Unverified Personal Gnosis, Truth and Imbas
by Searles O’Dubhain
As Amergin White Knee has taught us in the Cauldron of Poesy materials:
"When the Cauldron of Knowledge is turned by divine ecstasy, rather than by human joy alone, its special grace is a gift that transforms a person, who becomes both sacred and knowledgeable, so that their works include miracles, prophecies, judgments and precedents. It is these people who establish the wisdom that guides our knowledge and regulates the forms of our speech. Though this knowledge comes from within a person, its truth and its power is from the gods and originates from outside of a person."
This is one of the main abilities of the Draoithe (Irish Druids) and the Filidh (Irish Vision-Poets) that distinguishes them from all others. It is the knowledge that illuminates and is known as imbas in Irish and is called awen in Welsh/British writings and traditions. Some modern folks term such inspirations as UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis). This seems to be an attempt to negate prophetic knowledge and inspiration as being only imagined (until it is verified by currently accepted science or through academic logic alone). To apply this term as a blanket to divinely inspired knowledge is to overlook a few truths from that heritage:
In ancient Irish society and tradition, that which was true was considered to have its own power to stand alone in the world or anywhere, to the point that those who heard truth could see its meaning and importance even when it seemed to contradict those things that were supposed to be the “accepted wisdom.”
To this point, it was the Druids and Poets who were seen to be the sources of imbas and the judges of truth in that society. This attitude and basis in that society had an accompanying paradigm saying that no person could be a Druid, Poet or Judge who had ever been demonstrated to have broken the truth and to have presented a falsehood.
Generally, the imbas or awen that was received by a Celtic Seer was seen to be verified in Nature or in the actions/results of the people presented in the traditional tales. If not already a tradition, then the results of a divine prophecy or a discovered wisdom had to be eventually demonstrated in society by examples or outcomes (remembering that a given for a wise person in Irish Celtic society was that they retained their status and position only so long as they were shown to be true and correct).
As Katheryn Simms observed and stated in her article, the “Poetic Brehon Lawyers,” this idea of truth from imbas bringing real results to the people was not just an Irish or a Welsh notion, but was a pan-Celtic concept:
“The pagan belief that the moment when a judge issued his verdict was an encounter between the human and the divine, and that the will of the gods was outraged by an unjust decision, while just judgements drew down divine blessings, is already testified among the Celts of Gaul in the first century B.C. where Strabo remarks that the druids were chiefly trusted to try cases of homicide, and that when there is an abundance of these they consider that there is also abundance of the land, presumably because their many just judgements drew down the gods blessing on the crops. “
Imbas is not a free ride. It has to be demonstrated to be true wisdom from the gods. Such inspiration and universal truth is not unlike Einstein’s brilliant understanding about the ways in which matter and energy are related. The truth of it came to him in a flash and he spent years (if not the rest of his lifetime) proving and expanding upon this insight. I expect that ancient and modern druids also do the same with their own knowledge that is received from the minds of the divine. It is not enough to receive the revelation; one must also do the work of bringing the new truths back to the people in a useful and relevant way.
Being true and wise is wonderful but one must also be useful and productive. That is why the demonstration of imbas is to be found in the results that grow from its seeds rather than in claims or even discussion. The tales are filled with how prophecy and the uncovering of hidden things is accomplished or demonstrated to be true. These tales formed the basis of society’s codes of living and morals to the point that prophecy and divine truth were considered to be usual rather than exceptional (or to be challenged as untrue out of hand, as is often the case in our more disillusioned and skeptical modern society). The use of the term UPG, a classification and claim that something is merely made up or an illusion, as a club nowadays to quash inspirations and unusual wisdom to the point that thinking remains within the confines of accepted wisdom, is also a great wrong. Society must continue to advance in its life or it risks the death of stagnation and rot that accompanies the imprisonment of any idea or material thing. Innovation and inspiration deserve open fields upon which to exercise their creative truths to the benefit of all. To keep these in a box only makes for humus and decay, to the point that only nature in her long-term laboratory can transform them into anything new or renewed.
So, let’s rejoice in imbas and rather than calling it UPG, let’s get up and go out into the great laboratories of existence, science, and Nature, to ascertain what the power of truth has uncovered for us via inspiration and knowledge provided to us by the gods. It is only through the verifiable and proven results that we should be known as druids and not by our own or anyone’s claims, or even the acclamations of others, for there really is a truth against the world. Sometimes, one must journey far to find it and bring it back to the people and the lands where life is lived.