The center cannot hold: UPG as a centrifugal force

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

– “The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats

Although we didn’t call it by the same name, unverified person gnosis (UPG) is a concept that I have been familiar with since I was a child.  I was raised Mormon and we called it “personal revelation”.

Joseph Smith’s “First Vision”

The Mormon foundation myth is the story of a young 14-year old boy who went into the woods to pray and to ask God which of all the churches was true.  According to the story, God appeared to Joseph Smith and told him that none of the churches in existence at the time were true.  In this sense, the Mormon church is built on Joseph Smith’s UPG.  Even more than that, the image of the young Joseph Smith praying in the “Sacred Grove” is an archetype* of the contemporary Mormon experience.  Every Mormon child and every convert is taught that they can ask God any question and expect to receive an answer (of some kind).  Mormons call this “personal revelation”, but it is just another name for UPG.  From this foundation myth, I took away the idea that every person’s relationship with the divine was ultimately a personal one, and not mediated by community.

However, running against tradition of individual personal revelation in Mormonism, there is a strong communitarian tradition.  The archetype* of Joseph Smith praying in the woods is not the only archetype* of Mormon experience.

Mormon pioneers

Another archetype* is the Mormon pioneers journeying west in search of Zion and then building it together in the Salt Lake Valley.  It is a profoundly communal symbol, in contrast to the individualistic symbol of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision”.  It is also an authoritarian symbol, as the Mormons were following their leader, Brigham Young (Joseph Smith’s successor), westward.  These communal and authoritarian values sometimes come into conflict the individualistic values of Mormonism.  While the individualistic principle holds that anyone can receive revelation for themselves, the authoritarian principle dictates that members of the Mormon church must follow the revelation received by those of higher authority than them.  Mormons call this “stewardship”.  Thus, children are expected to follow their parents, wives their husbands, men their ecclesiastical leaders, and the whole church follows the Mormon prophet.  This is how Mormonism mitigates the potentially destructive effects of personal gnosis on community.

For some reason, the pioneer archetype never really resonated with me.  I didn’t connect with the stories of the suffering of the pioneers on their western trek or their struggles to carve out home in the desert.  Perhaps it was because I was not a descendant of those pioneers (like my wife is); my parents converted when I was young and I never lived in the Mormon corridor.  It was much the more individualistic symbol of the solitary prophet in the woods that spoke to me.  So perhaps it is not that surprising that I eventually left the Mormon church when my personal gnosis prompted me to break with my community, like the young Joseph Smith did.

When I left Mormonism, I took another individualist as my guide: Emerson.  Emerson famously wrote in his essay “Nature”:

“Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? [...] Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”

Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” became for me at that time a kind of personal manifesto.  He writes:

“Whenever a mind [...] receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, — means, teachers, texts, temples fall; [...] history is an impertinence and an injury, if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.”

“[W]hen you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;– the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man.”

Clearly, Emerson had no qualms about UPG.  It’s no coincidence, I think, that he found himself unable to live in communion with his own religious community (Unitarianism).  Like Emerson, at the time, I saw all institutionalized religion as antithetical to personal spirituality.

When I discovered Neo-Paganism, it was not through any group, or even through any human contact for that matter.  I discovered Neo-Paganism in the library.  Ronald Hutton, Margot Adler, Starhawk, and Vivianne Crowley were my guides.  As an eclectic Neo-Pagan, I “poached the stacks” for inspiration and built a personal practice with UPG as my only guide.  It was not for several years until I eventually sought out real live Pagans.  And even then, I felt no real community with them, probably because my sense of what Paganism had developed in relative isolation.  Most of my interaction with other Pagans today remains virtual.  And from the results of every survey of Pagans I have read, as well as anecdotal evidence, it seems that I am typical of most Pagans in all of these ways.

But I do feel a longing for Pagan community, especially a ritual community, or the feeling communitas that can be created in group ritual  Solitary ritual has unique benefits, but it is no substitute for group ritual.  But how does an individual who places such a high value on personal gnosis find community?  And how does a movement full of such individuals, like Neo-Paganism, create and sustain community?

My ambiguous attitude toward community was revealed unintentionally when I wrote my post describing the three centers of Paganism: (1) nature, (2) Self, (3) deities (taken from Graham Harvey’s book, What Pagans Believe, which describes Pagan practices in three sections: “Celebrating Nature”, “Working Magic”, and “Honoring Deities”).  I later added folk- or community-centered Paganism at the suggestion of one of the commenters to my post, M. Jay Lee, but the fact that I left it out in the first place is indicative of the fact that I did not know where community fit into my view of Paganism.  Even now, I am not quite convinced that the fourth “center” belongs in the schema.

This tension between individual experience and religious community was highlighted for me recently in a post by Sam Webster about UPG, which Webster describes as “an ugly, misguided”, as well as a “dismissive and insulting”, term.  Webster correctly, I think, points out that religious traditions and texts are themselves based on UPG:

“All religiosity is derived from someone having an experience. Sometimes in company, but most times alone, someone had an experience and then shared it with others. [...] Experience is the center of all spiritual and religious life. Text is at best derivative. By creating and using such a term as UPG, “Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis” we privilege text over experience. [...]  Even more damagingly, by framing someone’s experience as a UPG we dissociate ourselves from the primary data of spirituality. We can then bracket and set aside the immediate real, and go back to our books.”

And I agree with Webster that, at the very least, the term “UPG” is problematic because it implies that personal gnosis needs to be “verified” (i.e., legitimated) by the community.  Like Webster, I tend to balk at any suggestion that I should sacrifice my personal judgment to the needs of the group.

I remember first encountering the term “UPG” and feeling, like Webster, a certain distaste for the term, and thinking that it really had no place in Paganism.  Of course, when I first encountered the term, it was not in a strictly Pagan context, but in a Heathen one.   In fact, it was not until the last few years that I began to see the term used by Pagans.  The term “UPG” has an important place in Heathenry, because Heathenry is much more community-centered the contemporary Paganism.  As Galina Krasskova writes in her Master’s thesis:

“[Heathen] Religious rituals are primarily viewed as a means of building community. There is little understanding or desire in the majority of the community for rituals that create a palpable sense of the sacred external to that community building.  In fact, it seems likely that the reconstructed rituals of blót and symbel were primarily viewed at first as merely active extensions of the lore, a means of creating a community Weltanschauung. Certainly there is a marked ambivalence in Heathenry toward the Gods.”

Krasskova goes so far as to say that Heathen ritual is structured “to keep the sacred at bay”.  Why?  Because it is a threat to community:

“Heathen ritual is structured precisely to avoid any emotional or physical expressiveness that may transcend the accustomed social order. Rites like symbel and blót are viewed as necessary buffers between the orderly, civilized, mundane world and the potentially dangerous, inhuman, and unpredictable world of the Gods and spirits. It is this very unpredictability, inherent in personal gnosis that seems so threatening to the modern community, which uses its rites and rituals to keep that threatened instability (and by extension their own emotional messiness) at bay.”

In recent years, however, Heathenry has had an increasing influence on Paganism.  (This is due, it seems, largely to the influence of Pagans like Diana Paxson, Raven Kaldera, and Galina Krasskova who have been influenced by Heathenry.)  In contrast to Heathenry, however, Paganism generally places a priority on personal experience.  Tradition is devalued whenever it is seen as an impediment to personal authority and direct experience of the divine.  (See Christine Hoff Kraemer, Seeking the Mystery, esp. Ch. 3.)  In spite of this, the term “UPG” has been carried over from its community-centered religious context, and it seems like we Pagans don’t know quite what to do with it.

But I would argue that the term “UPG” does have a place in Paganism too, precisely because it highlights the problematic nature of the emphasis on personal experience in Paganism.  This was brought out in a comment by “Scott” to Webster’s post:

“My concern is that you’re problematizing it without addressing the real question that the term (and others like it) were meant to address: in a world where we *do* take religious experience seriously, how do we distinguish between forms of experience which can be generalized, and those which, for whatever reason, cannot? [...] UPG is a term for an experience for which we *do not* have verification through replication, either by text *or* by independent experiences [...] If it’s an actual contact from a Deity, it might be intended solely as a direction for that practitioner, or it might be more widely applicable as (for example) a general preference for a particular offering for that Deity. Bracketing that experience with the term ‘UPG’ until it is independently verified is a method by which our community negotiates our understanding of this material.” (emphasis added)

Scott’s comment reveals how the term “UPG” is used to mediate between personal gnosis and community.

What I think Webster fails to appreciate is that personal gnosis is always a potential threat to community.  Personal gnosis must be “routinized” to some extent, to borrow Max Weber’s terminology, if community is to persist.  Certainly, in the short term, we can always have small scale community based on personal relationships without doing violence to personal gnosis.  But how do we ensure that the community survives the inevitable conflicts that arise between people?  And how do we ensure that our community can survive more than a single generation?

The problem of personal gnosis is highlighted by the dynamics of new religious movements.  New religious movements are often founded on the personal gnosis of a charismatic individual.  When that founder dies, the personal gnosis of competing successors threatens to tear the community apart.  Those movements that survive the death of the leader are those that create institutions to “routinize” personal gnosis.  Sociologist Max Weber calls this the “routinization of charisma”.  This was what happened to Mormonism when Joseph Smith died and Brigham Young succeeded him.  A recent post on the Peculiar People blog here at Patheos documents one aspect of a shift in Mormonism from a “Protestant” preference for decentralized personal religion (symbolized by Joseph Smith) to a Catholic-like concern for centralizing authority in church institutions (symbolized by Brigham Young).  Paganism, in contrast, appears to have gone in the opposite direction, toward greater decentralization and personalization.  (See Fritz Muntean’s “The Protestanization of Paganism”.)

But it is not just in the succession scenario that personal gnosis must be “routinized”.  Personal gnosis is always potentially threatening to community.  This can readily be seen in contemporary Paganism, where the resistance to routinization is high and the feeling of community is weak.  Barbara Jane Davy observes: “The individualism of solitaries presents a challenge or resistance to the routinization or institutionalization of Paganism.”  (Introduction to Pagan Studies, 2007).  In order for a community like Paganism to survive, it must find a way to integrate personal gnosis with the communal identity.

Different religions use various mechanisms for “routinizing” the charisma of personal gnosis.  Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are two common mechanisms for doing so.  Christians often employ creeds, which function as limits on personal gnosis and boundary markers of community.  Non-credal forms of Christianity rely on the text of the Bible to perform the same function in a somewhat more fluid way.  Mormons, as mentioned above, use the principle of concentric “stewardships” as a limit on personal revelation.  And Quakers have an institution called “clearness committees” which can help individuals to integrate personal gnosis with community values.

Pagan groups employ similar mechanisms.  Contrary to the common statement that Pagans have no orthodoxy, individual Pagans groups do have creeds of a sort.  It’s true that most attempts to create a pan-Pagan creed have failed miserably.  (Consider the short-lived 1974 Council of American Witches or the more recent attempt to revive the Council in 2011.)  But the UK Pagan Federation does have its Three Principles.  The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Church of All Worlds, and the New Reformed Druids of North America have all endorsed the same statement of beliefs at one time.  The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) attempts to accomplish this through the incorporation of Paganism into the structure of a larger religious organization, the UUA.  And contrary to the myth that one can believe anything and still be a UU, Unitarian Universalists do have their Seven Principles which act as a limit on what is tolerable even to Unitarians.  (Imagine a Neo-Nazi in UU congregation!)

Similarly, while there is no orthopraxy common to all of contemporary Paganism, various Pagan groups do have their own orthopraxy.  The Traditional Wiccas have their liturgies.   The ADF has its Core Order of Ritual.  Teo Bishop created the Solitary Druid Fellowship liturgies precisely to help create community among solitaries.  The various reconstructionist Pagan traditions are developing their own orthopraxies.  And there is even a kind of generic Neo-Wiccan ritual structure (circle, calling the quarters, invoking god and goddess) which is common to most pan-Pagan gatherings which coalesced over the years through a homogenizing process which Barbara Jane Davy calls “mimetic isomorphism“.  These are all strategies for dealing with the potentially destructive effects of personal gnosis on community.

And the use of the term “UPG” by Heathens and by reconstructionist Pagans to “bracket” personal gnosis is yet another mechanism for mitigating the centrifugal force of personal gnosis.  In spite of my predilection for religious individualism and the implied judgment on the “U” in “UPG”, I don’t think this mechanism is any more or less legitimate than the others mentioned above.

The more I think about this issue, the more my either-or attitude toward religious community seems myopic.  Does institutional religion have to be the death of personal vision?  Does personal gnosis have to undermine religious community?  Might not the centrifugal force of personal gnosis and the centripital force of routinization hold each other in a creative tension?  The use of the term “UPG” as a linguistic device is, I think, an attempt to do this.  We can argue about its effectiveness, but I think we should agree that some mechanism is needed in order to achieve this balance.

* I’m using the term “archetype” here in the colloquial sense of an original pattern or model or prototype, not in the Jungian sense.

 

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    It seems that UPG is like PC (political correctness) in that it is used both in a normative and pejorative sense. Might this account for some of the confusion surrounding the term? I really haven’t had time to fully consider — this is just an idea that popped in my head while reading. Great post, by the way.

    • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

      This is my sense, to be honest. The term can be used respectfully to indicate the willingness to accept another’s experiences as true and real to them, but to also acknowledge that it was a personal experience and not one shared by others in some way.

      But, the other usage, and the one that I see more often, is the pejorative that Editor B mentions above. It’s the attempt to minimize the experience of the other or to make clear that someone (or a community of someones) has chosen not to value the experiences of that person. I’m not sure how often this is done in the sense of community preservation discussed above and how often it’s used as an attempt to belittle or marginalize behaviors or experiences that we want to slowly push outside our community, but the effect is the same. And, in the end, the use of it in this way only makes bullies out of the users.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Or, it’s the community deciding not to accept the crazy, of the individual, which is their right. This is an outgrowth of the argument of Pop Culture Paganism being a valid form of Paganism, only put in a much more intellectual level. It is used to inspire guilt.

        Considering how little many Pagans actually know how to deal with conflict, that I have seen, the term Bully is bandied about way to much. As is the term of you are being “negative”. Conflict is not bad. Being told no, I don’t accept your brand of nuttyness, but you go ahead and practice it for you, is not bad. Putting boundaries is not bad. This is the difference between Tolerance and Acceptance

        .

        • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

          100% in agreement with you, but there’s also a difference between saying “I disagree but respect your UPG” and say “You’re completely bonkers.”

          I’m fully willing to tolerate and even willing to accept under many circumstances, but in both cases, civility and tact are necessary. When we forget that disagreement is, itself, both tolerable and usually acceptable, that’s when we run into situations of bullying.

          • Bianca Bradley

            Depends on where you say, I think your completely bonkers. If I post it on my blog, I do not need to be civil or tactful. If I say it in my space, civility and tactfulness are not necessarily needed. Also if I suck at tactfulness, you can’t rightly expect me to be tactful.

            I would also like to argue that civility and tactfulness are fairly subjective. Some people are sensitive and take things way to personally, and some are bombastic pitas. Most of us, are in between. Though depending on which Pagan Community we are talking about, you will find some to be more sensitive and others to be more blunt.

            • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

              I realize we are perhaps drifting a bit from the topic of this post, but I thought this might be a good place to share the “Civility Pledge” of another Patheos blogger.

              http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2013/02/the-camels-with-hammers-civility-pledge/

              I think the pledge is a useful resource when discussing issues of tact, civility, respectful dialog, etc.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Sigh, I can already tell you no. I like to do number 1 (aka debates, which are for persuasion) and number 4 I can’t do either, because when my patience runs low I will use those epithets. I see no reason for not calling a spade a spade.
              Number 5 just makes me roll my eyes, I won’t do that either.(I treat people like people. If you have an owie and you know me, you tell me and I take it into consideration, otherwise, I treat you like I do anyone else. Otherwise it’s just disrespectful to said marginalized person. They aren’t children).6. Bs, I will use those slurs if I think they are warranted, I regularly use the B word. And come on 12, just hurts anyone who is sarcastic.

              IT’s also way to bloody wordy.

            • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

              In this case, I would personally disagree. I think being disrespectful of another person, regardless of venue and of audience, is usually a bad idea. Especially in the modern world of light-speed communication, the likelihood of the subject of your disrespect learning of and/or reading your commentary is high if not near certain.

              Granted, we all need the opportunity to vent and call someone bonkers from time to time, but doing so online, or in any public setting, is when you start to approach the line between sharing an opinion and forcing it.

            • Bianca Bradley

              The person doesn’t have to read the opinion you voiced on your space though. There is not line on sharing and forcing an opinion. People don’t have the right to not be told they aren’t crazy yahoo’s, on other peoples blogs or spaces.

            • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

              Consider this: you think Jimbo Scott is bonkers. So you go to your blog or to Facebook or to wherever and say state loudly that Mr. Scott is bonkers and, perhaps, you even use more pejorative terms.

              What if Mr. Scott’s professional associations are hurt by this? What if your words, googled by a potential employer, are used as a reason to consider someone other than Mr. Scott for a position? Or, keeping it closer to home and potentially more likely, what if Mr. Scott’s coreligionists read your words and are made uncomfortable around Mr. Scott as a result?

              Plus, it might not even be an intentional search for your opinion that leads Mr. Scott to it. I know that, back when Google Alerts functioned with greater regularity, I had various versions of my name being watched. If you put my name online, especially if you used my middle name (i.e. Dashifen), I was going to be emailed about it. Perhaps Mr. Scott, who might not even know you, might have a similar interest in how he’s being represented online. Now, suddenly, he finds out that you’ve been calling him bonkers even if he’s not aware of who you are or why you think that.

              Our words — especially words online — are likely given too much weight; face-to-face, these sorts of things are easily and smoothly resolved. But, once it’s in the public square, you can’t know what sort of ramifications your words may have beyond your original intent.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Why is that my problem? If I blog on my space that mr Jimbo Scott is bonkers, I will say why. If someone decides based on my blog to not hire him, that is on them.

              I mean heck, lets take this even further. WHat if someone decides not to buy a particular book because I blogged I didn’t like it and it hurt their livelihood. Exactly why is that my problem?

              Why should I be guilted into self censoring myself? Maybe Jimbo Scott is crazy and people needed to be warned. What if being silent is does more harm then good?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              “Also if I suck at tactfulness, you can’t rightly expect me to be tactful.”

              i disagree. If you “suck at tactfulness”, I can rightly expect you to work at getting better at it.

            • Bianca Bradley

              No you can’t expect that. Why do you think you get the right to expect that? Have I made a promise that I would get better? Then, if I haven’t you are making an assumption.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              It’s called the social contract.

            • Lēoht Sceadusawol

              I never signed one of those.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Those of us who have will keep that in mind when deciding whether to interact with you.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Or you could do an easier thing, and ask how others communicate and what their boundaries are and see if they are compatible with yours, instead of expecting someone to adhere to some unspoken agreement, that they may not agree or have rejected for their own reasons.

            • Lēoht Sceadusawol

              That is fair enough.

              I tend to favour a situational approach to courtesy. If I feel the situation and/or person(s) warrant civility, then civility is what comes. If not, then whatever manner of interaction that is appropriate is what is utilised.

              People get offended way too easily (I find even my appearance can be offensive to some.)

            • Bianca Bradley

              Yes black squares are fairly mysterious and hard to read:)

            • Lēoht Sceadusawol

              Look hard enough and you’ll see my eyes. It is a self portrait. :p

              I was, of course, referring to ‘real life’ situations.

            • Bianca Bradley

              lol. I figured, but the smart alek in me had to say something:P

            • Bianca Bradley

              You are making an assumption that I or others have signed on or agreed to what you think is a social contract. It may be a contract YOU have signed on for, but not something that I have agreed to.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              If you don’t want to agree to interact with others in a spirit of mutual respect, that is your decision. Of course, you will not then be in a position to expect others to treat you any more respectfully than you treat them.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Another assumption.

              Respect is earned, not automatically given. I give mutual civility until such time as I decide whether or not it is warranted. Quite frankly it is a much more forthright and healthier way of dealing with stuff, then repressing everything, because you may upset someone.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              A basic level of respect is automatically given by everyone who wants a basic level of respect to be given to them. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but it seems to me that you’re arguing for your right to not be civil to people whose opinions you disagree with. Fair enough, but then other people are likely to judge you for that. You cannot reasonably assert your own autonomy while denying other people theirs.

            • Bianca Bradley

              I often enjoy talking to people I disagree with. That isn’t hte issue. However, yes I can assert my autonomy and deny others theirs. It’s about boundaries and personal power.

              I give people only as much power over me as I think is ok. If i trust you, and you deserve more, you get more power. If I don’t, there is a long walk off a short pier. Depending on what the situation is, my autonomy may very well trump theirs and I am not afraid of asserting it.

              Nor do I subscribe to the belief that everyone can be right no one can be wrong thing. Never make waves. Lets always keep interpersonal communication and group communication peaceful. Conflict is necessary so is critique and people need to have clue by fours every once in a while. Being told you are wrong is not the end of the world and only encourages critical thinking, which is very much needed in an interfaith area, where many of us talk to trees, dragons, invisible things that may or may not be Gods, and any other thing, that to a rational atheist looks very questionable:)

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              It seems to me that if it’s wrong for others to deny you your autonomy, it’s wrong for you to deny others theirs. Unless you’re not talking about right and wrong but only who has more power in the situation- though that has ugly results.

              Anyway, I agree that conflict is necessary, but not disrespect. Disrespect leads to violence and in some sense is violence. “You are totally wrong for the following reasons” is a conversation, “you are stupid and crazy” is a type of assault. It’s not meant to give the other person a clue, but to harm them. To my mind, that’s wrong in most circumstances. Not that I’ve never done it, but I’m not proud of the times that I have.

              Most of what I believe would seem pretty crazy to most atheists. One of my best friends is an atheist, but he doesn’t disrespect me for my strange beliefs. As for the militant atheists who like to mock and verbally attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them- I don’t owe those people a conversation. Because they can’t have respectful conversation with those who don’t agree with them, I keep my distance. And that’s what I mean by a social contract. If a person uses slurs or insults or mockery toward me, I stop trying to have meaningful conversations with that person. “Never debate with anyone whose intelligence you don’t respect” is my personal motto for those situations.

            • Bianca Bradley

              I am talking about power. That isn’t an ugly thing either. Humans are social animals, power is involved in our daily and extended communications.

              I am going to speculate that you are talking more in a Utopian sense. The scenario’s you see in your head are more equal. I, who have admitted trust issues and am more cynical(odd for an optimist) am not talking about situations that are equal off the bat.

              I am going to speculate that when you talk about your stuff, you are putting people(hypothetical people) on an equal footing. I do not. That sounds bad but it isn’t. I give equal civility, but I measure what they say and do. My boss will be on a higher footing then me. My children are on a lower footing with me. My friends, who I have given trust are on an equal footing. Acquaintances are still being measured.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              I agree that power is simply a reality and not ugly in itself. But if you don’t have to respect the autonomy of another person because you have more power than them, I would see that as very ugly indeed.

              I also agree that status differences are simply a reality- socially speaking. But I don’t verbally abuse or degrade my kids just because I’m on a higher footing than them, nor would I verbally abuse employees or students, nor would I tolerate being verbally abused by a boss or teacher.

              Yes, I try to treat all people as being equals with the exception of circumstances where I have voluntarily accepted their authority. (If I went to work on a fishing boat, I wouldn’t argue with the captain.) I don’t think that’s utopian, but maybe a lot of people would.

              The thing that I disagree with about your position is that you seem to be saying that other people have no right to judge you but you do have the right to use abusive language to them if you don’t respect their opinions. That boils down to saying that other people have to treat you ethically, but you don’t have to treat them ethically.

              Bearing in mind that this is strictly hypothetical, because you haven’t treated me with anything but courtesy in this conversation. But if I’m not misunderstanding you (as I admit I could be) I can’t see that as an ethically defensible position.

            • Bianca Bradley

              This is the third assumption you have made over what I have typed. Please do point out where I said anything about verbally abusing kids, or tolerating a boss abusing me. I talked about power dynamics, NOT abuse. I don’t know why you went straight to abuse, but it is aggravating and quite frankly insulting as hell.

              I phrased what I said about Utopian in a more questioning way. It was a query. It was not a statement of fact. I was trying to get a handle on what I was perceiving. Utopian was the word that best came to my mind.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              Those were examples, not accusations. Examples of situations where the power is not equal, but verbal abuse is still not justified and your argument that respectful treatment depends on power dynamic does not hold up.

              Do you not consider the use of slurs to be verbal abuse? Because you wrote: “Using slurs is perfectly acceptable adult behavior, when conflict escalates.”

              Do you not consider it abusive to deny others their autonomy? Because you wrote: “yes I can assert my autonomy and deny others theirs.”

              So, it is acceptable according to what you wrote, to use verbal abuse and to deny the autonomy of others while insisting they respect your autonomy. I’m not trying to insult you, but this is what you said. You’re arguing for the right to behave unethically toward others while angrily rejecting any criticism for it. If that’s not what you meant, I’d suggest rephrasing it, because I can’t see any other way to read what you’ve written.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Yes it is acceptable to use slurs.

              In friends, if someone is acting like an ahole, you tell them they are.
              IN acquaintances, when they get aggressive, snarky, or abusive, you make a firm line in the sand by using verbal slurs, among other communication tools. It makes you look less like prey, which will either make them back down, or it turns into a flame war.
              Two instances that come to mind quickly.

              Yes there are times that my personal autonomy trumps others, but that is power dynamics. So yes, going straight to abuse, instead of asking whether or not that is what I meant is aggravating.

              Where my autonomy trumps others, when it comes to decisions effecting my children. When it comes to decisions effecting me. There are many others.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              With some friends I guess that’s true. “You’re acting like a jackass” is not degrading in the way that “you’re crazy and stupid” is. I have personally seen verbal disrespect result in violence on several occasions, so I tend to think of disrespectful words as being on the spectrum of violence. I don’t consciously choose to use them unless I’m in a situation where I really need to get someone to back off for my own safety. In any other situation they strike me as the verbal equivalent of an assault.

              I see a lot of discourse in the pagan community that ignores even basic civility and stoops to name-calling and disrespect just because people see things differently. I really, really hate that sort of thing. Anyway, I did ask what you meant- when I stated that I thought I might be misunderstanding you. I’m honestly not trying to piss you off, it’s just that some of the phrasing you used seemed like a defense of some behavior I find really objectionable. You did indeed say that you treated other people with basic civility, but to me the defense of using slurs contradicted that.

            • Bianca Bradley

              I took some time to ponder this, and nap(lots of rain). I would like to see more from you in regards to how verbal disrespect result in violence. Are we talking in the Pagan community? Because other then the few rare warhawks like me, most of the ones I’ve run into aren’t as interested in escalating beyond words(not getting into the curses and stuff).

              Like I said earlier, I think in spectrum not absolutes. I also try to be as objective as possible. Part of what I was arguing, what you or others may find objectionable, others do not and it is good to ask, so as to get a good idea, frame of reference etc.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              Always a good idea. :)

              No, it was not in the pagan community- although I heard there were threats of violence from some folks on both sides of the recent pop culture deities debate. The stuff I’m referring to is from when I was a young man. Guys would say the wrong thing and the next thing you know, it would go bad and someone would get hurt. Anyway, I don’t find critique, disagreement, criticism etc objectionable. But I do find name-calling or personally degrading language of any kind objectionable. I see it as being akin to violence because, like violence, it can harm the other person at a fundamental level and even if it doesn’t, it still demonstrates a basic lack of respect for the other person’s humanity.

              Now, I’m not naive. I know there are times when you just have to go there, because it’s on and that’s all there is to it. But that should never be the case in a mere disagreement of opinion.

            • Bianca Bradley

              I’m going to disagree with you.

              One, I subscribe and raise my kids with sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. This is true, if you give someone power over you, then yes it will hurt. Not all name calling hurts them on the same level as physical blows.

              Emotional blackmail, verbal abuse, emotional manipulation are different things inho.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              I try to follow the principle that other people’s words can’t hurt me, but mine can hurt other people. In any case, it makes serious conversation and debate impossible.

            • Bianca Bradley

              You are assuming I am arguing for others to treat me ethically where I can treat unethically. That is not what I was saying.

              On previous times in this conversations, I have said I default to equal civility until such times as circumstances or actions say otherwise. I have also said I do not subscribe to the equal footing thing, because power dynamics precludes that. I then gave two examples.

            • Bianca Bradley

              I am not an angel, nor do I try to do the whole Christian Jesus pacifist thing. I will be abusive in verbal, but only after someone has already thrown the first verbal punch, and then the gloves are off.

              Non civil communication techniques are tools. I don’t put them in a no box, simply because they may be viewed as negative. I have used them, but the power dynamic gave me consent to do so. I have used them, as a mirror to another behavior. I have used them, to show loopholes in logic. I have used them, to push back against someone else being aggressive.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              I’m not an angel, a pacifist or a Christian either. Yes, there are circumstances where the gloves are off. But that’s not the argument you’ve been presenting.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Actually it is. I’m just willing to accept that the gloves coming off are acceptable and part of being an adult and not necessarily childish.

              I don’t do absolutes, I do spectrum’s.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              “If I post it on my blog, I do not need to be civil or tactful. If I say
              it in my space, civility and tactfulness are not necessarily needed.”

              This returns us to the interesting question about the nature of personal blogs. Personally, I think since they are public, civility can be expected. It does not matter to me whether you are shouting your opinion from the street (a community forum) or from a window inside your home (a personal blog), civility is still required.

            • Bianca Bradley

              My blog my rules, my space my rules. You can’t demand something on my territory. You can choose to not continue to go there, or discuss, but you can’t demand from me that which I am not willing to give in my space.

              Also you should define on what you think civility is. If it is like what the person linked on civil discourse, then no. I have some issues with the beige human resources nature of that particular thing.

            • Bianca Bradley

              I would also like to remind you, of the post you wrote on your former website, where you realized that other peoples places are their personal shrines.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Yes, and I would expect people to be *especially* civil in their own shrines. They are after all shrines to the gods and not shrines to ones ego. Of course, most personal blogs are not shrines.

            • Bianca Bradley

              You are having expectations that are not Pragmatic. 1. Their Gods will deal with them as they see fit. You do not know the role they play for their God, or whether or not, their God agrees with them. 2. Hard Polytheistic Pagans have different communication techniques that you aren’t familiar with, you are putting your version onto them, without first understanding how they talk. 3. You are using your subjective definition of civility, without first establishing ground rules or boundaries. Which btw you have yet to define.

              Interpersonal communication, and intercultural communication would come in very handy here imo.

            • John Halstead

              “Civil” is what everyone has learned how to be when they went to kindergarten. And what many people seem to forget when they get on the Internet. Everything else is just rationalization for bad behavior.

            • Bianca Bradley

              No.

              1. We are adults not kindergartners. We no longer have to follow the rules the schools made us do, do to legality reasons.

              2. You hurt my feelings is not a reasons for someone to hold their tongue anymore, when you are an adults, different rules apply. Interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, mediation (all of those are things used by Communication majors) to help resolve number 2.

              3. You can’t expect people to adhere to Kindergarten rules, in their own space, especially if they thought the rules in Kindergarten don’t apply when they are adults.

              4. It hurts nothing to figure out what the boundaries are, and to establish clear communication. It costs more to figure out where the communication went wrong.

              5. You are passively dictating behavior by your expectations and that leads to conflict. Conflict that you are causing and escalating because you are expecting people to act the way you want them to, instead of taking the time to ask why, what, where, when. That is rude dude.

              Furthermore, depending on the area of the web, Kindergarten rules go away and more advanced stuff comes in. For instance on the Cauldron I learned to 1. take a critique with grace. 2. I learned to put space in my typing. 3. To source my stuff. 4. To learn that some of my sources were crap and to grow from that.

              None of the above is appropriate for Kindergarten behavior. Your wrong is a valid sentence, especially if they told you why, the why made it polite. I don’t accept your pov is also valid. Your sources are crap due to x, y and z academia reasons was also valid. None of that is rude, but would not be acceptable in a Kindergarten setting, because we are talking about adults treating you as a thinking adult, without needing your hand held, or treating you as special.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Kindergarten rules would be the *minimum* I would expect. I’m not suggesting everyone act like a child. I want people to act like adults, which is what we start teaching Kindergarteners how to do. Using “slurs” is not adult behavior. And it’s not about hurt feelings. It’s about raising the level of public discourse so it can be socially constructive.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Using slurs is perfectly acceptable adult behavior, when conflict escalates. It is about hurt feelings and the lack of conflict resolution. It is also about putting your morals or ethics on someone else and demanding they act like you expect them to, you don’t get to do that. You are wrapping it up in intellectual “Socially constructive” terms but it is still you demanding something. Especially on their own spaces(see above on your expectations on how they act in their own shrines) when you have the ability to not watch.

              You are making classic communication mistakes here. People also communicate in different ways. http://psychosocial.actalliance.org/default.aspx?di=65436

              They argue in different ways, and cultural ways also play a part.http://sourcesofinsight.com/conflict-management-styles-at-a-glance/ All of those styles above are acceptable depending on the interaction, and I’ve used them all.

              I am serious when I say, some looks into Interpersonal, intercultural and conflict resolution in regards to Communication(as a major) would really help here.

            • Christopher Scott Thompson

              “Using slurs is perfectly acceptable adult behavior, when conflict escalates.” No, it really isn’t.

            • Bianca Bradley

              Yes it is. It’s part of the competing communication paradigm, I showed on links. And no matter how “nice, good, or superior”, people think they are, a good chunk will use them.

  • http://www.walkofthefallen.com Labrys

    Like you, I discovered paganism in a library…but with authors like Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell as well as others you named. Finding them saved my sanity, as UPG was pulling me away from my well-failed attempts at Christianity; my “initiator” was no group, but my deity and from the usual dominant paradigm surround I grew up in that could only be madness. I stay solitary because UPG and my own skeptical investigations still guide my path; but usually one or the other ticks off other pagans. They seem either uncomfortable with my questions or dissatisfied with my few certainties!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      That seems to be a common experience.

      Oh yes, I should not have left our Eliade and especially Campbell!

  • Joseph Bloch

    I would say that UPG, at least in the Heathen recon community, has a bit of a broader definition than you use. It doesn’t always have to be some sort of divine revelation. Even a hunch, an intuitive leap based on scholarly research that goes from Point A to Point C without ever quite hitting Point B, is classified as UPG as well.

    In that respect, UPG casts too wide a net, including both the “Loki told me he likes X” and the “I can’t actually prove it, but the folklore surrounding Loki-like figures in the Shetlands seems to point to X” camps in the same place. That’s one reason I dislike the term. If it was always used for a subjective personal revelation, that would be one thing. But it is also used for purely intellectual flashes of insight that cannot be definitively proven, and thus I think it fails as a term simply because it lumps together two very different phenomena.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I had not considered that aspect of UPG. Personal flashes of insight would not really seem to qualify as “gnosis” to me.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Why do personal insights not qualify as gnosis?

  • Bianca Bradley

    You have some misconceptions.

    Diana Paxton is not Northern Tradition Pagan, that is Krasskova and Kaldera. Nor do the Re constructionist(which you have left out the Greeks who also play a part in this).

    Diana Paxton is someone who is teaching SEIDR in a largely Asatru context. Nor is Krasskova the reason that UPG is seen the way you describe it. You are ignoring the part that the website The Cauldron has played.

    I suggest you might want to read Talking to the Spirits, Personal Gnosis in a Pagan Religion by Kaldera and Kenaz Filan.

    With all due respect, you really don’t know why Heathen, or any other Recon takes UPG or incorporates it or ignores it. UPG plays a part in your spiritual thing, however in a community setting, the rest of your essay needs work. Especially in research.

    • Bianca Bradley

      http://www.uppsalaonline.com/uppsala/asatru.htm#upg click on the UPG part.

      http://www.ecauldron.com/ The first place I heard of UPG. The other places were by Norse Pagan authors, but not Krasskova or Paxton. In fact PPG becomes part of the community when enough people have the same UPG, but I can’t remember the author off the top of my head.

      http://theasatrucommunity.wordpress.com/tag/unverified-personal-gnosis/

      For Recons, UPG is personal. Skeptism should be used if it should be part of the community.

      Also many posters in this community http://nonfluffypagans.livejournal.com/ had a lot to do with how UPG is viewed, not neccesarilly just the Asatru. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070412152029AAHN0gA

      • Bianca Bradley

        Ok, Krasskova is the one of the first heathen 101 books I encountered UPG, PPG. She is also the first to talk about it as Gundarrsson did not, nor did Thorsson. She talked about it in this book. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24660.Exploring_the_Northern_Tradition

        Now I shall go through the good reads and add yet more to my amazon wish list.

        But Krasskova is not the first place I ran into what UPG is. Her definition was the same that I ran into on the The Cauldron(one of the owners is a Greek Recon).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      1. I’m using “Northern Tradition Paganism” is a general sense to refer to Paganism inspired by the Northern Traditions, not necessarily Kaldera’s specific tradition.

      2. Do you have any evidence that the use of “UPG” as a term in Hellenismos predated its use in Heathenry?

      3. Paxson has long straddled the boundary between Paganism and Heathenry.

      4. I did not mean to imply that Krasskova is responsible for contemporary use of “UPG” as a term — only that she has helped to introduce Pagans to Heathen ideas.

      5. Can you be more specific about the role that The Cauldron played?

      6. Thanks for the reference to Kaldera’s book. I’m definitely going to check it out.

      • Bianca Bradley

        She has helped introduce Pagans to Heathen through her one 101 book. However when she made her own tradition, she is introducing people her tradition now. It is not accurate to put her with Heathens. Honestly, she isn’t even the one most people see. You should be looking at the Troth website. YOu should be seeing what Swain Wodening, Thorrsson, Kveldulf Gundarrsson, Freya Asswyn, (Gods i’m probably killing some of these names) have to say.

        As far as Greek recons and UPG predating Heathens no. However the term UPG is familiar with all sorts of Recons. It is not specific to Heathenry. I would encourage you to ask Sannion nicely, he can give you more specifics.

        Wicca may be the most prominent of the Pagan Paths, with Heathenry as second, that doesn’t mean those are the two only ones. I’ve heard the term bandied about by Celtic Recons, Greeks, and Kemetics.

        Recons talk to each other. The term may be Recon specific that has now become part of many Pagans terminology. However it is a term that many of the Harder Pagan Polytheists used. I really recommend you expand your search on it. I would ask some of the harder polytheists what and or when they ran into the term and why.

        I cannot be specific on the role the Cauldron played, because that is several incarnations ago. It has changed sites a few times since then, and the players then have moved or stayed. We are talking early 2000′s here.

      • Bianca Bradley

        History I am finding.

        http://irishthoughtsandmusings.blogspot.com/p/reconstructionsim-and-unverified.html

        I’ve found a lot of talk about UPG and what it is vs the Wiki links and Sam Websters article. I’ve found lots of discussion on what to do and how to verify, going back to 2008 and some older, but the above link is the only one I saw with anything resembling a good source on the history of where UPG came from.

        • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

          I did some research on this issue. The first published written mention I could find dates to Kaatryn
          MacMorgan’s book Wicca 333 in 2003. Several Heathens have written or told me personally that the term was in use in their communities in the 1980s. It wouldn’t surprise me if the term was being used in other recon communities around that time, as the link you mention claims, but getting more specific would probably require a serious ethnographic project.

          • Bianca Bradley

            It would be interesting. I know that Wicca for the rest of us, did some research on where the Rede came from.

          • Bianca Bradley

            On my researching one of the people dismissed that, because MacMorgan was self published. I know online I ran into UPG discussions in the early 2000′s. I don’t recall it being bandied about in the 1990′s but I was into Wicca(non BTW) at that point. I was also reading questionable sources then, I didn’t get better sources until about the 2000′s.

            Sacred Texts has some of the use net articles, and I think ladyoftheearth does as well. But if you have older usenet links, you might find it that way as well?????? Why usenet, I think people were using that as a communication and interfaith discussion then.

      • Bianca Bradley

        There is also debate about whether or not the definition that Webster used(from wiki) is the correct one and whether or not it is seen as a bad thing.

      • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

        > 1. I’m using “Northern Tradition Paganism” is a general sense to refer to Paganism inspired by the Northern Traditions, not necessarily Kaldera’s specific tradition.

        Have to reluctantly agreed with the commenter here; that conflation is potentially misleading, since most Heathens are loath to be grouped in any way with Krasskova or Kaldera, and “Northern Tradition Paganism” is specifically a term from Kaldera. The generalization I’d make about the three figures you name would probably be “those who work primarily with originally Northern European deities and practices” — which is wordier, but probably more accurate. The assumptions underlying Paxson’s work are extremely different from Krasskova’s.

        I have to admit, I think Krasskova has pretty well undermined her authority on anything called “Heathenry” with her more recent writings — insofar as the majority of Heathen-identified people are concerned, she’s doing her own thing, at this point. Happy to pass you some peer-reviewed ethnographic articles on Heathenry instead, if you’d like them.

        • Bianca Bradley

          Being different isn’t bad. However in anything that I have seen, I don’t think Krasskova or Kaldera demand to be accepted by the Heathen community, or demand that their UPG be accepted.

          Thank you for concisely summing up what I was writing.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          Yes, I’d like that thanks.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          FYI, I borrowed this usage of “Northern Tradition Paganism” from Krasskova who uses it synonymously with “Heathenry” in her thesis. However, as you point out, she is not considered an authority within the Heathen community.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I like Personal Gnosis. I think it is good for people to have. However, I feel that some people use the U (unverifiable) as a shield – it cannot be disproven.

    The biggest critic of any person’s UPG should be the person, themselves. If I have a Religious Experience or UPG moment, I will not immediately accept it at face value. I will look into the experience and see if I can’t find more information to corroborate or contradict it.

    It works pretty well for me.

    If a person’s UPG contradicts everything everyone else is saying throughout history, perhaps they need to consider who is more likely in error.

  • Bianca Bradley

    This is the dangers that Krasskova warns of, the context that you should look into as well. found here http://www.hrafnar.org/articles/kveldulf/spaecraft/

    The practice of these techniques will not be spoken of at much length in this article because, to the unaccompanied beginner, soul-crafts are even more dangerous than more limited forms of magic such as galdr-craft. All sorts of magic can twist one’s wyrd or cause harm unmeant; but when practicing soul-craft, you are travelling out into a perilous, unknown world filled with wights who may well not be friendly. Some of the hazards of this sort of travel include getting troll-shot (also: alf-shot, witch-shot, dwarf-shot), which can cause physical symptoms ranging from mild muscle spasms to bone cancer and nervous degeneration; having a part of your soul-complex stolen (in which case an experienced shaman has to be engaged to retrieve it) or eaten; being latched on to by an unpleasant wight which follows you about causing various sorts of trouble thereafter; and, worst of all, getting permanently lost, which, after some time, will cause your uninhabited body to rot and die—something which shows up quite often in, for instance, Finnish legends (see Pentikäinen, Kalevala Mythology, pp. 187-88). The most practical advice I can give is: always set up wards before you go; put another layer of warding around yourself as soon as you are out of your body; go fully armed; and be ready to snap back to yourself at the first sign of trouble. Most of all, if you can possibly manage to do so, have a sober (non-tranced or only lightly tranced) partner who can keep an eye on your bodily and psychic state, get you back, and ground you. Although I am not usually willing to recommend that folk given to the Teutonic god/esses go outside of our tradition for training, if you wish to take up soul-work seriously and cannot find a teacher in your area who works in a Germanic context, it will probably be worthwhile to seek guidance from someone working in an authentic shamanic tradition (though beware of New Agers who will use the word to mean anything and everything), as basic trance-techniques are fairly universal.

  • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

    “Does institutional religion have to be the death of personal vision?
    Does personal gnosis have to undermine religious community? Might
    not the centrifugal force of personal gnosis and the centripital force
    of routinization hold each other in a creative tension?”

    No, no, and that is what tradition is. If one does not adhere to a tradition, then one does not need the term UPG, as one is creating as one goes along for oneself out of one’s own ideas and experiences. If one is grounded in a certain tradition, then naturally the tradition will evolve along with its adherents over time, as most have done, which often happened via the insights and experiences of adherents within those traditions, over time, through both generations, and generational shifts in attitudes and social mores. Traditions aren’t static things, after all, they do breath and live and grow, through the people who practice them. I honestly don’t see why we need this funny term for things we already have named like intuition, insight, and experience. I also do not see why they should be threatening in any way, or disregarded, either. They may not even all be relevant to traditions, if the experience is personal- it may only be relevant to the person having it in a way which doesn’t undermine tradition at all. I think those are assumptions which refer to a monist worldview rather than the pluralistic one our ancestors would have held to, and which many traditional polytheists today hold to.

  • Kenneth Apple

    So it seems that the tighter the institutional controls the less room there is for PG. The U in UPG is just uneeded, the P already stipulates the personal nature of the G. Great post, lots to think about. This will not be something I am able to process at work, which is a good thing.

  • Joseph M

    Very interesting read and a good place to start. I’ve heard Joseph Smiths First Vision referred to as the “most well documented theophany in history.” One of the more interesting parts of early Mormon History is the that this was folowed by at least four visions of this type with multiple participants, (three witnesses, Priesthood restoration(2), and conferral of Keys at Kirtland).

    Balancing both individual spiritual experience and community need has been a documented struggle for a long I think of the conflicting responses of Joshua and Moses in the story of Eldad and Medad (Num. 11:24–29). Joshua, feeling protective of Moses’ position, wanted them punished when they “prophesied in the midst of the camp”. Moses, desperate to of load some of the responsibility for leading Israel, wished the gift would spread further afield. (Elder Oaks talk “Two Lines of Comunication” is an interesting examination of this balancing act in the LDS context http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/two-lines-of-communication?lang=eng)

    I think this post over at the Religion & Science blog, and its followup, are relevant in exploring the tension between community and individualism. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2013/07/why-arent-religious-people-as-creative-as-unbelievers/

    Having lived in both Iowa and Utah I would argue that environment can play a big difference in the relative importance of maintaining community cohesion. Wet rolling grasslands are much more forgiving to the lone farmer then deserts in the mountains. Our modern ability to peruse radical individualism is one of the many consequences of the wealth and abundance of the industrial west.

    I hope you continue to explore these Ideas and look forward to gaining further enlightenment from you Personal Gnosis.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks Joseph. Certainly, Smith made an effort to document his subsequent visions with witnesses — which came in handy when he was called into court. It must have been a very different time when people could be sued for having vision! Anyway, the documentation of the First Vision, I think, is actually somewhat problematic from the perspective of the LDS Church, since there are so many versions, with significant differences. The earliest account written by the hand of Joseph Smith in 1832 differs in several key regards from version which became the official version in 1838. (See http://mit.irr.org/joseph-smiths-changing-first-vision-accounts )

      Thanks for the link to the Religion & Science blog post. The piece was great, as was the discussion that followed in the comments. It was pointed out there that the author was equating conservativism with religiosity, and the two aren’t really the same — the title should have been “Why aren’t conservative people as creative as progressives?”. Of course, that question really answers itself. But he was right that stable religious community is built by conservatives (like Brigham Young) not the radical reformers (like Joseph Smith).

      That tension between conservation of community and creative innovation is exactly what I was trying to get at here. And Oaks’ talk is a great example of an attempt to balance these things (although we can disagree about how balanced the result is in that case).

  • Sunweaver

    Once again you have explained something in excellent detail that I have often tried to explain in my own ham-handed way.
    How do we know Athena has grey eyes? You could quote the ancient texts all day long, but it boils down to someone having had Personal Gnosis a very long time ago. How then is my own personal gnosis, Hygeia smells like fresh apples, for example, less valid than some long-dead person’s? Sure, you could take the train to crazy town if you don’t check in with good sense every now and then, but my own religious experience is more like the young Joseph Smith’s or Mary Baker Eddy’s than that of the pilgrims.

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    The tension you’re exploring here between personal spiritual authority and community cohesion is incredibly important — and I like that you’re trying to do it in an interfaith context. There is much more to be said here — keep it up.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

    An article by Sarah Iles Johnston, “Whose Gods are These? A Classicist Looks at Neopaganism” [ http://www.academia.edu/3667375/Whose_Gods_are_These_A_Classicist_Looks_at_Neopaganism ] briefly discusses the Neopagan emphasis on the personal side of ancient Greek religion, “far beyond what any scholar of antiquity would[recognize]“. She observes that Neopagans draw on texts, like those of Otto, Kerenyi, and Harrison, which “foreground” the personal sides of ancient Greek religion like the Eleusinian mysteries, Orphism, and theurgy. “This foregrounding of the personal goes hand-in-hand withthe fact that neopaganism has particularly thrived in America, for the quest for a personal relationship with the divine (what Harold Bloom called the «Gnostic turn» in American spirituality) is central to every other religion that Americans have invented – Mormonism, Christian Science and Pentecostalism, for example. Indeed, neopaganism sometimes takes this tendency further, encouraging adherents to learn who their personal god is and how best to connect with him or her.” She then suggests that this emphasis on the personal is an inheritance of Christianity.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

    Julian Betkowski elaborates on this theme here:

    “Our own personal spirituality is perfectly fine for ourselves, but we need to recognize that when we begin the work of forming communities, we need to be willing to loosen our grip a bit and allow the spiritual experience to become something more like a collaboration or a duet, rather than a solo performance.”

    http://erosiserosiseros.blogspot.com/2013/11/maps-territories-pagans.html?m=1


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