Our Theod's Guiding Philosophies on Reconstruction and "Unverified Personal Gnosis" (UPG)
Updated: Jul 9, 2022
There are many heathen kindreds and theods out there, and quite possibly just as many ways that each one approaches their religion and operate as religious organizations. What is generally agreed upon as being important is the need to consult the existing sources on our ancestral faith and folkways. Some kindreds feel the need to "modernize" our religion and apply the material in the sources loosely in order to accommodate life in the modern world. Others, such as ours, reject this notion. Instead, we take a traditionalist stance and feel that we should give as little ground as possible to a modern western world that is Judeo-Christian in its lines of thinking, though many people these days are trending more towards atheism, given the Descartian emphasis on rational materialism that has increasingly permeated western thought over the last few centuries. Both philosophies narrowly limit a spiritual seeker's quest to understand the nature of existence and their place in it by placing limits, rules, and restrictions upon what is "real" and what is possible (ex.: the only spiritual beings that exist are god, jesus, angels, and demons (in the case of Christianity) or nothing exists beyond what we can perceive with our five senses or with the aid of scientific lab equipment and correct experimental procedures (the rank materialism of atheists.)
. Neither are consonant with the beliefs and folk practices of our ancestors. Therefore, since modern western thought insists upon beliefs and ideas alien to the thought processes of our heathen forefathers, we must in good conscience reject them, accomodating the modern world only as much as need be in order to live effectively in it. Our theod's philosophy does not goes so far as to advocate pretending that we live in an earlier century; we merely think that heathens should not compromise any part of their ancestral faith or give in to the pressures to conform to the modern world.
It has been my observation over my 10 years as a heathen that a lot of kindreds are composed largely of college age or post-collegiate males with a strong "intellectual" orientation. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, as I AM one of those people; where I differ with them is that they believe that we should attempt to incorporate nothing whatsoever into our religious practice that does not appear in the lore and writings we have available to us. At one time I agreed with this, but no longer. I came to realize that by only using the information found in the sources, we are limiting our religions growth and potential. We are only partially and incompletely restoring the Elder Troth. The existing lore may be the "bones" we have unearthed and venerate, but the task still remains to put muscle and flesh on those bones, to restore the veins and arteries so that the lifeblood of our troth may flow once more through the body of a restored Heathenry. Our religion must be a living tradition, and any living thing experiences growth, expansion, and evolution. It has been my experience when I was a member of a kindred that took the "existing written sources only" line that the blots, sumbels, feasts, and gatherings felt very...lackluster. It felt like we were a bunch of archeologists trying to clumsily feel our way through a written "script" for blots and sumbels without giving our souls free reign to express themselves fully and get true fullfillment out of what we were doing. Our ancestral religious rites should be nourishment for our souls, and times when we open ourselves up to the influence of the divine and "let go" so that the spirit of our ancestors can speak and act through us. How can this be done if we approach the practice of our religion ONLY as an exercise in scholarly correctness?
Viking Age Heathenry was certainly not the exact same expression of our religion as Stone Age Heathenry, and yet Viking Age Heathenry developed from its predecessor. It naturally evolved from it and was not a mutation or an artificial deviation from the cultural and spiritual roots from which it sprang. As far as the modern practice of heathenry goes, so long as we are true to the "roots" of the existing sources, there is nothing wrong with taking such a stance. For those that are distrustful of it, let me give you an example from nature: A mighty oak begins as an acorn, grows into a sapling, and becomes a great tree, but in all stages of its development is it not still an oak tree? Do not all the various leaves, twigs, and branches all stem from the same trunk, and does not the trunk remain anchored in the earth by the same roots from which it sprang? Such healthy growth and expression is only possible if we remain anchored in the known practices of our ancestors (the roots) while at the same time allowing personal gnosis to guide and develop the spiritual life of our communities (the growth of the "tree").
We have lost so much information since the Christians waged their war of conversion on our ancestors. Since the passing down of their heritage was based on oral transmission of lore, and nothing was written down and committed to archives and libraries, the sad fact is that most of it did not survive the ravages of the conversion. Some parts of it that were considered too subversive and dangerous to Christianity were no doubt ruthlessly stamped out of existence, while others were modified and Christianized to help ease the transition from our ancestral faith to the alien, oriental one our forebears were forced to accept. Famous medieval authors like Snorri Sturlusson who supplied us with much of the existing lore that we have found it necessary to record the forbidden pagan lore with care to avoid getting into trouble with the authorities. In Snorri's case, his "excuse" to them was that he was writing a handbook of skaldic poetry when he wrote the Prose Edda, and he did not wish this art of the North to die out. He argued that a working knowledge of the old heathen lore was essential for a prospective skald to learn and effectively apply the kennings that the poems make use of. Even so, he was taking a risk because the church looked distrustfully upon the skaldic art as something quintessentially heathen (which it is.) In much the same way, Snorri justified including descriptions of heathen lore and customs in the Heimskringla because he was giving a history of the Scandinavian kings, many of whom were pagans that traced their ancestry all the way back to gods like Odin and Freyr. The narrative describes how the conversion to Christianity occurred, and the record of this despicable so-called "victory" was enough for the authorities to allow its publication. Despite some of the sad content, the Heimskringla is an exciting and insightful read, and remains an invaluable source of information on how our ancestors lived. Despite outwardly professing his faith in Christ, he writes of our lore with what seems at times almost to be affection, and it is quite possible that he was a closet Heathen, as was the case for a long time after the conversion officially occurred in the Scandinavian countries. Other authors, like Saxo Grammaticus and the Venerable Bede, also give us valuable material but being Christians their motivations might be suspect. It could very well be that some topics were left out on purpose and deemed to dangerous or disturbing to christian sensibilities to record. It could also be that some topics and aspects of Heathen lore and belief were taken to be common knowledge and so the various history and saga writers saw no point in wasting ink on writing about things that were commonly known and observed. We need to remember that these medieval authors were not writing with a modern 21st century audience in mind! Many of the assumptions they made about the knowledge base of their readership certainly would not be applicable to many people today. Also, many of the priests and monks who bothered to write down the old heathen practices and beliefs did so because knowledge truly is power, and they gathered it with the ultimate aim of being able to convert the heathen populace.
We are hence left with a very incomplete picture of the spiritual world in which our ancestors lived. However, absence of a certain belief or practice in the records of our lore is not proof positive that a certain practice was never done, or certain spiritual beings or phenomena never believed in. I am of the mind that we should adhere steadfastly to the existing written lore that has survived, but it is also my conviction that so long as what modern heathens incorporate into their heathenry does not fundamentally clash with or contradict the information in the existing written lore, then it is potentially valid. This, of course, assuming that the person in question truly did receive the information from a genuine spiritual experience or a deep intuitive insight in which their soul "spoke" to them and that they just "knew", to the depths of their being, that such a belief or practice was right because it "felt" right. This is the essence of gnosis; our gods and ancestors will always speak to and guide us if we would only learn to listen! They have revealed much to me, and a look at the "What We Believe" section can reveal that some of what this tribe believes may not square completely with the personal beliefs and thews of others; but since no two tribes had identical ways, this is just fine. Nothing in our belief system was arbitrarily put there on a mere whim or through misguided ideas of what we thought the Heathen religion was "supposed" to have looked like. People outside of the tribe don't have to agree with it, but I cannot unsee what I have seen, or forget what has been revealed to me. It is not within my nature to ignore what the gods and spirits have shown me, and continue to show me. The spirit world greatly respects personal integrity, and I strongly encourage any other Heathens receiving messages about our ways from the gods and ancestors to heed it well without fear of reproach from others.
For those who are still incredulous, and look disparagingly upon UPG as a viable means to reconstruct our folkways, let me ask you this: how do you think our ancestors came upon our lore to begin with? There was no collection of books or writings back then to tell them what to believe and how to practice our religion. It's not like the Aesir and the Vanir appeared before them one day and gave them the first ever copy of the Poetic and Prose Eddas. Our ancestors interacted with the spirit world with intuition and did not have their psychic senses inhibited and blocked by the corrupt culture of doubt and disbelief that we now live in. They used the process of personal gnosis to learn about the gods and spirits of the troth through the psychic faculties at their disposal. You "see" the spirit world with your heart, not with your physical eyes or solely with the raw intellectual mind. From these interactions they learned about the nature of the gods and the spirit world, the ways in which they should practice their religion and the most honorable way to live their lives What likely happened is that when enough our our ancestors had enough of the same experiences and came by much of the same information, they became "canon" so to speak, and the personal gnosis of their members were "verified." This resulted in the common elements of religious practice and lore that we can observe in all the heathen tribes that we read about in the historical sources. In the event one tribe's members had experiences and came by information the others did not, this became part of that tribe's unique lore and customs, and this explains the minor variations that we can observe when we compare the different Germanic tribes through the centuries. The practices of the individual tribe could stem from gnosis that was "unverified" by the other tribes but nevertheless just as valid to the members within that tribe. Our ancestors did not live in the toxic atmosphere of doubt that we do today; they were not ready to accuse one another at the drop of a hat of being liars, of having "overactive imaginations," and of "seeking attention" every time a member of their communities came forward with a spiritual experience to share with the other members. They were indeed lucky to live in such an atmosphere or trust and respect among their fellow heathens; such is rarely the case now in modern kindreds.
I therefore make the argument that since we are of the same blood as our ancestors, then so long as we make our best attempts to be psychically receptive to the voices of the gods and ancestors, to develop ourselves spiritually, and to remain true to the existing lore that has survived and been passed down to us, we are every bit as qualified to construct (or reconstruct) our folkways as our ancestors were! We are not somehow automatically "less worthy" just because we happened to be born into this time and this society. Our ancestors live on through us; in fact, we were our ancestors in past incarnations, except in the cases where someone is truly a "new soul." Even then, such individuals are worthy to contribute to the reconstruction and preservation of our folkways. I think that heathen kindreds and theods would work much more harmoniously and effectively were the members to accord one another more respect and be willing to give one another the benefit of the doubt when they want to share their spiritual experiences until such time as the member in question proves themselves to be untrustworthy and attention seeking. Such an assumption should not be made of someone "by default" just because modern western culture encourages such an approach. Most heathens would agree that there is no "heathen bible" or "heathen canon" whose correct interpretation and practice is approved by a heathen "pope" figure (and those that do need to realize that insistence on such things stems from Christian programming that they have not purged.) Therefore, while there will certainly be differences between one heathen group and the next, and while the members of each are entitled to their personal opinions, no modern kindred or theod has the right to speak with absolute authority in telling another that its beliefs or practices are invalid. The ancient tribes likely did not show such audacity and disrespect to one another and neither should we.