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.