UPG, Living Religions, and Comparing Cultures
Northern Tradition – including Asatru, Norse Paganism, or whatever you prefer to call yourself – is a living breathing religion. As such, it cannot be based solely on whatever we’ve managed to dig up and study. To survive and be relevant in a modern age, it must be able to adapt by drawing information from related ancient and modern cultures and religions, as well as be flexible enough to change along with modern practitioners and their needs. After all, most of us are not here to restore the past – we’re here to develop a workable religion for modern people.
We like to encourage keeping up with the historical and archaeological record as much as possible. At the same time, we encourage your own intuitions and inferences, or what is known in the Heathen community as UPG (Unverifiable Personal Gnosis) to help fill in the gaps when it comes to your own personal practice. Consult the history, but create the future – with an emphasis on what actually works for you and serves your own personal needs and the needs of your family and community.
Scholars make inferences all the time, and their very personal, subjective biases come through in their research, sometimes clearly stated and sometimes not. We see this often in the surviving lore, which has been recorded by mostly Christian writers. The influence of the writers’ own personal beliefs have flavoured much of what the archaeological evidence provides, and criticism of their approach has led many Heathens to look for other interpretations.
By all means, make your own inferences and think critically for yourself. Please be careful in distinguishing UPG from what is actually in the historical record, and note these differences in your own writing and in your conversations with other pagans. Most importantly, run your UPG by others – they will help keep you humble and reel you in if your study takes you too far out on a limb! These guidelines will help keep your ideas relevant and respectable in a tumultuous field.
We personally like to make connections with and follow the changing relationships in ancient religions and cultures. We believe that Pagan European cultures had far more in common with one another than they had differences – certainly more in common with one another than with the Christians who recorded their lore. It is common for scholars to quickly dismiss striking, even common-sense similarities cross-culturally if there is a lack of physical archaeological evidence.
A problem with this is that a scholarly consensus is reached that there is a sharp lack of evidence, and so no parallels are considered at all. None.
What we do get, however is a Christian cultural comparison, which is the default by which we claim to know about the Pagan past in lieu of better evidence. Our own research brings us face-to-face with this on a regular basis – even with scholars who we respect. We suggest that Roman or Celtic pagan cultural comparison is at least as good a lens as a Christian one, but is in all probability much better. We have even found ancient Indian cultural comparisons quite useful, as they share a common origin if you go far enough back. Ultimately, we encourage you to make your own conclusions as you explore the lore.
Try to keep up on the latest historical findings and theories, as they are constantly being revised as new evidence is unearthed and new scholars join the field. Do get know the current scholarly lore, and we encourage you to use your own senses and intuition to draw your own conclusions. Consult the source material and compare. They don’t call this the “religion with homework” for nothing!