New Hellenic temple Theophania forms in nation’s capital

Heather Greene —  January 28, 2016 — 16 Comments

Washington, D.C – On Monday, it was announced that the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, a new Hellenic organization, had officially become “a legally recognized and incorporated entity within Washington, D.C.” Priestess and founder Gwendolyn Reece has been working toward this moment for over two years after receiving instructions directly from her gods. Although the structural process is not completely finished, Reece is enthusiastic and ready to begin this new adventure.

[Courtesy G. Reece]

[Courtesy G. Reece]

“I am responding to a call from these two Great Ones, this isn’t about me … I am working on setting this up so that it survives me,” wrote Reece in the public announcement. The Wild Hunt spoke with her further about the project, its origins, its purpose and its future.

While Theophania is new in its public inception, Reece has been working on “laying its foundation” for several years. She is a Witch and a Priestess devoted to Athena and Apollon. She has been facilitating rituals and workshops for many years. As one of the organizers for the popular Sacred Space conference, Reece helps maintain the presence of Athena, who is one of two deities asked to bring protection to the weekend event.

But, as she explained, it wasn’t until her trips to Greece that she was divinely inspired to birth the new temple. Reece said that her first trip was impactful, explaining, “Greece felt familiar to me. That didn’t surprise me. But it did surprise me how comfortable it felt.” However, it wasn’t until the second trip that she was given the specific direction to create a sacred space in Washington. She received this message from Apollon while simply touring the country. Those specific moments are highly personal; however, Reece did share that her mission became most clear while in Athens and Delphi. She added, “We had omens. Eagle Omens.”

When Reece returned home, she knew what Apollo and Athena were asking. “They are very concerned about our world,” she said. “They are real beings and want to have a relationship with us. They have an agenda just like we have an agenda.” And it’s this divine agenda that she is now helping to serve with the creation of Theophania.

Gwendolyn Reece [Courtesy Photo]

Gwendolyn Reece [Courtesy Photo]

Reece has spent the last two years carefully constructing a viable and lasting internal temple structure that will serve the mission placed before her. Why the name Theophania? As she wrote on the website:

Theophania was an annual festival at Delphi in which Apollon returned from His time in the hidden lands and made Himself directly known and visible to the people. A “theophany” is when a deity makes himself or herself immediately known and visible to a mortal. Apollon selected this name because He and Athena are coming back to make Themselves known directly to humanity once more. Theophania strives to serve these Great Ones by providing structures through which mortals may have direct experiences with Them as They return to us. They want to be in close relationships with us once more.

Along with completing all the necessary legal paperwork required of incorporation, Reece has also been working on the ecclesiastical structure. She said, “I am using the old Hellenic form, rather than a congregational one.”

This structure may feel unique to modern Pagan temples in that Theophania is not a membership organization. She said that the Temple is a place “to keep relationships with the gods flowing” and will be maintained by a core Priesthood. But that is it. Rituals will be open to anyone and not at all exclusive. It doesn’t matter whether attendees are Hellenic polytheists, Wiccans, Heathens or the like. The Temple will be there for anyone to experience a relationship with both Athena and Apollon.

As for the temple’s mission, Reece explained that Theophania will have three main “lines of activity.” The first is public ritual. She explained, “The temple’s ritual work will be devoted to the ‘good of the polis,’ which is why the gods wanted the Temple in the nation’s capital. A federal city.They are interested in democracy.”

The second line of activity will be oracular work. Reece said this is more complicated because Apollon will have to select which priestess or priest can actually perform this activity. It is up to the God, himself. And, as of now, Reece is the only priestess. But she said that this will change soon enough.

Finally, the third line of activity is for Theophania to “rebirth the Neoplatonic philosophical tradition within the context of contemporary Paganism.” As Reece explained briefly, Neoplatonism, a modern term to describe a mode of philosophy that was prevalent during the late Hellenistic period, was made up of various lines of thoughts all present during that era, including from Aristotelian, Pythagorean, Stoic, Egyptian, Chaldean, Buddhism and more. Neoplatonism was able “to harmonize” these very different philosophical traditions, pulling the best ideas from each one.

However, as Reece further explained, this Neoplatonic philosophy was virtually eradicated around 529 A.D. when the Athenian Academy was destroyed by Justinian I. The surviving concepts were eventually incorporated into a monotheistic framework and have lived on within that context.

One of the goals of Theophania is to return Neoplatonic philosophical concepts into a polytheistic context. As Reece wrote on the website, the results will offer “a truly Pagan approach to the quest for wisdom and Truth that blends logic, mysticism, abstract thought, and practical life applications for the individual and the polis.”

[Courtesy G. Reece]

[Courtesy G. Reece]

Reece is very optimistic about the project. When asked if the Theophania had its own physical space at this point, Reece said, “no.” She will be using rented space or her own home for rituals and workshops. However, she added that in her “hopes and dreams” Theophania will eventually have its own dedicated physical temple. Then, she laughed, adding, “I’d like one of the old Hellenic-style churches on 16th street in Washington. The street dead ends into the White House and is on the old meridian. It is a power line.”

Until that time, she and the future temple priesthood will be maintaining the sacred space elsewhere, and she will continue building the temple’s legal and fiscal backbones. On Jan 26, she submitted the IRS paperwork to earn temple’s 501(c)3 status.

When asked how people can learn more about her work, the temple’s mission or working with the gods, Reece said that Theophania’s website was a good place to follow the temple’s progress. As of now, she plans to lead the temple’s first oracular ritual in March or April. She can also be reached through the website.

More specifically, for Sacred Space attendees, Reece will be offering a workshop on Hellenic oracles, which is tied in to the creation of the new temple. The workshop blurb reads:

Hellenic Oracles: The Oracle of Delphi is, rightfully, the most famous oracle of the Ancient Greek world, but there were quite a number of other oracular cults in ancient Hellas as well. As part of her work as a priestess of Apollon, Gwendolyn is working with Him to found an oracle in the nation’s capital. As part of her preparatory work, she has conducted extensive research on Hellenic oracles. This workshop provides a summary of the historical research

Reece also offered some spiritual advice to those people interested in understanding more about how and why she is taking this journey and how they can go about doing the same. She said, “Be open to pursuing relationships with the gods. Learn how to give and to receive. Develop the ability to be a good friend. And to embrace this as a virtue.” She stressed the need to develop loving and spiritual relationships both between humans, and between humans and non-humans. She said, “Approach Them,” adding “[Apollon is] incredibly compassionate. He will talk about global issues, such as climate change, as well personal problems … They want to be heard. They want to be in relationship.”

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • This is awesome. Even though I’m not a Hellenic, I love to see this sort of infrastructure growing across the country.

  • Bravo and congratulations Gwendolyn!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    May the Gods smile on your 501(c)(3) application process. It can be a bear.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    ““I’d like one of the old Hellenic-style churches on 16th street in Washington. The street dead ends into the White House and is on the old meridian. It is a power line.” Probably not by chance, there are two major Masonic temples on 16th Street. I need to pull out a map and see what kind of line runs from there to the George Washington Masonic Temple in Alexandria, Va.

    Congratulations, Gwendolyn! This has been a lot of work!

    • Erik

      I used to live on 16th Street! Last time I was in DC the building had become the Antioch Law College, but that was a couple of decades ago. It’s an interesting area.

  • Wendilyn Emrys

    I am very happy for this, even though my own instructions from Athena are to LESSEN the artificially increased importance given to philosophical concepts by persons who may or may not have genuinely communicated the truth regarding the myths and Godds [seeing that they were neither clergy, and that some of them were executed or imprisoned for impiety], as well as those derived via Drama. That we need to verify both Philosophical and Dramatic concepts with actual physical and written evidence contemporary to the time period. Still, I am glad to see that more and more people are awakening to the ancient forms. Best of luck to them.

    • Gwendolyn Reece

      Very interesting and may not be out of alignment with what I am getting. At its height, NeoPlatonic traditions functioned as a mystery school. Philosophy, as I understand and practice it, is not about concepts. The texts are maps to experiences, philosophy is the practice of using those non-physical and abstract capacities within one’s own being, and then there are teachings about how to live in an exalted state of experience. And as far as the misunderstandings that come from myth and drama, I am completely in agreement….myths have to be understood from within the cultic context or things can get rather confused. My favorite example is the myth of Artemis and Kallisto – which if you don’t know that Artemis Kallisto is one of her oldest cultic forms in which she is the Bear Mother – you will really, really misunderstand that myth.

      • Hecate_Demetersdatter

        Gwendolyn, that is v. interesting. Because when I’ve done deep work with Columbia, often seen as the American Athena, she’s always told me that she’s the cave bear.

        • Gwendolyn Reece

          That’s very fascinating!

      • Wendilyn Emrys

        Sadly, a lot of philosophy is taught like old dead white men’s sacred pronouncements from above, as opposed to theories that can be morphed and worked within an individual’s own context. Funny you should mention Kallisto, they were speaking last weekend at a conf about Disney making new myths, and what came to my mind was that Brave was a definite riff off of the Kallisto myth, with a daughter instead of a son. Was it not said that Kallisto was so frightened of the wild animals that she hid from them? Even though she had a bear’s form. I am sure that many of these sort of myths with Artemis have the same layered patterning as those with Athena.

        It nearly always seems (except with Hephaestos — who was her companion in pre-Greek times, and father of her child, supposedly via Gaia) priestess of Athena mates with some god or another and has a fabulous child. All these priestesses are most probably just substitute forms of Athena. Medusa (a Death Goddess form of Athena) mates with Poseidon to have Pegasus (birth by decapitation ick!) who Athena then tames. Koronis with Apollo who bears Asklepios. Who in turn fathers multi-variant forms of Athena. Such as Hygenia. So many levels of hiding relationships that the Athenians could not face. All of them actually hiding the Pre-Greek form of Athena. Yes, Artemis definitely had a bear form, which the myth of Kallisto references. I remember that little girls in one of her temples — perhaps Sparta — were called ‘little bears’. She is as much of a survival of the Minoan Mistress of Animals, as Athena is a survival of their Palace, Snake, Pillar/Tree, Mountain, Death Bird, Shield, Labrys, Catform Goddess.

        I hope you can get a good building. Such as one of those old Neoclassical Mason’s temples, and that it not be a money pit. Better your new Temple than condos.

        • no-name

          “old dead white men’s sacred pronouncements from above.” You had me until the racism and sexism. And ageism.

          • Wendilyn Emrys

            Sorry, it is a bit of a joke, and I should have clarified it as such. One always hears about students asking to hear and read things that are not limited to “old dead white…” I thought by now most folks would see it partially as a bit of a stereotypical joke. I’m an old nearer to death white woman, married to an old nearer to death white male. I suppose it has always been a bit of a joke, but like all cutting jokes it has a bit of truth in it and makes a statement about a real lack of input from women and person’s of colour in certain segments of scholarship. Please excuse if I offended, but that is the nature of the internet, without visual and sound cues one’s intent can be easily mistaken. To clarify, and please question if you find anything unclear, I find the limiting of our base of reference to persons in power who may or may not have had actual experience as clergy or real involvement with the sacred, who had a definite personal and political agenda, and who cannot have spoken for a majority of experience to be a serious flaw in the system. Same goes with the Dramatists. I love them, and am an award winning woman filmmaker in secular life, but there is ALWAYS an agenda, conscious and unconscious to what we write. I would, in a closer to rational world, like for us to Rashomon it. To get as much epigraphic and archaeological evidence as possible and compare it to what the Pholosophers and Dramatists wrote. See what rings true and what does not, and then go from there. We need for our libraries everywhere to look at the old medieval manuscripts, because there have been hidden pages of supposed lost works found that way. They can use the same tech they used on burned papyri at Pompeii. Add to that the personal feel that Modern Pagans get from their experiences, which we should add into the mix, our experiences moving forward should be vibrant, fluid, and growing — but faithful to the original impulse and core knowledge as we can get.
            Again, sorry if I offended, but I was making a bit of a satirical joke. Internet sucks for that.

  • Anna H. (Anima Mundi)

    Very inspiring! Many good wishes on this.

  • Tim

    This is great news about a great event. Best of luck on your continuing Divine mission Gwendolyn. I will give you a few pointers from my experiences as a person “on a mission from God”. Never second guess the instructions and material presentations that you receive from the Gods. Ever. What may not make sense now will be clarified as events unfold. Do not be concerned about being historically accurate with temple rituals, rather let them develop using the past as a guide only. As I was told by Mother God Hathor in my ritual development “this is not old Egypt and it is not 3000 BCE any more. I will show you how to worship and honor Me in this time and place”. And She has very completely. Now, If you build a temple structure from scratch, first establish a datum/start point from where all measurements will originate from. This symbolizes on an earthly plane the Divine point of origin. Second, and this is very important, build the entrance first. Complete with any doors in place. When I built my temple to Hathor, I did not and when I finished the entry it was after most of the other parts of the temple were finished. I did not think anything of it and spent a weekend setting forms in place and pouring concrete in the entry to finish it. I felt a bit more tired than normal after the first day, and when I finished up the second day, I could hardly function. I spent the next two days almost bedridden from total exhaustion. And I don’t usually get sick, but was just wiped out by spending too much time in a high energy spot. If your temple is built as the old ones were, the entry is an extremely high energy spot and too much time spent in it will have an overexposure type effect on your body. So building the entry first eliminates this issue which can be very unpleasant. Put everything you can into your efforts and the Gods will reward you and all others involved in this project in ways you cannot even imagine. Best of luck and may you be blessed as I have been.

  • David Sherman

    This is fabulous news! I am particularly thrilled as a Solitaire who has always felt more Hellenic than anything else. The centerpiece of my Altar is a statue of Athena. I also get the chance to visit D.C about every 3 or 4 years, so I’m looking forward to seeing the actual physical structure when done. I would love to be kept in the loop.

  • Cathryn Platine

    We at the Maetreum are delighted to see another new group travel the past we have towards infrastructure, legal recognition and looking towards the future instead of just tomorrow…….