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Episode 9 – Holy Personal Gnosis, Batman!

August 24, 2011

Welcome to Episode 9 of Dining with Druids! We’re your hosts, Ali and Jeff Lilly.

In tonight’s episode, “Holy Personal Gnosis, Batman!“, Ali and Jeff open up about their relationships with the gods, sharing a little insight into how they grapple with questions of spiritual authenticity and internal versus external sources of authority, balancing academic research, creative explorations and unverified personal gnosis (or “UPG”). Jeff talks about the time Odin almost made him crash his car, and Ali explores the dark, stellar aspect of the Celtic goddess, Brighid — but only after apologizing for her part in causing the East Coast earthquake. Make sure to stick around for the end of the episode, when Jeff reads a truly inspired piece of writing and Ali talks a bit about an up-coming contest for listeners to win a copy of the new anthology of Pagan fiction, The Scribing Ibis.

Mentioned in tonight’s episode:

Thanks for listening, and join us next time here on DwD!

17 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2011 7:26 pm

    Nice podcast! I wanted to comment on your suggestion that we devalue UPG in favor of written sources. I don’t think we devalue UPG so much as we acknowledge its limitations. There is a certain humility implicit in the term: personal, private, knowledge that has no external support. I accept my UPG because I experienced it first-hand, but I don’t expect you to accept it on my word alone.

    If you’ve ever come across someone on A Mission From God, you know why we need to be humble – even skeptical – about our religious experiences.

    • August 26, 2011 11:59 am

      You make a very good point, John. I think the counterargument to that, though, is that there is sometimes a definite lack of humility in those who see themselves as experts in the written source material. This lack of humility can work not only to discourage people from trusting in and cultivating authentic connection to Spirit, but also to turn the process of spiritual growth into a kind of fundamentalist one-up-man-ship. As Jeff points out in the episode – it’s not that we shouldn’t have humility about our personal spiritual experiences…. it’s that the term “UPG” places ultimate authority for “verification” of our personal experiences not in the living community or in the gods, but in specific primary source texts. To me, this seems hardly different from the Biblical literalism seen in some forms of Christianity. It traps the gods in history like bugs encased in amber, instead of inviting them to live in the sap and blood of the present moment.

      • August 26, 2011 12:55 pm

        Ali, I totally agree that placing ultimate authority in primary source texts is a mistake of the same variety as Biblical literalism. Perhaps because of the circles in which I practice (OBOD Druid, UU Pagan) I haven’t come across very many people making that claim. I have come across too many claiming that God / Goddess / a goddess or god gave _them_ this great revelation and _I_ should follow it.

        For me, there is no one source of authority, or one authority that is first among equals. We must consider “the lore” – what we know about our ancestors and what they believed and did (in the case of Druids, that ain’t much). We must consider our own inspirations and revelations (UPG). We must consider what others in our communities are doing, and how well it’s working for them. And when put together, all of this has to be reasonable, ethical, practical, and helpful.

        Did I just describe the Wesleyan Quadrilateral? πŸ™‚ Oh well, I was a Methodist before I was a Pagan, and I might still be one if there was any power left in the Methodist Church… and if that guy with the antlers hadn’t come calling…

  2. August 25, 2011 10:58 pm

    Great podcast! I thoroughly enjoyed each of your stories/experiences on your own Goddess/God….thanks for sharing! i always look forward to your podcast episodes….you guys crack me up….which I should probably stop listening to at work on my ipod so I don’t get those weird over the cubicle looks when i giggle out loud…nah I’ll just keep listening *lol*

    • August 26, 2011 12:00 pm

      It’s always awesome to hear that we make people laugh! I know Jeff and I spend a lot of time laughing at ourselves, so we’re always pleased to be able to share the fun. πŸ˜‰

  3. Pseudagrion permalink
    August 26, 2011 8:17 am

    Your explanation of verified personal gnosis reminds me of a dream I had, in which a vision of a dark goddess appeared to me in a half-sleep state, and called herself what I heard as “Marta” and something about magpies and a book.

    I took the book to mean definitions, research, meanings, etc, so I looked her up and the closest thing I found was Morta.

    “In Roman mythology, Morta was the goddess of death. […] She is responsible for pain and death that occurs in a half wake half sleep time frame. […] She visits and warns in advance of the pain or death about to be endured. Nox.” (

    Not sure about the magpies, except they are traditionally viewed as omens, as I understand it.

    I didn’t know there was a term for that. I didn’t know there was a term for UPG, either, come to that.

    • August 26, 2011 12:03 pm

      Fascinating, Pseudagrion, and thanks for sharing! It’s amazing the connections the mind can make, especially in dream, and part of the thrill of exploration is seeking out those connections in waking life, teasing out which aspects come from the undercurrents of our cultural context, which come from our own private poetry and free associations, and which seem to have an altogether different kind of source. πŸ™‚

  4. Soliwo permalink
    August 26, 2011 1:33 pm

    O my gods, I am mentioned on a podcast! I want to start by saying the sound quality on this one was great. Do not think I mind too much.

    Secondly I am most definitely a girl. Soliwo is my screen name partly derived from a fantasy book. My real name is Janneke, but that is not much easier to pronounce so I guess it doesn’t matter much how I call myself. Hey, I am Dutch, what can you do about it. When travelling I use Joanna, because it mostly resembles my ‘official’ catholic name. Dutch Catholics usually give there children a whole bunch of names, mine being Johanna Petronella Emma Maria. As if my ‘normal’ name is not complicated enough for a cosmopolitan girl, seriously.

    I really thought you were going to mention my name because of an earlier comment in which I said that I miss Jeff’s Texan voice so much. And this, unlike the sound quality, is something you can help me with? I cannot think of specific text, any will do. Perhaps a bedtime story?

    Now about the actual content of this episode. I think it is really powerful. Perhaps this is because I strongly identify with your tendency to look for legitimacy in books or third parties. I find it very heart to make leaps of faith even after doing loads of academic research. I think this is not so much plain scepticism (though part of it is) as it is about my own insecurities, and I think overcoming those insecurities is a big part of my spiritual path.

    I haven’t as of yet really build a personal relationship with the gods, but I have quite a similar image of Brighid as you have as a goddess who willingly goes to dark places, either to benefit the community, or the remind those in dark that one can climb out again. I never before associated her with stellar qualities but it makes sense to me now. Perhaps fire and the flame are sacred to her for the same reason, being the symbol of hope. The last year has been particularly dark for me, and I have been thinking a lot about what ‘hope’ really is.

    I have recently become very interested in Persephone, a goddess who was taken into the underworld without her consent, being a vulnerable and innocent girl. She however decides not to be just a victim and rise to become a queen instead. Not just a daughter, not just a wife, but a figure of power in her own right. I am not yet sure what Brighid’s marriage to Bres truly means outside of the abstract notion of peace-making. What is the consequence for Brighid herself? Does she sacrifice her own dreams to make peace between the different peoples of Ireland? Does she loose part of her identity or does she come more fully into her own? Did she come to regret her marriage as her son died? What was she left with? The peace did not last.

    This question is important to me. Not only do I have authority issues, I often forget myself trying to please others. I am not a deep listener like Jeff, I am a real chatterbox, but I do have trouble putting my needs first. What would Brighid have to say about this? I now realise I have just come full circle and look for authority in you! Can you believe that? Perhaps I should just ask the goddess herself after all.

    Perhaps I should have responded on the forum as this post has become quite long and personal. But I might write something else when I have untangled these thoughts a little bit.

  5. Soliwo permalink
    August 26, 2011 1:40 pm

    I wrote the above response before I finished listening. So ignore my second plea for Jeff’s Texan voice. Thank you!

  6. August 30, 2011 2:47 pm

    Hello. Nice to actually find the website for the podcast. I’ve been picking it up from iTunes ever since Alison first mentioned it in her blog. Glad you have been able to sort out the volume issues.

    Anyway, I just wanted to than you for touching on the whole UPG issue. Personally, I run, at least online, in a lot of reconstrutionalist circles, being both a druid and a heathen, so find that being able to differentiate what comes from primary or secondary sources, versus what is purely my own experience, is valuable. By pointing out the stuff that comes experientially, it prevents people from assuming a greater authority on my part than is really intended. These are my experiences, not something I learned of from archaeology or ancient poetics. If they are later verifiable through those means, bonus. If my experiences are duplicated by others, especially others who have minimal contact with me, then even bigger bonus. But no authority is to be implied by my UPGs.

  7. Chet permalink
    September 11, 2011 3:09 pm

    Hi Ali and Jeff. I heard about your podcast from another (don’t recall which now) but it sounded interested so I downloaded ep 9, and then grabbed 8. I was so intrigued I went and downloaded all the past episodes.
    I’m hooked! You guys are so insightful and interesting. Great topics and and it really does feel like I am sitting down after dinner for a dark brown ale, or coffee, or what ever you like!

    So I’m now your fifth listerner? hehehe. I’m sure you have a good fan base now.

    Peace and Cheers!
    Chet (Whaite Hall, MD)

    • Chet permalink
      September 11, 2011 3:10 pm

      Geez, my typing skills are a mess today…that would be WHITE Hall, not Waite Hall :>)

  8. September 15, 2011 3:14 am

    i have just started to listen to you podcast.. yay, and am enjoying it.. only one thing to add? comment? say..

    i’m from New Zealand, and i thought that you might like to know that pagans from other countries are listening in and enjoying your podcast..

    so far i am up to episode three, and am looking forward to listening to the rest.. !!


  9. September 19, 2011 1:37 am

    now i am up to episode 6, and am really enjoying the dynamic between the both of you. i am also enjoying the points of view that you have on the various topics, it is certainly great food for thought. i was especially excited to find out that Ali had a Religious Studies Degree like me.. yay Religious studies.. *beams*..

    i am a big fan of podcasts where you feel like you are a part of a conversation, which is just what yours does. they are always my favourite types especially when combined with great food for thought topics.

    of course now i am stalking you both on twitter.. @mistresspolly is my twitter.. just so you know i am not dealing porn.. *ponders this and laughs*…

    looking forward to listening to the rest of the podcasts that you have out and the ones will will have out.

    thank you for the most excellent podcast yay!!
    *skips about*

  10. September 30, 2011 1:38 am

    Hey there, Druids. I’ve been missing your podcast! We need more intelligent discussion and banter soon πŸ™‚ Hope all’s well with you two.

    • October 8, 2011 6:26 pm

      We’ve been on honeymoon! But hoping to get back in the podcasting saddle this coming week. πŸ™‚ Stay tuned!


  1. Episode 9 – Holy Personal Gnosis, Batman! Β» Dining with Druids - Alison Leigh Lilly

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