Here’s an excerpt from the latest Magick Monday Newsletter from Jason Miller:
I had a conversation earlier this week with BJ Swain about all manner of things Occult. One of the topics we covered is UPG – Unverified Personal Gnosis. He used it, not to be dismissive but as a phrase that basically encompasses all magical experience. and I mentioned that I hate the term. Whether you mean it that way or not, UPG is inherently dismissive. I wish that it could be retired. He wrote a post on it, so I figured I would do the same.
If you want to get the essence of it, here it is:
Unverified: If you can’t answer what makes it verified in a pretty widely accepted way then you shouldn’t use the term unverified.
Personal: If its applicable to more than just you, its not really only personal.
Gnosis: Just because you had an experience doesn’t make it Gnosis. Lets stop throwing that term around willy-nilly.
A Term of Dismissal Not Illumination
Some terms start out as good terms meant to illuminate, and wind up as mis-used weapons meant to end conversations rather than further understanding. Even when the term gets hurled wrongly you can say at least the intent behind it was good and well-conceived. Sadly UPG can’t even tout this. I don’t know who coined the term, but I first heard it used to dismiss pretty much anyone that was not working strictly from a book or tradition. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of ideas that probably should be dismissed, but I think this is a weak way to accomplish that. At this point gets applied to any and every personal experience people have. Its a shitty term start-to finish.
HISTORY vs SHIT SOMEONE MADE UP.
This is most often what people who use the term want to get across. They are doing the REAL thing because they hold an initiation or are working from a book over 100 years old, and this other stuff is stuff people claim spirits taught but is probably just made up gobbledygook.
Now, if you have ever taken a class with me, you know I have a pretty stringent evaluation process for visions, messages, inspirations, readings, or any type of spirit communication at all. I toss 80% of the communications I receive into the “this doesn’t tell me anything useful” bin, and I expect others to do the same. I am less interested in people having experiences than I am in how useful and meaningful those experiences are. Some would argue that if a vision is useful or meaningful that is VPG or Verifiable Personal Gnosis – but we can get to that later. For now, I just want to point out that I am not arguing for people taking every vision, brain fart, or even authentic spiritual communication that they have as truth. That’s not my bag, never has been and never will be.
But this also holds true for communications that have happened in the past. Nearly all the Grimoires, Papyrii, and yes even initiatic traditions originated with someone either receiving useful communications from a spirit or innovating something new from something that was. So we have this situation where UPG that happens in the past equals primary source by default. If that same thing was produced today, there is a line of people waiting tosay “That’s just your UPG!”.
“But if it happened in the past, it has proven itself through the test of time!”
Has it though? If something is set to Papyri in the 2nd century, placed in an urn and buried for 1800 years, than dug up and translated has it been proven by the test of time, or is it just another piece of the surviving record? I mean it says something that someone cared enough to hide it and preserve it, but we can say that about Blavatsky too – it doesn’t make her correct. There will very likely be theosophists 100 years from now who take Blavatsky at her word. It still won’t be true.
“But things like the Ars Goetia are worked by people all over the world, and has therefore been verified as provably true!”
Has it? Please do fly over here from wherever you are and manifest an illusory castle for the news crew. If we want to take the grimoires themselves as the standard, I think we can say they’ve been tried and failed as far as the claims they makes. That’s the thing. People who like to go through the text “by the book” are putting in a lot of effort. I for one am thankful that these people preserve this tradition. I have done operations by the book as well, and learned a lot from the experience. But folks who brag about how they follow everything to the letter, and conjure for hours on end, and therefore everyone else must fall short are creating a fallacy. They are confusing effort with their result. If “by the book” efforts produced “by the book results”, I wouldn’t be making this post. But they don’t. Often these diatribes about how their shit is real and others are not are terribly ill-conceived and not even supported by the experts who translate and write the books that they treasure. Given the number of demons who teach rhetoric, you would think that these people would be masters of the eloquent argument, rather than just throwing the term UPG around.
History as Benchmark
In our conversation BJ made the point that history is a great benchmark. He is absolutely right. If your UPG presents no link at all to the past, then it might not be worth very much. But some people want to tie magic to the bench and make sure it stays there.
For me when I started receiving teachings from Hekate, events that linked it to the past were key. For example the first teaching Hekate ever gave was about four guardian spirits that have a Bulls head, Horses head, Serpent head, and Dog head. They have a quite detailed appearance and names etc – all of which were unverifiable. I worked with them and they proved effective, but was still skeptical that perhaps I was projecting too much on to the experience. Months later, reading The Goddess Hekate by Stephen Ronan I came across a mention of a tetradic Hekate with these four exact heads. Not four different spirits, but still the resonance with history was a great nod to say “this is something more than just between you and Hekate”.
Just as there are people who dismiss all personal experience as UPG, there are also those on the other extreme who believe that no one should learn anything from teachers or even books, and that the Gods and Spirits will teach everything. This attitude is, frankly, a gateway to madness. I love that I am living in an age when truly scholarly work is being done on the esoteric. I love that better translations of old and even ancient texts are being release every year. This is nothing but a boon for the working magician – unless it gets used as a cage to trap ourselves in.
What aboutVerified PG?
But Unverified Personal Gnosis leaves open the door for VERIFIED PG right? Notice you never hear this term though. I don’t use it either. In the example of the Hekate guardians above there was a resonance with history that surprised even me, but does that make it verified? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Depends on your metric for success. I care about both results and history. I care about whether things work or not, have historical resonance or not, but I don’t really consider things are “verified” or “unverified” based on either of these. I would suggest though that anyone dismissing anything as UPG should have an answer to the question: what qualifies gnosis as verified? If not, then maybe lets just not use this wierd binary.
The Need For Discernment
I know that there are shady people out there peddling personal fantasies as historical truth. I know that there are people out there whose “innovations” equate to nothing more than laziness. I know that there is a need to evaluate worth and separate signal from noise, I just don’t think UPG is a helpful term for this.
So point out the lies when you see them. Point out laziness. Point out misappropriation. I am not telling you to play the stupid game that gets played in the community of “I will validate you if you validate me”. I am saying that UPG is a particularly unhelpful term for cultivating real discernment and discussion.
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