UPG, Divine Revelation and Mystical Experiences

UK author Sorita D’Este is a fascinating woman, and yesterday she posted a video on UPG that I found very interesting.

I find Sorita’s argument compelling, because it touches on an interest of mine: divine revelation.

There is this idea that Pagan religions are not revealed religions. It is true that our prophets are few and far between, and often lost in antiquity, but divine revelation was most definitely a component of ancient Paganism, and has it’s place in modern forms of Paganism as well. In Wicca the priestess, and sometimes the priest, embodies the Gods. Sometimes this is symbolic, but sometimes can take the form of an actual possession. I have witnessed a God speaking through a human vessel, I have read about such revelations in modern Pagan religions, and I have received both personal revelations, and revelations for others in my spiritual work.

I think we are resistant to the concept of divine revelation because we perceive it to be a product of manipulation or dogma. This isn’t necessarily so. We are also watchful of those who would spread misinformation and outright lies about our religions for their own gain. I know I am concerned about that, and there are a few Pagan authors you will never see mentioned here for that very reason. But there is a difference between chicanery and divine revelation, and if we shut out divine revelation to protect ourselves from snake oil salesmen, then we condemn our religions to stagnation.

I think we need to rethink our relationship to divine revelation, to develop a healthier attitude towards it than dismissal and to create the kind of culture in which this kind of spiritual evolution has a place.

We should consider that the Gods still speak to us, and how would we react to a modern day Pheidippides?

According to the account he gave the Athenians on his return, Pheidippides met the god Pan on Mount Parthenium, above Tegea. Pan, he said, called him by name and told him to ask the Athenians why they paid him no attention, in spite of his friendliness towards them and the fact that he had often been useful to them in the past, and would be so again in the future. The Athenians believed Pheidippides’s story, and when their affairs were once more in a prosperous state, they built a shrine to Pan under the Acropolis, and from the time his message was received they held an annual ceremony, with a torch-race and sacrifices, to court his protection.


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So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish!
Learning New Steps To Dance
About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mirage358 Jason White

    I feel like her argument misses the point of “UPG” as a shorthand — it’s not a term to use in your own spiritual journey, but instead a way to talk about our spiritual journeys with others. I’ve always seen UPG used as the the spiritual equivalent of original research in the scientific world —
    you had x experience, you’re excited about the implications of that, but
    it has yet to be tested or peer reviewed.

    It’s not just a “mystical experience”, but one that, so far as you know, noone else has had. Divine revelation would be one kind; personal insight might be another, or even hardcore magical experimentation. When you’re connecting ideas together and writing about them for others, “UPG” serves to identify something as a mystical experience that comes from you, rather than an idea drawn from other sources. It’s a very useful shorthand for those of us that take a scholarly approach to magical study.

    One of the big BS tests for pagan writers has always been “Check Their Sources.” I feel that UPG is a perfectly acceptable source, right alongside references to writings (and experiences) from other spiritual writers. And I feel like delineating your own UPG as exactly what it is – new knowledge, not drawn from someone else — demonstrates an intellectual honesty that I’m more likely to trust.

  • http://twitter.com/LWMag LittleWitchMagazine

    That was a fantastic clip! I agree wholeheartedly with Sorita’s reasoning. To me, personal in relation to Gnosis has always been a pleonasm. I have received messages from my matron Goddesses, including information I only found in obscure volumes years later. Forgotten knowledge that my Goddesses wanted me to know so we could better work together, so I would open to them more and better my life accordingly. 

    I have shared the information I have received with two people, not more because it would be unimportant to others or would not fit in with the view they have of these Goddesses. If my Goddesses want them to know, they will share this information themselves.

    While these experiences were extremely personal in nature, they were True. I have no doubt that I have heard the Voices of my Goddesses. It’s a feeling I will never forget and it has opened me to messages of Gods and Goddesses I have not worked with before. Unbeknownst to me, I visited an area where Wodan was worshipped centuries passed in the days he would receive most of His offerings. He came to me to share the history of this place and to demand offering from me, which I provided happily. I am not His priestess but he was willing to accept me as á priestess for that day and the knowledge I gained from those few hours pushed me into the next level of my worship.

    Without divine revelation and those who teach it, no religion would exist. There would only be individual worship of a fragmented deity.  We need the Teachings of our Gods to unite us. We need their Divine Inspiration to write the poetry that transcends individual branches of worship, like the Charge of the Goddess and even the Rede. 

  • sindarintech

    Do we REALLY need to go back to the ooga-booga nonsense that has passed for religious experience over the last thousands of years? It’s hard to listen to some pagans while they go on and on talking about their ‘personal’ relationship with xyz god, and how it makes them so special. This kind of stuff is just regurgitated xtianity. This is the 21st century for goodness sake!
    I do believe that there IS something ‘more’, but I find it absurd that people think that they are SO important in the world that the ‘gods’ will bother to speak to them. Just like every religion before it, wicca and every other pagan path is MADE UP.  Some pagans choose to learn how to live closer to nature, others choose to describe their internal conversations with themselves as being with ‘gods’. Can we try to step out of this kind of ego-centric behavior and move into the modern era?

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

     You just explained the difference between being Pagan and being Neo-Pagan.

    Anytime someone tells me relying on my intuition and seeking inspiration from ancient Pagans is “regurgitating Christianity” I feel fairly certain I’m on the right path.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I totally agree with Sorita’s points, and with yours, Star.

    I’ve never liked the term “UPG.”  I think that recons who are insistent that UPG is in some way inferior to things drawn from “the lore” (which is often as conflicted, contextual, and UPG-based as anything else) are pretty much going down the road of fundamentalism.  Christianity, Islam, and several other religions have always been suspicious of mysticism and anything that ends up amounting to personal spirituality that is not entirely approved by the overarching religious institutions; lots of perfectly good mystical Christians were burned at the stake because the Holy Spirit had a message for them, and even when that message was perfectly in line with the Gospels, and in fact is also totally in line with the sacrament of Confirmation (which is supposed to impart the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy!), because the source is more direct and personal and therefore not subject to institutional mediation, moderation, “peer review” or approval, it is therefore threatening to the power structure of the institution.

    Being that there is no true power structure per se in any sector of modern Paganism, despite the efforts of some to the contrary, I don’t understand why UPG–which really should just be called mysticism or spiritual experience, as I think Sorita was saying–is so frowned upon.  As long as one calls it what it is, and as long as others understand that most often things from a particular person’s spiritual experience may not necessarily be relevant to nor binding upon anyone else’s religious practice, there shouldn’t be a problem.

    We’re no longer in a position where the revelation of someone’s audience with a deity results in the building of temples (as I was saying in my “Populating Polytheist Pantheons” post recently!); given that is the case, and no one can therefore complain that necessary resources are being frittered away to every passing divine fancy, it really doesn’t make sense that such personal revelations are seen as so threatening to some people (including a few commenters on this post!).  As long as no one is using their experiences to harm others, or to assert powers and authority that they don’t rightly have, what is the problem?

  • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

    I definitely use the term UPG, but I think I use it for the intended purpose. To separate what is actually “fact” vs. what has been revealed to me. This way I can say, with some clarity, my experience was “x” but that might not be the case all together. Like science, it leaves room for error, and should I be erroneous, I can be corrected. 

    To that, I do not bring UPG into question when I am involved in a discussion involving  facts. I’m also extremely skeptical of people who do. A person telling me they are otherkin and then expecting me to believe it because THEY believe it is a prime example of this. No amount of UPG is going to make me believe someone is a were-unicorn and that’s okay. Just as no amount of my UPG is going to convince someone that Dionysus may be okay with the carnal love I have for him. That’s also okay.

    Critical thinking has become stifled in a community that has a silent pact;

    You support my fantasy and I’ll support yours.

    Because for all intents and purposes, this ALL could be fantasy and we are simply seeking coping mechanisms for existence that explain themselves through our subconscious and conscious minds. 

    In the end the schisms and differentiation are necessary to experience the rigors of the religious experience. The trial by fire of apologetic and reason. It strengthens the mind and the faith. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

     You make a good point.

    Perhaps what we need is a structure that encourages both critical thinking and being open to divine revelation. Divine revelation shouldn’t be exempt from critical thought, but shouldn’t be squashed by it either. After all, if we were devotees of pure reason we would be atheists.

  • http://twitter.com/paganMusing tigresslilly

     Your defensive response to the suggestion of UPG or divine revelation fascinates me. 

    I agree with you that there is a lot of personal experience that people espouse that sound ridiculous to me.  There are also people who speak as if they are bragging or as if I should be honored to know someone with such a deep connection to Gods/esses.  

    I’ve seen and heard UPG that is humble, awe inspiring, deep, and meaningful too. Even when it doesn’t relate to me and my practice, it means something to me and rings as truthful.  I’ve known people who have been terrified by their experiences and hat to discuss them or think on them.  I know people who admit to having them but will discuss them with no one.

    It interests me that you believe all these experiences harken back to Christianity because speaking with gods is well established before Christian times and because what people state doesn’t always line up with Christianity and usually has no relations back to it.  Is everything bad a product of Christianity for you?

    What does this time period have to do with how one relates to Gods?  It seems to me that Gods either choose to communicate with this world and the beings in it or they do not.  If they do then how, why, and what becomes important.  If they do not, then I do wonder some as to why one worships a being or beings with no interest in us.  I can see the reason to acknowledge a higher force regardless of it’s interest in this world, but I don’t see how or why one would build a practice for a disinterested party.

    It’s your right to decide the actions of those claiming UPG is ego-centric, and who is to say one way or the other what UPG is at this point?  For me what’s more important is the message and what it means to me or to others.  That there is this inspiration in people that creates beauty and meaning the world  and I’m more interested in the what than the how I suppose.

  • Aidan Kelly

    Very interesting conversation. I’ll try not to be longwinded.
    I am neither a closedminded True Believer in anything nor a closedminded skeptic about everything. I know that confuses some people, because I’m always willing to learn something new and therefore change my mind.

    It is possible to think that the following propositions are highly probable to be adequate descriptions of reality–WITHOUT making any metaphysical assumptions at all.

    1. The ultimate reality is an infinite, compassionate person who is One and Many simultaneously–because that is in line with Goswami’s Monistic Idealism,  which is an improvement on Berkeley and which current physicists are considering as a possible alternative to the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    2. Such a person will continually attempt to communicate with us (via our “unconscious” minds), because He/She/They care about us.

    3. Such communication sometimes takes the form of “enlightenment” experiences, which are always ecstatic, relatively rare, but quite consistent and well-studied by non-closedminded psychologists.

    4. Such experiences always transmit knowledge, although it is sometimes entirely nonverbal, which can be evaluated by the traditional test, “Does it make the recipient a better person and build up the community?” If it does not, then it was garbled in transmission.

    There are  a lot more points I could mention, but that’s enough for now. I think most of us don’t mind atheists thinking they are Pagan, because we are very tolerant,  but is is a little sad that most of them don’t have a clue what religion is like.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

     Perhaps it is a probable reality, but I think I’d disagree with your first point, not being fond of Monism. :)

  • Sunweaver

     Marry me.

    Because this:
    “I think that recons who are insistent that UPG is in some way inferior
    to things drawn from “the lore” (which is often as conflicted,
    contextual, and UPG-based as anything else) are pretty much going down
    the road of fundamentalism.”

    basically sums up my opinion on the matter and why hard recons are occasionally infuriating.

  • Aidan Kelly

    I understand that, but this is a pluralistic monism. The pre-Socratics figured out 2500 years ago that the unltimate reality has to be able to be both One and Many simultaneously. The infinite always appears paradoxical to humans.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

     I’ve been reading a good bit of Greek philosophy, although admittedly mostly Neoplatonic, and although I’ve heard it explained many ways it still doesn’t ring true for me.