Having Faith – Thoughts on Unverified Personal Gnosis

Medicine Wheel in Wyoming...one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

Its overcast, and seems to be a threat of rain in the air this morning. While I do love to see the sun, even on the hottest days in August, I do love seeing the rain and the clouds too. After all, these actually form a part of the Pattern, all that makes up our day-after-day existence within this incarnation. And before anyone asks, yes I do believe in reincarnation – and no, I cannot prove that as a fact. Its just one of those things that I take on faith.

What a strange concept – faith. Many sun and moon cycles back, whenever I heard that word, my immediate association was with Christianity. “Do you have faith – in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit?” “You must trust your faith in the Lord.” I heard statements like this all the time when I was taking some steps into the Southern Baptist world in my late teens. Repeated over and over again, my mind made the association that “faith” was a Christian concept. Now, nearly thirty years forward from that time, I understand the word a little differently. Do I have faith in my Gods? Yes, I do. Do I trust my faith in those Gods? Yes, I do.

1a :  allegiance to duty or a person :  loyalty
1b (1) :  fidelity to one’s promises (2) :  sincerity of intentions
2(1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
2b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2):  complete trust
:  something that is believed especially with strong conviction;especially :  a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

The above is the definition from the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary website. Notice that the second definition starts with a specific definition related to the Christian belief system, and then immediately follows with a more generic definition to cover all the other beliefs. I know, many folks will start hollering about ‘indoctrination’ and maybe even ‘suppression’ – and I can see the point. But I choose not to be that reactionary to something like this. I understand where this attitude to describe things in terms of the Christian belief system comes from. Besides, its just a descriptive. Getting totally into poo-flinging mode over something like this serves no productive or positive outcome.

I tend to lean towards the second definition when it comes to describing what my faith is – that firm belief in something for which I have no proof. I cannot prove to you anything about reincarnation. Much like the opponents of the theory, I find it funny that nearly everyone that attempts to trace a past life claims to be someone famous. Very rarely do you find someone that makes claims to be the reincarnated soul of someone that is not recorded in History somewhere as an individual of import. Just as a for instance – think of how many dozens of people have claimed to be the reincarnation of the infamous Aleister Crowley. Either the guy had a serious multiple personality disorder, or there’s a bunch of people trying to be something that they are not. And honestly, I can see the case for either perspective where that is concerned.

No, I can’t prove reincarnation beyond even the wispy mist of a doubt to anyone. I also cannot prove the existence of the Gods and Goddesses and the Spirits of the Land to anyone either. Nor do I feel a need to do so. I have a firm belief in these because I have experienced them. And those who doubt my experiences, frankly I am quite ok with that. John Beckett refers to this as an Unverified Personal Gnosis. In the blog post I have linked there, John describes thusly:

[Unverified Personal Gnosis, or…] UPG is first-hand religious experience. It’s what happens when a goddess or god speaks to you. It’s what happens when a Pentecostal Christian is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” It’s what happens when a dream is so real you know it’s telling you something you have to do. It’s a vision, an audition, a feeling so strong you don’t even think of questioning its authenticity. –John Beckett

From my perspective, this is an excellent descriptor. I take this a few steps further though. Not only do I not question the authenticity of my own faith – I cannot fathom how to explain parts of it to someone who has not had similar experiences. Nor do I feel the need to “defend” my beliefs to someone who doubts. There will be those who doubt – those who call me crazy or insane for what I believe. And I do “get” that perspective. The only time I have problems with all of this, is when someone gets offended when I have my doubts about their own UPG and/or experiences.

As a matter of example, five years ago I attended a family reunion of my blood relatives. For the past fifteen years, I have not been particularly close with most of my blood family. Most of them are hardcore rednecks from the backwoods of Kentucky and Ohio – and have heavy tendencies towards Evangelical Christianity – and are VERY pushy about their beliefs. Me?  I’m a very open Pagan. I feel that I have no need to hide what I believe. I just don’t push it down anyone’s throat. When asked, I provide my point of view. When scoffed at for my perspective, I smile – thank the person for allowing me to share my point of view, and move on. At the family reunion, despite my attempts to do this – it did not happen that way. My cousins pressed me heavily about my beliefs – even after I politely bowed out of the “conversation” – that is until I finally had enough of being pursued from corner to corner of the family reunion by them trying to witness to me. When I pointed out that they could no more prove their experiences than I could mine – the belligerence became even worse. One of them even told me that this was similar to Moses taking on the Pharaoh’s magicians as expressed in Chapter Eight of Exodus. The implication was obvious – but I pressed the point again, and was again rebuffed. The belligerence grew in stronger intensity, until I finally opted to take my leave of the to-day family reunion – just four hours into the first day.

The way I saw all of this, was that they were seeking a debate. That was fine, if I was seeking the same thing. I wasn’t.  I was looking for a discussion. See, I am not out to prove anything to anyone other than myself. I am not here to be a prophet of some sort, nor am I here to convert anyone to my way of thinking. If there are people who think as I do – that is fine with me. I know there are people who do not, and I have no desire to force any change on them. See, I know that I am a Pagan. I walk the Path I am on because this is my Path to walk. I have no idea where it will take me, but I am bound and determined to not only walk it, but to also experience everything that I encounter along the way. For me, its not a race. Walking this Path and experiencing everything on it is far more important than reaching or even knowing where the Path will take me. Perhaps, I am on something similar to a songline from the tradition of the Australian aborigines. In the West, thanks to the movie “Crocodile Dundee”, we know this as a ‘walkabout’.

There will be those who won’t agree with my perspective I am making in this blog post. And I am perfectly fine with that. Those individuals walk their own Paths, for their own reasons. Who am I to say they are right or wrong? Their Path is their own to walk. I cannot begrudge them their experiences in Life. To do so, would be similar to me saying that my experiences are far more important than anyone else’s. That statement is only true for me. In trying to bring this post to a close, I am reminded how many times in our recorded Histories, we – the human race – have fought deadly wars over a difference of opinion over a UPG. And that saddens me to realize that – for it means that we do not value the individual’s experiences. Instead, we – the human race – fear other experiences as potentially being valid, and believe that if that happens it would invalidate our own personal experiences. And yet, time and time again – I hear the cries of those within the smaller subsets of belief and experience who are oppressed and subjected to forced conversion or death. In my eyes, its such a shame that we embrace the ideas of freedom within the West – and cannot utilize that same aspect of freedom when it comes to UPG.

–Tommy /|\

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