Historical veracity or UPG (unverified personal gnosis)? Which should you trust and adhere to?
Okay, that was a trick question, because neither of these is worth very much by itself. It is like asking which is more important, your liver or your lungs? You need them both, of course.
When historical records and archaeological evidence are ignored, when a spiritual path relies entirely on UPG, Paganism can rapidly devolve into an imaginary fantasy. This is when we begin to hear nonsense like “Freya is the Norse goddess of the moon”, or “because of their belief in Maat, none of the ancient Egyptians ever told a lie” (I swear by all that’s holy somebody once said this to me). Fantasy is great fun, but I think it should be confined to movies, books and tabletop roleplaying games. When it creeps into the foundation of one’s spiritual path, worship and reverence become little more than a mockery of Pagan praxis.
We all know people like this. I believe the popular term for them today is “fluff bunnies”.
But the opposite position is no better. When UPG is disparaged and historical proof is the entirety of one’s spirituality, there isn’t much to work with, especially for those of us who revere northern deities. The Eddas? They were written by a Christian, and if we believe them then our gods are not gods at all, they were just mortal Asians who came to Europe long ago and became rather famous. Of course the people who insist on strictly adhering to “the lore” overlook this. They are like the Christians who pick and choose passages from the Bible, only for scriptures they use the work of a man who did not even follow the religion he was writing about.
It annoys me when someone starts whining (as very often happens on Heathen e-lists) about how we know next to nothing about our ancestors’ beliefs and practices – as if this is news to anybody. The whiner usually follows this anouncement with negative comments about what other people are doing – and how they are doing it wrong, because there is no proof that it was done that way. From what I have seen on the internet, it appears that some people live for this. Investing so much time knocking what other Pagans are doing, they must have very sad personal lives.
Yes, there are huge gaps in what we know of PaleoPagan practices. And that is where UPG comes in. Because eventually that unverified personal gnosis will become verified – by our gods, and by our communities. Like our lungs and our livers, we need both UPG and historical evidence if we are to reconstruct healthy, viable spiritual paths for the 21st century.