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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.