Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
This is part three of four of a series on physical infrastructure in the Pagan community. In this blog post I am focusing on temples, libraries, and land-based projects. For the sake of simplicity I am using the phrase temples, libraries, and land-based projects, but as you read this post also think of retreat centers, community centers, and other sorts of venues as well. There are currently a small number of Pagan temples, libraries, and land-based projects, for which I am grateful but there are not enough.
Many Pagans say that there are people of the Earth or follow an earth-based religion or spirituality. Which is another way of saying that they honor the numinous, the sacred, and the beautiful that arises from the physical world. Without getting into the politics and religion of whether or not we can own the land, I will say that at this time one of the most effective ways to be stewards of this physical realm is to have legal ownership and possession of places. Ideally this means owning land and buildings, or at the very least long-term leases, which allows us to form and maintain a long-term relationship with a place. It allows us as stewards to make promises that we can keep.
When we have the privilege to use a place again and again over the course of months and years, we have the opportunity to consecrate it and to awaken its magic.The spirits of place, the genius loci, the kami, are always present but it takes time for us to attune ourselves fully to their presence. The land spirits, the Fae, the landvaettir also need proof from us that we are worthy allies. When we enter into a place that has been made holy, that has been hallowed, we feel the power and the presence. This is reason enough to redouble our efforts to have our own places. While it is true that we are a young community in the count of years, we have ancient roots. It is time to take on the hard work and the financial responsibility required to take dreams and make them real.
Some of you may say that we do not need temples, we can hold our ceremonies anywhere. Though we can hold our ceremonies anywhere, the locations are not always conducive nor comfortable for our work. Very few of us have homes with rooms large enough to host a sizable gathering of people. Even fewer still have rooms that they can solely dedicate to being ritual rooms or shrines. When we rent temporary space, often the rules interfere with how we would like to conduct our ceremonies. If we had more temples, we would also encourage parts of pagan culture that are underdeveloped. Where are our murals, frescoes, great statues, stained-glass, and all the forms of artistic expression that require space and permanence. I would love to see more Pagan temples that have altars and images of our God/dess/es are in constant use rather than just temporary constructs. I'm not satisfied with visiting the ruins of our spiritual ancestors, though they are a source of inspiration. I'd also like to see more open air temples delineated by circles of stone, sacred trees, holy wells, and central pillars that are intact and tended by our hands.
Libraries serve many purposes beyond simply being warehouses for knowledge. They act also as community centers, museums, and as anchoring points for schools. Our modern Pagan culture, history, and artifacts also need to be preserved before they are lost or forgotten. And while I fully support the use of digital technologies, there are things that can only be experienced when you are in the energy of the physical object. Pagan libraries can house sacred objects, art, and ritual tools in a way that preserves them and makes them accessible for future generations. Moreover we should not assume that our technology will last forever and time has shown that a physical record will endure. Libraries also act as a crossroads for seekers and scholars to meet and exchange ideas and be transformed by that exchange. As many of you know I'm involved in the new Alexandrian Library Project so I ask you to learn about it through this link. I also encourage you to support local library projects as well.
Land-based projects can be as small as a community garden or as large as a nature preserve of hundreds of acres. They can be places with permanent communities or gathering places for events such as festivals. Having our own land makes it possible to build labyrinths, amphitheaters, fire circles, sweat lodges, tend bee hives, and host or create any number of things that require space and/or privacy. And while it is true that there are locations owned by non-pagan individuals or groups that are supportive of our activities, there is no surety that our investment of time and energy in those places will remain in our hands. Another concern is that some activities such as long vigils, vision quests, and spiritual retreats also require more time than is easily available in borrowed space. Sacred land also provides an opportunity for true service and for the deepening of the ties of community. When I pass I hope for my ashes to be scattered upon the sacred land of Seelie Court that I live upon. I also have the hope, that future generations will also walk upon the land where I lived and died and will offer songs and libations at the same trees as I did. Land teaches us to look with the long view in heart and mind.
How To Begin
If we are to accomplish these things, first we must reject the notion that we are an impoverished community. What we are is a fairly representative cross-section of our economy. I could write an entire blog post about this topic and perhaps I will. One of the differences in communities such as ours, is that we socialize and interact with people from a much broader range of incomes than is the norm. As a result, those of us that are somewhere in the middle become sensitized to the question of money and assume that many are poor. I've also noted that those of us that are better off economically tend to be quiet about that fact. I have lived in cities, towns, and am now in the country. In all those places I have seen people that actually are economically challenged create storefront churches, community centers, community gardens, and more. It is mostly about conviction and priorities.
If we are to have temples, libraries, and sacred land, we need to be willing to invest in building strong organizations. Organizations are made out of the time, energy, and money contributed by individuals. Most of you have heard the oft repeated phrase that unless you take care of yourself you cannot take care of others. Expand this concept to include organizations and what it means is that organizations have to take care of themselves, if they are to serve others. This means organizations must actually have savings funds and monies above and beyond what is required to simply scrape by and break even. I've heard Pagan organizers proudly proclaim that they only charge enough for an event or service so that they can break even. Their hearts may be in the right place but this dooms the community. It is the same as a farmer feeding their family and then giving away the rest of their crop to feed the community without setting aside seed to plant for the next year.
Can we do this without organizations? It is possible to do some things as individuals, but in the long run we need organizations. As an example, many years ago I and a few friends sold our houses, pooled our resources, and bought the 100 acres of woods that is now Seelie Court. We have mutually interlocking wills and last testaments so that ultimately all our resources will be left to the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. One third of the land has already been deeded over to the Assembly for the New Alexandrian Library. A good portion of my life work is to make sure that by the time I pass, the Assembly will have developed into an organization capable of managing and maintaining these resources. Individuals can do much, but our time on earth is short.
My next post will be on festivals, conferences, and other multi-day events and how they are an essential part of the infrastructure of our communities.
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