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,
However, the point of this post is an even greater falsehood that is often pushed, that which says that most Pagans and Polytheists willingly accepted Christianity. We have known for years that this is a lie, but we have recently discovered even more evidence to keep proving that it's a lie. What's interesting, however, is that the false history doesn't directly pander to Christianity. Rather, it tries to set up a false narrative about ancient Greek religion and faith that ends up being completely debunked by the stones in the dirt.
In the book, page 12 interestingly, the author talks about the fact that modern historians tend to fancy the idea that the ancient Greeks began to lose faith in the Greek Gods around the 4th Century BCE and onward. However, the large scale on which they continued to build their temples during this alleged time frame, tells a far different story. Some were, of course, smaller and bigger than others, and had a range of functions, but they always retained a religious significance among all else. In other words, people who are "losing faith in their Gods," don't continue to build temples to them. Archaeology and the hard evidence left behind continues to shatter these abundant falsehoods around the ancient Greeks, which has always been an attempt by modern society to delegitimize the ancient religions. The modern world, which by and large does not accept the Greek Gods as a real, legitimate religion, cannot possibly acknowledge the brilliance of the people in their culture. They don't want serious thought given to Polytheism, lest Monotheism lose control, and so they can't say in one breath what a genius Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle were and then admit that they believed in the Greek Gods. Therefore, they do everything they can to separate those people from their Gods, even at the expense of telling bold face lies to humanity.
The truth is clear and present. The ancient Greeks, by and large, did not willingly accept Christianity, Monotheism, or lose faith in their Gods. They were forced to give them up and accept Christianity at the hands of a government of massive state pressure, who had allowed itself to become corrupted by Christianity because of its ability to control people. The government fell in love with the very thing that destroys people and nations; greed. As a Hellenist, I think part of our duty is always to the truth, and we should never allow it to be concealed or hidden. We must always dedicate ourselves to that endless pursuit, upon which Apollon Himself sent Sokrates so long ago, that our minds remain free.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
On an ending note, when building an outside shrine, sanctuary or temple, if you can do so near a natural spring or natural water source, that would be the icing on the cake. Many temples and sanctuaries in ancient times followed the same custom, as the natural water can be used for purification of the sanctuary and the people entering it, and even as offerings to the Gods. If you've ever been to Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin and looked at the springs of Brighid, those are natural springs.
To read more details about this recent story, check out the website of my friend and fellow Hellenist, Baring The Aegis.
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,
(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.
And yes, I know some people might ask, "Can there not be one painter who paints many things?" Of course there can be, but is there just one painter in the world or many? Is there only one who paints all paintings? No, there are countless painters. So once again, all things exist in multiples.
Monotheism counts on people being too simple to research what they see at face value. Socrates was a devout Hellenic Polytheist. He declared himself to be on a mission from Apollo to enlighten the Greeks, and that he would NOT give up this mission even at the cost of his own life. That doesn't sound like someone who doesn't believe in the Greek Gods. That sounds like someone who has the utmost devotion and dedication, as well as assurance in his belief. Just because he may have rebelled against some of the social norms of his time, doesn't mean he renounced the Gods of his people and culture. For example, the American colonists completely rebelled against England, but many of them were still Christians just like the British soldiers marching against them. The Americans didn't consider themselves to be fighting against Jesus even though they routinely shot at the flag that displayed his symbol. Theology and social ideal are not necessarily dependent on each other. Needless to say, I placed a post-a-note on the cover that said, "Inaccurate Translations."
History, it is often said, is a craft of the presenter. There's a lot of talk these days about "fake news." I don't know about all that, but I do know there is certainly "fake history."