I want to talk about things on the mystical side of religion today. More specifically, I wanted to talk about divine providence and UPG (or unverified personal gnosis for those of you who aren’t familiar with the acronym). The idea that the gods communicate their desires and instructions to us by a variety of means is pretty integral to my practice, which finds reflection in ancient practice. In fact, one of the Delphic Maxims is “Προνοιαν τιμα”, or “honor providence”.
In our scientific, “rational” society, it’s easy to see how relying on bird signs, liver spots, and gut feeling can seem silly, if not insane, to many both within and outside our religious community. Indeed, in a religion like Hellenismos, where more folks than not are college educated, it is hard to accept the idea of divine providence. Hell, I’ve been more than skeptical about my own experiences with the ineffable. However, both the concepts of UPG and divine providence are integral and inseparable from any religion, and especially our own.
I want you to sit back and ask yourself why religion exists at all. You could take the “scientific” approach, stating that religion was ancient man’s answer to the world around him, and those answers have now been found, science has replaced religion, and man is more civilized for it. It is quite a logical argument to follow, if one ignores the divine. New evidence of stone age temples discovered in the Fertile Crescent have been shown to predate agriculture, possibly flipping the theory that agriculture allowed man to become civilized and thus create religion around on itself– man’s religion prompted him to plant crops and become civilized. This is all theory of course, and requires more study, but perhaps we have religion because, dare I say it, the gods told us to do it?
So if the gods did in fact tell us to do it, well then how do we know? We call this concept divine providence. All religion would have started as UPG. That’s right, one individual would have been touched by the ineffable, and a religion could form from that one experience. That’s not how it works, exactly. UPG has to go through a process, first. From that first experience, the individual must be able to communicate his or her experience. From there, it may become CVPG, or community verified personal gnosis. This is later passed down as tradition, is occasionally altered, and viola, you have a religious movement.
Now, picking out what counts as “divine providence” is a tricky business. Because of its very nature, it’s hard to pick out from a lineup of the myriad of other thoughts you will have throughout the day. Unfortunately, there’s no real hard and fast way I know to qualify those thoughts, though I can tell you of my experiences.
I’d say that 95% or more of my experiences with divine providence come in the form of automatic knowledge. By this I mean a sudden, non-learned answer to a religious or personal question, or a compelling “force”, known or unknown, within myself urging me to perform an act in a specific way. For example, I felt compelled to worship Ares in a traditional, historic manner in the late summer of 2008. At the time, though I was an eclectic neopagan, I still possessed many of the same qualities I do today, including a deep skepticism of divine providence. I believe Ares disagreed with this, and here I am today. This same compelling force prompted me to seek out my current love interest, and so far everything is going better than my logical mind had expected.
The difference between have experiences such as these, and say, craving a cheeseburger, is that the idea seems to be from and unidentifiable, unknown force, and usually falls outside the rational thought process. It is sudden, often unprompted and hard to qualify. Now, being somewhat of a consequentialist myself, I have a hard time coping with the notions of oracles and providence; after all, everything has to have a logical catalyst to come into being, right? In other words, it can be random but not arbitrary. That’s the stickler though; why Ares, why this specific girl? I guess I have to ask the gods.
The rest of my experiences with providence come in more traditional, divinatory forms, such as bird signs, dreams, and tools such as the tarot and the pendulum. Most systems appeal to me as much as flipping a coin, and make about as much sense. That’s not to put those of you who use these systems down; quite the contrary. I simply don’t understand or feel compelled to use any of them, generally speaking.
It is important, however, that you cite UPG as such when you present it to the community. Don’t feel that just because elements of a ritual or presentation are your own gnosis that it won’t be accepted or you will be looked down upon, and that therefore you should present it as fact. That’s very unethical, in my opinion. However, part of being a Reconstructionist means having to fill in the holes in our religion that were left by the decay of history, and we need UPG to do this. The worst that can happen is that the community isn’t moved by your revelation and does not adopt it. However, if you are honest about your UPG, and if it resonates with the community, it can end up becoming part of shared traditions and viola, you have just contributed to the spiritual lives of others and honor the gods.