Guest Blog: The Goddess Temple of Orange County, Part 1
by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D., guest blogger
How do we know the Goddess is alive and magic is afoot? Because new temples and sanctuaries are being established. On March 7, 2004, I was honored to be one of many priestesses who gathered to dedicate a Goddess temple in a business park in Irvine, California.
Inspired by the Rev. Crystal Bujol, founder of the First Woman’s Church of Los Angeles, Ava Park and Marcy Kievman started holding weekly "goddess gatherings" in Ava’s living room early in 2002. At first it was just half a dozen women, but within a year the circle had grown to fifteen or twenty women. The younger women usually had to sit on cushions on the floor, but no one ever complained. Sunday "services" opened with a chanted circle casting—"Grandmother, I see you sitting in the east…."—that is still used every Sunday. While the liturgy created back then has had to change as attendance grows (we no longer go around the circle one by one to say our names), it has always included lighting the altar candles and giving "an offering from abundance." Women are invited to make an offering or charge a piece of jewelry on the central altar, Ava gives a brief lesson, often about a seasonal goddess or the status of women in the U.S. or somewhere in the world, and then she introduces her guest priestess. At the end, the circle is opened and women are invited to do personal work at the various altars.
I remember one Sunday when we were still in Ava’s living room. She had invited Valerie Eagle Heart, who follows the Red Path, and Valerie brought her large community drum and half a dozen drummers. Even though our chairs had to be pushed nearly to the walls to accommodate the five-foot drum and six enthusiastic drummers, it was enormously inspiring.
The first time I spoke to the circle was in Ava’s living room in September, 2003. She asked me to talk about cancer and healing. I had had surgery two months earlier and had just decided to decline radiation. (Thanks in large part to the healing energy of my pagan and Goddess friends, I am now cancer-free.). I spoke several other times and one Sunday taught the group to fold origami peace cranes. We made fifty-two cranes of red paper, which I then strung together and blessed to bring in abundance to the Temple. The cranes hung in Ava’s living room, were carried to the first Temple, and are still hanging in the second Temple.
By the end of 2003, when the Goddess Circle was obviously outgrowing Ava’s living room, the group started looking for temple space nearby in Irvine. After finding an office/warehouse about five minutes from the John Wayne Airport, volunteers (nearly all women) set to work decorating it. The walls were painted gold, lighting was installed, altars were built, goddesses and candles and tchotchkes were displayed, and chairs and cushions were purchased. Along two of the walls were ten altars to such goddesses as Brigit, Pax, Hygeia, and Athena. The principal altar held the altar candles, fresh flowers, and a large goddess statue. On the wall on each side of this altar hung smaller altars dedicated to the sun and the moon. The central altar, gold and on casters, was (and still is) rolled to the center of the circle every week and decorated with cloth, figures of appropriate goddesses, photos, candles, flowers, and symbols of the four elements. Ava’s dog, Raffee, also became the official temple dog.
"The Goddess Temple," Ava says, "is a temple for women of all faiths dedicated to restoring the Sacred Feminine in today’s spirituality." Although most of the women who come on Sundays are mainstream metaphysicals seeking something they can’t find in any of the standard-brand churches, Jewish, American Indian, and Buddhist women also attend regularly…plus a few hard-core witches (including Dianics) like me.
The composition of the community (or congregation, as they sometimes call themselves) is a topic Ava and I have discussed many times. She’s there all the time and is undoubtedly correct when she says that many of the women who come to the Temple are Wiccan and/or pagan, but my perception is that most of the women come from Unity and Religious Science. Everything these women know about goddesses they’ve learned at the Temple, and until they came to the Temple they’d never been to any kind of neopagan ritual. When, for example, I spent an hour before the spring equinox ritual telling stories about the springtime goddesses, the stories were new to most of my listeners.
Ruth Barrett, Z. Budapest, Elizabeth Cunningham, Max Dashu, Prema Desara and Anahata Iradah, Vicki Noble, and other scholars of the Goddess have appeared at the Temple, and so have Kathy Jones and Anique Radiant Heart, founders of the Glastonbury and Australian Goddess Temples. Jean Shinoda Bolen has also spoken there, and some of the movers and shakers of Gather The Women regularly attend. But many of the Sunday presenters and those who rent the space are mainstream metaphysicals whose topics are mediumship, diksha (a system of "implanting joy into our neurobiological systems"), prosperity and abundance, the guedra and belly dance, "animalspeak," "angel therapy," and astrology. Many of these presentations (like showings of the Celestine Prophecy and indigo children movies) are only marginally related to the Goddess, and a male shaman even once taught a class. A lot of the presenters come to speak and sell their products. But they bring people in the door. Once people are in the Temple, they can see the beauty of the place and perhaps learn something about a goddess or two.
The Temple offers two Sunday services, which are for women only: a 9 a.m. meditation and the larger, fancier service from 11 to 1. There are also sabbat rituals created and facilitated by women from various neopagan traditions (I created the Temple’s first Samhain ritual in 2005 and will do another one in 2007), full-moon and new-moon drumming circles, personal rituals and services (after Marcy died in August, 2005, her funeral and jahrzeit were both held there), classes, workshops, slide shows, parties, book signings (my Pagan Every Day launch party will be on September 9, and other events.
(Look for Part 2 of this guest post about The Goddess Temple of Orange County in September. It will include use of space, organization, and description of altars.)
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (http://www.barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives (RedWheel/Weiser, 2006), a unique daybook of daily meditations, stories, and activities. Her earlier books are Finding New Goddesses, Quicksilver Moon, Goddess Meditations, and Practicing the Presence of the Goddess. Her day job is freelance editing for people who don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. Barbara lives in southern California.