Saturday, June 5, 2021

How To Build Your Own Pagan/Polytheistic Community

For 10 years, I have successfully owned and operated my own ancient Greek temple as its Head Priest, eventually building a physical temple location and sanctuary in Machesney Park, Illinois. I have called my temple simply "Temple Of The Greek Gods." Over the years, people have asked me for advice on how to build their own temple or Pagan community in their area. These inquiries have compelled me to write this entry. I can tell you from experience that it takes strength, knowledge, and wisdom to run a longstanding or lifelong community. You have to truly want it. If you do, then let's begin.

Who Are You?

The first question is, who are you? You may think it's an easy question, but you'd be surprised how many people struggle with their identities. What is your religion? Are you positively sure that's what you are and you're not going to change it? Are you certain this is your lifelong path, your true identity? You'll need to make that ultimate conclusion. If you have any doubts whatsoever, consider waiting until you are positive. Exploration is fine, and you will only benefit from it.

Secondly, what kind of religious or spiritual community do you want to establish? Obviously, I speak from an ancient Greek viewpoint, so mine would be a temple. However, I feel that any Pagan or Polytheist can use this information to their advantage. So what do you want to build? A Temple? A Coven? A Grove? A Church? Exactly what is it?

And lastly, what kind will it be? Even Polytheists and Pagans have denominations and paths. A Hellenic temple can be either Reconstructionist or Neo-Pagan, or like mine, a place for anyone who wants to worship the Greek Gods (although the temple rites and beliefs themselves are traditional and Reconstructionist). Not only do you need to know your religion and the kind of organization you want to build, but also where the area of focus is going to be within said community.

Write The Laws

ByLaws are necessary for any legitimate organization. Not only are they going to make your operations run smoother, but most states require ByLaws in order for them to recognize the organization. Think of it as your organization's constitution. Take your time, sit down, and write out everything you want the organization to uphold and follow. Create the clergy office, ranks, membership, and codes of conduct for all actions that the organization will or could take. For an example, see my own temple's ByLaws by clicking here.

Create A Physical Establishment

There are 2 main steps to creating a physical establishment. The first is to make a physical building or gathering place. It doesn't matter how small it is, or even if it's just a place in nature that you all go to from time to time. You have to start somewhere, and from that point, you will continue to get new ideas and find new opportunities for material growth. When I first started my temple, we didn't even have a place to gather. It was just a cheaply and often badly made wordpress website in High Point, North Carolina. From there, as I moved from place to place with my family, we rented and bought places that had extra rooms and grounds that could be used for temple purposes. 

The second is to be active as clergy. As a Priest or Priestess, not only do you run your organization, you are spiritual support for your members and friends. Besides operating the organization and leading its rites, decide what services you will perform for people. Examples: Rites of Passage, Marriages, Funerals, Blessings, Counseling, Prayer Requests, Public Speaking. If you are always there for your people, they will grow to trust and respect you. They may even come to love you. However, always be humble toward others. I have also seen this as a problem in some Pagan circles. People with high positions or experience, can get cocky and obnoxious. Be humble, compassionate and have an open ear to others. Have your own beliefs, but never ever think you know everything. People will be completely turned off by you.

Consider Incorporation

A number of religious organizations file Articles of Incorporation with their states. Each State has its own requirements, but it basically puts you on file with the State. The government recognizes you as a real entity, recognizes you as its clergy, and is a pathway to 501C3 status. Incorporation is not required at all, but it could be beneficial.

Keep Leadership Closed

I feel this is one of the most important qualities of a Pagan organization today, and that is what I call closed leadership. Over the years, I've seen too many Pagan groups that have been ripe with power grabs, and in the end, some of the organizations were just decimated. Let it never be open to interpretation, debate or vote that you are the one and only owner and head leader of the temple. If people don't like it, let them leave. Do not tolerate anyone who tries to seize power or authority in any way. Kick them out. If and when you do decide to appoint lower level officers to help you in the functions and duties of your organization, take time to know them. Only ordain and allow people into control who you have no reason whatsoever to distrust. I have operated my temple for 10 years. To this day, I still only have 1 lower officer who I have ordained. He works as the 1st Priest of my Cabinet. As Solon would have said, don't be hasty to make friends.

Keep All Forms of Drama Out

Whether it be clergy, members or friends of your organization, don't allow drama to enter it in any way. For instance, if I see someone on my temple's Facebook page insulting, disrespecting, or even laughing at a post in a way that is obviously meant to cause offense, I ban them without question. Not only will keeping drama out of your organization make it stronger and more credible, it will create a far safer and welcoming environment for people who are sincere. You also want your organization to be taken seriously, which will not happen if someone sees bickering and fighting.

Don't Be Political

The United States and the world have an array of political ideologies, and neither one fully agrees with the other, sometimes even violently or abusively. You yourself, or anyone in your organization, can be political on their own and in their own name, but do not bring it into your organization. I myself can be quite political privately sometimes, but I have never posted any of it on my temple's Facebook page or made it a part of my temple speeches or rites. As an example of what is political, think of it this way. Talking about LGBTQ rights is perfectly fine. Talking about how dumb a politician is, is political. As a Priest or Priestess, you want to be a humanist. You don't want to make anyone feel excluded or in danger when they come through your doors. Do not talk political, nor make a political belief part of a membership or clergy requirement. The only exception would be people who espouse hate. Always kick hate out without question, even if they do it on their own time. Someone who is a member of a hate group for instance, should have no place in your organization.

Open a Serious Website and Publish Serious Writings

There is nothing quite like a professionally made website for an organization. It will help people find and learn about you. You also do not have to spend a lot of money on it, you simply have to make it look professional and organized. My temple's site is operated through blogspot, and costs a whole $12 a year to keep active. Keep things updated on it, and post seasonal newsletters. My personal website and blog is also hosted by blogspot, which brings me to the next point. One does not have to have a separate website for this. That's just the way it happened to work out for me. But write and publish serious writings on your religion, your religion's history, and even your own personal experiences on a regular basis, and post them on your website. Your writings are theological and philosophical sources that will help others in your spiritual community find guidance and place. Whatever kind of site you open, for the love of the Gods, make sure you purchase your own domain. I hate it when I see places still attached to things like "freewebs" or "blogspot." If you're not serious enough to spend $12 a year on a domain, what does it show to others?

Hold At least 3 Public Events a Year

My temple holds at least 3 public events a year. That's the advice I would give to others as well. It doesn't matter what kind they are, but hold enough throughout the year that you are regularly active. If you go too long without doing anything, people will think you have closed or aren't serious.

Do Not Rely On Generosity

Truth be known, if I had waited for others to help me fund and build my temple, I would still be waiting. My entire temple and sanctuary and everything in them were paid for and built entirely by me. No matter how many products and services I have offered, there has never been anywhere near enough money to create anything that I have now. Unfortunately, you can only rely on your own labors to build the things you want. It's perfectly fine to be open to donations, but don't let that be any source of income for your organization, unless you manage to turn it into a multi-million membership. 

Never Become Discouraged

The most important factor in keeping a minority organization above water is to never become discouraged by anything. You will have times when you feel like the project is going slow, you might even be bored at times. But keep focused on the larger picture, and that is the life and purpose of your organization. Even if you have a low membership, use your sources to reach out to interested people and teach about your religion and philosophy. That's why you're there, not to be the most famous. When I started my temple's Facebook page, I had to work for years before it reached the thousands of supporters it has now. My page has over 3,000 likes, which for a religion as small as mine, is outstanding. I even beat some of the local Universalist churches.

In the Goodness of the Gods,

Happy Building,

Chris Aldridge.