The Problem of Temples

There’s an article up on The Wild Hunt today about Building Pagan Temples. As appealing (both spiritually and aesthetically) as the idea of modern temples is, I have generally always taken the stance that you really need an active community first, before trying to build something so big – which is affirmed by the examples given in the article of successful projects; they all had a vibrant, dedicated community, even if it’s a small one, supporting them. But even if you have that, there is always the problem of money and resources, and I wonder if we polytheists might, in a way, be in an even less advantageous position regarding potential temple-building than other types of pagan (if you even consider us pagan, but that’s another topic).

In most types of polytheist tradition, a temple functions as the home of the god(s). You might congregate there for rituals, offerings, sacrifices, initiations, oracles, etc., but a temple is generally not *required* for those things, and it is not used as simply a social gathering space, the way many churches, synagogues, and even the Hindu temple mentioned in the article, are. So that causes the first obstacle, in that most people (not me of course, but most) are social creatures, and tend to put a higher value on projects that include a social aspect. They would rather support a place that could also function as a community center, classroom, library, meeting space – not, for instance, something like an ancient Greek temple where you didn’t even go inside to sacrifice.

Secondly, whereas in many forms of neo-paganism, one might need a few special ritual tools but otherwise not be required to purchase anything (even if there are a lot of tempting tchotchkes out there), engaged polytheism usually demands a constant stream of offerings to keep up relationships with the gods and spirits. Sure, these don’t have to be extremely expensive (they don’t all necessarily cost money at all), but the general tendency is to give what one is able – so if I have paid all my bills and have food and shelter and still have some money left over, I’m going to buy that nice bottle of wine for Dionysos, because I can, and I want to show Him my gratitude for His blessings. Multiply that by several times, since most polytheists are involved with several deities and spirits at once, and it can account for a lot of one’s resources. Plus, since we tend to have our own home-based shrines (mini-temples of sorts), not only do we need to spend some of our money on their upkeep, but we aren’t in dire need of a place to make our offerings and commune with our gods.

Simply put, there are few polytheists who are going to have enough disposable income to both keep up with their usual offerings and festivals (and possibly more expensive religious duties such as an occasional pilgrimage) AND make the kind of regular, significant donations required to pool enough money for something as large as a temple. Not to mention – a temple to which god? In which tradition? Since polytheists all practice a variety of paths with different pantheons, and even within the same path have different primary deities, it would be unlikely for enough people to agree on just one (or even a small group) to devote that much money and work to.

Which isn’t to say it’s impossible – I tend to think that if a god wants this done, They might inspire Their worshippers to go above and beyond, and/or prioritize building such a temple above other offerings for a number of years – and there have been some examples of this. But in general, I think we need to stop worrying so much about having grand temples “like the old days” and start appreciating what we are able to give our gods today. Who is even to say that any particular deity truly favors having one large, impressive structure over having dozens of much smaller, individual, but passionately tended, shrines around the world? Seems to me that we have created homes for Them in hundreds of different places already.

[A reminder that my fundraiser to get a new laptop and write my next book will be going on through February!]

~ by Dver on January 29, 2015.

6 Responses to “The Problem of Temples”

  1. I understand what you’re saying here, but I think there are still a lot of things that can only be done by a group, or at least are very difficult for one person to handle on their own. And having a physical space that belongs to that group makes things much easier than meeting in the basement of the local UU church.

    But, like it or not, lots of little shrines will have to do, because that’s what we have, and I don’t see modern pagans/polytheists overcoming the obstacles that keep us from creating temples any time soon. And true, maybe if the gods really wanted it right now, they would make it happen. Maybe they know we’re just not ready for it yet.

    • Oh, absolutely, there are things that require a group, and would be facilitated by a physical meeting space. Considering how much of polytheistic worship can (and often should!) be done outdoors, I wonder if a more achievable solution for some groups might be to simply purchase a small tract of unimproved land, and either use it as-is for outdoor rituals and camping events, or even put up small structures (like yurts perhaps, or the sheds you can buy at Home Depot) for individual deities. They would have privacy, consistency, a natural place to develop into sacred space, homes for the gods, etc., all for considerably less expenditure than building a large structure. That is probably the route I would look into, if I were part of a cohesive group. Though when I was part of a group and we wanted to have private rituals out in nature, we would simply hike out into some uninhabited forested area.

      We may just not be ready for it yet, and that’s okay, considering the relatively short history of modern reconstructed polytheisms – a few decades in most cases.

      • Good point. Actually, there is land owned by a pagan organization about an hour or hour and a half drive from where I live. They hold two festivals a year, and since they own the land, they can build permanent structures, such a a temple to Brigid they have there (and I think I heard some Heathens have set up a ve there recently too). I used to attend their festivals, but stopped due to, alas, you guessed it, drama! But that was years ago, and they seem to be getting better again, so I might give them another chance.

        But having a temple in a city, close to where people live, so they don’t have to camp out and spend the night every time they go, would be much better for routine worship. A place out in the country could still be there for big festivals. But you’re right about the expense, and depending on how welcoming the non-pagan populace of the city is, it might also be more vulnerable to vandalism (considering what has happened to some mosques and even a local UU church around here has been vandalized).

        But I’m glad that pagans are having this conversation and taking this issue seriously. Home shrines are always going to be an important part of paganism/polytheism, but having more options than that would be nice.

  2. Looking into folk religions or urban manifestations of religions such as Shinto might be a way to go. Catholic folk religion often has someone’s home, yard, or place of business have a public, or semi-public, shrine for people to go to for worship. Another thing that wasn’t mentioned was the idea of a portable shrine to go to several places to be more accessible for worshipers.

  3. […] first off, I think that what most people are clamoring for are community centers not temples, structures which had very specific functions within ancient polytheist religions. As important a […]

  4. […] Read the full article […]

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