Yesterday I was reviewing an interview I did with Megan Black of Round the Cauldron, and I realised I used the term "UPG" no less than three times without defining it. It has become quite a common term, but not exactly ubiquitous, and is a very important idea. So I have reprinted, with permission, the definition from The CR FAQ — An Introduction to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, the book that gave me my first clear understanding of the term -- a book, by the way, which is posted entirely online, though paper copies are available.
UPG = Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis. This is a label used to identify information gained through meditation, intense flashes of intuition, visions, and other spiritual experiences. Often this information may not be verifiable through primary or academic sources but seems to be usable in personal ways. CRs consider it highly important to label UPG which cannot be substantiated by lore or research as such, as this helps prevent misunderstandings about verifiable sources and preserves intellectual honesty. “UPG” and its variants are used specifically to indicate beliefs arrived at via mystical means, not ideas or intellectual conclusions reached from academic research.
Variant phrasings of UPG are Unverified or Undocumented Personal Gnosis.
Though it is unclear exactly who first coined the term UPG, consensus holds that the term and its variants originated in the Ásatrú communities some time in the 1990’s. These terms have been gratefully adopted by many Reconstructionist traditions and further refined and applied in our communities.
SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis) — indicating a mystical vision and belief shared by a number of people; preferably, one arrived at independently of one another and arising from people who are otherwise unconnected. For instance, a vision experienced collectively by the members of a small household may have more validity to it than a vision by a sole individual but, due to the possibility of group hallucination, it is debatable whether this small-group gnosis truly qualifies as SPG. A vision experienced by geographically separated people who have never met one another is more in tune with what we consider SPG.
CG (Confirmed Gnosis) — indicating that substantiating evidence for an incidence of UPG or SPG has later been found in the lore. This is also sometimes referred to as CPG (Confirmed Personal Gnosis). These instances are highly valued, and have served to bolster individual and community faith in the Deities, spirits or ancestors from whom the information was received. Instances of CG are also very important in that over time they help us learn to distinguish true imbas from imagination. (Imbas is the Old Irish word for “inspiration.” In Modern Irish it is spelled iomas. )
UPG is never an end in and of itself; rather, it is the beginning of a journey, the beginning of the process of testing the information through both spiritual practice and academic research. UPG is only useful when the community also values humility and fact-checking, and acknowledges that even the most experienced mystic can at times become deluded or make mistakes. At some point or another we have all had to discard some cool dream or “vision” if it simply does not line up with the lore, or if it threatened to take us in a direction that was counter to our values. Similarly, though we have some people who have shown skill in mediating for the Deities and spirits, and for bringing back information from the otherworlds, we have no desire to take the dangerous step of setting up anyone as an infallible guru or voice of the Divine.
When considering whether someone’s UPG or SPG may be worthy of inclusion in your spiritual practice, these “Laws of UPG” may serve as a useful guide:
No UPG should contradict known facts about the associated culture, and no practices based only on UPG should stand as more than modern inventions.
If a belief or practice based on UPG does not contradict known facts, but cannot be verified within the same body of knowledge, it remains a modern invention.
If an instance of UPG fits rule 2 and also fills a gap in known tradition, it is probably worth pursuing further, through experimentation and research, to see if it can become SPG or CG.
If an instance of UPG that meets the second law is arrived at by people who have had no real contact with each other, it remains modern but is Shared (SPG). This means the group just may be getting somewhere interesting.
If an instance of UPG becomes SPG, and said SPG is then incorporated into the practices of those outside of the groups who first experienced it, it becomes a modern tradition.
There is no way for UPG to become ancient lore unless it becomes generally accepted and then is kept mostly intact for at least 1,000 years.