Because this journal has a primary purpose of documenting magical and mystical explorations, I feel a word is in order regarding my views on what in Heathen circles is called Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis (UPG).
Heathens are generally trying to reassemble some kind of set of traditions from cultures which once lived. There is a lot of literature calling for authors to be clear about which of their claims are supported by some kind of archaeological or textual evidence; which of their claims are speculative; and which of their claims are actually ideas imported from some other body of mystic, religious, or cultural tradition.
I believe it is very important that this sort of clarity be encouraged. If we are unclear about which of our claims come from evidence and which of our claims are invented (in good faith one hopes), then our readers are at risk of treating our opinion as though it were fact.
Furthermore, I think we need to be honest about how we interpret the evidence of Heathen belief and practice that is available. Every person has biases and these will invariably affect the way they interpret sources. Historiography is a sub-branch of history which looks at the “history of history”, the way in which researchers at different times and places have interpreted the same evidence differently on the basis of their own biases. It is also interesting to note the ways that a researcher’s bias affects which evidence they rely on more heavily in forming and presenting their opinions.
A classic example of this is the interpretation of gender in European burial sites. Archaeologists used to just assume that if a buried body had weapons or armour then it must be male; if it had domestic equipment it must be female. Advances in bone analysis, among other things, now reveal that a good number of female corpses from Heathen Europe were buried with weapons and armour, and many male corpses went to the afterlife with domestic gear. All of this suggests a much more complex picture of how the sexes were organised. It seems the gender politics of the researchers led them to make very inaccurate assumptions about the gender roles and gender politics of the Heathen Germanic peoples (or at the very least, about their burial practices). You can read more about this here, or in a fantastically speculative article in issue two of Hex Magazine.
So where I do personally stand?
Well I am a big fan of UPG, so long as it doesn’t obviously and blatantly contradict the evidence available and so long as it is presented honestly. So for example I am happy to entertain the notion that Odin as the Wanderer or as Grim might have walked with a limp, even though nothing is said in the sources about this either way. Whereas the Rune Gild idea that Odin survives Ragnarok is transparently (for good or ill) a load of UPG. The Poetic Edda clearly states that he is killed by Fenris Wolf.
This latter example conjures a related issue. Some recent authorities on Heathenism have presented themselves as being far more strict about sticking to the lore than they actually have been. Edred Thorsson, as the leader of the Rune Gild, is a great case in point. There is stacks of very wild speculation in his books but there is also lots of solid research. Unfortunately he doesn’t make it clear which is which, leading many readers to take some way out ideas as being academically sound and unquestionably self-evident! you can read more about these issues in Sweyn Plowright’s Rune Primer.
There is one more area of interest with these issues and debates. Folks who argue for the primacy of historical evidence rarely spend much time delving into the possible spiritual or psychological meaning of, say, the Eddic poems. Whereas folks who prefer a preposterous hypothesis to an ugly fact are quite keen to reflect on the deeper meaning of the old lore, no matter how unfaithfully they do so. I would like to see people who take the historical evidence seriously start to also reflect on its possible significance as metaphor and symbol. Perhaps I might even do this myself in these very pages.
You can expect me to present a lot of UPG material in this journal, but I promise to try to always be clear about what I can support with evidence and what my imagination has furnished. That’s a much better promise than you can expect from many of the self-proclaimed lore-masters in the world of Heathenry – its a simple promise that I will be as honest as is possible.
Til next time!