Saturday, June 09, 2007

Why Goddess Temples?

We’ve had a number of guest posts from people involved in various Goddess Temples so I thought I’d blog a bit about why I think the fairly recent phenomenon of buildings (or parts of buildings) dedicated to modern Goddess rituals and functions is important.

In our beginning (meaning, for contemporary Goddess spirituality and other feminist religious forms, sometime in the 1970s) most of us met (if we met at all) most often outdoors –in the woods, on the beach–or in each other’s homes, or squirreled away in some room in a sympatica church or synagogue. We still meet outdoors–for many of us this is the ideal setting – but there are times (for instance, very stormy weather) when we may prefer to be indoors. Also, as we age or become less than fully physically-abled, everyone who wants to attend rituals may not be able to tromp through the woods or even sit on the ground. Someone’s home or a room in a church may do, but there are advantages for a group to have "a place of one’s own" to vary a phrase from Virginia Woolf. For some people, who like to think of themselves as existing on the fringes, this may be too "establishment," too much "like church." And I understand that feeling. But I think there are strong reasons for establishing our own special Goddess places at this point in our development.

To me, the advantages of having a specific building dedicated to Goddess celebration are many. Here are some off the top of my head:
– Using the space repeatedly may increase feeling of that place being sacred. In some ways, this can also be true of outdoor space or space in someone’s home if used repeatedly. But this space, we know, is also used for other things. There is something special about using space dedicated for Goddess purpose only.
– Having a specific building or part of a building gives us the aura of being a "legitimate" spiritual path, rather than a "cult," especially if, in the US, we also incorporate as a religious non-profit.
– Having a specific place, and a group that identifies with that place, increases a sense of community and the likelihood that the group will continue to exist through changes in membership. In my experience, the falling apart of groups that meet in a church basements or in each other’s homes, is in part related to the perceived temporariness of the group. Because the group is not bonded by spaced dedicated solely to that group, it may instead develop a bond, or dependence, on just a few founding or prominent members. When these members leave, which is often inevitable, the remaining members may not feel the group is worthy of perpetuating. Having a Temple which houses the group encourages group identity apart from any one or few individuals.
–This one I see as a partner to the reason above. Rather than being a "club" or even "tribe" or "coven," the Temple encourages a wider scope, is usually perceived as being "open" to the general public, and so attracts people who are interested in Goddess but might not join a specific Pagan or Wiccan group. This can provide a steady stream of new people so that the group doesn’t feel as diminished when some members leave.
– People with physical disabilities are often more easily accommodated in a Temple situation than than in constantly changed space or most outdoor locales.

I’m not saying stop having outdoor rituals or stop having rituals in homes. What I am saying is that it is ALSO important for our future growth to have specific buildings dedicated as Goddess Temples (or some similar term, such as "House" or "Shrine").

What has held us back from doing this? Partly the reluctance to become that organized. Partly money. But from the recent experience of some of these Temples, there’s now hope that you don’t have to have a lot of money to begin the process. What it really takes is dedication and innovation. Some of today’s Temples exist because one or two people had enough money to purchase a building and/or land. But others have come into being by starting small, attracting people who identify with the Temple and give small steady donations. Temple attendence increases along with donations, and the Temple is able to move to a larger physical space. A good example of this process is the Goddess Temple of Orange County , which has established itself as a religious non-profit (the equivalent of a church). Begun in a small space in a shopping center, this Temple has moved to larger space and now has two services each Sunday, other rituals throughout the year, and a seemingly unending array of activities and workshops, some of which are "official" Temple events and others of which are events of sometimes very loosely related groups renting the Temple’s facilities (another source of income as well as a way to extend the Temple’s community relevance). If I were starting a Goddess Temple in the US today, I would want to learn from what this Southern California group has done, and continues to do.

In Britain, the Glastonbury Goddess Temple , located in a town with deep Goddess roots (the mythical Avalon), is flourishing. Like the Orange County Temple, the Glastonbury Temple has a regular schedule of events and a staff of priestesses, while being open to the public.

Back in the USA, The Goddess Temple Dedicated to Sekhmet graces the Nevada desert. In a guest post here, "The Importance of Goddess Temples," Priestess Anne Key wrote:
Space. Consecrated, sacred space is vital. First we need space to do our own work. Space for us to know ourselves and meet the Divine...Images are the second important component for the Goddess Temple...When I sit in front of the statue of Sekhmet in the Temple, I see the solar disc on her head, aligning her with the sun, the cobra full of the earth and the cosmos combined. She has the head of a lioness, which stirs this cord inside of me that remembers when humans and animals were sisters, when we were one. Her body is of a full woman.

It seems that one Temple inspires another and often, yet another. After visiting The Goddess Temple Dedicated to Sekhmet, as well as the Glastonbury Temple, Anique Radiant Heart decided to begin a Temple in Australia . Of the Sekhmet Temple, Anique writes:

When I was in Nevada, I was fortunate to be taken to experience the Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, donated to the people of Nevada by Genevieve Vaughn. This little Temple took my breath away. Totally open to the elements and the people and creatures of that place, the Temple was built of straw bale construction and had openings on all sides and an open roof. A beautiful wrought iron artwork of a half sphere created of crescent moons "covered" the roof and a smaller wrought iron circular artwork of Goddesses holding hands protected the central fire pit. A large black stone statue of Sekhmet adorned the Western wall and a stone statue of a typical abundant Goddess sat facing Her. Everywhere, people had left offerings….pictures, jewelry, feathers bones and stones, all kinds of objects....I had an epiphany in that moment, as I understood how powerful Temples are.
And of her visit to the Glastonbury Temple, Anique writes:

It was a blessing to walk into a space which was so obviously dedicated to the Goddess. The main altar, which had a large painting of a very abundant Goddess as the backdrop, was beautiful. On the altar, were many lovely artifacts and candles and incense….but what struck me most was the hundreds of little pieces of paper which held the prayers of people who had visited the Temple that week.... Priestesses of the Temple collect the peoples' prayers and in ceremony, offer the prayers to the Goddess in spoken word....Large wicker statues had been lovingly made for each Element, creating an eerie feeling that they were actually alive. Each altar had been decorated with appropriate items.... On the floor, here and there, were statues and objects donated by lovers of the Goddess to the Temple. It was obvious to me that many people appreciated this sacred space where they could embody fully their spirituality of choice.

The Glastonbury Temple has also inspired the establishment of a Temple in The Netherlands, Avalon-Mystic . In their guest blog here, priestesses of Avalon Mystic tell how two of them, Nanon and Sandra, were inspired to start the Dutch Temple while visiting Glastonbury. When they returned to the Netherlands they began talking about their idea with others and soon they had about 150 people interested from the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Then:

Sooner than Sandra wanted and expected we were offered a space to use for free for at least one and a half years.... We got the key in mid-August and started to work, first decorating, then smudging (a lot) followed by performing eight private ceremonies, calling in the Goddesses based on Ana's Wheel, , which we had learned from the Glastonbury Goddess Temple....
Avalon-Mystic opened to the public on September 21, 2004, underwent a "makeover" in 2005, has a full program of rituals, and has been host to Goddess conferences.

Medusa Coils will try to keep you updated about activities at these and other Temples through our monthly Events Coils (the most recent one appears right below this post) and through our "News from the Temples" features several times a year. If we are missing a Temple you think should be included, please leave the info as a comment. Right now we are focusing on Temples that have actual physical space and a specific geographical location. To read more about specific Temples see the list on the right under "Archived Favorites" or click on the label "Temples" at the end of this article.



At Tuesday, June 12, 2007 3:30:00 PM, Blogger Inanna said...

The most compelling reason for me, personally, is having a place to go. When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, I gathered with community members of all spiritual paths - and none at all - at a local Methodist church. I longed to be gathered with my neighbors in a temple dedicated to Goddess. When my grandma lay sick in the hospital, I sought silence to meditate in the little Christian chapel on her hospital floor. But what I really wanted was a Goddess space and a priestess to talk to.

It's a dream of mine to create a Goddess temple in my community one day. Thank you for this inspiring post.

At Tuesday, June 12, 2007 9:20:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

You put this so well, Inanna. Yes, a place to go to be with Goddess and other Goddess folk. Some of these Temples are open extended hours, even if there are no functions, with at least one priestess on site. I hope you can make your dream a reality and that someday soon that you--and all of us--will live close enough to a Goddess Temple that can be our place to go.


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.