This week’s Kemetic Round Table topic is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart. For this round, we are discussing the various aspects of UPG and Doxa within your religious practice.
For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, UPG stands for “Unverified Personal Gnosis”. Generally speaking, it is a term that is used in many reconstructionalist paths to describe spiritual and religious experiences that aren’t necessarily backed up by historical record.
A few examples of this (from my own personal stash of UPG) might be that Set likes dark chocolate cupcakes. If he’s not in business/working mode, he’ll show up in full out Japanese styled clothing. Or that Ptah’s capacity as a creator is where Osiris (stability) and Set (chaos) meet. None of these are necessarily backed by historical reference, however they have proven to be useful within my own religious practice.
Doxa is a term taken from the Greek area of things and generally means “popular opinion” or “common belief” and is a starting point for the terms orthodoxy (standard, set in stone beliefs) and heterodoxy (anything that isn’t orthodox).
Or, as someone described it to me: Doxa = Belief and Feels. Gnosis = Knowledge you can fact check.
Of course, this means that the term UPG is a sort of paradox that really makes no sense, but that is another post for another time. I use the term UPG for the same reason I use the term “pagan”- its what everyone else uses, and it makes it easier for communication purposes.
And for the purposes of this post, I will use doxa and UPG interchangeably.
The topics of doxa and UPG are very sticky within the pagan/polytheist/Kemetic community. There are people who dislike the use of any UPG/doxa at all. There are those whose entire practice is based off of UPG and doxa. It is my personal opinion that there is nothing wrong with UPG in your practice. However, I am a big supporter of the following:
a. Knowing historical information about your deity and the Kemetic religion- as done by the ancients themselves.
b. Knowing why you do what you do, regardless of whether it lines up with the historical record or not.
The saying often goes that you should know what the rules are before you break them, and I think that this really does apply within your religious practice. Knowing how it was done, or know how a deity used to be approached back then is an important gauge for approaching the religion or deities today. As I said in my last KRT post, I think that having a foundation to build off of is important. The more you know, the more you can compare and contrast what you’re taking in. Discernment is an important part of any religious practice, as is a healthy dose of skepticism. Knowing the basics from antiquity gives you a good starting point for discernment with which to check what you learn. Knowing why you do what you do reinforces this.
Now, this is not to say that gods can’t completely go against what was considered normal in antiquity. This can and does happen. They are gods, after all, and things do change- gods included. However, this means that when you do receive such tidbits, you can say that you know it wasn’t this way in the past, but this is what you’re currently being asked to do now.
To me, knowing that UPG is, in fact, UPG is very very very important. Not only for yourself, but for those who come across your statements and might not know which is which. A good example of this would be Osiris’s article on wpwt-wiki which states that you are to never offer Osiris sand or fish, due to his brother’s associations. However, in antiquity, its said that fish were offered at Abydos (according to O’Connor) and sand was a common purifier in temple rites- including rites for the Mysteries, a holiday revolving around Osiris. Another common UPG is that Set can’t have water offered to him, due to his brother’s associations. However, water was commonly offered by priest and laymen alike.
Both of these statements are modern doxa. They should be labeled as such. There is nothing wrong if Osiris shows up and tells me “I never want you to offer me sand”. However, for me to tell the rest of the world that that means that Osiris never wants anyone to offer him sand is misleading and, in my opinion, irresponsible.
This is why labeling is important. This is also why having a good knowledge foundation is also important. We all need foundations to check things against.
Whether you should let someone else’s doxa influence your practice is entirely up to you. When I read an interesting bit of trivia from another Kemetic, I mull it over for a bit before I jump on the bandwagon. If it really rings true to me, or if Set or Osiris confirms that the UPG is valid/useful for me, I will then start to incorporate it into my practice. However, if a piece of UPG doesn’t work for me at all (such as the Set and water thing mentioned above), then I don’t bother with it at all.
You should never, ever feel pressured to incorporate someone else’s UPG or doxa into your religious practice. Do not let anyone ever tell you that you have to follow their UPG. UPG is called “unverified” for a reason.
How much you rely on other’s doxa, or even your own doxa- is entirely dependent upon you. You don’t have to incorporate doxa or UPG into your practice in order to be a successful Kemetic. As with most things, I do believe that balance is key, and figuring out what balance works best for you is imperative. Because your balance is your own, no one can tell you how much to keep or how much to leave, but keeping an open mind and learning about modern and historical practices will serve you well in discovering your own balance.
See the KRT Master List for this topic by clicking here.
- The Thing about UPG…
- UPG via bayoread on Tumblr
- For those who are confused….
- What is common sense anyway?