I’m a Fussy Jerk about UPG

By and large, I prefer combing through academia for information I can use in my practice, rather than consulting coreligionists.

There was someone I knew in my earlier Heathen days who made huge logical leaps from incredibly sparse information. Her…contributions in that vein are more famous in the Marvel and general Hiddleston fandom, but she brought a lot of that into the Lokean spaces, too.

Her assertions were along the lines of “blood oaths were marriages, so Loki and Odin were totes married!” (No.) “Jotunn means cannibal, Jotunheim means ‘cannibal town,’ and they were neanderthals” (What?!) And a lot of wildly inaccurate linguistic assertions. She claimed to have taken some language classes. She was not a linguist. This didn’t stop her, even though it really should have.

She was utterly convinced “Loki” was a cognate of the Proto-Germanic “laguz,” (from which the rune name is derived, yes) and therefore Loki was a god of lakes. Oh, never mind that there was absolutely zero attestation regarding Loki and lakes, or that Proto-Germanic is a reconstruction of a language that was never written down. It was her UPG. Apparently the definition of “cognate” she was using was also her UPG, because she used this word constantly.

Except…”cognate” doesn’t mean, “these words are vaguely similar.” In linguistics, a cognate of a word has the same linguistic root as another word. That is not optional.

The prevailing theory about the etymology of Loki’s name, for the record, is the Proto-Germanic root “*luk-.” It refers to concepts of attachment, ensnarement and closure; we see that in the lore with the stitching of Loki’s mouth, his creation of the fishing net and his binding. Nothing in that is relevant to lakes.

She could have found this out with a two-minute internet search, because that’s how long it took me to compare these etymologies. I’m not a linguist, either. I just know how to Google.

Granted, this was an abnormally bad instance of this kind of behavior, but I don’t put stock into other people’s UPG, for a few reasons. Reason one is pretty straightforward. It’s personal. That is information between you and the deity you work with. It is only reliably true and useful between the two of you.

Reason two is that “unverified” is part of the name, and at this point in my life I’d really prefer running that by an objective (or at least thoroughly-backed) source before adopting it.

I have had UPG-type experiences involving directly given information, and then stumbled upon that same information in a devotional where the author and I were mutually unknown to each other. I’ve also had hunches verified by academia completely by accident. So, yes, UPG does sometimes end up becoming a peer-verified or academically-verified Gnosis. But not always. I’d prefer not to count on it as reliable information until I see it proven. I don’t need to whip out the whole scientific method to feel confident, but I need a second opinion.

Reason three is the tendency I saw among the Tumblr-based Lokean community (myself included, before people smarter than me were kind enough to redirect me) picking up tidbits of unsupported information, and parroting them as if they were proven facts. I’ve got other gripes about the way Tumblr works, but the speed at which inaccurate information spreads is easily the biggest.

I feel like I’ve been burned by what I’ve seen happen to UPG. So, I ran far away from that and ended up as kind of a lore-thumper. I can at least be reassured the lore won’t change to be on trend. Not nearly as much, at least.

Yes, the lore needs to be approached carefully, because, yes, it was written down by non-Heathens. That just means you do more background research to work around the bias. Not consult some random person on the internet whose most compelling credentials are not being a Christian like Snorri Sturluson, and “it’s my UPG.”

People lie.

It’s a trap anyone can fall into, though. Making connections between information is deeply satisfying, and it’s something our brain does by default with incredible speed. Pattern-matching is a feature, not a bug. And we’re supposed to like and prefer things that are satisfying. Reaching a realization on our own feels rewarding. Having a source of information who is part of the community is comforting.

The problem is that facts and scholarly consensus are going to be more accurate than something that occurs to you while you’re making dinner. Even a bad academic assertion with thorough citations has a trail you can follow for better information. A trained professional has the background knowledge and discernment skills the layperson usually doesn’t have.

A linguist doesn’t equate similar sounding words, because they know how the language and its relatives operate. A lock is not a lake unless it’s a loch.

A historian knows history is written by the victors, but witnesses still leave a trail. Our myths may be transcribed by Christians, but some poetry survived mostly unchanged from before the conversion, and the sagas provide other helpful hints.

A mythologist worth their salt is trained to recognize when similarities between plots and motifs are caused by a common source material, and when they’re just coincidence. A spark nestled in a salmon and a child born from a swallowed pine needle have fascinating similarities to some of Loki’s escapades–but they are only fascinating similarities.

Even though religion is not science, we’re not exempt from carefully examining what we come across.