Looking Towards Ephesus

Patheos’ blogger Mark D. Roberts is looking at Ephesus through the lens of the New Testament. I’m finding this fascinating, because Ephesus is an ancient city that Christians and Pagans look at very differently. Today it’s in ruins, a historical curiosity in present-day Turkey. When we think of Ephesus today, unlike Rome or Alexandria which have evolved and remained multi-faceted over the years, we think of religion.

Christians think of Ephesus in terms of the Ephesian church, whom Paul addressed in one of the epistles he wrote while imprisoned in Rome. Most scholars don’t think Paul actually wrote the letter, but it certainly makes better mythos to say he did. Ephesians is where the church is described as the body of Jesus, and contains the infamous passages requiring women to submit to their husbands, and for slaves to submit to their masters. Needless to say, Pagans don’t think of any of this when they consider Ephesus.

How a Pagan views Ephesus can be summed up in one word: Artemis.

The Ephesian Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.

Antipater, Greek Anthology

Artemis, sister of Apollo and often considered identical and/or equivalent to the Roman Diana, was a virginal huntress associated with the moon. Which makes Ephesian Artemis all the more intriguing, because she is depicted as a bountiful mother, yet the Ionian Greeks saw their moon Goddess in her. What names the Ephesians gave her prior to Hellenization is lost, but it’s known that the site of the temple was of religious importance since the Bronze Age.

What makes the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus unique is that it was destroyed repeatedly, by floods and earthquakes over the centuries. Each time it was rebuilt Ephesus became even more prosperous. There is a false idea held by non-Pagans that it was the buildings and statues themselves that were Divine. The Ephesian Artemis is proof that the Gods were not mere idols. It was her worship that was important, the temples were symbols of that devotion and it was the devotion that kept the city prosperous. It’s not believed that the temple was restored to it’s former glory after being damaged, or even destroyed, by the Goths in 263. Constantine tried to restore the city, but in 406 what was left of the Temple of Artemis was ordered destroyed by John Chrysostom. The temple was cannibalized for the construction of new churches, including the Hagia Sophia. An earthquake rocked the city in 614. Repeatedly sacked thereafter, it became no more than a small village, and was finally abandoned entirely by the 15th century.

The temple, repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt even greater over thousands of years, was no longer considered worth the effort in 263. Why? The Ephesians were a proud people, who took great pride in their temple. They even refused funds from Alexander the Great for rebuilding the temple, preferring to foot the costs themselves. The temple was the heart of Ephesus. They guarded their Lady jealously, despising any who dared claim her and her protection for their own. She was the Lady of Ephesus, the Anatolian Artemis, and she brought glory and prosperity to them for centuries.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a moral here. Religious practice, the creation of devotional objects and buildings, their maintenance and their use in rites, are all merely outwards symbols of internal devotion. If the internal devotion is gone, the practice becomes rote superstition, and who is willing to invest in maintaining rote superstition? Are temples an investment in our devotion? A reminder of what we already hold true and a sign to ourselves and others that we are faithful?

For the ancients, temples were a sign of devotion and prosperity. It was an investment in their own culture, values and future. Worth thinking about as our numbers grow.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    Thanks for this, Star.  There is so much of our own history (both pagan and Pagan) we don’t know, and we need to learn it.

    “Are temples an investment in our devotion?”  My best guess is that some are, while others are merely a demonstration of vanity.  But this I am sure about:  they’re concrete evidence of multi-generational thinking.  

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    Thanks for this, Star.  There is so much of our own history (both pagan and Pagan) we don’t know, and we need to learn it.

    “Are temples an investment in our devotion?”  My best guess is that some are, while others are merely a demonstration of vanity.  But this I am sure about:  they’re concrete evidence of multi-generational thinking.  

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    As Hadrian was one of the individuals who restored the shrine of Ephesian Artemis, it’s important in my own reckonings…In fact, I believe it was Hadrian’s restoration which was hailed as one of the Seven Wonders, if I am recalling correctly…

    There is a possibility I may get to visit the site (along with a few others in Greece and Turkey) next year, which will be decided upon this week.  Here’s hoping!

    As far as the question of external/internal devotion is concerned, I can’t entirely agree.  If there is only “internal,” then one really has nothing at all, and it may as well be imaginary friends one is talking about.  Even Christians, who since the time of Paul (there’s that name again!) have debated on whether “faith alone” (i.e. a solely internal matter) is sufficient, or whether “works” are necessary as well.  For most of Christian history, the “faith alone” argument didn’t hold, and I suspect a great deal of that is due to the formerly practical nature of religion in polytheistic times.  If the Pauline view had held greater sway, and something like Protestant Christianity had been prior to the Catholic and Orthodox forms, none of the “great” monuments of Christian architecture would have ever existed (which could be seen in both good and bad terms by different people).  I suspect that if people have “invested” that much time, money, and effort into a building or some great monument for their religion, then they’re all the more likely to “put their mouth where their money is” and more actively practice the religion in question, usually (though not always).

    • Jack Heron

      I think you’re right about the practical nature of polytheistic religion. Christian writings are heavily concerned with orthodoxy (right belief), while even those pagans who embrace a more formal structure to their religion seem more concerned with orthopraxy (right practice).

      Of course, it’s also worth pointing out (slightly off-topic for the post, I know), that the ‘faith vs. works’ debate in Christianity often means something entirely different to American Protestants than it has historically done to European theologians.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Oh, certainly…Though I think it would be worth looking at, at some point, how the “I’m all right with Jaysus” argument becomes a kind of bludgeon to excuse any and all forms of bad behavior on a particular person’s part, and likewise how a similar sort of thing can be used in other religions when talking about “it’s what’s inside that counts.”

        As far as the orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy matter is concerned–yes, but not entirely.  There are very few religions that are truly and thoroughly orthopraxic (even including Shinto, where properly procedural practice is everything!), and in reality most polytheistic religions have been polypraxic, with near-infinite local variations and idiosyncrasies, as well as “do what works for you” allowances made.  I don’t think we can really argue that most forms of modern paganism are exactly orthopraxic; many have an ideal to be such, but in actual practice they’re probably not.  That’s not a bad thing from my viewpoint, but it may be from others’.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    As Hadrian was one of the individuals who restored the shrine of Ephesian Artemis, it’s important in my own reckonings…In fact, I believe it was Hadrian’s restoration which was hailed as one of the Seven Wonders, if I am recalling correctly…

    There is a possibility I may get to visit the site (along with a few others in Greece and Turkey) next year, which will be decided upon this week.  Here’s hoping!

    As far as the question of external/internal devotion is concerned, I can’t entirely agree.  If there is only “internal,” then one really has nothing at all, and it may as well be imaginary friends one is talking about.  Even Christians, who since the time of Paul (there’s that name again!) have debated on whether “faith alone” (i.e. a solely internal matter) is sufficient, or whether “works” are necessary as well.  For most of Christian history, the “faith alone” argument didn’t hold, and I suspect a great deal of that is due to the formerly practical nature of religion in polytheistic times.  If the Pauline view had held greater sway, and something like Protestant Christianity had been prior to the Catholic and Orthodox forms, none of the “great” monuments of Christian architecture would have ever existed (which could be seen in both good and bad terms by different people).  I suspect that if people have “invested” that much time, money, and effort into a building or some great monument for their religion, then they’re all the more likely to “put their mouth where their money is” and more actively practice the religion in question, usually (though not always).

    • Jack Heron

      I think you’re right about the practical nature of polytheistic religion. Christian writings are heavily concerned with orthodoxy (right belief), while even those pagans who embrace a more formal structure to their religion seem more concerned with orthopraxy (right practice).

      Of course, it’s also worth pointing out (slightly off-topic for the post, I know), that the ‘faith vs. works’ debate in Christianity often means something entirely different to American Protestants than it has historically done to European theologians.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Oh, certainly…Though I think it would be worth looking at, at some point, how the “I’m all right with Jaysus” argument becomes a kind of bludgeon to excuse any and all forms of bad behavior on a particular person’s part, and likewise how a similar sort of thing can be used in other religions when talking about “it’s what’s inside that counts.”

        As far as the orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy matter is concerned–yes, but not entirely.  There are very few religions that are truly and thoroughly orthopraxic (even including Shinto, where properly procedural practice is everything!), and in reality most polytheistic religions have been polypraxic, with near-infinite local variations and idiosyncrasies, as well as “do what works for you” allowances made.  I don’t think we can really argue that most forms of modern paganism are exactly orthopraxic; many have an ideal to be such, but in actual practice they’re probably not.  That’s not a bad thing from my viewpoint, but it may be from others’.

  • kenneth

    A forest grove or field is all the temple I need. 

    • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

      It doesn’t reach -15° F where you live, does it?

      • kenneth

        At times it does. In those months my priestess has a wonderful altar which folds out of a wardrobe-type piece of furniture. We cast our circle and invite the gods in with as much love and reverence as we ever do outdoors, and they come.  I’ve found the gods and goddesses are far more impressed by sincerity and dedication than by human architecture.  There is nothing a giant temple can do for your relationship with them that can’t be done in the most modest settings or even within the confines of your own head and heart. 

        • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

          I don’t think the question is one of *need*.  Need is a very strong word.  I don’t *need* a temple.  I don’t *need* much more than what you find on Maslow’s Hierarchy.

          As someone who runs public ritual for a moderately-sized group out of their home, I can say that having dedicated space for holding celebrations and other observances that *isn’t* my home would be rather nice. As it is, the Circles we hold sometimes are a bit… erm… “cosy”. 

          And if we’re going to have dedicated space, even if it’s a field or a grove, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if it were accessible for the mobility challenged? And hey, whilst we’re doing that, wouldn’t it be great if there were some set-up for restrooms? Oh, and we tend to have meals after our celebrations… wouldn’t kitchen space be nice?  And hey, being in Michigan, it tends to get a bit cold here.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a room we can keep warm and nice so we can observe Yule and Imbolc without getting frostbite?

  • kenneth

    A forest grove or field is all the temple I need. 

    • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

      It doesn’t reach -15° F where you live, does it?

      • kenneth

        At times it does. In those months my priestess has a wonderful altar which folds out of a wardrobe-type piece of furniture. We cast our circle and invite the gods in with as much love and reverence as we ever do outdoors, and they come.  I’ve found the gods and goddesses are far more impressed by sincerity and dedication than by human architecture.  There is nothing a giant temple can do for your relationship with them that can’t be done in the most modest settings or even within the confines of your own head and heart. 

        • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

          I don’t think the question is one of *need*.  Need is a very strong word.  I don’t *need* a temple.  I don’t *need* much more than what you find on Maslow’s Hierarchy.

          As someone who runs public ritual for a moderately-sized group out of their home, I can say that having dedicated space for holding celebrations and other observances that *isn’t* my home would be rather nice. As it is, the Circles we hold sometimes are a bit… erm… “cosy”. 

          And if we’re going to have dedicated space, even if it’s a field or a grove, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if it were accessible for the mobility challenged? And hey, whilst we’re doing that, wouldn’t it be great if there were some set-up for restrooms? Oh, and we tend to have meals after our celebrations… wouldn’t kitchen space be nice?  And hey, being in Michigan, it tends to get a bit cold here.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a room we can keep warm and nice so we can observe Yule and Imbolc without getting frostbite?

  • Soliwo

    I am of two mind really. On the one hand, personally I need no more than a grove of field as well. On the other hand, I think a successfully community might need more. I am reminded of Brendan Myers suggesting on a podcast that there might be common places for pilgramige for all pagans. Of course some of us are Hellenics, other Druids etc. with their own holy places. Yet wouldn’t it be nice if something like that might be possible? For community’s sake? Or will we always be a bunch of individuals and individual groups chatting online.

    • kenneth

      There are some good spots for this already. Of course Britain is full of great ancient sites if you can make it there. Here in the Midwest, Circle Sanctuary and Our Haven have some very nice outdoor spaces you can use in your own ritual and a variety of shrines and god/goddess statues.

  • Soliwo

    I am of two mind really. On the one hand, personally I need no more than a grove of field as well. On the other hand, I think a successfully community might need more. I am reminded of Brendan Myers suggesting on a podcast that there might be common places for pilgramige for all pagans. Of course some of us are Hellenics, other Druids etc. with their own holy places. Yet wouldn’t it be nice if something like that might be possible? For community’s sake? Or will we always be a bunch of individuals and individual groups chatting online.

    • kenneth

      There are some good spots for this already. Of course Britain is full of great ancient sites if you can make it there. Here in the Midwest, Circle Sanctuary and Our Haven have some very nice outdoor spaces you can use in your own ritual and a variety of shrines and god/goddess statues.

  • Anonymous

    Personally, getting out of **buildings* is the most creative development in religious thinking in 2,000 years.

  • LezlieKinyon

    Personally, getting out of **buildings* is the most creative development in religious thinking in 2,000 years.

  • Windweaver

    I’ve always felt that what’s most important to the Gods and Goddesses is that they are remembered. The fact that so many centuries after the Christian religion started taking over the world, there are those of us that remember and call upon them for guidance and comfort.

    This said, I also believe that a sort of recent permanent symbol would more truly show that we still honor and revere them and perhaps give more solid credence to the world outside the Pagan community to our beliefs.

    Just my thoughts on the subject…

  • Windweaver

    I’ve always felt that what’s most important to the Gods and Goddesses is that they are remembered. The fact that so many centuries after the Christian religion started taking over the world, there are those of us that remember and call upon them for guidance and comfort.

    This said, I also believe that a sort of recent permanent symbol would more truly show that we still honor and revere them and perhaps give more solid credence to the world outside the Pagan community to our beliefs.

    Just my thoughts on the subject…

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    I would be much more likely to donate to support the construction and upkeep of a physical temple than professional clergy.

    I envision small structures that shelter images of a god or gods, and enough room to leave offerings.  Simple, yet effective.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Who is a person who maintains and upkeeps such structures if not clergy?

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    I would be much more likely to donate to support the construction and upkeep of a physical temple than professional clergy.

    I envision small structures that shelter images of a god or gods, and enough room to leave offerings.  Simple, yet effective.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      Who is a person who maintains and upkeeps such structures if not clergy?

  • AnnaKorn

    The harbor at Ephesus silted up over the years, resulting in loss of trade, and leading to the ruination of the local economy. This was a major factor in the decline of Ephesus. I hY

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Right. They were able to manage it with dredging and so forth, but it seems it only became unmanageable after the sacking by the Goths.

  • AnnaKorn

    The harbor at Ephesus silted up over the years, resulting in loss of trade, and leading to the ruination of the local economy. This was a major factor in the decline of Ephesus. I hY

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      Right. They were able to manage it with dredging and so forth, but it seems it only became unmanageable after the sacking by the Goths.

  • Annakorn

    Sadly, a marshy field with a single remaining column is all that is left to see of the Temple of Artemis.

    Founding our own temples and other infrastructure is important, but it is also a tremendous sink of time and resources. Imagine all the arguments over housekeeping, for instance, placed into a setting of Temple upkeep. Or (shudder) consider fundraising…

    Anna

    • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

      There are places that manage it without too many arguments.  But, they tend to be run by clergy.  ;)

  • Annakorn

    Sadly, a marshy field with a single remaining column is all that is left to see of the Temple of Artemis.

    Founding our own temples and other infrastructure is important, but it is also a tremendous sink of time and resources. Imagine all the arguments over housekeeping, for instance, placed into a setting of Temple upkeep. Or (shudder) consider fundraising…

    Anna

    • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

      There are places that manage it without too many arguments.  But, they tend to be run by clergy.  ;)


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