crossposted with No Unsacred Place
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today all that’s left is one column and a few low stones; the result of fires, earthquakes, plundering and the centuries of neglect that accompanied the shift from Classical Greek religion to Christianity and then to Islam. At first glance it is far less impressive than other temples I visited on my recent trip. But when you stop looking for awe-inspiring architecture and start seeing, you notice something important.
The Temple of Artemis is alive.
The former temple floor is now a marsh surrounded by tall grasses. A birds’ nest tops the remaining column. I saw a turtle in the pond, ducks on the water, and blackbirds on the stones. Trees surround the site and flowers grow among the grasses. And the sounds of birds and insects fill the air.
We generally think of Artemis as the Virgin Huntress and Goddess of the Moon, but Artemis Ephesia was depicted as having many breasts – a goddess of abundance. The current temple is as if Artemis said “if people will not honor my abundance, I will.”
There is no need to debate the merits of temples vs. groves vs. wilderness. They all have their place and they all have their beauty – you can touch the Divine and hear the gods in any of them. We create problems for ourselves when we ignore the possibility that a goddess may appear in more than one way.
I must take this opportunity to thank Artemis for my safe and pleasant travels. I had four flights on this trip – all four arrived early. I can’t remember the last time that happened – and I don’t fly that often. Drivers were on time, customs officials were efficient, lines were reasonable… everything worked the way it was supposed to work. The longest and most complex trip of my life was also the easiest. A coincidence? Perhaps, but…
I knew there wasn’t much left of the original temple but other than that I wasn’t sure what to expect. I walked around the site and took pictures, then paused close to the water. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the good travels, relayed a message from a friend at home, and offered the few American coins I was carrying. Monetarily they were insignificant – I offered them as a token of the worship of the old goddesses and gods in our new land.
On the day we visited Ephesus, thousands of people crowded the stone streets of the excavated city. There were less than a dozen at the Temple of Artemis. I suppose that’s understandable – turtles and birds and flowers can’t compete with 2000-year-old buildings and statues.
But those thousands of tourists missed something a few of us experienced: an ancient goddess, very much alive.