This is part of the Pagan Experience prompts. If you are interested in a blogging project, I recommend it!
Gnosis is a term that is used quite often in Pagan and polytheist discussions, usually as ‘unverified/unverifiable/unsubstantiated personal gnosis’. I find the term to be applied haphazardly among people, often without any clear definition of what constitutes UPG, much less gnosis itself. This is one, of a few, reasons that I don’t use the term at all in my own practice anymore.
I’ve seen UPG used to refer to anything from significant theological differences to debates about what a god’s favorite color is. I also understand that it is used to differentiate between Lore (the history and texts we have from ancient polytheist religions and cultures) and new beliefs and personal experiences with the gods. I’m sure, in the context of revived polytheisms, it has use. Within the context of modern religions like the Otherfaith – in which everything we do would count as ‘UPG’ – the term is worse than useless.
In the faith, we use the terms canon/canonical information and headcanon. Canon refers to information about our gods and spirits that we consider true and/or accurate to them. Our canon is open, meaning it can be added to and subtracted from. Our canon can also be challenged or generally changed. Headcanon refers to the personal beliefs of individual People within the faith. The term headcanon comes from fan communities, as a way to specify what is canonical information in a book or series and what is a fan creation.
Canon includes things such as the colors associated with the gods, the order of our gods, and the elemental associations of our gods. Another example of canonical information is that we consider the Dierne a god of consent and sex. Another example is that she is a god of stars. Meanwhile, we consider the Clarene a god of consent as well, along with love and kingship. We believe that the Laetha is a variety of spirits, not one singular entity. Canon also refers to our concepts of the spirit body and how to interact with that.
Headcanon refers to the personal beliefs and ideas that individuals have – including differing color associations, differing ideas of parentage for spirits, preferred mythic storylines, etc. It also relates to what offerings a god might prefer or the landscape of our otherworld. Headcanon has two purposes – to deepen our personal relationships with the gods by forming our own ideas and experiences with them and to build our canon.
Headcanon can be presented to the Other People for possible canonical inclusion. There are a few ways and reasons this can happen. The most common so far has been to add to our canonical information regarding the gods or spirits. Here are two possibilities concerning headcanon becoming more widely included:
It adds to or challenges current canon. An example of this is the inclusion of the Darren, the seventh god of the Other People. This god was suggested by Elliot and accepted by the rest of the community, and since then we have begun to learn more about this god. I try to take a backseat to involvements concerning our newer gods, following the direction of my spirits.
It establishes a relationship between Person and god or spirit. An example of this could be a Person believing themselves to be a child of the Clarene. They might want to formalize this relationship and have it acknowledged by others. In such a case, we could perform a ceremony acknowledging their position and celebrating it. This would be recognition of a personal relationship, not necessarily something that would impact the community widely.
Headcanon does have limits, however. We have something called Divergence. Divergence is ‘a belief contrary to established canon that is held by a small portion of the Other People’. It isn’t sin or blasphemy. It can be similar to a schism within the faith, just one that doesn’t cause actual separation. We only have to actual Divergences that were resolved and which can be read about in the link. As we grow, some headcanons will differ enough and have enough of a split between people who do and do not hold the belief that Divergences will be created, and future headcanons may fall into those Divergences.
Even so, both Divergences and headcanons have breaking points where one would be better off working with the Four Gods outside of the context of the Otherfaith. A very good real-life example of this is if someone believed the Dierne to be a god of rape. This is contrary not only to what the People know of the Dierne but also very contrary to our values in our faith; someone who believes such will likely prefer working with the Four Gods on their own rather than in our community.
There are other reasons why one might not be a good fit in our community. These I only really understood after years of building this faith, and these lessons tie into the other focuses of this prompt for the Pagan Experience – knowledge and wisdom. Originally, I had a lot of information (knowledge) about these gods and where I wanted the faith to go. I shared it with whoever came along and gladly accepted partners. Now, five years in, I’m much better at assessing who would be a good community member. And that’s part of why the Four Gods are open to whoever. I can’t control who worships our gods, nor do I particularly want to spend time doing so anymore.
As a community, however, we can figure out who fits with us, our practices, and our behaviors. That was a bit of wisdom only actually experiencing bad fits and pain could teach. Unfortunately, we don’t know who will really fit or not until they try; others might view our community and writings and realize they don’t fit with us, however, which is fine! In such a case, they are more than welcome to explore the Four Gods on their own terms.
Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.