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.