This post is part of the Kemetic Round Table, which aims to answer some of the most common questions and provide a wealth of diverse options for the Kemetic novice to explore.
What is UPG?
UPG is a common term used in the polytheist, pagan, and metaphysical fields that means Unverified Personal Gnosis. “Gnosis,” according to dictionary.com, is defined as “knowledge of spiritual matters; mystical knowledge”—so UPG is subjective mystical knowledge that an individual accrues in one’s spiritual or religious practice. The key word here is subjective (or personal), meaning this spiritual knowledge is not necessarily objective, historically verified, or scientifically feasible… though UPG can easily have roots in objective truths and communal understanding.
One accrues UPG by spending time with one’s gods (or spirits or ancestors or etc), by interacting with Them, and by actively building a personal spiritual practice. Some UPG may stem from or be inspired by research or academia, but it is primarily gained by engaging in ritual, meditation, prayer, etc—it’s the difference between reading the manual and getting your hands dirty. UPG is the sweat and soil that coat your fingers when you dig into the thick of Kemeticism; it is the lessons you learn.
As an example, I associate Ma’ahes not only with the traditional summer heat, but also with thunderous downpours. I’ve only seen a reference to Him as a storm deity in one source (the Routledge dictionary, I believe), and it was a Greek-era association, which I normally toss out with the bathwater in my Kemetic lore-gathering. However, in this particular case, there are certain types of storms that I consider His, and the link for me is a powerful one—this is my UPG.
Are there rules?
While there are no rules in UPG— it’s personal, after all—there are certainly some healthy guidelines that I’d encourage folks to keep in mind.
First and foremost, use common sense. If you think an Unseen entity is communicating something entirely off-putting or is acting in an unsettling way, check your gut and employ some logic. The human mind is a beautiful, complex, extraordinary thing, and we have vivid and brilliant imaginations. It’s easy to get caught up in our own constructed illusions, especially when first starting out; it’s hard to have the patience and the humility to rationale-check your experiences. No Netjeru will ask you to do something harmful to yourself or others; no Netjeru will push you to act outside of ma’at (rightness, balance, truth). It’s also pretty unlikely that you are a reincarnated Egyptian king, sorry. :) Be alert for any experience that strays too far outside of the realms of plausibility, in either positive or negative directions—not to immediately discard it, but to examine it more thoroughly.
My rule of thumb is to ask, “Is it useful?” If an experience or belief or a piece of my UPG is non-detrimental to any portion of my self or life, and if it enriches or enhances any portion of my life, it’s both harmless and beneficial, making it useful. This isn’t to say that some “real” parts of one’s practice or UPG won’t be a little bitter along with the sweet, but asking if it’s useful helps isolate those areas of potential trouble so they can be more rigorously reviewed with common sense firmly in hand.
Ultimately, only you can determine the validity and usefulness of your UPG. While I caution against integrating damaging UPG, I understand that sometimes the process of growth or the release of unhealthy things can be painful, and one’s practice is not necessarily going to be all kittens and rainbows. I have been faced with unpleasant tasks and challenging requests myself, but they have all been for the overall good of myself and my life; it’s important to be able to distinguish something hard from something downright bad.
How important is UPG? Is it reliable?
I consider UPG to be rather important, but not to the total exclusion of research into one’s god(s), magical techniques, relevant history, etc. Kemetics can range the gamut, however, from almost entirely UPG-based to almost entirely fact-based; find the mix that works best for you. If you’re deeply uncomfortable with jumping into an experience without a lot of study and intellectual contemplation, then UPG will matter less to you than the veracity of your academic resources. If you prefer to be more hands-on than analytical, then you may place a much greater weight on experience and less emphasis on research. Either way is fine, so long as it works for you.
How reliable one’s UPG is will depend on one’s ability to separate the wheat from the chaff… and also the importance UPG has in one’s practice. If you’re brand-new to the field and heavily academia-centric, you may not rely on your UPG very much. But, over time, your UPG will reinforce itself (or prove invalid and thus discardable) and will become more reliable, especially as your sense of what’s valid or not hones with experience.
For myself, I rely heavily on my UPG, but I frequently fact-check to make sure that no objective sources directly contradict it. I don’t mind if my UPG fills in a factual blank, but I tend to raise an eyebrow if it completely goes against a historical record. But then, I’m a soft reconstructionist, and so I give weight to academic and historical resources; some Kemetics are far looser (or stricter) than me.
What about others’ UPG? Does it matter to us—and should it?
I admit, it’s always a bit of a treat when I find some of my UPG meshes with someone else’s. There is always a possibility that your UPG can become VPG – verified personal gnosis – if a number of other Kemetics share it, thus making it a communal experiential belief.
However, you’re not required to integrate others’ UPG—only to respect it, just as you would like others to respect your own. If you couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks or practices, then there’s no need for you to try to weave in external UPGs into your practice; if, however, you are more community-based or socially-inclined, you can keep external UPGs in mind. Be wary of adopting someone else’s UPG as unadulterated fact, though. Even though you may consciously like another’s UPG, that doesn’t mean it will prove true and valid for you; one Kemetic’s experience of Sekhmet as a loving mother-figure may leave you wishing that the blazing, distant lioness-goddess you experience would be kinder. Your own UPG should always take primary importance in your practice, with very few exceptions, and when exploring another’s UPG for yourself, use your common sense and logic-checks.
To sum up…
UPG, or unverified personal gnosis, is the accumulation of subjective experiences and beliefs that informs an individual’s personal practice. I always encourage folks to check their UPG against common sense and to ask if it’s useful (harmless and beneficial) before integrating it into one’s spirituality. The importance of UPG in one’s practice will vary by person, but its reliability will usually increase over time, as a Kemetic gains experience and a better sense of discrimination. While one is free to ignore or to contemplate others’ UPG, one should always consider one’s own UPG first and foremost, as external UPGs may prove invalid and should not be treated as factual by default.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other takes on UPG and its usages by my fellow Round Table bloggers!