I’m sure a lot of you have been in similar spaces, but I’ve been in online spaces with an “anything goes” approach to Paganism(s), wherein you would be hard-pressed to find credible research on anything, and that’s if anything’s been cited at all) and other spaces that are very eager to use the Lore (TM) as a thing with which to beat people over the head who dare to innovate in any way.
TBH, if I had to choose either extreme, I’d much rather hang out with the fluff bunnies. In fact, this is exactly what I did when I was turned off from all the lore-thumping.
However, the space that I find ideal is neither of these extremes. I want to have an intellectual conversation with knowledgeable people who won’t bite my head off if I haven’t read five different translations of the Eddas. I want a space where I can share a sudden insight I’ve had without fearing that I’m going to be laughed at (although there might be some gentle teasing) or derided because that’s not what the oldest of the old books that we have say.
In short, in the debate between lore vs. UPG, I want a balance, I want my cake, and by golly, I am going to eat it!
However, I must confess that for me, at least, this whole thing with lore vs. UPG is a bit more nuanced. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I fall more on the UPG-centric, reconstructionist-derived side, and that’s true, but not really….
Let me break it down for you:
The first tier is my own experience, my gut, if I spent time doubting my own experiences, I’d never get anything done. If something “just works” for me, chances are I will insert it into my personal practice, even if it isn’t historically accurate. My use of tarot cards and prayer beads would fall into this category (although we have examples of beaded jewellery, to the best of my knowledge there’s no indication that the tribes used beads in prayer).
Secondly, we have the lore, but this is where it gets complicated. The lore is something like the collective experience of the people who actually worshiped my deities way back when. However, the problem with the lore is that it’s been mangled and filtered through a Christian lens, so while it is valuable, it gets the number two slot (but not really, you’ll see in a bit).
Thirdly, we have the experiences of other people, it’s nice to know that you’re not alone, but in the event that I’m around other people who know more or have been doing this longer than I have (which is almost everyone I hang out with online) I like to bounce sudden insights off of them. However, the experiences of others are weighed against my own, if they match up (or the information feels “right”) I keep it, if it doesn’t, I usually toss it. Keeping in mind, though, that there are some things I just need to hear.
Somewhere on this list we also have scholarly material, but I don’t know exactly where to put it, so I’m thinking between 2 and 3. Something that is irrelevant that it isn’t even on the list is the opinions of asshats. Seriously, even pop culture/fictional worlds made the list. Asshats, IMHO, aren’t worth anyone’s time.
Pay attention now, because this is where things get complicated. You see, I have a nice little list here, but the truth is that the process by which I determine if something is “useful” to me spiritually is much more nuanced than this neat little list would suggest.
For instance, let’s say I have a “god dream” in which Mani appears saying that He wants me to buy a pink top hat and wear it every Monday for the next month. I will take this bit of information, and I will usually do the following:
Chat up my like-minded online friends: “So, I had this weird dream last night in which Mani told me he wanted me to wear a pink top hat every Monday. WTF is up with that?”
Somebody might reply with “I found x references to hats in the lore. This might interest you.” or “So and so did some research on hats in the lore.” or “Look, I found an article about hats being associated with the moon!”
Another person might say “OMGS MANI LOVES TOP HATS! No, seriously, He asked me to wear a top hat once too, mine was black though, I have no idea why yours is pink.”
Another person may conclude that it’s actually Loki who is invading my dreams to troll me.
Meanwhile, I’m picking my dream apart trying to figure out what the colour pink means to me, and what I associate with top hats. And I’ll also be looking for snippets of lore and scholarship that might be helpful.
In the end though, it’s up to me to decide if and how I’m going to use this information, I might decide I had too much spicy food to eat that night and discard the dream, or say “Why the fuck not?” and get a pink top hat. If I’m wrong, the most that’ll happen is I’ll look silly and people will give me odd looks.
All of this comes with a couple of cautionary notes though:
When things contradict other things. Sometimes this happens, you have this piece of information and the lore (or general scholarly consensus) contradicts it. When this happens, I tend to either discard it completely, or put it in the “but it works for me” pile. As in “there’s no evidence the Norse practiced sex magic (volsi cult aside) but it works for me, therefore I use it.” If something seems too off the wall though (“Hela likes bunnies, adorable white floofy bunnies!”) then it probably is.
Sometimes you just need to go with the flow. As loathe as I am to tell anyone to stop thinking, sometimes you just need to put on the pink top hat. This is something I really have trouble doing, I like to think things through and carefully weigh my options before doing anything, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. There are things that the lore and the academics and other people can’t tell you, you just have to do them. And it’s hard, it’s very hard. It might not be historically accurate, it might not be something that anyone outside your circle of friends has talked about before, but some things you need to do.
Seriously, just do it.