There are few acronyms so feared in modern heathenry as U.P.G. Today, we are going to delve into this dangerous realm.
U.P.G, when taken apart means Unverified Personal Gnosis. But what on earth does that mean? Wikipedia defines U.P.G as “Unverified personal gnosis (often abbreviated UPG) is the phenomenological concept that an individual's spiritual insights (or gnosis) may be valid for them without being generalizable to the experience of others. It is primarily a neologism used in polytheistic reconstructionism, to differentiate it from ancient sources of spiritual practices.”
In layman’s terms UPG means a personal, religious experience that you cannot PROVE outside of your own faith. Meaning, you have a vision of Odin, and instead of the traditional image of the grey wanderer, he is red haired, and more matches a description of Thor. To you, this is how Odin appears, no one can tell you that you did not see Odin that way, but you cannot prove that he looks that way. Thus it is UPG. UPG is anything that does not line up with the set lore in the Edda’s and Sagas, and is that of an individual’s belief.
That is what UPG is, that is a fact, but that is about where the facts end when one is talking about UPG. The opinions, and strong ones at that, very quickly find their way into every conversation about personal experiences. People feel very strongly about their own beliefs and personal experiences, and they have every right to. However, problems arise when ideas clash and conflict.
UPG is a large category of controversial experiences that cannot be proven, or for that matter, be disproven. But when you claim that Odin has two eyes, because that is how you saw him, and you claim that is FACT (as so many often do with their UPG) problems arise. The lore clearly state that Odin has but one eye, to say that he has two, has no historical source, or reference save what YOU saw. Wikipedia also states, “Ideally the term is used to label one's own experience as a new and untested hypothesis, although further verification from the spiritual interactions of others may lead to a certain degree of verifiability. At other times, the term is used in either a value-neutral or disparaging sense, about someone else's experience.
UPG is sometimes also said to stand for "Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis.”
It is important to remember that this is your UPG. You are allowed to have it, you are allowed to express it, in fact we welcome you to, however when you claim that it is fact, and even go so far as to try and push your ideas on to others, is when you step on toes. UPG discussions, go downhill very quickly, and very often, people leave raw, and hurt, bitter and angry.
The way in which to avoid these discussions derailing, is, as with anything else, being courteous to your fellow heathens. You have your ideas, that does not mean your ideas are correct, or better than anyone else’s. Respect should always be the utmost priority.
Everyone has UPG, it can be simple, or it can be extravagant. The way in which you see the divine, or hear them, that is all UPG. The way in which their voice sounds, is UPG. And yet, despite how controversial UPG is, and how wide of a topic it is, it is a very important part of modern heathenry, and surely of our ancestors as well.
It is very important to always keep your wits about you, what you see or hear, is it as true to you as it needs to be. Your entire beleif system can be based upon it, but at the same time it could be absolutely nothing to someone else. In fact, their beliefs and ideas could be the exact opposite of yours. And the Lore, and traditional general ideas of the mythology and cosmology, support both sides, and everything in-between. That is the great thing about Asatru. There is no dogma, no set rules or 100% set mythology, or looks ideas for beings and or deities. You can practice Asatru, and heathenry the way that you want and need to. That is the beauty of it.
I hope this helped clarify for you what UPG is, and why it is so controversial, and stirs up so many people.
Hail and thank you!