It seems that the debate about the role of Unverified Personal Gnosis in religion has once more entered the blogosphere. I support the discussion, and I want to add to it somewhat by providing a bit of a guide to proper UPG management today. Please note: this is my view on UPG, and your mileage may vary considerably.

I put a lot of stock in the Hellenic ancient sources, scattered as they may be, because while these were the accounts of one man or one woman, they were copied repeatedly, used in religious settings by many, and traveled the whole of Hellas. These weren't documents stuffed away in some guy's drawer that happened to be preserved for 2000 years; these were copied, copied, and copied again, and one of these many copies has survived to the present day (generalizing, of course). Luck of the draw. As such, we can assume that some of the documents (say, for example, the Orphic hymns) were read and repeated by many, and that is what makes them valuable. Hómēros was a best-seller of his time, and that is why we still have access to his writings. People must have identified with what they read, or they would not have read it and carried it on.

That said, I take no issue at all with UPG, and that is a sentiment I see reflected in the Hellenistic community quite a lot. What I have an issue with is people passing of UPG as fact. To me, it's wonderful that you have discovered Hermes likes libations of rum, and more power to you for giving it to Him. When you start insisting that I need to give rum libations to Hermes, we have an issue, because I will always take the 'opinion' of the ancient writers over the opinion of a modern practitioner. That is why I am on a Recon path. If I were on a non-Recon path, I might run off to the nearest liquor store in search of rum.

It's not a matter of who is right, or who does it 'better', it's simply that Recon means following the ways of the ancients as much as possible, and even if no one in ancient Hellas would have agreed with the ancient writer whose work has survived to this day, it is still a description of one ancient person's practice--and for me, ancient trumps modern every single time. So that is why at least the Hellenistic community will always ask for sources when you make a statement; they need to be able to differentiate between ancient and modern--not to instantly dismiss the latter, but to make a well-informed decision if they should or should not.

Ideally the term 'Unverified Personal Gnosis' is used to label one's own experience as a new and untested hypothesis, although further verification from other practitioners or ancient sources may lead to a certain degree of verifiability. Personally, I try to go from Unverified Personal Gnosis to Shared Personal Gnosis to Confirmed (Personal) Gnosis. This is why the Hellenistic community in general is open to the sharing of UPG--generalizing here--because others may have had the same experience (which lends credibility to the experience) or references to source material with which the UPG can be confirmed. There is a certain degree of science about it, when viewed like this, but it requires the receiver of the UPG to be open about his or her experiences and accept the fact that this hypothesis may be false, or at the very least unverifiable. If this is the case, using the UPG for your personal practice is fine, but doling it out as the Holy Word and Ultimate Truth will not get you far.

So, say you have received a piece of UPG, where 'UPG' here refers from anything like information gleamed during meditation to a hunch you have about a subject after coming across a throwaway line in scholarly work; how do you proceed?
  1. Consider your UPG as a hypothesis that can either be confirmed or disproven, or--if it makes you feel better--verifiable or unverifiable.
  2. Collect possible sources. Preferably, you go straight to scholarly work or primary sources for this, but heck, a Google search works wonders these days as a starting point. This is background reading.
  3. Begin reading in detail. Find information that explains, describes, analyzes, contrasts, or gives expert opinion and viewpoints on the subject. You are seeking to form your own judgment, based on what you read from your sources.
  4. Evaluate the sources you use. If it's Wikipedia, go to the sources used to write the page, if it's a blog or website, check their sources as well. Try to go back to primary, ancient, sources for everything; even (or should 'say 'especially'?) scholarly work becomes outdated.
  5. At this point there are a few options: either you have found evidence to support your UG, you have found evidence that discredits your UPG, or you haven't found anything at all. In the first case, you might end your research here: your UPG is now Confirmed (Personal) Gnosis. In all three cases, it is also possible to take it public.
  6. Share your UPG on (Hellenistic) forums, lists, Facebook groups, your thiasos, friends, or any other medium you are comfortable with and ask if others are familiar with this information (Shared Personal Gnosis), or if they can confirm it with ancient sources. Be open with it, and although it might sting a little, try to accept that others do not share this view, or have no sources to confirm (or disprove) your thesis. UPG can feel like your baby, but if you want to apply it outside of your household worship, it needs to be able to take a (research) hit.
  7. This is perhaps the most important one: if your UPG can't be confirmed, don’t let it get you down for long. The fact that our experience or hunch can't be confirmed now, does not men it can't be confirmed later. Even if it's disproven by modern scholarship, this could still change. Even if UPG turns out false, there is no reason not to apply it to your household worship: the experience is yours to do with as you please. If it is unconfirmed or disproven, however, please mention this when referencing it towards other Hellenists.
Our UPG is often very personal, and sometimes hard to share with others. I have a few of those experiences as well, and while I can confirm some of them with scholarly or primary sources, others, I find no mention of. If and when I mention these experiences on this blog, I always explain it is either UPG, my personal opinion, or a stab in the dark by yours truly. That way, you have a means to decide of the statement is relevant to you and your practice.

One more tip (and plea) for those reading and commenting on other people's UPG: you might not agree with it--in fact, you might vehemently disagree--but there are better ways to go about expressing this than an eye-roll and a snarky remark. Comment when you have something helpful to say--either in the affirmative or the negative--and please do so with a bit of tact and decorum. Who knows? That piece of UPG might end up shaping the Tradition.