I’m back from a two week trip to Italy, Greece and Turkey. We got home late Saturday night, spent Sunday in a jet-lagged haze, went back to work on Monday, and now I’m back to the blog. It was great to get away, forget about work and church and house and everything, spend some extended time with good friends, read books and visit some places I’ve only seen on TV and on the internet.
This trip was a birthday celebration for me and two friends from high school who all turned fifty this year. We’ve stayed close over the years and we wanted to do something memorable to mark the milestone. With spouses and other family members, we had ten in our traveling party: nine Methodists and one UU Pagan. While we all have an interest in history, for me this itinerary had the spiritual attraction of being able to visit several ancient temples.
We had some discussion about temples earlier this year: the desire by some Pagans to have permanent sacred spaces in urban areas. But the vision we bounced around was of a Pagan equivalent of a parish church – a center for community worship, study and activities.
The ancient temples weren’t like this. They were houses for the gods and goddesses, who were served by priests and priestesses. Festivals and celebrations would take place outside the temple – ordinary people rarely were allowed to enter. The closest modern equivalent of an ancient temple is the Lincoln Memorial (which is patterned after a Greek temple), not your local megachurch.
Over the past two weeks I visited eight temples. They’re all in various stages of ruin – they haven’t been active temples for many centuries and this part of the world is seismically active. Preservation work has focused on maintaining them as they are, not restoring them to their former states – much less returning them to working temples. But they are there – they are tangible connections to our pagan past and to the goddesses and gods of our ancestors.
I didn’t have a lot of time at any of the sites and some of them were very crowded – there was no opportunity to perform any kind of formal ritual. But I was able to pause, open myself to the spirits of the places and say short prayers of greeting and reverence. At some I was able to make small offerings. I’m not a follower of any of the deities of these temples – I can’t say for sure if the presence I felt was the gods themselves, the spirits of the land, or the same natural forces that drew the original builders to these places. But there was no question in my mind or in my soul – these are still sacred sites.
The picture is of the Erechtheion, a temple to Athena and Poseidon in Athens. It is located on the Acropolis and is overshadowed (both literally and figuratively) by the larger and more famous Parthenon.
I’ll have more to say about other temples in future posts.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to visit these sacred sites, for the safe and amazingly trouble-free travel, and for the friendly and hospitable people I met in Italy, Greece and Turkey. And as always, I’m thankful for the gods and goddess of their –and my – ancestors.