Dver recently wrote a post at her blog about Unverified or Unusual Personal Gnosis (UPG) and discernment. Simply because someone experiences what they think is a God, does not necessarily mean that they did. To determine that, discernment is needed. Consult the written texts, ask knowledgeable people, and do divinations. By doing these various things, the experience can be worked out.
In my blog, I write about my personal experiences with various Gods. These are based on my personal perceptions and may not always conform to written sources. Some of what I have written, other people have perceived the same way. My UPG about Ratastok the Squirrely One as a Force of Nature has been echoed by others.
One aspect that is not usually discussed concerning an UPG is groupthink. The group that I am a part of influences my interpretation of my experience. At one time, God Spouses were all the rage, and many people viewed their experiences in this lens – that a particular God chose them for spouses. I am not sure as to how many were actually selected, but I do know that many thought they were.
Groupthink and group ethos will influence what I consider to be “true.” If the group decides that someone is toxic, and I do not know the alleged toxic person, then I will assume that the group is correct. If I do know the person, and do not believe them to be toxic, the group will discount my perception. Eventually, I will fall in line with the group. Few of us question the assumptions made by our groups. We simply believe them to be true. We see the unknown person as toxic, whether they are or not.
In Paganism and Polytheism, groupthink colors what people think and believe to be true. For example, I am told that Samhain (Halloween) is when the veil between the worlds are the thinnest. Some will add further that the longer nights of late fall encourage spirits to walk amongst the living. Perhaps, it is true. But many people believe it to be true because the books say so, their friends say so, their religious groups say so, and many notable Pagans say so.
However, what other Pagans tell me to be “true” is not my experience. Even before becoming a Roman Polytheist, I usually felt the spirits around me in May. Yes, the spring when life is asserting itself, I feel the Dead. The eruption of new life at that time spurs the spirits to roam.
For Roman Polytheists, the veils are thin in May, when the Lemurae (the Unquiet Dead) haunt the living. Sacrifices are made to Mania Genita and Di Manes to keep the Lemurae from harming us. During the Lemuria, I lay out beans for Them to collect and leave my family alone. In February, the Festival of the Ancestors – the Parentalia – is held. Sacrifices are made to the Ancestors (Di Parentes) and to the Gods Below (Di Inferi). So, when is the veil between the worlds the thinnest? It depends on a number of things….
This is where groupthink comes into play. I have been repeatedly told that I am wrong. The proof that other Pagans offer is that everyone knows that Samhain is the time. According to them, I am just plain weird.
Groupthink colors what people chose to perceive and believe. The prism that we determine truth is filtered by others and the culture we live in. Confirmation bias re-enforces this prism. The group teaches us to how to cherry pick for “truth.” By collecting certain stories and discarding others, we form our belief systems in accordance to groupthink.
Being aware of the milieu that we are awash in will help in discerning our UPG. Ask people outside of your group. Get as many different points of views from as many different people as possible. You may find unexpected insights into what you experienced. But remember how groupthink can affect your interpretation.