This post is written for the Kemetic Round Table (KRT), a blogging project for providing useful, practical information for the modern Kemetic practitioner.
So this time around the KRT, we’re talking about UPG and doxa. Or, at least, they did and I’m doing my best to catch up. I haven’t read much of other people’s thoughts for this round of the KRT and I did that on purpose because I didn’t want to be influenced in my answers. So, that said, let’s go.
If you spend any time in the online Pagan communities, chances are you’ve run into the acronym “UPG” at some point. In fact, if you’ve spent even five minutes in a specifically online Pagan forum, website, or other community, you’ve probably run into this term. But what exactly is it?
UPG stands for “Unverified Personal Gnosis.” Sounds all well and good, but that just tells us what the letters stand for. What does it actually mean? UPG is, essentially, personal religious knowledge that cannot be backed up by “the lore” or historical study. If, for example, you leave an uncommon offering for a deity – let’s go with strawberries for Anubis – and your experience tells you that he likes them (however you judge that, whether it be by quick rot, things going favorably in your life, etc.) and this happens whenever you offer him strawberries, your UPG might be that Anubis enjoys strawberries. Why? Because your experiences regarding the offerings tell you that he enjoys them. Often in the case of UPG, we garner knowledge based on experiences, such as the example above.
The term “doxa” is something that’s much less common in modern Paganism. From what I have learned, it’s a Greek term that means “belief” as it pertains to a religio-spiritual context. Personally, I don’t know much about doxa, what it means, and how to explain it to others. It’s just too new of a term for me to hash out and break down to the reader. I mean, if it’s defined as “belief,” why not use “belief?” But that’s something I need to work with a bit and give more of an answer to later.
So what’s the deal about UPG? Well, the fact is, a lot of people use UPG as a sort of “Get out of research free card.” If it’s someone’s UPG, you’re not supposed to mess with it. I touched on this a bit in my previous KRT post.
Honestly, the only issues I take with UPG are when people try to portray it as fact. I have my own UPG and personal experiences with my gods, but if I’m trying to learn more about the historical or mythological context of my deities, I don’t want to be sifting through UPG to find the one nugget of historical worship that’s buried under everything else. It’s just not for me. So if you’re writing about your own experience, label it as such. Other than that, I don’t have much issue with UPG.
As for how important UPG is to your practice, I waffle on this a little bit. On the one hand, if you’re working with a deity from a historical pantheon of the ancient world, why not put in the effort and do some research and read on them all you can? Granted, I cannot force you to do so, but I tend to regard research on deities as a form of devotion and worship. I spend my time and my energy looking into their historical and mythological lives and how others have worked with them. That, to me, is a sacrifice or an offering. It takes time and effort to track down a decent book; money to purchase a text; energy to sit down and read it once you get it in your hands. That is a beautiful offering, one that can easily deepen your relationship with your god(s).
On the other hand, I know there are some folks who prefer a more mystical or woo-woo path. I can’t deny them that and I won’t. I just ask them to consider the historical and mythological precedents for their gods’ worship as a way to balance it out. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with either side, not to me. I just happen to be more bookish in my practice.