KRT: Differences in practice
I strongly believe that UPG is a necessary part of modern faith. I grew up Christian and too many times, I saw people who had fixated on the text of their holy books, and in the process had shut out the Holy Ghost. I view the Holy Ghost as the growing, changing part of the faith, the godphone if you will between you and the Almighty. Without that god remains static and if there’s one thing I’m very sure deity isn’t, it’s static.
It’s similar in Kemetic practices, I believe, where we have what we know from antiquity to give us a foundation but ultimately we need to feel and respond to the needs of our deities, our akhu, or whatever it is that lets us connect with the divine (this is what I believe about IndoEuro faith too, but this is a Kemetic post so I won’t compound the issues with interfaith stuff). Because we’re trying to recreate an ancient religion, history can only take us so far. I feel history and how it was done before are very valuable things, mind you, and I think you will be enriched by studying them. But the fact remains that there are huge gaps in, for example, how the average person would have paid homage to their gods.
But of course, as dust ups in the spirit walker communities have perhaps most obviously illustrated, UPG can be a very volatile topic. I think people also naturally develop a certain jealousy or possessiveness around deities they feel particularly close to, and because of that it can feel like a personal attack when we run in to people who don’t worship that same deity the way we do. How dare you say that about Mom?! How dare you say that about my lover/supreme being/divine master etc. We have to relinquish ownership around our deities to a certain extent, at least. They are the ones who decide on what relationships They will engage in, and oftentimes it’s not for the individual practitioner to know whether or not other such relationships are true or appropriate.
So, how can we act on these high-minded ideals? One of the ways I handle this is the concept of deities being multifaceted entities. Mystical Bewilderment touches on this some in their KRT entry . One of the reasons I believe we gravitate to deities isn’t because we feel Them to be infallible or even all-knowing, but because we believe that They have the ability to connect us to the divine source in ways that we can’t comprehend by ourselves. There’s a barrier between us and enlightenment that we can’t always cross on our own. Or, if you prefer a more hard polytheist approach, each deity has a special lesson or personality that they can offer us that evolves our understanding of things beyond ourselves.
That means that these beings have aspects that we aren’t going to fully grasp. Another thing I believe is that we have physical and biological structures within us that affect how we perceive deity. Perhaps your amygdala is shaped a certain way and therefore you have the gift of divination, so Sekhmet comes to you through your cards and stones. But let’s say I don’t have the gift of divination, so whatever message She prefers to convey through that medium is closed to me. But I can spirit walk, and She comes to me in my dreams with a message I can hear through that pathway. Another question is ability. If, say, Hathor wants more singers and dancers, well, you might not be very good at those things so She’s going to ask someone who is, or someone who can learn those particular arts. But She might need you for something else, because you have certain skills or talents She needs. Maybe you write fantastic love poetry. She likely has many goals She would like to see made manifest on earth, so it makes sense that She would tap a number of different devotees with different skills and abilities, both mundane and supernatural, to help Her achieve those goals.
I am also a person who perceives deities as very well-defined individuals. I have one Name who I love dearly, who always, always comes to me in a single guise, in a certain way. She is syncretized with other goddesses, but I feel basically nothing for those other incarnations, even when I want to feel something. I have an Irish deity who visits, and She’s commonly known as a triple goddess. I have very, very rarely perceived the barest tendrils of Her other faces, and that’s it. Considering my experience it would be unforgivably arrogant for me to assume that I’ve experienced absolutely everything these deities have to teach. I have a direct and powerful idea/experience of one aspect of deities so big and unknowable that They certainly have thousands upon thousands of faces.
That’s where the best parts of UPG come in. If I meet another Morrigan devotee and they’re able to see her Mother aspect but I’m not, we have a lot we can learn from one another. It also feels good to find out what you experience that’s shared with others, SPG. Hardly anyone worships my Name, apparently, so whenever I find something out there that’s like SHE LOVES CHOCOLATE I am like OMG I KNOW HOW EXCITING.
Yes, there are people out there who use UPG as a smoke screen, and in my opinion we don’t talk about the downsides of paganism or Kemeticism enough. There’s the sense that there aren’t enough of us, that we can’t bear up under criticism as a group. But criticism, when constructive, is as much within Ma’at as praise. The people who do use UPG as smoke and mirrors to justify bad or otherwise uncontrolled behavior can be a problem, especially when their actions become hurtful. I don’t think it’s wrong to walk away from those people, or to exclude them from certain groups or gatherings where they would cause harm to the discussion or group.
Sometimes, unscrupulous people also use these concepts as a way to couch their abusive interests in a cloak of superficial legitimacy. I think many of us have encountered fake channels, or people who claim to have a godphone when really they don’t. Preventing abuse in our communities is of the utmost importance. If someone is using their UPG to justify making everyone in their circle, grove, temple or whatever conform to a very narrow set of ideas, that’s a red flag. If the group is set up in a strict hierarchy where questions are looked down upon and discouraged, that’s another red flag. If UPG is presented as the one true way, that’s a red flag. We need to exercise discernment in all things. Religious abuse is real even in paganism. Beware the person whose gods suspiciously hate everything he does.
However there’s a big difference between co-opting whatever term or concept will allow a person to justify their bad behavior, and coming down like a ton of bricks on anyone who experiences deity different from you. By all means try and discuss the differences with each other in a rational manner, because if we do this we might actually learn something new and wonderful about the deities we love and work for. When we seek deity and divinity I think a large number of people are already hoping for more. More knowledge, new perceptions, guidance. We can get those things from one another, too, if we keep and open mind and yet go forth tempered by reason.