W H A T I S D O X A ? W H A T I S U P G ?
D O T H E Y H A V E T H E S A M E M E A N I N G ?
Doxa is a term which comes from Greek dokein, “to expect” or “to seem.” From this word, the terms orthodox (“true” or “correct” belief, referring to established doctrines) and heterodox (any opinions or doctrines at variance with established doctrines) are derived. Doxa tends to refer to opinion, belief, and supposition, rather than what is known as episteme, or the realm of systematic, interrelated ideas that determine knowledge that is intellectually certain, or in grossly oversimplified terms, verified truth (gnosis). Gnosis, while a highly complex term that doesn’t translate into English to have only one, black-and-white meaning in every context imaginable, tends to be exoteric (relating to external reality — think of the disciplines of Law, Philosophy, Medicine, History, et cetera), whereas doxa tends to be esoteric (related to internal understanding confined to persons who are specially initiated — as was the case with the “Mystery cults” of Ancient Hellas and Rome).
Doxa is not quite the same thing as UPG, or unverified personal gnosis. UPG is, I find, an oxymoronic and therefore inappropriate term, because its use of gnosis implies that the personal experience is established, external truth. Indeed, something which is “unverified” and “personal” cannot be considered true gnosis within the context of episteme. In order to be considered as such, it must be exoteric, not esoteric. The term tries to convey personal experience and internal understanding in the sense that doxa does, but leaves much to be desired.
W H Y I S D O X A S U C H A
P R O M I N E N T F E A T U R E I N R E L I G I O N ?
Modern “Pagan” movements — Kemeticism by no means being an exception — place a great deal of emphasis on personal piety, also referred to as popular piety. Personal/popular piety refers to the prayers and forms of worship conducted by practicing individuals, whether in solitude or in a communal setting, which are influenced most by culture and emotional experience rather than by formal theology. For better or worse, this places greater importance on the relationship between God(s) and the practitioner, rather than the importance of clergy as intermediaries between God(s) and mortals. As a consequence of the “religious middleman” being largely done away with, at least in a formal “State” sense, not only does the individual practitioner experience an increase in personal accountability to God(s) directly, the individual practitioner acquires intimate, personal understanding of God(s) through more devoted, emotional, responsibility-laden religious interaction.
It is through this manner of interaction that we develop esoteric understandings of the Divine revelations of a God’s cult — secrets or other lessons revealed through dreams or visions by the God in question to His devotees. It is held among many Modern “Pagan” disciplines, namely those of the Neopagan flavor, that through personal (often emotional) connection and communication with God(s) we as human beings grow and heal psycho-emotionally/spiritually, and attain some form or degree of spiritual enlightenment. By developing personal, internal relationships with God(s), we graduate to a greater state of awareness, or “a higher state of being.”
Because so many of us Modern “Pagans” are solitary practitioners, we must act in capacities historically reserved for priests, often without the formal theological training that those priesthoods offer(ed). We care for religious icons directly; we engage in ritual directly; we offer to God(s) directly; we speak to God(s) directly; we attempt to learn from God(s) directly. Indeed, the story is rarely different for even the most active Modern “Pagan” communities that boast something of an organized priesthood: non-priests within that community assume various priestly duties at home, in solitude, when away from the community, and do not rely on the priesthood to act as sole spiritual intermediaries. The priests themselves were not sent to institutions to be especially groomed for the priesthood; virtually all Modern “Pagan” priests felt called into service by the Gods directly.
“Pagan” priesthoods — including Kemetic ones — are still in their fledgling stages, struggling to find their bearings without powerful, monied State institutions to support them. Compared to the priesthoods found within historical Egyptian religion, Modern Kemetic priesthoods are largely superficial. The priesthoods of today do not wield nearly as much clout as their Ancient counterparts once had, given the ongoing retaliation against “organized religion” that has lasted for more than five centuries in the West. Many of us, including priests, tend to rely on our own personal, esoteric experiences with the Divine first, more than, and before, we rely on exoteric theology — and the priesthoods and textual corpa which represent it — to understand the Divine.
I S T H A T R E A L L Y A G O O D T H I N G ?
H O W M U C H S H O U L D W E R E L Y O N D O X A ?
W H E R E A N D H O W I S I T A P P R O P R I A T E ?
Doxa is meaningful to us individually, certainly. Personal experience with God(s) is often quite valuable, and it is perfectly healthy to have an emotional connection to God(s), and talk about that emotional connection. However, one must bear in mind that what God(s) impart(s) to an individual may be true for that individual, but it might not otherwise be externally true. Personal truths cannot take precedence over external reality. We shouldn’t rely so heavily on our personal beliefs and opinions — or more appropriately, suppositions and preconceived notions — at the expense of Science, History, et cetera, when attempting to plumb the depths of the nature of God(s) and existence in general. We need a healthy sense of doubt. “It disagrees with my soul” is not a legitimate basis for the denial of researched, established exoteric truth and knowledge.
A common theme I stress throughout a good portion of my articles is responsibility. We are responsible for acquainting ourselves with that external reality: the textual corpora, the iconography, the cultural contexts in which they were developed, the history and evolution of the aforementioned, and of course, the personal experiences and interpretations of others. We cannot go by our solitary intuition alone. Without exoteric knowledge, esoteric knowledge is dead in the water. For example, oracular dreams aren’t going to mean a whole lot if one doesn’t understand culture-specific symbols present in said dreams. One needs to research those symbols, in addition to consulting other members of one’s community over the interpretation of said symbols. And it’s beyond difficult to articulate, say, Norse galdr or Egyptian heka if one doesn’t understand how those pre-Christian cultures viewed and practiced those forms of “magic” historically, learning the basic mechanics thereby. This is not to say we cannot innovate, but we do need a framework, a foundation, to build off of and refer back to.
When we talk about our personal experiences and beliefs with others, our personal impressions of God(s), we sometimes help others to understand the religion better, and to understand how to better relate to God(s) in daily life. We often discover new means of approach and new perspectives in return. This exchange of new and alternative ideas is the mortar that holds any mindful community together.
At the same time, we shouldn’t be so open-minded that our brains fall out, as the adage goes. No one is infallible, and inevitably, not every single one of an individual’s experiences and interpretations is going to be categorically correct or valid — or else we’d be living amid unsustainable paradoxes. This underscores the importance of community and the platform for intellectual exchange community provides.
There is a time and place for each. Balance is key. We cannot anchor ourselves too deeply in one at the expense of the other. Without external reality, one’s life and spiritual practice becomes ignorant and solipsist, having no point of reference beyond one’s Self, no rational center. Without personal experience, interpretation, and emotional connection to the Divine, one’s religious/spiritual life atrophies in a rigid, uninspiring environment.