Slí na Fírinne*: Imbas

*’The Way of Truth’.

“What’s UPG?” asked my friend, after a grove ritual a few weeks ago.

I’d been basking in the midsummer sun, dancing with the fae, honouring Aine of the Summer Sun in all her glory. The imbas was flowing.

“What’s UPG?” My answer was halting and not accurate. All at once I realised: I don’t really know, and I don’t really care.

Reconstructionists place a strong value on being able to distinguish ‘lore’ from ‘Unverified Personal Gnosis’. Lore was written by the ancients, or at least by medieval people, who were hopefully a little bit closer to ancient paganism than we are (though we really can’t be sure how much Irish myth was anything like what the pagans believed). UPG is any understanding of the gods, or of religion, that is not supported by ‘the lore’.

Imbas is not the same as UPG. It is ‘inspiration’ – it’s closer in meaning to ‘awen’ in the Welsh. However, UPG is not a term that I recognise anymore. I didn’t come up with it, nor did my community. It’s not Gaelic or Brythonic. It’s also a very American phrase – I’ve never heard a British Pagan use it. And also, I’m starting to doubt that our ancestors would have needed a term like that. I suspect they went where the inspiration flowed, rather than forcing themselves to live by ‘lore’. They were not fundamentalists.

Imbas, on the other hand, is a Gaelic term, rooted in the culture where I draw my practice from, and something that I’ve chosen to use. If I need to distinguish ‘lore’ from ‘personal realisation’ now, I’m going to use ‘imbas’ – not ‘UPG’. Accuracy of meaning be damned – it works for me.

I’m embracing change, and new ways of doing things. I got the sense, recently, that Bhearra and Duibhne were not happy with their shrine – they’re gods of action, not stasis, and they dwell in the land, not temples – so I’ve turned their shrine into a working altar. Gobnait, or the Bee Woman, now has a place on there too, and so do the spirits of my land. I’ll be adding other symbols of the land where I live and of the Beara Peninsula.

Follow the Way of Truth, of Imbas, she says. So I do. If it leads me out of reconstructionism, so be it. If it leads me into territory that others call ‘fluffy’, so be it. Who would choose not to go on an adventure with a goddess (and a Bee Woman, and a couple of Queens of the Land, and some local harvest-cycle deities, and a King of the Wanderers, and some Good Folk), just for the sake of the gossip of dull people? :D

16 thoughts on “Slí na Fírinne*: Imbas

  1. I’ve noticed British and European Druids & Pagans tend to more relaxed about “going with the flow” (like awen/imbas) in following where their spirits lead them. Whereas I think reconstructionism has become a bigger thing in the U.S. because we feel lack a sense of legitimacy, because we don’t live in the lands of our traditions, and we feel disconnected. And then some of us think we know the “right” way and tell our fellows across the pond how to do things. We need to cut that out :)

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. We have a great sense of longing, and in an attempt to be better connected, we cling to authenticity. And while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, fundamentalism can come with serious consequences as we in America are seeing every day. I have CR leanings, but I haven’t been able to fully embrace the community because the truly CR groups do things that I don’t agree with – like not allowing men to keep Brighid’s flame, for example.

      • Not to derail Naomi’s blog- but I wrote more here: http://paganleft.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/reconstructionism-and-american-culture/

        CR has splintered into traditional and innovative factions, Gaol Naofa for example is a group that does not allow/approve of male-flame-keepers, and they do seem to be the most well-organized and flourishing CR group currently. I don’t care what people do in their own groups, if they want stricter rules that’s their choice. That’s why I like the Clann Brighde group (not strictly CR, but CR-influenced), they include people with different views on that issue.

      • I’m on the Gaol Naofa FB group and enjoy their discussions. I have difficulty committing to it though because its community is not as large as ADFs, and I find myself a little too liberal about some things like the flame keeping… ADF is probably the best fit for me in America. I should revisit Clann Brighde! Thanks for reminding me. :)

  2. I know a chant with the words “Tha mi ar shli na firinne, tha mi ar shli mo fise” from the Ceile de, that sprang to mind as I read the title of your post today :)

  3. Pingback: Reconstructionism and American Culture | The Lefthander's Path

  4. We forget that what is now ‘lore’ was once someone’s interpretation of an experience s/he had with the gods/spirits of the land or sea or sky/ancestors. We are building, however haltingly, the lore of the future, the myths that our descendants will recite and wonder and puzzle over. It is a responsibility and joy to be undertaken with humility and holy boldness.

  5. Léithin, I like your decision to focus more on imbas than UPG. It makes a lot of sense to me. I use the term UPG because it seems to make more sense to people outside of the more Celtic-inspired religions… but for my personal use, it feels really good to say imbas. Thank you for your thoughts!

  6. Thanks for the translation, Léithin! And Imbas, the sound of it when spoken has just a beautiful primal feel to it. ;)

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