Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructures: Part One

Cara Schulz —  January 29, 2015 — 87 Comments

Building a Pagan temple or employing full time clergy may be easier, and more difficult,  than people think. It appears that if you have a core group of three to five devoted people willing to dedicate at least ten years of their life and to make monthly donations, your dreams of Pagan infrastructure can come true.

In this two part series, The Wild Hunt will look at several successful projects in order to see what they have in common. And, we’ll also look at a failed Pagan community center to see what went wrong. Today, in part one, we’ll focus on the larger projects, such as a temple and an archival library.

“We need Temples. Urgently. It brings us together as a community and we certainly need that. … I can’t imagine anything that would make me happier than to one day go to a Temple with my husband and children and bow before the statues of the gods. I crave so badly for the restoration of Paganism to the glory it once had. There is no structure, and I think we need that. We need structure, we need community.” – Hendrik Venter

There are many challenges to raising the funds needed to create and maintain a temple, a bit of sacred woods, a library, or employ a clergy person. There simply aren’t that many Pagans in the U.S., let alone a dense concentration of Pagans in any one town or city. What further dilutes those numbers is that Paganism isn’t one specific religion. It’s almost as many different religions as there are Pagans. The largest religion under the Pagan umbrella, Wicca, is one that encourages small groups and functions well using living rooms and backyards. Additionally, Pagans often have a self-perception as being economically poor. They also tend to be suspicious of requests for money and may not trust leaders to adequately manage money. The persons heading the project might not have the skills needed to handle large projects. Finally, another challenge is evaluating if your project addresses a want vs a need.

Hindu Temple of Minnesota
Let’s take a look at a temple built by a religion with fairly similar numbers or religious adherents as Paganism – the Hindu Temple of Minnesota.

There are presently 3 million Hindus in the USA compared to 1.2 million Pagans and Heathens. While the numbers are comparable, Hindus have an advantage that their faith is fairly homogeneous while Paganism isn’t. Yet if we look at how the Hindu Temple of Minnesota came into being, we can see what a very small, tight-knit group  can accomplish.

The Hindu Temple of Minnesota [courtesy photo]

The Hindu Temple of Minnesota [courtesy photo]

The Hindu Temple of Minnesota is currently a sprawling temple complex, but in the 1970’s it didn’t yet exist. There were a just a few Hindu families in the Twin Cities area and for almost ten years they met weekly in one another’s homes for worship and classes. In 1979, three families pooled a combined $20,000 ($79,000 in 2014 dollars) to put a down payment on an empty church to convert into a temple for worship and study. A total of ten families attended the first religious services in February1979.

The group formed a non-profit called the The Hindu Society of Minnesota and elected a Board of Trustees. They had a clearly defined mission to maintain the temple, foster a closer association of local Hindus, create a library, host workshops, and create a youth program. In 1983, a week long Hindu Youth Camp was added along with embodied statues of different Gods.

By the 1990’s, the size of Minnesota’s Hindu population had grown and the temple was no longer able to accommodate them. The temple was offering several weekly services, annual youth camps, weekly spiritual discourses, larger scale celebrations of major Hindu festivals, and an official temple publication.

Over the next 8 years, the Trustees began a search for a new property that would meet the needs of their growing membership. They found an 80 acre plot of land and the Board of Trustees voted to buy the land, and the purchase was made.

In 2003, the number of Trustee members had expanded to 130 and the temple celebrated breaking ground on the new site. In 2006, the first Kumbhabhisheka was performed at the 43,000 square foot Hindu temple. The complex also has an auditorium, 250 seat dining hall, 4 conference rooms, a board room, and a library and meditation room.

Takeaways from the Hindu Temple of Minnesota:

  • They took it slow, built trust with each other, and made sure they were a stable group before they launched the project.
  • As the temple was a need, not a want, they were willing to put a considerable amount of their own money to start the project.
  • They had a good relationship with the other seven Hindu families in the area and knew how much each was willing to donate per month.
  • They created a non-profit and gave Trustee members, who donated each month, voting rights.
  • They expanded slowly and added on services that appealed to their members in order to both attract new members and retain old ones.
  • The temple is, quite simply, the center of the Hindu community. It’s not only a religious place of worship. It’s a cultural and social center for the entire family from which members derive great value.

While the Hindu Temple of Minnesota was founded by only three families, those three families were able to come up with a considerable amount of money for a down payment. This runs up against a common Pagan self-perception – that most Pagans are very poor. Pagans aren’t poorer than the general population, in fact, they are slightly financially better off. Christians at most income levels donate and average 4% of their income each year to their church. If Pagans were to donate to religious organizations at the same level as Christians, the average Pagan making $30,000 would donate $1200 per year.

pagan income

Citation: Kirner, Kimberly. 2012 Pagan Health Survey II Dataset. Online communication, 1/28/2015.

I would support something locally if it could demonstrate that it is financially sound. Not so much that it already has financial backing but that it would be transparent about what it would do with the money I was giving. Perhaps something like a community center or a public temple/worship space. However, I have had far too many experiences where there was no accountability so I would be very hesitant … I am far more likely to donate money when I attend a Unitarian Universalist service than when I attend a Pagan event. I just haven’t seen much consistency in my experiences. Many of the Pagan groups I’ve been involved in don’t last very long and often have a lot of internal drama.” – Laura LaVoie

The New Alexandrian Library
The New Alexandrian Library, a research and reference facility focused on magic and the occult, is almost ready to open its doors and has begun moving its collection of rare papers, artifacts, and artwork onsite. The library is located near Georgetown, Delaware and is named after the Great Library of Alexandria famed throughout the ancient world as a seat of knowledge and a gathering place for intellectuals.

The New Alexandrian Library (NAL) hopes to follow in those footsteps. It’s taken the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the group spearheading the creation of the library, 14 years to raise the funds and build the first building in the library complex.

James Walsh at the doors of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

James Welch at the doors of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

The group first announced the project in 2000 at their Between The Worlds Conference. They had initially drawn up a ten year plan, but the economic crash in 2008 delayed the start of construction by several years. The groundbreaking for the NAL was in December of 2011 and it took until December 2014 for the library to be ready to put books on the shelves. In total, the group has raised approximately $250,000 for the library.

Michael G. Smith, an Elder of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and Treasurer of the ASW’s Board of Trustees, was very open about the funding for the library. He said the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has 110 members, who come primarily from 11 ASW covens in the Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey areas and with two more covens forming in the Philadelphia area..

Smith said, “At the moment there are about 15 people who donate on a monthly basis to the library. These donations run anywhere from $10 to $50 per month. There are also about 10 people who donate between $200 to $500 periodically,” He also added that there are some people who made annual donations of several thousand dollars in the past and have pledged to do so in the future.

A few people have made one time donations in excess of $10,000. In addition, all proceeds from Annie Large’s A Cauldron Of Delight cookbook, Nicky LeBlanc’s The Living Goddess Project and Robin Fennally’s Qabalah books go to the library. They’ve even received a donation of stock, which ASW hopes will generate dividends. Smith says that while the majority of donors are active members of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, some donors don’t even live in the area.

Although not a clergy person, the library hopes to one day hire a Chief Librarian, with a small part-time administrative staff. Other staffing desires include a Chief Archivist, a Chief Preservationist, a Chief Researcher. Until they can solidify their income streams, like so many Pagan organizations, they’ll need to rely on volunteers.

When asked why the library has been so successful, Smith said, “People will support the things that speak to them mentally or emotionally. Some part of the project must touch and attract them. I have heard it said that we are not ‘people of the book’ and this is true enough. We are ‘people of an enormous number of books’ and the idea of a Library devoted to the study and preservation of esoteric matters of all kinds touches people both mentally and emotionally. That is certainly one of the reasons I have been a fervent supporter of the NAL project for these 14 years, since the very beginning. That there will be a collection of our history, our wisdom, our experiences, and yes, our books, moves people to want to be a part of it, to leave something behind after they pass beyond the Veil that will continue aid in the growth and evolution of the broad community that they love.”

Takeaways from the New Alexandrian Library:

  • Serve a strong recognized need. The NAL’s mission of preserving Pagan culture and history before it’s lost, not just a place to store books, is one most Pagans can easily understand.
  • Be in it for the long haul. The group raised funds for 12 years before they broke ground.
  • Have a wide enough base of members who trust your leadership and can be counted on for financial support.
  • Fundraise in person. By fundraising at their events, they are able to personally connect with donors.
  • Have a board with proven business and management skills.
  • Manage internal problems. While every group has moments of internal dissension and conflict, ASW and the board managing the library doesn’t do public displays of drama and stays very focused on its mission. Drama scares off donors.

How much money would something like the library or a temple need each year to sustain itself? We can get an idea by looking at the budget of a modest Christian church in the Pacific Northwest. The church needs an annual budget of around $200,000 to pay its clergy and pay all its operating expenses. Does $200,000 a year seem out of reach? It takes 102 members donating an average of $40 per week in the collection plate. Of course, a few members give a great deal more and most give quite a bit less.

“I would pay for nothing and want none of that.” – Mason Norsk Hest

Not all, over most, Pagans want temples or community centers or libraries. They most certainly don’t want to pay for clergy. For them such things either simply aren’t needed or they’re even seen as a spiritual detriment. “My temple is a forest,” has almost become a Pagan maxim.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, says, “expanding infrastructure isn’t necessary if we keep a small, home-based meeting model and don’t mind that groups often die rapidly and then reform as something else. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

She says the need for infrastructure comes in when people want to expand past one on one relationships. Such as offer services to many people at once by a specially trained person or offer consistent community services. At that point you need to build beyond informal pass-the-hat models, “You can’t pass-the-hat among 12 people for taking care of an elder who gave their life to the Pagan community and barely scraped by, and now faces old age without retirement.”

She says no matter if you’re in a small, local group or appealing to the wider Pagan community, we need to “… think about what services we want and expect, how to clearly articulate to seekers/newbies what they can expect given our capacity, and what resources we need to accomplish our goals.”

Next week, in part two, we look at more modest funding efforts, and we’ll take a detailed look at why a community center and a Pagan temple closed down.

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Cathryn Platine

    Aside from the legal bills of the past several years, the Maetreum of Cybele has a Temple, a former Catskill resort inn, 3 acres of land, full time (unpaid) clergy and manages to do charitable housing etc on an annual budget of well under 35000 a year. We are established, owned by our religious corporation and not individuals, maintain a Wiccan type circle for those styles of Pagan groups and have always encouraged other Pagan traditions to share our resources. It can be done and in my opinion must be done by others as well if Paganism is to survive. Paganism is not going to make it as a cyber religious movement of solo practitioners. It needs to go back to groups who are part of their communities. We are trying to provide a blueprint on how that can be done but it does require a dedicated groups of people with a common vision.

    • I think this is a superb example, and a practical and important one, as the Maetreum positively demonstrated that obstructionist legal tactics on the part of local governments can be overcome, with perseverance. Just raising the funds isn’t always the only obstacle.

  • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

    I’d like to add that above the $250,000 in cash that the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has raised for the New Alexandrian Library, there is actually more that has been donated as in kind and material contributions. The land the library sits on was donated, fixtures, computers, and more with a value of about $300,000. As a reminder, the New Alexandrian Library has no debts, no mortgage, as we operated on a pay was we go basis.

    • Cathryn Platine

      Which is one of the keys….. We also have no debts and now operate on a pay as you go basis, our basic property donated by four of us to the incorporated religion.

    • I seem to recall that not LDS church is built or expanded without the money first being raised in toto, but they also have donations that are not quite voluntary by my lights. It’s more of a membership fee, which is not uncommon among congregations in the Abrahamic religions.

  • You might also want to look at Gladsheim Kindred in Maryland, which has had a dedicated hof (temple) for several years now. Might be good to see a Heathen perspective. There are quite a few other examples, as well, not all of which are as public as Gladsheim.

    • Cara Schulz

      My email is schulzcaral at gmail dot com. Could you get me in touch with them?

    • dantes

      That’s pretty cool, but the pictures look like they come from a flat that was then re-made into a hof. Do you have more info about this kindred?

      • I believe it’s an entire house converted into a hof. Hopefully they’ll have gotten in touch with Cara and we can get some more details.

  • Cara, this is one of the best pieces of reporting and analysis I’ve seen on The Wild Hunt. Thank you.

  • MadGastronomer

    I think one of the major differences between paganism and Hinduism around this topic is that temples already plays a central role in Hindusim, while most pagan religions are quite young in their current incarnations and lack such a tradition. There isn’t an established place that temples already fill such that we just need to buy the land and build them. We also need to know what function they’ll serve in our various communities. We’re used to worshiping in our homes or outdoors, often near our homes. We don’t necessarily have an established habit of going somewhere else to worship regularly. Our communities are built in other ways, not around having a place we go that we count on people just being there already. And so forth. Each religion and tradition will have to figure out for itself what a temple will be for them. Makes it harder to get people invested in doing it, because it’s not the same kind of need.

    • Cathryn Platine

      “Our communities are built in other ways, not around having a place we go that we count on people just being there already”
      Actually I have personally witnessed exactly the opposite back in the pre Scott Cunningham days……. In Columbus, Ohio, back in the day, four separate Pagan communities grew around the four Pagan stores in the area. So both you and Cat are wrong at least in terms of back in the day. Cyber solo Paganism is not necessarily the future and frankly I believe if it becomes the future, Paganism is never going to be taken seriously. Bottom line, some of us have been building the Temples and infrastructure and have been doing so for years. If this is not your cup of tea, so be it but at least stop using the word we when you really are talking about “me”.

      • Lupa

        “Cyber solo” paganism as you put it is still a valid way of connecting with other pagans. I have always been a solitary practitioner by preference, since the 1990s, and I’ve gotten a lot of value from interacting with others over the internet, especially at times and places when I was geographically isolated. I’ve also met a lot of pagans in person, but not in a “we all go to the same temple/grove/etc” way. That is my community: friends and acquaintances who happen to also be pagan, not friends and acquaintances that I connect with *because* we’re all pagan.

        I also disagree with your assertion that we’ll only be taken seriously if we come together in groups like other religions. Yes, many media outlets look to the covens and other groups because that’s what they expect, or because some of the more visible figures in paganism are associated with groups. But there’s nothing saying that solitaries can’t be good ambassadors as well.

        • It’s hard to say what the mainstream media will “take seriously”. Some of them might never take us seriously just based on the nature of our religions. Their loss. If we look elsewhere- the GL(B?)(T?) movement for example has been successful in spite of people worrying about being associated with “The Wrong Kind of People” such as poly folks, BDSM folks, gender-diverse and bi/pan folks and in fact those groups have all grown, and indeed contributed to the overall movement! Solitaries can most certainly be great ambassadors, in fact many of us are, partly because we are solitary have more time and flexibility on our hands.

          • Lupa

            Well, and that brings up a whole other argument that I am pretty sure has come up here on TWH before–the idea of whitewashing our image to be more acceptable. Sure, it might be easier for non-pagans to grok what we’re doing if we present it in terms they generally associate with “religion”–groups in buildings sharing the same beliefs. And I think there’s value to having these places, not just for media referrals, but because there are pagans who genuinely want to have that sort of community connection with each other.

            At the same time, one of the things I love about paganism *is* the diversity. I’ve never felt unsafe as a bi/poly/kinky/etc. pagan within the pagan community, though I certainly acknowledge that A) other people have, and B) I’m white and haven’t experienced the racism that pagans of color have been through. Still, I would be really sad to see paganism homogenized for mass consumption. I like the idea of temples as safe spaces for community worship, but I also like the idea of lone pagans wandering through the woods.

          • kenofken

            I am on a Pagan path because that is where my gods and goddesses called me to be and where I find meaning in my journey through the world as a human being. I have no interest at all in striving toward some vision of beige Middle American suburban churchiness as a way of “being taken seriously.” I’d much rather be respected than liked, and the way to be taken seriously in that regard is the First Amendment and a good attorney.

          • dantes

            That’s beautifully said. Yet, there are other kinds of “temply” organisations than those that simply mimic abrahamic ones.

      • MadGastronomer

        So you know, I live in an area with multiple established pagan-owned worship sites that have been around for more than a decade (I’ve only lived in the area for twelve years, I have no idea how much longer than that I’ve been around). I’m aware that they exist. And I’m not talking about cyber anything. (Who even says “cyber” anymore?) Nor am I talking about “back in the day”. I’m not even talking about solo practitioners, I’m talking about groups who worship and practice together, since solitaries aren’t most of the people who use the temples and things that already exist. But I am talking about pagan communities in general in North America and Europe. Temples are few and far between. Having them in your area is an exception. That’s why I use “we” — because most of our communities are not built around dedicated physical buildings or spaces, because most pagans don’t have a temple to go to regularly. A lot of community in the US and Canada is based around festivals and other ephemeral spaces that may use the same site from every time or may move around but only happen occasionally, and the rest of the time the space is used for other things. Coven meetings and sabbats and other groups held in living rooms and backyards fall into this category, too. It’s not the same thing as a community built around a temple, in which the temple itself is a necessary element of the community.

        Bookstores — which aren’t the topic, and are funded very very differently, most of them being privately-owned for-profit businesses — aren’t temples (although some have rooms that are used as dedicated worship space, and those might or might not be temples) and many of them are not good spaces to use as drop-in centers or places to hang around. Most of the pagan bookstores I’ve known have been pretty cramped, on two coasts. Three, even, if you want to count the Gulf Coast. And a lot of areas don’t have bookstores either, and indie bookstores are closing at an alarming rate across the country.

        We absolutely can build temples, and I think they’re a good and needful thing, even if not all pagans want to use them, or even most. I’m trying to identify one of the problems we face in getting them built. The reason why the Hindu example in the article isn’t a good parallel for pagan communities, and the reason why that method of getting a temple built hasn’t been very successful for pagans at large. Hindus expect to have a temple. Not having one is an exception. Therefore Hindus are more likely to see having a temple as an acute need, and more willing to donate large sums of money and chunks of time and energy to getting it done. Pagans do not expect to have a temple. Having one is an exception. Therefore pagans are more likely to see having a temple as a nice idea, and less likely to donate large sums of money and chunks of time and energy to getting it done in comparison to the Hindus in the story. This is an obstacle to getting temples built in the specific way that the Hindus in the article did it. Identifying this issue means that we can figure out how to work around it.

        You may be lucky enough to have great community rooted in physical buildings. That doesn’t mean most pagans do. You’re the exception here, not me.

        • I live in (supposedly) one of the largest Pagan communities in the country, “Paganistan” the Twin Cities, and we have 2 metaphysical shops that are seen as community hubs, and one (Eye of Horus) has had to raise money a couple times to stay in business. Both of them still get the majority of their business online. Many others have come and gone out of business. I also think we have a large number of people who are to some degree community “dropouts” people who may have participated more in the past, but got fed up with all the drama, I’m a semi-drop-out myself but I still dip my toes and now and then to see if I can find like-minded people. (Sometimes I find them other places like in the GLBT, Irish cultural and other communities. ) But we should not act all shocked and surprised if more people leave and go become well, Hindus, Buddhists, UUs, Christians anything more organized than Pagan. Other religions seem to grasp the concept that not everyone can drive, and that making things accessible is sometimes prioritized. Many people have been nice about helping with rides, and trying to hold things in decent locations. The “professionals” you speak of are more likely to live in 3rd ring suburbs and not grasp the needs of poor, elderly or disabled Pagans. They can have their ex-urban covens.

      • “Cyber solo Paganism is not necessarily the future and frankly I believe if it becomes the future, Paganism is never going to be taken seriously.”

        And that matters…why? I’m going to keep doing my spiritual and religious work, and I’m definitely not going to care what people think is ‘silly’ or what will or won’t be the ‘future’. I’d think it’d be more helpful to just focus on our works where they connect and support each other…

      • “Paganism is never going to be taken seriously.”

        And? Who cares if we are taken seriously or not?

        • Cathryn Platine

          Actually I do and you should as well. The Maetreum spent over 67 thousand dollars to defend our right to equal treatment under the law with other religious traditions and over and over the issue the Town brought up was legitimacy. Don’t want to be part of an established group? That is absolutely your right. Don’t want Pagan infrastructure? That is a different kettle of fish, it’s not your call what others do. Without groups like us, your rights will be ignored and even stomped on. That’s reality. Some of us are extremely serious about our religious practices.

          • And without a community–like us–your group would not have been able to raise those funds, yes?

            In all likelihood, many of your donors live far from your temple, and may not share your vision of temple-centered Paganism. I hope the respect you’re asking for is mutual.

          • Yes, and I was one of the many who donated to your fight. Don’t mistake flippancy for apathy, or disagreement for non-support. As Voltaire said, “I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

            I also donate to the ACLU and Lady Liberty League, as I believe that they and their legal clout are more important to our rights than having a temple or being taken seriously.

          • Lupa

            “Some of us are extremely serious about our religious practices.”

            There are many ways to be serious about one’s religious practices. Not all of these involve being part of a group.

          • Yes.

      • I’ve seen dozens of occult stores come and go over the years. Some have indeed been wonderful community hubs–they have tended to be those founded and run by those with deep roots already in local community. Tarr and Feathers, in Greenfield, MA was such a store, and was an wonderful locus of community for over a decade; The old Abyss Bookstore, in Easthampton MA, from the days when Azure Green was still a storefront, was another, and a very vital connection to community it was, too. (I first met both Andras Corban Arthen and my husband at events held at the Abyss. So you know I’m not going to underestimate the importance of Pagan-centered public spaces!)

        I’m also fond of some contemporary examples of the bookstore-as-community-center, like Awen Tree in Easthampton, today. They do not seem to have the same pull that stores once did, now that we are in an era of Internet shopping and networking, but they’re still there, and they’re still important.

        I’ve seen other occult stores founder, however, and do a dreadful job trying to become self-appointed leaders of Pagan community. Typically, these have been problems when someone without deep roots in an existing community attempts to secure a leadership position by owning and running a bricks-and-mortar concern before they do the basic work of being part of the community they believe they ought to be leading.

        I stand by my statement, that it is important not to confuse the “church”–the community that gathers–with the building it meets in. I have no beef at all with Pagans creating infrastructure for our communities. But I remain convinced that property alone will not create meaningful community, and that having a name on a deed or article of incorporation does not a leader make.

        • thelettuceman

          “I stand by my statement, that, as the old-time Yankees used to put it, it is important not to confuse the “church”–the community that gathers–with the building it meets in. I have no beef at all with Pagans creating infrastructure for our communities. But I remain convinced that property alone will not create meaningful community, and that having a name on a deed or article of incorporation does not a leader make.”

          This works for only some religious identities, though. Others have more strict requirements of what constitutes a sacred space and religious center. If the essence of the Gods aren’t there, there’s no point to it, for some of us. Certain identities NEED to have the dilineation of the sacred and profane (mundane), the boundaries between which can’t be violated.

          I’m just pointing out differences in approaches. I agree that a space doesn’t necessarily create a community, and I am not of the mind that if you build it they will come.

          • That’s the heart of what I’m driving at. I’m not denying the existence of valid paths that require sacred space to be set aside; I’m trying to stress that space without a community is… not enough. 🙂

    • In spite of the huge diversity within Hinduism, I think it also helps that they have an unbroken tradition with a strong sense of identity, community and tradition. When you have a bunch of converts, some of whom are more into rebelling against Mommy & Daddy (whether figuratively or literally) and dabbling in various subcultures than in building something, that is not much of a foundation to start with. I do think things will stabilize more as more 2nd or 3rd generation Pagans come of age, this will all just be “normal” to them, and they would be constantly comparing what they do to the rest of society, they’ll just do it. I also think prioritizing *moving* to be closer together, to the same town or even neighborhood would be helpful, having more control over one’s livelihood would certainly help with that. Even if people are earning good money, having many people who must constantly move to maintain their career is not conducive to community building.

      • MadGastronomer

        Yes, that also. Very much a piece of and/or related to what I was trying to say.

        I think, though, that moving to be closer together is not going to be very feasible for a lot of professionals, as the economy and job market discourage that more and more. It’s not conducive to building community, but it’s very much a reality. Having established temples will eventually help with that, since there will be a place someone new in town can go to in order to connect with community, but it makes them much harder to get started.

      • dantes

        Indeed, we should not forget that Hinduism has an ethnic component that Paganism doesn’t (officially) have.

  • Of all the takeaways, the one that speaks to my heart most is this one, from the Hindu temple: “They took it slow, built trust with each other, and made sure they were a stable group before they built the temple.”

    In the parlance of old-time New England churches, it’s important to distinguish between the “church”–meaning, the people who come together for worship–and the “meeting house”–the building that shelters the people.

    “If you build it, they will come” works better in movies than in real life, in my experience… at least when it comes to real estate, as opposed to community, the living, beating heart that is expected to animate the real estate.

  • Macha NightMare

    Just want to mention another form of Pagan infrastructure, this one in cyberspace but still infrastructure. Cherry Hill Seminary http://cherryhillseminary.org/ provides those who seek to build these institutions with the knowledge and tools to do so effectively. CHS’ official library is the New Alexandrian Library. On the West Coast we Pagans also have Adocentyn Research Library. http://adocentyn.us/

  • Every Pagan group needs to ask itself- what is its mission, and what community is it serving? Is it a private social club, or a more public group? One thing I have seen a lot of Pagans not grasp, is that meeting in random living rooms is not necessarily accessible (both for various disabilities, and to mass transit- oh and newsflash as the population ages, this will become more of an issue. Hence why I sometimes also think a Pagan “church van” would be helpful in some settings, particularly rural/suburban ones. Sharing space with a Pagan-owned business (or more than one) would help things be sustainable- I think it would help if we thought outside the box of stereotypically Pagan business, not just New Age store/psychic et al, that would be helpful. I also feel as if we get side-tracked in these discussions because some people proclaim loudly that this or that institutional thing (clergy, temples etc) isn’t necessary or desirable in their particular tradition or religion. That is fine. We all have different needs. For myself, I don’t drive, and I got sick of the instability and disorganization of Pagan groups that come and go so that was a major reason for joining a local UU church, and I know others who join liberal churches (Quakers, UCC, et al) for similar reasons, particularly older folks who need the accessibility and stability. A lot of us have had enough of the Coven/Kindred/Grove of Urban/Surburban sprawl.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    I don’t get the impression that Hindus are all that homogenous in theology, just that there’s a stronger ethos of agree to disagree.

    • Macha NightMare

      They don’t necessarily agree on theology, but IME they sure do identify as a community. The Hindu American Foundation has grown into a strong, influential political voice with stipend-supported Congressional interns, lobbyists, and now a Hindu-American Congresswoman.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        True, I don’t see that such a shared community is in the cards at this time for pagans.

        • Macha NightMare

          Sadly, this is a big problem, IMO. I’ve worked to build some kind of Pagan solidarity for decades. What frustrates me is that different kinds of Pagan spiritual expression seem to want to differentiate themselves with such rigid boundaries that they seem unable to see our commonalities, and the strength of our positions vis-a-vis society at large when we speak as one. I don’t see where joining with others on common issues in any way compromises the uniqueness of any of these diverse religious expressions.

          • Michael Smith

            Agreed! There was a comment above that spoke of ‘homogenization.’ I certainly don’t see the New Alexandrian Library as being a tool of uniformity. Just the opposite. We have embraced the concept of the Great Library of Alexandria, where diverse and unique philosophies, technologies, theologies, ideas and ideals come in contact with each other to the benefit of all involved without needing to ‘convert’ others into the ‘one.’

          • thelettuceman

            Too many people are in their angsty organized religious rebellion phase and haven’t quite separated the fact that physical representations and places of worship does not denote an enforced orthodoxy or dogma.

          • Michael Smith

            That is certainly an challenge for some. I think the issues are broader, as this discussion shows, and for which there is no single cause nor solution. People will do as they will. I certainly will. I believe there is a place for solitude and a place for groups, a place for virtual and a place for physical. I have never seen this as an ‘either/or.’ I know which satisfies my religious, spiritual, and magickal needs.

          • thelettuceman

            No it is not an either/or, but all I can comment on is a lengthy recent history of observing some of the trends in discussion in online circles: One of which being a lingering countercultural rebellious mentality that persists within the notion of “Pagandom” which equates structure with something negative and ill-desired. We’re moving past it, as a bevy of religious identities, but it’s taking far too long.

          • kenofken

            The great many of us who value wildness in our practice and relationship with the gods see that as a feature of our Paganism, not a bug or some backwardness that the movement has to “move past.” We are not lost or stuck in teen rebellion or the 60s because we refuse to come inside and fill your pews and yoke ourselves to a “real” pastor and become Neopagan copies of suburban Presbyterians or Hindus or whatever many of you think is “the way forward”.

            The beautiful thing about modern Paganism, perhaps the only universal, is a relentless drive and internal navigation for personal authenticity in our spirituality. If that compass takes you indoors to temples and professional clergy, great. But then get on with it, do it on your own dime and leave the rest of us to take our own paths.

          • thelettuceman

            Where did I speak of wilderness as part of practice? That’s fine if that’s where one’s religious orientation is, but it’s not where everyone’s is.

            There’s a current of thought that equates structure – any structure, up to and including a more codified group identity – with dogma and orthodoxy, a very negative view of those qualities to boot. This much is seen if you parse through the very comments in other editorials on this site; cries of “Pagan Popes” and the like. That’s what I want people to move past – a knee jerk reaction that any kind of organization is inherently wrong. It is neither better, nor worse, just different.

            Your own words belie some fear about “‘real'” pastors and “becoming copies of suburban Presbyterians or Hindus”, as if that’s an inherently bad thing on its own. And I think you’re reading too defensively in to what I wrote. Not my intention of saying that it’s “the way forward”. Maybe A way forward.

            I stand against the deconstructionists who hide behind their countercultural roots that don’t want any progress made by anyone, and seek to tear down the accomplishments of others. That’s what I was referencing. Not people who don’t want to be bothered with the structures others build. That’s not my circus.

          • kenofken

            I don’t think the counterculturals and infrastructure skeptics (which I count myself) have either the real power or interests to stop anyone’s project from getting off the ground. The doomed community centers died because of the actions of the many people said they’d love such an amenity and then never consistently backed it with their own dollars. Many organizers and would be supporters to this day also grossly underestimate the costs and challenges of running such structures.

          • I don’t think you need for those who are building temples to “do it on their own dime” in order to take your own path. Give, or do not give, as you are led.

            Nothing wrong with contributing to a structure you may not make use of personally–or asking others to do so. And there’s nothing wrong with not doing so, if your priorities are different.

          • kenofken

            This points to a crucial distinction which should be kept in mind in the discussion of “infrastructure.” As a brick and mortar facility and organization, the library is focused on what might be thought of as a broadly supportive role for the Pagan movement in some specific areas of learning and cultural preservation. It’s a different sort of infrastructure, and I think one with much stronger support, than infrastructure geared at congregational worship. I think what the New Alexandrian is taking on is great.

            The question of infrastructure is not an all or nothing proposition. I am not anti-all infrastructure, but I reject the idea that we should build infrastructure for the sake of having it or so that we can show the local Abrahamic clergy councils that “we’re all grown up now”.

          • kenofken

            I think we’ve found solidarity when it was needed most around the truly big and universal issues in our various communities. My recollection of the Veteran’s headstone issue is a bit colored by by own work with it, but I think we did a damn fine job of pulling people together around that one issue long enough to get the job done.

            I think we’ve also come together to make some very needed and yet painful discussions around transgender inclusion and more recently, how to engage the cultures of sexual abuse and harassment in festivals. We’re still finding our feet on that one a bit, but I’m encouraged. I don’t think our community really has the guts to take on the race issues in this country at this time, but I dearly hope to be proven wrong. The big overaarching issues like these tend to lend themselves to big consensus or coalition building. The other sort of solidarity building – trying to herd Pagans under the umbrella or local or regional “grand councils” has an almost flawless track record of failure

          • The thing is, simply identifying as “pagan”, even if only situationally, doesn’t say anything about one’s religion in the same way that identifying as Hindu does. There is absolutely a wealth of diversity under the Hindu umbrella, but there are still shared traits (pantheon, texts, culture) that make Hindus recognisable to eachother and to outsiders. No such thing really exists for pagans, and while solidarity is certainly a noble goal for sociosocio – political purposes, it’s hard to build that when the only discernable “common ground” between, say, reconstructionists And Neopagans (pantheons With roots in European and Mediterranean ppre-Christian religions) is seen by the former as an appropriation by the latter, and that’s only barely common ground, as there are many Neopagans who do not worship ancient deities.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            What you say has merit, but I would not expect a cross-sectional sample of the Pagan ueber-community to build a temple for themselves. More likely a band of Wiccanates or Heathens doing their own thing.

          • That’s great, but when She of Most Childish Crayftnayme I’ve Ever Seen is talking about the “decades” she’s spent attempting to “build solidarity”, and lamenting the fact that people of different traditions want to maintain their own identities rather than succumbing to a homogenising term that says no practical thing about what supposedly makes all these different religions “pagan”, I can see that some people, including those who would otherwise be assumed experienced enough to understand this, need this basic fact spelled out for them.

            A pagan identity can be useful, in certain situations, but when the goal is building temples or other long-term physical resources, it’s very limited in how useful it can be. The New Alexandrian Library is an exception, not a rule. A group of ten Kemetic traditionalists will be more successful in building a temple of their own (even if they may occasionally rent or lend space to Wiccanate Kemetics), than a group of forty “pagans” consisting of at least a dozen different religions will be at building a “multi-trad pagan temple”.

            “Pagan solidarity” is, at its best, only a situationally useful tactic in building community. It works for resources like libraries and conventions. It doesn’t at all work for the subject at hand.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Since I haven’t spent decades seeking Pagan solidarity I think you should be addressing Macha. (I have spent decades expressing Pagan themes as UU liturgy, but that’s my thing.)

          • Since I replied to her statement, in the first place, I fail to see the point in telling me to address her And not yourself.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Just as I fail to see the point in the comment you addressed to me.I challenged the basic premise of your earlier comment. I’d actually like to see your reply to that.

          • Your challenge is irrelevant. I explained to you why.

            Your intent to derail is noted.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Really? Derail? You can’t formulate a cogent reply so I’m derailing…

    • kenofken

      There are also factors unrelated to theology or religion. Temples/churches etc. often serve a crucial social and networking function among immigrant communities.

  • Michael Smith

    I posted a reply to a person on the Wild Hunt’s Facebook Page who said:

    “I think a problem with building a structure for pagan worship is that there is a danger to losing contact with the earth itself. Once you put brick and mortar between you and the sacred space, you can easily forget what sacred is.”

    To which I responded:

    “I believe there is room for both. For example, one of the ASW ‘covensteads,’ Seelie Court, where the NAL is built, has three private homes on it as well. All three are used for coven and other events, rituals, workshop, guest presenters, etc. Two have large Great Rooms which have been used for innumerable rituals and events.

    And in addition, there are the Great Circle, a 120′ diameter outdoor ritual space in the woods, the Hecate Labyrinth, and several permanent coven Circles. All of are beautiful outdoor spaces which have also been use for innumerable rituals and events.

    The New Alexandrian Library is an indoor space, certainly, with plans for outdoor ritual and meditation spaces, knowing that both indoor and outdoor spaces, working in concert, can make for successful connections to the Sacred.”

  • Helen/Hawk

    As part of the (Reclaiming) NorthBay Ritual Planning Cell, we present public Wheel of the Year rituals. Which don’t fit in the “living room” model. So, we end up renting space at the tune of $50 – $400 (depending on whether it’s in the park or indoors). Depending on the ritual, 50-250 people attend. I’m writing because it’s a community need that is between the living room & the temple. And those rents certainly add up over time!

    • And a lot of mainstream religious groups that ultimately build temples rent space over a course of decades. Some never seek to own property.

      There are compromises built into that model, of course–some downsides, including visibility, accommodations for the very old, the very young, and the disabled, as well as community-building functions that are less easy without a permanent shared space. But it can be done successfully, and it’s probably better than to make too many compromises to the religious practice in order to obtain a physical space. (I’m thinking here of the sad fact that there are vital Quaker meetings that meet longterm in rented spaces, and dying ones that are stuck tending for a meeting house that doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of a local community.)

  • MadGastronomer

    A thing I just noticed: Real estate is far, far, far more expensive today relative to the buying power of money for other things than it was in 1979. And loans a helluva lot harder to get.

    • thelettuceman

      I guess it depends on where you can get it. Land is cheap in some areas, still – property taxes once structures exist on it are a bitch. I know I have an older relation that’s looking for land in the Poconos, and he claims what he’s looking at is not ridiculous, especially with the increased interest in that area as weekend retreats for NYC residents.

      But then again, there’s the balance between accessibility and cost.

      • MadGastronomer

        Most of the areas where land is still cheap are areas that aren’t going to have large pagan communities, though. Most of them are where there aren’t large communities of people at all. Pagans, like any marginalized group, tend to be found in higher concentrations in more liberal places simply because we’re less likely to be discriminated against. Most of those places are more densely inhabited and much more expensive to buy property in.

        The only up side to this is that very small communities of pagans in rural places where land is cheap will find it easier to buy land with a smaller group of contributors, whatever other problems they might have.

        • And sometimes that is in itself a problem for rural Pagan groups, who can be tempted into purchasing property without a large enough and committed enough local community to sustain a temple or organization in that area. I have most definitely watched a few dramatic train wrecks of that sort over the past decade…

          • MadGastronomer

            Or buying a place and setting up a temple can bring them to the attention of locals who aren’t anti-pagan and start a harassment campaign. Like the place where a church built a lighthouse across the street to shine lights in their windows at all hours.

          • dantes

            Do you have source for this story? I am curious…

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            It happened to Maetreum of Cybelle in New York and to the Church of the Spiral Oak in Florida. Tax policy and zoning, respectively.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I think MG means this story Jason published in June: http://wildhunt.org/2014/06/whats-happening-in-beebe-arkansas.html

          • MadGastronomer

            I’m running on not nearly enough sleep, so I’m afraid you’ll have to go track it down yourself, but the story I’m referring to is one I read here on TWH a while back, I think two or three times now. Couple moved into town, bought a house and property to use for a church, checked ahead of time with the city to make sure it was zoned for it, then after they’d closed the deal and moved and the city found out it was a pagan church, the city freaked out and started throwing up barriers and all kinds of harassment began, including the lights in the windows.

          • MadGastronomer

            Seeker’s Church or Seeker’s Temple or something like that.

          • dantes

            thanks.

      • Well, in the context of land and buildings for temples and such the taxes should (in theory) not be a problem, assuming the group has crossed all its t’s and dotted all its i’s in getting tax exempt status as a religious organization.

        • MadGastronomer

          And assuming the local government actually grants them their tax exemption and doesn’t make them go to court for years on end to get it.

          • Absolutely, which is why I think the Maetreum of Cybele is such a great trailblazer on that side of things. Not great that they needed to jump through all those hoops, but great in the sense that they proved it can be done, even in the face of… resistant… local officials.

          • MadGastronomer

            I’m so impressed with them. Not everybody has the fortitude to stick it out through all of that.

  • Lena Haber

    The organizational examples given both start with a strong, recognized need. I don’t see Pagans needing community centers. Many Pagan shops serve as gathering centers, and meeting in each other’s homes and renting beautiful, outdoor spaces for festivals, fairs, and workshops works very well. Paganism has grown fantastically without any large, centralized community-type buildings and the need for them, in my opinion, simply has not been shown.

    • Deborah Bender

      I think that would depend on what kind of group worship (if any) the cult or religion engages in. A tradition of witchcraft that likes to do large skyclad outdoor rituals is going to be very limited in suitable places to meet, particularly if the rituals are to be accessible to people dependent on public transportation. Good luck doing a Midsummer bonfire in California on rented property; the fire danger is too great if the place isn’t set up for it. A group that does a lot of devotional or energy work with cult statues really needs a temple, because it’s a lot of trouble to haul multiple statues around and risks the cult objects being broken or stolen. If your rituals demand precise and lengthy purifications of the space before worship, that’s a lot easier to do if you have control over who and what enters that space. If your rituals are noisy, you want to be somewhere that the neighbors don’t mind and the cops won’t be called. What if you are a Greek or Roman reconstructionist and want to sacrifice animals?

      • Oh, well said! Spoken like a woman who has done her share of planning. 🙂

      • Franklin_Evans

        “Organizing medium to large sized public or semipublic Pagan rituals has a lot in common with producing live community theater.”

        Having done both, I can vouch for the perfect accuracy of that comparison. 😀

  • In the words of O Sensei, “Heaven is where you are, and that is the place to train.” Having temples and whatnot is fine, as long as folks are willing to put in the time, money, and effort. How many are willing to put money where their mouth is, when even so many metaphysical bookshops can’t make it? How many closings have we heard about in the past five years – dozens? hundreds, possibly? Additionally, far too many pagans I know can’t manage their own finances or lives, why would I trust them with handling the finances of an organization? Yes, I am a curmudgeon and I am ok with that. I am also a solitary by choice and second generation Pagan.

    • Hence the need to build a healthy community before you try to house it! It’s a whole lot easier to sustain such a project if you have a large and vibrant enough community to have, for instance, a few accountants in the group, willing to take on keeping the books–as well as enough longstanding knowledge of one another to know who to trust with them.

      For very practical reasons, this is one cart not to put before the horse. (And, of course, for other, less concrete reasons, not every religious community needs to be a carthorse, either. Which is just fine.)

  • Franklin_Evans

    The following is intended solely as my personal perspective, and not meant as argument or contradiction to the views expressed here so far.

    Mostly, it’s about context. Our cultural context has long been and mostly remains afloat on a sea of Christian terminology, mindset and assumptions. Like it or not — I don’t, mostly — this context shapes our communities to a larger or lesser extent.

    As a participant in a failed attempt to create a physical anchor for a self-genericized Pagan constituency — Delaware Valley Pagan Network, now mostly just a Facebook group — my hindsight perspective is that we faced (and face) a sort of catch-22. If the group is not already established around some sort of explicit anchor, it will tend to not support, if not actively fight, the creation of one. Looking back, the most frequent feedback we got was (paraphrasing) “Why should we give you money to create something that already exists?”

    Well, our intention was that it doesn’t exist for Pagans per se, and as a minority religious groups being dependent on others simply is not a long-term good idea. I still believe that to be an important point, but that response is also valid.

    I want to personally support Lupa’s point. Variety in methods of contact is only relevant if they serve or evolve to become an obstacle to sustainability. I have a general negative attitude towards online “community” simply because it obviates physical proximity and contact. I don’t accept that trade, but I do acknowledge the occasional successful creation of community from an online anchor. I’ve personally participated in two of them, and remain active in one.

  • DverWinter

    Great article, I really appreciate the breakdown of how these goals were achieved. Very important information for all of us to consider. I think polytheists in particular might face even greater challenges in building new temples, especially if we approach them the way they were used in the past, which I’ve written about more here: https://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/the-problem-of-temples/

  • Great article! I think this is needed to make folk see just what IS needed to have a successful permanent structure/property.

  • Guest

    Honestly any sort of place like that would have to sell wares. Around here pagan stores are called religious supply stores, maybe try affiliating with one of those places.

    Some mosques around here also sell stuff, like I bought African black soap from a mosqueyard sale before.