Pagan Temples Revisited

Pagan Temples Revisited March 13, 2012

My post on Pagan temples had quite a response. I’m going to try to process some of the discussion and address some of the issues that were brought up. It’s a good bit to take in, so I may not get everything in today.

First, there seems to be an idea that I’m either unaware or misinformed about CUUPS. If you are a Unitarian-Universalist congregation and organized under their banner then you must be inclusive and accommodating of any Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist that adhere to the UU principles. So if your organization is under the aegis of what is still nominally a Christian body, and you must accommodate the spiritual needs of UU members of other faiths, then no, you are not an independent autonomous Pagan temple. Pagan temples should not be required to hold services for the purpose of Christian worship. If you cannot deny another UU member a Christian, Jewish or Muslim service, then you are not a Pagan temple but a UU congregation. There is a big difference there. I think it’s great that CUUPS exists, but it’s not at all the same thing as having our own temples.

There seems to be confusion about what a public temple actually is. A public temple would have stated and reliable hours when the temple/sanctuary space would be open to the general public. Anyone should be able to walk in off the street, light incense, and meditate, pray or knit. This means at least one person needs to be present to answer questions, keep an eye on the premises, deal with any issues that arise and lock up when they leave. It should also have regular religious services that are completely open to the public, but that doesn’t mean the services are some sort of show-and-tell, or bland, diluted, rituals that non-Pagans will understand. This isn’t a pageant to put on before a Christian audience, but there should be plenty of people who can answer questions. A public temple does not mean that any religious group can use it for rituals, sermons or events.

You cannot embark on a local project that would at a minimum involve tens of thousands of dollars without everyone involved being of the same religious, ethical and cultural vision. This principle is played out in the PantheaCon controversy, where they committed to being for all Pagans, and now are having to revise their initial inclusivity and define some sort of pan-Pagan orthodoxy in which they will include those who adhere to their stated values, and exclude all that falls outside of it.

So, no, you can’t build a temple for everyone or it will be torn apart by the tyranny of the masses. What you can do is create a temple dedicated to a specific religious, ethical and cultural vision, which can also provide space to other Pagan groups as its circumstances see fit. A Heathen group might transform an abandoned Lutheran church into a feasting hall, and allow local Wiccan and Druid groups to use their fellowship hall. Maybe host a Pagan Pride Day celebration. But to raise the funds, execute the project and create something worth sustaining they must keep the temple firmly in line with their own values.

You can’t please everyone, and the moment you try to make something for everyone, people want to start excluding. Tolerance preaching Witches will get their hackles raised over EpiscoPagans, and vegan Druids will be aghast at Vodou. Plus, when you try to make something for everyone, it gives others license to elbow their way in and royally screw up your project. I don’t think any of my readers are so naive as to not realize we have a real problem with people who want to be critical and obstructive without contributing anything in our community.

To say that Pagans have an issue with money is an understatement. I think a lot of it is because we think we have to make something for everyone. We have to include everyone. When I envision a temple like this, I imagine the bulk of the use and benefits of this temple will got to the members, and the members will be comprised solely of people who contribute and invest themselves in the temple.

Projects like this work because people find them important enough to commit to a significant investment in time and money. Maybe some people invest more time, and others more money, but regardless, this isn’t a humanitarian project for the masses. I’ve been told that the massive Hindu temple in Minnesota began when 5 families took out second mortgages on their homes to fund it. I’m fairly certain they did so because they had a clear, shared vision and faith, not because they wanted to open a center where hippies could meditate and play the sitar.

There is a stark difference between making space available to the rest of the Pagan community, and catering to the rest of the Pagan community. The former is sustainable, the latter is not.

If you’re a solitary or staunchly against organized religion, then you don’t have to participate. It’s really that simple.

In my last post I commented that when you try to meditate or pray in the great outdoors, and particularly parks, there are noises and distractions. There are even people who will disturb you to make sure you’re alive if you sit in motionless meditation. Meditating in a temple has the advantage that you’re unlikely to have a dog steal your sandwich or a child’s soccer ball hit you in the head. That concept got me branded anti-child by someone who proudly declared their children “run loose.” So I think it should go without saying that this would be a building where your children would be expected to be quietly behaved at times.

Most groups who have the cohesiveness of shared vision to create such a project would likely also be interested in religious education for children, and they would also be very pro-family. Most reconstructionist religions are very much family-based, so I imagine including children would be a high priority, as would expecting parents to make sure their children behave appropriately to the occasion.

Among all the costs and planning such a project would entail, legal counsel is a must. You’ve seen the hoops mosques have to jump through and churches rarely have the same issues. Making sure you have every bit of paperwork in proper order will make encountering problems with the neighborhood and local government easier. Buying a property already zoned for religious use makes this so much simpler.

One thing that most people don’t realize is that starting this isn’t the hard part. Raising the funds to buy property, file all the necessary paperwork, make modifications and opening the temple to the public is easy. Maintaining the funds and staff to keep it going is difficult. People committing to donating a significant amount of money each month for years is the difficult part. People willing to give up their Saturday once a month to sit quietly while the temple is open to the public is the difficult part. People who can agree what religious observances and what religious programs such a temple should offer is the difficult part.

The kind of people who will keep such a temple going will be rooted in the local community, completely committed to the religious, ethical and cultural vision of the temple, and have a stake in seeing the temple serve multiple generations. They will have a deep desire to create a home for the Gods they honor to last beyond their own brief life.

That is why this is difficult to accomplish.

But if you can find this, then our Hindu cousins would likely tell us, if you build it they will come.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead


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