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.
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,
For what seemed like weeks and months, I pulled myself through an agonizing world that had no spirituality; I couldn't feel anything. I felt that my past errors as well as my own negative thinking about things, had put me in disfavor with the Gods that might take great feats to repair, something that I was terrified I wouldn't be able to do satisfactorily. I suppose we all have the fear of failure, an anxiety that haunts the back of every human mind. But some might say that mine flooded my head completely. I was so scared that I was incredibly far gone. The ancient Greeks call it miasma, and I'd say I was certainly covered in it.
Many times did I beg the Gods in prayer to pardon me of my past and shortcomings, but the pain and dread continued. Then there came the early morning hours of that fateful day, quite possibly around 3 am, I am unsure, but some time in the opening times of the day after midnight. During the previous day, I had fasted until sundown as a sacrifice to the Gods. According to some, fasting itself lifts you out of the physical ailments and into the spiritual world. I was able to narrow the sleeping time frame down using when I went to bed and awoke. In my dream, there was a horrific monster in the form of a shabby and dirty woman chasing after me. Demonic? My own inner anguish manifesting? Both? I don't know, but it was certainly one of the most terrifying dreams of my life.
I fled from her as fast as I could, but she never went away. Then, very suddenly, a group of people, male and female, dressed in normal clothing, came to my aid. The next thing I knew, I was standing on a bridge, looking down into a vast stream, and in that stream my friends stood with the evil woman lying on her back. I said, "Just grab a limb and pull." They ripped the woman apart, and as her skeletal remains washed down stream, I said, "Into the depths of Tartaros, I send you back!"
The dream ended by the top of her pelvic bone being placed in my hand. As the day went on after the dream, or some might say a nightmare, I felt as if I had recovered from a sickness. I just knew that the Gods had come and wiped everything away, all the things of my past and put it behind them and myself. As if, Never think of it again, begin a new day. Now was the time I could restart. I no longer felt an ounce of negativity, fear, guilt, or a separation from the Gods. My spirituality had been restored. But I couldn't figure out the meaning of the pelvic bone, so I consulted the best oracle I knew to help me interpret the dream, my wife. It turns out that it's a symbol of personal power, and that when it was placed in my hand, the Gods gave me back control over my life. What's more, the bone actually came from the monster. I had been given triumph over it completely.
I decided to tell this story for two main reasons. Firstly, to dispel the myths and individuals who want to portray the Gods as cruel, uncaring, and having little interest in the prosperity of humans. They are absolutely fascinated by us and want to see us at our best. The Gods knew how badly I was hurting and they didn't want to see me go through it anymore. Second, the Gods wiping away my past shows their immense love for humans because, one, they cared enough about my turmoil to free me from it, and second, even as they were wiping it all away, they knew future mistakes made by me would likely follow, because no human is perfect. Yet, they still chose to be with me now and in the times to come. They didn't see me as a problem but as a potential.
You're never in too deep, that's the lesson I would tell others about my experience. Additionally, the Gods are always there, they always adore you, and they always want to help you. You may lose connection because you turn away, but you'll never lose it because they turn away.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
Top Egyptologists now agree that there is no evidence that the Jewish or Hebrew people were enslaved by Egypt. They did not build the pyramids; paid workers did, and the construction of highly religious state monuments would not have been given over to slaves. It would have been assigned to people heavily steeped in the state religious order, not slaves who were outsiders. The people who built the pyramids were, one, Egyptians not Jews, and two, were not slaves. Of course, the Jewish people may have indeed had contact with Egypt. If you read the Old Testament, the adoption of ancient Egyptian religious ideas cannot be denied, but the Jews were likely a warring power that was eventually ousted from the Egyptian kingdom, and if there were some captive Jews in Egypt, they were likely not mainstream slaves or servants. However, despite these facts, modern Jewish and Christian leaders continue to propagate the story of Exodus not as myth or belief, but as historical fact. But to be fair, some modern Jews have acknowledged that Exodus is in the realm of myth. It simply isn't factual history, not only because there's no evidence for it, but because we have evidence directly to the contrary. The alleged travel doesn't even make sense. You can use Google maps to see that it takes about a week to walk from Egypt to Israel. Why did it take Moses and the Hebrews 40 years? There's a reason that Moses and the story of Exodus haven't made it into a single reputable history book to this day, because they are baseless.
Moving onto Rome is a far stickier subject, but nevertheless, something the Christian church has exaggerated. The evidence for Jesus is smoke-screened enough for me to question if he even existed, but let's just say he did and he was simply a religious leader. Chances are, he wasn't punished for his religious beliefs. He was probably executed because he attempted to overthrow the Roman government. Rome was ripe with new religious cults popping up literally by the day. Rome did not mind accepting new Gods into its Empire. The idea of a new or non-Roman God was not, in itself, automatically rejected. In fact, when Rome conquered an area, one of their acts would be to invite the God of those people into the Roman State. While some may have been at odds with one another sometimes violently, even the Jews eventually excommunicated the Christians from their community in 90 CE. But the 313 Edict of Milan gave everyone freedom of religion, including Christians. However, the problem was that the Christians did not want religious freedom. They wanted religious dominance, and refused to allow Jesus to be worshiped alongside other Gods.
But the Christians had a problem. They weren't having much luck converting the general population, so instead, they appealed to leaders in government, who came to admire Christianity because of its ability to control massive amounts of people. Once governments had been Christianized, the forced conversions began, one of the most famous being under the rule of Theodosius I who outlawed the old Pagan and Polytheistic religion, closed down temples, and killed adherents who refused to convert. The Vatican itself likely sits on top of the Temple of Mithras that was there before, and what temples they didn't destroy, they reserved for the purpose of converting them into churches. The only non-Christian religion that remained legal in Rome was Judaism, likely because it was the predecessor. It must be made clear, on the basis of hard historical fact, that the ancient religion left through the immense force of government, not the people. If the early Christians just wanted to be free to practice their religion and nothing else, and most people willingly converted as they would want the world to believe, then why did they feel so threatened that they had to eradicate any religion that competed? Obviously, this would have led to conflict between Christians and the people they tried to impose upon, and would undoubtedly create "persecution" of Christians and their attempt at a religious dictatorship in Europe.
One of the greatest heroes of early Christianity, Paul, was also known for having his hands soaked in the taint of persecution himself when he spent two years in Ephesus warring against the Temple of Artemis and massively burning ancient Greek and even Jewish texts. He eventually fled to Macedonia after the local population rose up against him because of his criminal activity. The Christians couldn't remain safe in many places due, in large part, to their refusal to respect the rights, freedoms and properties of other human beings who didn't agree with them. Their establishments would go on in their early history to continue the persecution of non-Christians and Pagans, one of the most tragic being the brutal murder of the renowned Hypatia of Alexandria at the hands of a Christian mob assembled by the local Bishop. The more and more the Christians gained control, the more violent things became against non-Christians.
One of the biggest claims of persecution from early Christians was that they were punished for refusing to give tribute to the State religion of Pagan Rome. This is a dishonest statement. Everyone at that time was required to pay proper homage to the State, not just Christians. It wasn't as if it said that only Christians had to do it. It was law, and no matter what your religion was, you were not above the law. I agree there should have been more religious freedom than that, but there wasn't an organized effort to only pick on Christians. Anyone who didn't obey the law was reprimanded. It would be like me refusing to pay my taxes and then claiming that the State came after me because I'm Pagan. When in reality, it's because I didn't obey the law, and it wasn't like the Christians ushered in a Utopian time of freedom when they took over. They persecuted far worse anyone and anything that didn't accept their religion or its laws and church. Only in recent history in places like Rome and Greece have followers of the old religion been able to safely be open about their beliefs without being persecuted by the Orthodox powers, and to this day, some individual Christians still carry out violent attacks on Pagan and non-Christian gatherings and properties in various places around the globe.
As an historian, it would also be false for me to sit here and write that there were never any early Christians who were persecuted simply because of their religion. Of course there were. There have always been people who faced oppression for their beliefs, even Pagans at the hands of their own States. Everyone should have the inalienable human right to believe and live the way they want. But the idea that the Christians were the holy peacemakers of the world who never hurt anyone, and the Pagans were the evil monsters who wanted to kill them all and subjugate mankind to barbarism, belongs in a Christian fiction novel, not in a history book or on the podium of any legitimate speaker.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
* LaBorde, Sharon, Following The Sun: A Practical Guide To Egyptian Religion, 2010. Print.
* Ellerbe, Helen, The Dark Side of Christian History, Morning Star Books, 1995. Print.
* Jones, Prudence, Pennick, Nigel, A History of Pagan Europe, Routledge, New York, New York, 1995. Print.
* Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985. Print.
* Spivey, Nigel, The Classical World: The Foundations of the West and the Enduring Legacy of Antiquity, Pegasus Books, New York, New York, 2016. Print.
When you have accomplished the work, you will feel amazingly good about yourself. You might even come to discover wonderful natural places that you never knew existed around you. It may also even give you a great sense of pride and belonging in your community. I know when you're laboring, it gets frustrating to think of the fact that you wouldn't have to be out there if people weren't so stupid, and that you will probably have to go out there again in the future because of them. But pray for those people, and be a good example and role model for them. The world is full of followers, not leaders. We need more of the latter.
(Light The Incense)
Destruction of the Minotaur
"Sailing the beautiful Aegean, Theseus on the sea, mighty Sailor, He bravely traveled to the island of Minos to free the people of Athens from the tyranny of the Minotaur and the oppression of the Minoan monarch. He confronted the half-man, half-bull monster in the endless labyrinth, and struck the beast dead to the floor of the maze. Never again would Athens yield and submit, for Minos now knew the power of Athena's people. Theseus who brings us salvation from tyranny and oppression, I welcome you as Liberator, and for this greatness, a great libation should be poured to you."
(Pour the Libation)
Unification of Attica and the Founding of Panathenaia
"To the region of Attica, scattered and divided, Theseus brought the Union, both of land and people, into the great State of Athens. He founded its historic democracy which has since inspired the free world, He created its brilliant festival of Athena's people known as Panathenaia, and He pushed Athens to the heights of its most glorious and influential times. I welcome you, Theseus, as the great Unity, the Founder of free government, and the Father of our festivals, and in that honor, I give you a beautiful fabric of my home, robes given for a King, to see you with delight and wrap your statue/image in beauty."
(Wrap the Cloth Around)
4) Grand Invocation
"O' Theseus of Troezen, Hero and King of Athens, slayer of the Minotaur, lead me to victory over the monsters in my life, free me of tyranny, and bring me to liberation, through the goodness of the Gods, and the grace of Athena's blessed City."
5) Closing Prayer
"As I bring my holy and sacred rite to a close, I give thanks to Theseus for hearing my prayers, delighting in my gifts, and blessing my home and life with the goodness and freedom that He brings. As Athens declared, Nothing Without Theseus."
(Blow Kiss of Love To The King)
Final Note- Consider finishing the rite or the day with a feast in honor of Theseus.
Also know that I wrote a book on Theseus some time ago. Consider purchasing a copy if you would like to learn more about Him by clicking on this Link.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
There is as well something called a tree clearing, a place in a thick forest that has no trees, where trees are noticeably absent. You can see trees around you, but there is perhaps a 15 to 20 foot radius where there are none. These will normally be marked by lush grass, flowers or other natural growths, and are great sanctuaries for Pagan activity. These areas are naturally formed, not man-made, which is an important factor. There are some places in the forest where the trees just didn't grow or grow as much, and this is a proper clearing for the Pagan. An immediate or recent man-made clearing is not natural, and therefore not Pagan. It could even harbor negative energy or angry Spirits. A man-made clearing will usually be identifiable by the presence of freshly cut wood, downed trees, and no vegetation. The ground will usually be covered in mud or straw. While the forest and plants can and will return over time, it's not an immediate place to revere or enter.
Don't forget that you can use the locations of the structures, and the structures themselves, to focus on Deity. You have the examples above in the 2nd and 5th paragraphs, but there can also be a number of other things to consider. For example, if next to a well, spring, river or ocean, invoke Poseidon, Aphrodite, Amphitrite, and/or the number of fresh and saltwater Spirits and Nymphs, such as the Nereids (saltwater) or the Naiads (freshwater). If near a place of forge, workmen or craftsmen, honor Hephaistos or the Creation Forces known as the Kabeiroi. If on or near a place where battles took place, Ares or the Spirit of courage Alke. If certain animals inhabit the area, like female cows who have not yet given birth, focus on Hera. There are a number of identifications all around a given place if you look.