yourself why I’m interested in this or what value I may see in it.

That is where my UPG comes into play. This being said, warning, up ahead there is UPG. These are my own thoughts and opinions, formulated by what I have read. I do not require anyone to adhere to these thoughts and opinions and indeed encourage you to form your own. If you agree with me, you’re not wrong. If you disagree with me, you’re not wrong. We just have different opinions. The following is probably not for you if you are not mystically inclined.

Because Hvergelmir is situated within Nifleheim, I see it shrouded in mists. I do not see it as what one might think of as a well — that is, something man made, with stone surrounding it that one might draw water out of. Instead, I see it as more of a natural underground spring, like the one from Mexico which I chose as the featured image for this post. The visibility would be very poor, but you’d be able to hear the churning of the water. There would be a distinct, reptile, smell accompanied with the sound of rushing water. I imagine the water giving off heat, feeding the mists around it. The water falling from the horns of Eikthyrnir mimic precipitation, which is (to me) a primal source of water upon the Earth as well. Rains feed the rivers and streams, the water deep within the Earth, and so the liquid falling from Eikthyrnir horns feeds Hvergelmir.

These are primordial waters, and they aren’t to be trusted to be “safe”. Instead, they should be approached with caution and respect. I noted above that I would like to spend time thinking about whether or not this well could be interpreted within my UPG as the killing wound to Ymir, which caused his blood to rush forth and give waters to the world. I find that I like this thought, as it brings the creation of the world back into the naming of the things within it. And besides, it is easy to imagine this primordial, dark, place as the site of the fatal wound Borr’s sons struck upon the body of Ymir.

When I spend time thinking on Hvergelmir, it brings up emotions that cannot be controlled. Aspects of the self that are ingrained and unchangeable. Things that happened so long ago that they are beyond memory. This would be a place to confront the root of my depression and other mental illnesses, the things which gnaw upon me and torment me in my life, as Nidhogg gnaws on the roots of Yggdrasil and torments the bodies of the deceased. It would benefit me to spend more time in meditation with Hvergelmir.

How would I do that? Or, rather, how would you do that if you wanted to try something I have done?

Gather “primal” water. If you’re lucky enough to live next to a natural spring, or a natural well, then you’re set. If not, I would gather some precipitation. We used snow melt because of the season, but you could use rain or hail stones. Take your gathered water to a space where you feel comfortable conducting a ritual or meditation. Give offerings to the gods and local wights for watching over you and aiding you in your ritual/meditation. Focus on the water you have collected and let it guide you down, down to the waters of Hvergelmir. Imagine what it looks like, what it smells like, what it sounds like. Go cautiously. What is present in the waters for you? What does Nidhogg do? I mentioned above that I feel a great correlation with my mental illness and being able to confront it in this way. There was some relief in understanding that there were things that were outside my control, and that my greater focus should be on patching the damage that was done instead of seeking out what could not be changed… but that is another discussion. When you are done contemplating what the waters mean to you, ease yourself out of the meditation/ritual. Give thanks to the gods and wights for their assistance again, and wrap it up in a way that is most comfortable for you. I always suggest grounding before and after any type of work.

Please also note that I’m not suggesting you go and be buddy buddy with Nidhogg, play fetch with him, or anything like that. I’m not even suggesting that you interact with him in the slightest, only that you observe. I am certain someone is out there who will say “Nidhogg is my pal!” and that may work for them, but he is a being that I would consider Dangerous with a capital D. Not because he is evil or anything like, but instead because he is a primordial being closely tied with the waters of Hvergelmir and the gnawing of the roots of Yggdrasil. It is my belief that interacting with a being like this, while unprepared for what that could bring about, could be very detrimental to your mental health. Do not pass Go if you are not experienced. Do not collect $200 for the “cool factor” of interacting with such a being. Be careful with yourself when you reach out to different beings and different energies within the worlds. If you have interacted with him with no problems, then just imaging me sitting here with my thumb up — and also realize that your experiences (like mine!) are not going to be universal.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who uses my very loosely described meditation, or any other thoughts on Hvergelmir.


The texts I use are:

The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee Hollander

The Prose Edda, Penguin Classics, Snorri Sturlson

 

Learning

In this day and age, it is incredibly easy to go online and find resources. It is actually amazing that so many of us have small devices in our pockets that allow us to look up virtually anything. Of course, this “virtually anything” includes a lot of opinions, especially when you’re researching a religious topic.

There are a lot of opinions out there in Heathenry.

It can be helpful to research the authors that you are reading — find out about their pasts, other things they have written… observe how they interact with the community. If their morals and ethics mesh with yours, then they’re probably a fairly “safe” source for you to use. Then there comes the issue of finding someone who writes some quality content, some of the time, but has issues within their moral character that are in direct opposition to yours. Times like those are why it is important to be critical of everything you read, and why you need to be willing to engage with a text. Be willing to critique an author and include that critique in discussions you might have pertaining to the topic where you bring them up.

“I don’t agree with Blank McBlank on most things, but I did find this interesting… so I researched it and found alternative resources.”

I generally refuse to give my money to people who I oppose (because they’re horribly racist, typically) but I do help myself to their bibliographies if their topic is particularly interesting and I want to find a source that doesn’t have their name branded all over it. If they don’t have a bibliography, then what they’ve written is pure opinion and should be regarded as such.

Now, you aren’t always going to be able to find the information you want or need online. Most times, yes, but there are times where you might want to be able to hold a physical book in your hands or you may not be able to find a .PDF copy of it anywhere. And sometimes, you just don’t have $200 to shell out on a book that is no longer in print (it has happened to me).

This is where your local library comes into play. They may have something in their collection that is useful, but even if they don’t… they can order it in for you, via Interlibary Loan. This process is typically very low cost (usually a mailing fee). All you have to do is ask your librarian about interlibrary loan. They’ll most often have you fill out a form. That form goes to the person in charge of ILL, they order the book — and bam, a matter of time later, you have that text in your hands. Your local library can order resources from university libraries, so don’t be afraid to ask if they can find it. I’ve been able to find things like The Road to Hel, Teutonic Religion, and a Piece of Horse Liver. If they can’t find the book for you for any reason, they’ll let you know.

I really suggest reading books in addition to online articles, even if you’re reading on some sort of eReader. I love my Kindle Paperwhite, and have it loaded up with a bunch of Heathen resources. Just because it is electronic doesn’t mean it isn’t a book! Build up your own personal bibliography so that you have a good reference point for what people are talking about in the articles that you read online.

If anyone needs any assistance finding something at a library, please don’t hesitate to ask. I work at one, and can give you some suggestions.

Making the Most of Online Community

If you’re in a situation like mine (read: living in the middle of nowhere) it can be somewhat hard to find your place within a community in-person. I know that I certainly haven’t, but I’m putting more efforts towards that. More on that in the future.

This means that you likely rely on internet communities in order to feel connected. There are positives and negatives to internet communities, of course. The most obvious positive is that you’re put in contact with a large, diverse, group of people. The negative is that some of those people may not be the type you want to be rubbing elbows with. I don’t like to interact with White Supremacists, and they have an unfortunate tendency to crop up in online Heathen communities. There are groups actively working to combat this, and yet it still happens.

So, how do you decide if an online community is right for you?

  • Are there people you already know in the community?
  • Do they have clearly established rules/bylaws/community guidelines?
  • Are they active?
  • If it is an open group, spend some time observing what kind of posts are most often made. Can you stand seeing those posts on a daily basis, or are they interesting to you?

I, personally, wouldn’t want to participate in a group that doesn’t have clearly established community guidelines at the very least. I’m a member of one such group and I’m waiting to see how it pans out. I go through the list above, or one like it, whenever I am considering joining a group. If it is a closed group, it is harder to judge the kinds of posts that you’re going to see on a daily basis. If you’re concerned about being inundated with Vikings memes, I’d consider asking an admin or mod about what kinds of posts they see on a daily basis.

After you’ve joined a group, there is one way to make the most of it — participate! I wouldn’t thunder in making declarative posts, but it is a good idea to establish yourself as a community member by participating. Even if that participation is something as simple as writing “cool!” in response to someone else’s post, you’ve still participated. If you’re too shy to jump right in, there’s nothing wrong with waiting and observing until you feel comfortable enough to say something.

Huginn’s Heathen Hoff has informative content, as well as a decently active Facebook page. I would say this is a good start if you want information on Heathenry around the world, but you’re not wanting to participate too, too much.

The Asatru Community has some good resources as well, and an active Facebook page that I would recommend if you’re wanting to engage more — and you don’t mind the occasional bit of side chatter (though still Heathen related).

If you’re a member of any Heathen organizations, it would be a good idea to join their Facebook groups and participate there.

Now, participation doesn’t have to be a big deal. You don’t have to start writing sweeping editorials if you’re not comfortable with that. As I said above, participation can be as simple as commenting on someone else’s post. It puts you in contact with others, which (if you’re seeking community) is the goal here.

Rural is as rural does.

2016-10-10 09.23.12There is a Mjölnir hanging from my rear view mirror, and several Norse themed decals (from the Etsy store Beloved Viking Vinyl, and Heathens Against Hate). It is easily identifiable, I know, because it is the only one like it. I’m not saying I’m the only Heathen in Montana — far from it, as I have recently been in contact with some from Billings– but I am saying that the community here is thinly spread. And sadly, I like community. That is one of the reasons that I’ve decided to start blogging again, aside from liking to hear myself type. I want to reach out, I want to connect, and I want to discuss the things that I am passionate about. And maybe, just maybe, I want to see more Big Sky Heathen visibility.

In the long run, I would like to be a part of a more active community and invest some time into forming a local kindred. I am also making plans to participate in one or more clergy programs so that I can provide that manner of resource to Big Sky Heathens. All of this being said, I also have a strong belief in transparency. I am not a reconstructionist. I value the input from recon Heathens, but that path is not for me. I am more eclectic and mystic within my practices. I also include Loki within my veneration — He has played an important role within my life, and (to me) plays an important role within lore. I absolutely do not support people tearing each other down and saying that the way that they practice is “wrong”. People find faith in different ways. Many will experiment and leave, and I am not bothered by that. That, to me, gives less of a negative impression of my faith than the racists Neo-Nazis that co-opt Heathen concepts and symbols for their hatred. I do not support or condone White Supremacy, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, sexism, ableism or any other form of discrimination.

I support learning, sharing, awareness, community and respect for life. And I look forward to writing more.