Doxa, Gnosis and Mystical Experiences

Often times a new post will have been inspired by a conversation and recently I have been vastly intrigued by a discussion about the inherent error of a rather popular term, particular among reconstructionalists, of UPG (or unverified personal gnosis). I, too, have in the past used this as per the common take on it that it refers to a personal understanding or belief of the gods. However, this seems to be a quite mistaken use of the word gnosis from what I have gathered from this conversation, in that in Hellenic terms, gnosis refers to knowledge verified by reason and/or logic, which is different from Episteme (logic verified by science) but is not a subjective and personal thing with differs from individual to individual. I would hazard to put forth that philosophy would fall in line with gnosis, as an educated knowledge set forth by reason. Whereas different philosophical schools may differ somewhat from the angle they are perceiving a thing, and may even disagree, they share a fuel of logic and reason rather than a murky subjective individual experience. As such to call a personal insight a personal gnosis suggests that it is an understanding based on a common system of reasoning (and being common it would not then be personal), rather than a personal experience.

Rather there is already a word that address belief, or an understanding based on the way things seem (and thus inclusive of personal experience), and this is Doxa.  Doxa tends to be subjective, and though it can be shared opinions, it is nonetheless an opinion which may be experience-based. It can also be used as reference to an illusion of how things are rather than a true informed knowledge of how things are. Of course the first thing that comes to my mind is the difference between how a child considers how a baby comes to being (from what they see in experience) and the adult knowledge of how a baby comes into being. I am sure each of us, or perhaps a majority of us, as children have heard something akin to kissing makes babies. Children are typically only exposed to only the most superifical expression of intimacy between their parents, and therefore form (and often share through gossip and other experience-sharing) an opinion that this is the a fact of how babies are conceived. That is just what comes to my mind, though it may be a rather faulty example.

This doesn’t mean that Doxa doesn’t have value, because Doxa can develope. If it holds up to testing in argument, it can become Endoxa, commonly held beliefs accepted by the wise, and there is even room for it to become orthos doxa as a justified belief. However, a personal, or even commonly held belief, is not gnosis..it is not knowledge, it is a belief..it is doxa.

Thus this would include mystical expeiences, as by their nature mystical experiences are not constructs of logic, though they can sometimes be supported by logic and reasoning depending on the nature of the experience, but rather form a personal belief that may be shared by others who have had similar experiences. A belief gained from mystical experience fits within Doxa as it forms an opinion based on some kind of superifical/surface contact with the divine. As such it may be of great value for the individual, but does not form a knowledge or even truth about the nature of the gods within the religion. It can be a good tool however too. A mystery tradition, and they typically have a philosophical root, often uses Doxa as a device of experience for the initiates which forms beliefs based on the experience, often reverently held beliefs too, but is not part of the underlying gnosis which doubtfully all that many explored content as they were with their doxa. And this is no different today where regardless of religion, personal experience and belief usually takes the limelight…and everyone searching for their mystical experience or some “calling”, and far less emphasis on gnosis.

But the point here is that we really don’t need a term like UPG, which is a rather erroneous term, when we have a perfectly good term already in place.

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