The Kemetic Round Table (KRT) is a blogging project aimed at providing practical, useful information for modern Kemetic religious practitioners. For all the entries relating to this particular topic, take a peek here!
One of the large issues, I think, with coming up with a solitary practice is that, well, it’s solitary. We can work on creating a community all we want, but each practice is going to be individual to the person or persons creating the practice in question. I know that there have been times in my practice when I’ve felt incredibly alone, small, and out of sorts due to the loneliness that creating a solitary practice can cause. It’s kind of a shitty thing, really. We see larger religions – from Christianity to Wicca – forming communal groups of people and just generally being very communal. I think what makes it worse for those of us who may not have that community thing is the fact that, though beliefs may differ amid the various sects, they can still interact appropriately and properly with one another. The thing is, however, that even within the larger religions out there, there are going to be disagreements about what is and is not canonical, what is and is not misinterpreted, and what is and is not part of the practice. I mean, if those disagreements didn’t rise up during the Middle Ages, King Henry VIII would have probably been stuck with Queen Catherine until the end of their days unless he was able to shut her up in a convent… which considering her wherewithal never would have happened.
So disagreements amid practices, even from a Christian viewpoint, are fairly common. But how do you deal with such things when you have two solitaries going at it not because of “what is canon” but because of what is UPG?
UPG, or unverified personal gnosis, is one of those issues that most Kemetics leave in the dark. We don’t like to discuss them because, too often, we’ve been hit over the head with the “IT IS NOT CANON” rule book from the more hardcore recons out there. And while their practices may be fulfilling, and in my viewpoint probably pretty fucking boring, with all of their research and reconstructionism, those of us who aren’t afraid of adding UPG are left out in the dust. This leads us, quite often, to find other like-minded, UPG-friendly people to begin to associate with. However, UPGs across the board are, well, unverified and personal. There is no single rule book, in any of the historically informed practices out there, that says, “This is accepted UPG, but this is not.” In many instances it can and does feel like we’re making it all up as we go, which means that there are going to be differences of UPG-based opinions out there.
To be more specific, there may be two separate and distinct people who view a single deity in a particular light that doesn’t match up with one other’s point-of-view. Let’s look at some examples so that those of you new to this can see what I’m talking about: A lot of people tend to view Sekhmet as only a destructive deity, which is unverified personal gnosis. Yes, she can and is destructive, but there are other facets of who she is as well that are, often times, ignored either due to people not being aware from a research perspective or people having never interacted with her other facets. A lot of people tend to view Sutekh as a chaotic, devil-like deity. While I cannot fully comment on those people who do view him thus, this type of UPG ignores his other facets entirely and paints him in a[n unfair and] negative light. There are people who view Wesir as a father-like deity; where they see Djehuty as a wise sage; and where they see Hetheru as a drunken, party girl. These are all UPG viewpoints based on whatever it is that has caused individuals to view these deities in this way. But gods have facets, in my opinion, and all facets should be explored.
So what do you do if you meet up with someone whose UPG doesn’t match what you have going?
There are two obvious things that can be done here.On the one hand, you can go to bat for your UPG against someone else’s UPG. While this sounds like a good idea – you’re taking a stand and just generally sticking up for your gods and your religion – this kind of falls on its face. Many people when they get into arguments with other people regarding their religion, they’re entering the shadowy territory of each other’s UPGs. This shadow territory has only one real fucking rule, which is that there is nothing to back you up in the argument. All you’re really doing is arguing about personal opinion in the face of someone else’s personal opinion. And while if an argument between two individuals goes smoothly and politely, it is possible to change someone else’s point-of-view regarding things, is it really worth taking the time, the spoons, and whatever else you have to throw into the argument? I mean, do you really want to spend who knows how long arguing the finer points of your personal gnosis? Especially since you don’t know that the other UPG is any less valid than your own.
And I think that last sentence is the issue I have with arguing with others’ UPG, in a nutshell.
Let me reiterate.
You don’t know that the other UPG is any less valid than your own.
If by taking someone to task over their UPG ends up with them changing their mind, especially after the god in question told them to do whatever UPG you are taking issue with, then you’re causing serious, serious backlash for the other person and their relationships with their gods. You are, in effect, fucking up something that you have no bearing fucking up. While you may feel superior and better because you were able to sway them to your point-of-view, do the ends really justify the means? Since there is no rule book, since there is no hard and fast rules when it comes to UPG and those differences, can you really take the chance that you are going to possibly irreparably screw up another person’s personal practice?
If the answer to any of those questions are “no,” then we can move on to the other option.
On the other hand, you can absolutely leave it the fuck alone. While this may sound like a bad idea – someone is acting like a “speshul snowflake” and saying really weird shit about your gods – this is probably the best way to go. Many people have fulfilling practices that have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on what we do, no matter what they say, do, or post. As long as they are not hurting others and as long as they are not spewing out things that are quite obviously incorrect from a historical standpoint, why should it matter? If no animals, children, or people were hurt in the making of the relationship/religious practice, then I think it’s a good day. This will allow you to conserve your energy and your spoons for things that have an impact on your religious life and this will also keep you from having to enter that shadowy territory of having absolutely no back up whatsoever on whether or not your UPG is more accurate than anyone else’s.
I will admit that it can be really difficult to watch people post really weird shit about my gods. I’ve been seeing it almost from the get-go, though, and so after a while, you become inured to some of the things that go around. I’ll give you a couple of examples, mostly relating to Sekhmet. The thing about Sekhmet is that she is a pretty popular god. Before I found that there were other historically informed Kemetics that also forged relationships with her, most of the things I saw about her were in relation to either a Wiccan or Neo-Wiccan background. A lot of the stuff that I saw posted wasn’t historically accurate – she was often pushed into that “mother” goddess dynamic that doesn’t quite fit for her – or it was a little too “historically accurate,” in that people were hyper-focusing on the single aspect of her that they preferred (usually the destructive aspect). This made me uncomfortable.
My research has been going on for years and years when it comes to Sekhmet and while I’m not a “Sekhmet expert,” I’d like to think that I know enough to get me by. So, when I would see things like that, I often found it difficult to assess how I felt about it and what I should do about it. In each case, I almost always left it alone for one reason or another. But what it all came down to was that I, per usual, didn’t think I had the right to destroy their perceptions of who she was. Nowadays, when I see posts regarding things that make me uncomfortable with the relationships that I have with my gods, I try to at least let them know about who she is from a historical context, leaving out my own UPG because hey, it’s none of their business, and let them know that their results may vary.
And that’s it.
I’m not a fundamentalist anything and after watching the fundamentalist pagan sects grow in the last years, I have to admit that the whole spiel kind of disgusts me. And while I know that I am a hard-headed woman who has quite a few opinions about a lot of different things, I also admit that I don’t want to become some all-knowing, all-seeing, all-assholing expert fundamental jerkface who tells people what their religion should be because I think I’m the gods’ gift to humanity. That, above all else, is why I attempt to be polite about things when I’m correcting others. And frankly, the only reason I bother at all is so that newbies can see other viewpoints of the gods and know that a historically informed practice is feasible. I don’t want people to get stuck in someone else’s UPG and then getting torn down by those hardcore recons that can and will smack you over the head with their “THIS IS CANON” law book.
It’s one thing to politely provide an alternative based on historical context, though, and another thing to just tell someone they are flat-out wrong because their UPG doesn’t add up to your UPG.
The first part is providing information; the second is just being a dick.
In my community, we all have different UPGs. Many of us don’t cross-pollinate when it comes to what gods we have relationships with. For example, Devo is the only O kid around for miles and miles. As another example, Helms is the only Hatmehyt kid around (although she’s starting to pick up followers). However, in my particular community, these two people are the only ones (that I can think of) who have relationships with these gods. So when it comes to what they say is their UPG, then that’s it. There is no cause for argument. However, within my community, there are quite a few Set kids and there’s a handful of Sekhmet kids. UPGs may not line up completely across the board for all of us. I may disagree with someone else’s viewpoint on Sekhmet and someone else may disagree with Devo and her view of Set.
And you know how we handle it?
No one tells anyone else that they’re wrong. No one flat out calls one another a liar. There are no arguments or disagreements about what should be accepted UPG and what shouldn’t be accepted UPG. A part of that is because, as the conversations we have with one another continue regarding various things, we’re beginning to see that UPGs are actually lining up. What UPG may have looked as though it didn’t quite correlate with someone else’s practice, we have come to find that they actually do though we may have just voiced them differently. Thus they end up in a really fun category of shared personal gnosis, or SPG.
In other instances, we have the ability to respect one another, even if we disagree. It may merely come down to someone disagreeing with someone else’s UPG ignoring a thread or ignoring a discussion where that UPG comes up. Or it may just be that we’re adult enough to, you know, accept that everyone has differences in their religious practices and just agree to disagree (either publicly or silently).
In all honesty, I think that people who feel the need to point fingers at others’ UPG in a rather nasty way are doing it for a handful of reasons and none of them are good. But what it really comes down to is this overwhelming reminder that these religious practices are, pretty much, all very new. While Kemeticism has been a thing for thirty or more years now (however long it’s been since KO was founded), when it comes to things like differences in our practices, we have a lot bigger issues to contend with. We have the constantly pressing concern about community and forging one. We have the constantly pressing concerns about not being recognized as legitimate and valid religious practices. And we have the constantly pressing [personal] concern about whether or not we’re doing it correctly, whether or not what we’re doing is real, and whether or not what we’re doing is satisfying to us.
So, in the grand scheme of things, differences in UPG are really not as important as some other things.