Most of the vacations my wife and I take together include visits to “holy sites.” We’ve been to Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Delphi, the Acropolis in Athens, and many more. When talking to our Pagan friends after such trips we often get questions along the lines of “what did it feel like?”
It’s a reasonable question, especially since many religious and spiritual places have their own distinct energy. When visiting the White Spring in Glastonbury Ari and I had what can only be called a religious experience. In that place on the day we visited we could most certainly feel the power of the Horned God and the Mother Goddess, and it was anything but subtle.
On our most recent journey (mostly Greece, but also England, Croatia, and Bosnia) there were fleeting moments when I felt the gods near by, but for the most part they were absent. I felt sadness at the Acropolis upon reaching the almost nothing that remained of a temple to Dionysus, and at Delphi there was a flickering of hope upon reaching Apollo’s Temple, but none of it was really comparable to the White Spring, or even what I feel in my ritual room on a monthly basis.
I have always sought the spiritual and in many ways the “lack of” somethings in Greece saddened me a great deal. When I asked my wife about this lack of “feelings” on parts of our trip she responded with “Jason, they don’t live here anymore.” And the more I think about it the more correct she is. Why would any deity want to live in a desecrated ruin?
The Greek gods have always been incredibly portable and adaptable. Many of them have origins that lie far outside of Greece, going back to Indo-European roots, and Ancient Greeks were always comfortable borrowing deities from other areas.* Under Alexander the Great the gods travelled from Greece all the way to India, and later they reached Gaul and Britain after they were adopted by the Romans.
After about 800 years in exile they returned to Europe beginning in the Italian Renaissance and they’ve been with us ever since. One doesn’t have to go very far to find them on buildings, in art, or in literature. Their (Roman) names have been a part of magickal grimoires for centuries now and Diana (now with daughter) turns up in 1899’s Aradia (one of the most influential Witch books ever).
(And I would argue that the gods don’t have to be “formally” worshipped to have power. Simply saying their names and creating art which features them is a form of devotion.)
I have to believe that the power of the gods most likely manifests in the places where they are worshipped. Does a part of Athena linger at her temple in Athens? I’m sure it does, but I can’t imagine that the daily flood of tourists who mostly look upon her as a “myth” helps her cause there very much. Certainly people aren’t performing rituals in her ruins in the way that you or I might put together a ritual. (And at the Acropolis you simply can’t go into the Temple of Athena to perform a ritual.)
Certainly visiting historical sites provides some perspective when it comes to trying to figure out just what the ancients did. But the difference between a place like Eleusis today (home of The Mysteries) and the Tor at Glastonbury is that one is still being used for ritual and one is not. There hasn’t been a Pagan ritual at Eleusis in 1700 years, there was probably one on the Tor last night.
The gods go where they are wanted and invoked, I don’t think it’s out of bounds to suggest that they’ve mostly abandoned Eleusis for the Spring Mysteries of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. This will upset some people who believe that deity is forever attached to certain places and historical contexts, but to limit the gods is to deny them the ability to be gods.
I’ve always believed that my spirituality and faith is a dynamic and living thing. The deities that I honor have long histories, but their history is not stagnant. Honoring and exploring their past is important, but not as important as their here and now in our lives.
Near the end of our trip Ari and I spent a day and a half near Brighton England with Damh the Bard. Damh got us to his neck of the woods with the promise of hundreds of still English ciders, but that’s not what I’m going to take away from our time together. What was really important was visiting the Long Man of Wilmington.
While most scholars think the Long Man is only three or four hundred years old, Damh told us that he often felt Odin there, which makes sense considering a lot of Saxons once lived in that area. Ultimately the Long Man’s origins don’t matter, because there in that spot I could certainly feel something. On a small flat piece of land on the Long Man’s hill the local Druids perform ritual and the area just hummed with energy.
In that moment the Long Man wasn’t a relic from the past. He was a kindly god looking down upon us and blessing our small gathering. We didn’t perform ritual there, but we reached out in the quiet of the English countryside and communed with the powers and spirits that were important to us. Far away from temples and more famous places we found ourselves truly in a place where the gods live and dwell.
*Aphrodite owes a lot to Astarte, and probably spent a lot of time on Cyprus before making the jump to the Greek mainland.