Showing posts with label worship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label worship. Show all posts

Sunday, May 5, 2019

If You Want A Temple, There's Always A Way

Pagans and Polytheists today can find themselves in a dilemma. However, it's not just our community. Millions of Americans live in apartments or other rental properties with limited space, and no yard of their own if any. In my life, I was fortunate enough to have rented a house at one time with just enough outdoor space for a physical sanctuary and an extra room in the home big enough for an official temple space. Local worshipers actually came to it and, once my religious organization was officially incorporated into the State, I became the founder of Thomasville's first Greek Polytheistic temple, but even then, I couldn't really build anything of significance that was independent of the established property itself because I didn't actually own the land. So if I had wanted to build a small Greek temple in the backyard for more official worship, I wouldn't have been allowed to do it unless I wanted to tear it down when I moved, which I would not have been comfortable doing. 

Fortunately, though, there's more than one way to get what you want out of life. There's always a way to work with what you have at present. If you live in an apartment with an extra room, the obvious course would be to convert it into a temple space. I did this myself once before when I lived in my townhouse in Greensboro, North Carolina. I actually quite enjoyed it as a temple. But one option you may not have thought of might just reside in the downstairs of your apartment building itself. Some places come with a storage unit, some of which I have seen are very nice. I've had them in the past with my own rentals, and they can be spacious, private and secure enough for a temporary temple. I'm not talking about the units you rent from a self-storage company, I am referring to the compartments that come with an apartment and are found in the lower level. I know you have stuff down there, but let's be honest, do you really need that junk? Probably not, so sell it, give it away, or trash it, and convert the space into your temple. You'll enjoy it more than you think. It may indeed be in the basement and partially underground, but in ancient times, caves and inner dwellings were thought to be sacred to the Gods and were used for religious purposes. 

You can also create a temple out of something as simple as a walk-in closet, or a closet with enough space. When I lived in my first apartment in High Point, North Carolina, we had a walk-in closet that would have been perfect. The shelves on either side could have held statues, treasures and relics of the Gods and Heroes, and the far end could have been the home of a magnificent altar. Closed off from the rest of the home by a simple locked door, it would have been a unique space all its own. With that in mind, you might ask, "Where am I going to put my clothes?" You can actually buy a portable closet organizer from somewhere like Walmart for $25. Or you can purchase dressers or an actual wardrobe cabinet. Then you'll have your temple space available.

If you live in an apartment with a balcony, no matter how small, leave the screen door open (the inside door can be shut to close off the area) and build a proper cover over your part of the platform, or you can simply set up an altar on the balcony and use it as an open air temple. The only downside with this is that you may not want to leave things of high value unattended due to the threat of thieves. Even if your balcony is high off the ground, there's still the potential threat of severe weather that could destroy things. Nevertheless, the basic structure is what matters.

Remember, a temple doesn't have to be the grand size of things like the Parthenon. We only think so because we're so used to equating them with the term. But the actual definition of a temple is simply "a place dedicated to the service or worship of Gods." I've seen people make temple spaces out of simple pantries or similar structures. A shrine could also technically fit into this definition, but a temple is significantly larger and more elaborate. A shrine can be as simple as a dresser top with the proper materials and tools, but that's not a temple. A temple allows for more expression, and is a home of the God or Gods that it represents. It is more of a housed area of holiness and even refuge. 

May the Gods give you the creativity to find your bliss in life.
Chris.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Why Do So Many Pagans Get Upset With The Word "Worship?"

Talk to some modern Pagans about their Path, and they'll say things like, "I don't worship the Gods, I work with them." It is obvious, to my mind, that their former lives as Christians or monotheists have left a really bad taste in their mouths, and so they associate even terms our Pagan ancestors identified with as being inherent of the Abrahamic traditions. They came to Paganism, in part, because they wanted to get away from the self-loathing and "groveling" that is often associated with the mainstream faiths, and get into a religion or practice where they could have a more direct relationship with Deity. This is understandable, but worship doesn't inherently mean anything Abrahamic. Worship simply means, to pay reverent (respectful) honor and homage to a God. Any time you do this, you are giving worship. So even something as simple as recognizing a God as a God, means you have given worship. Ritual, prayer, hymn, sacrifice, and art, if centered around a particular God or Gods, are all forms of worship, because you have given respectful honor and homage to them.

It's similar to people who have the same bad taste in their mouths and say they are, "Spiritual but not religious." Religion is defined as having a set of beliefs or practices concerning theology. So even if your beliefs and practices are your own entirely, you are practicing religion. It doesn't have to be inherently tied to an organized group of people, denomination, or church to be religious.

Our Pagan ancestors were most certainly religious, and they most certainly worshiped, and yet they were not Abrahamic. The ancient Greeks, for example, loved, revered, and feared their Gods, and they didn't believe they were equal to the Gods, but yet they were still the beacon of light for the intellectual, physical, and societal advancement of the Western world. They saw nothing about religion and worship that demanded they be anything less than what a human could, or that they despise said fact. They simply realized that, even with all that humans could achieve, there were still Higher Powers to be respected, admired, and thanked for making life and the Universe possible in the first place.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Monday, November 19, 2018

How To Build Private Prayer Space For All Purposes

Polytheists and Pagans like being private people. The number of solitary practitioners is one of the highest denominations, if you will, in the community. In some Pagan Paths, like Wicca, it's even drawn controversy as to whether or not it's even legitimate for a Wiccan to be without a Coven. So those of us who enjoy our alone time with the Gods and our spirituality are massive. When I built my own entirely private altar just a few days ago, I wasn't even in the market for it when I stumbled upon the marvelous items for it at a local Goodwill store, but I'm always on the lookout for new stuff I can use and design for my pursuits in life. Originally, I went to Goodwill that day because I always try to buy a little something I like each time I get paid, so I was looking for nice decorations for my home.

As you can see from the first picture on the right, I assembled a private altar very nicely, facing the direction of the rising Sun each morning. Of course, the lower wooden stand is the altar for prayer, sacrifice and even festival celebrations for a particular God when necessary. In the center is the incense burner which is the common offering at this altar, on the left a relief of Eos (Goddess of the dawn) and on the right Hemera (Goddess of the day), over shadowed by a golden, metal reef of flowers. At the very top is a central wall niche to finish. The total price for all of it was about $16. That's the reason I always tell Pagans to search for religious items at thrift stores and antique shops. You can find absolutely wonderful things that cost virtually nothing.

Now the altar is for universal purpose. In other words, prayers, worship and rituals regarding any God(s), Spirit(s) or Hero(es) I want at any given time. But there may also be times to focus on one particular Divinity, such as for a festival or personal need, and that's what the wall niche at the top is for. As you can see from the picture on the left, if time comes for this direct focus, I just place a statue, picture or symbol of the God, Spirit or Hero on there. For example, Hephaistos in this picture, and for the purpose of, let's say, celebrating His festival on October 30th called Khalkeia. In this instance, my private prayer space can transform into a temporary altar or small temple or sanctuary of Hephaistos. When the celebrations are finished, I simply take the statue back to the original place I took it from, and the altar then returns to universal purpose. One of the best things about this space besides how cheap it was to make it, is that it does not take up much room at all. It's barely one yard across, and about two yards high.  The lower wooden section also has a lower shelf that can be used for things like prayer and ritual books, solid offerings, libation bowls, and/or to house relics of Gods or Heroes. With this small and very affordable establishment I have built in my own private living space, I can do all things religious that I need to in terms of worship and ritual. 

Don't be afraid to go out and try this for yourself if you need something like I have built, or perhaps more importantly, if you think something like this would be the most practical for you at this time. There is always more than one way to be Pagan.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Ease of Constructing a Basic Greek Altar

One thing I love to teach people as a Hellenic priest and writer is how to construct places of worship and carry out rites. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching this is because it's not as hard or costly as some people might think or portray, especially if you're creating what I call "natural altars." It is not a complicated trade whatsoever. Lots of practitioners have really beautiful and elaborate shrines and altars with numerous statues and the like, but these things are not needed to carry out Hellenic worship. All you really need is a basic altar where you can pray, make offerings and sacrifices, and carry out ritual work. The fancy things are nice, and can indeed help with focus, but it's important to remember that the niceties are not what you're worshiping. The Gods, Spirits and Heroes are not statues, temples, or elaborate tapestries and pottery. To connect with the Gods simply because they are the Gods, is the greatest achievement.

As you can see in the picture above, the main altar of my own shrine is a simple stack of stones, which is a traditional structure of the Greek altar. It's a very simple design. These earthly pebbles were purchased for less than $1, but you can also find natural stones probably out in your yard or driveway. You only need to properly wash and cleanse them before making into an altar. Upon this stack of simple natural stones, once dedicated to your worship and the Gods, you can carry out any kind of religious practice that needs or involves an altar or a worship space. Incense can be burned upon it, libations poured, and general offerings placed. It's also very appropriate to recite prayers, hymns and practice worship here. 

So if you want to make a genuine Hellenic altar right now, find yourself a proper and safe surface, go get some natural stones, and cleanse and stack them there. This simple, virtually cost-free method is all you need to begin practicing Greek Polytheism. Everything else can come later in good time as you are able, should you choose. 

To dedicate and officially "open" your natural altar, you might recite a prayer along these lines and light a cone of incense as your first offering to The Dodekatheon at this structure,

Upon this sacred structure,
I request the blessings and recognition of the Gods of Olympus,
that it may now be a holy altar in their honor and glory.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris.

Friday, May 22, 2015

How Do I Begin Practicing Hellenism? Beginner's Course

In the past, I have written about practices for beginners of Hellenism, as some people who are new to the religion have absolutely no idea how to even begin the practice because of the lack of information. When it comes to a mainstream religion, information on it is extremely abundant. With a mere click of a mouse or a quick trip to the library or bookstore, one can uncover centuries of detailed information. But as for a minority religion, there is little to none, especially when you consider the religion of ancient Greece because so much of the history has been lost, misrepresented or remains hidden. So, in the post, I will lead the beginner through basic steps to begin their journey into Hellenism.

One good thing about Hellenism is that it does not require a special rite or passage, unless of course you are part of a specific organization or temple who might have their own methods of initiation. But generally speaking, there is no such thing. You merely have to decide that you want to worship the Greek Gods in accordance with Hellenism, which I assume you already have if you are reading and considering this entry.

Shrine and Altar
The first step in Hellenic worship is to establish a place for such activity. To begin this section, one should take into account the difference between a shrine and an altar. To put it simply, a shrine is a place for divine representations. In other words, statues, pictures, and sacred objects. Consider the shrine to be the house of the image or images of the Gods. The altar, usually being part of the shrine in some way, is where offerings are given and other ritual work carried out. For example, my altar exists to receive offerings for the Gods and to hold the flame of the entire shrine and altar structure itself.

A shrine can be constructed to all the Gods, or to a specific one, which is more of a Henotheistic approach to Hellenism if a singular representation of one God is all that exists in a Hellenist's worship, whereas most of us worship numerous Gods. Some Hellenists may have a specific shrine to Hestia in their home, but another shrine for general Hellenic worship. In constructing a shrine or shrines, it can be easy for a Hellenist to be carried away with the projects. Hellenists are called hard polytheists, and not without good cause, because we are extremely polytheistic people. We believe in numerous Gods, Spirits and Heroes, too many to reasonably list here. Therefore, one could find themselves wanting to built numerous shrines around their home. My wife use to joke that I turned every available space into a shrine, and it was true, I was always looking for ways to build things for the Gods. While this is perfectly fine if that's what you want to do, I found it exhausting to go from one to another, so I made one large structure to hold all of my statues and the altar beneath it, as you can see in the picture above. The central shrine compartment holds a statue of every Olympian, while the top is for Gods without a throne on Olympos, Hestia's statue being in the center of the entire structure because She is first and last in general worship.

I also have a small shrine/altar to my patron Hero, Theseus, set up as a small sanctuary to Him that you can see on the right as well, which brings me to my final point about shrines and altars. Although they are two separate structures, if one is pressed for space and has to use one surface or structure for both, that's fine, just make sure the areas are specifically designated and not crossed over with each other.

For YOUR shrine set up, assuming that you don't have the money or materials to construct something hugely elaborate yet, start with a simple construction. Of course, it can grow overtime at your own pace, but to begin, I would say start by having a statue or image of an Olympian God or Goddess of your choice. You could also start with an Olympian, along with the Agathos Daimon (the Good Spirit), and a Greek Hero, as this moves to encompass the three levels of worship and prayer; God, Spirit and Hero. Of course, as time goes on, you will likely find yourself adding more things and decorations to your shrine and general worship area. Lastly, keep your shrine clean and protected. It's not a place that should be allowed to gather extreme amounts of dust or dirt, and it's not a place for keys and clothes or for house pets to walk. Keep it sacred.

The use of the altar is for offerings and ritual work. The altar itself will usually consist of a central flame. If you use a flame, make sure it's done safely. Simply put, a flame is the central fire of the ritual. It is a symbol of the Gods, and a place to consume offerings given. Often times, I use a nicely-sized candle that burns tall and hot. Usually, the offerings I throw in are small pieces of barely. One must be careful, however, to reasonably toss the offerings into the flame so you don't get too close and burn your hand. While an altar flame is a nice addition, keep in mind that fire is nothing to play with, so practice safety on every level. Also add an incense burner and a small bowl for libations. For solid offerings, you may want to also include a basic plate.

Once you have completed your shrine and altar construction, you are ready to start practicing Hellenism. However, do not mistake the shrine and altar for being the only window to the Gods. It is but a house or a structure in honor of them. The Gods are everywhere in nature, all around us, and they can be contacted whether you are at your shrine or not. Lastly, before beginning any Hellenic ritual or religious activity, make sure you are properly cleansed. This can be done through a shower or a ritual bath, and put on clean clothes, all white if possible. Now I would be dishonest if I said that I always put on all whites every time I do a prayer or give an offering, because sometimes I don't, but I do wear whites often, as well as at every religious observance, festival and offering on the Hellenic calendar, aka the Calendar of Attica.

First Offering and Libation
Generally speaking, common offerings to the Gods consist of an offering and a libation. The offering itself can be things like incense, food, or valuables, while the libation is a liquid offering, usually being something like juice or wine (if you're 21), or any other libation of good taste. Begin by giving your libation to Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, while asking Her to be present in your home and help bring you into the presence of the Gods. Now burn your incense or place your offering to the Dodekatheon (Twelve Gods aka the Olympians), with the most going to Zeus the King.

First Prayer
Your first spoken prayer at your first ritual does not have to be an elaborate one that rivals the hymns of Orpheus. You can simply dedicate yourself to the Gods, as in a dedication ceremony of your own. Upon bringing your ritual to a close, thank the Gods for hearing your prayers and accepting your offerings, and pray once more to Hestia, for She is first and last, accompanied by a small offering of some kind. I usually use barely for this. 

Suggested Readings for Beginners
In my view, Hellenic religion exists in three forms, those being spiritual, physical and mental, or theology, practice and philosophy. Hellenic culture has given to us some of the most influential philosophy in the history of humanity, and many of those works are available today. I generally focus more on history and philosophy than mythology, because myth does not stand as literal fact or necessarily history. However, I will recommend a good mixture of some philosophical and mythological works here, all of which are easy to obtain. Start off with these readings:
  • Euthyphro and Apology by Plato (Philosophy).
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey (Mythology).
I hope you have found this helpful, and if you have any questions, simply post them in the comment section of this entry and I will respond.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dogmatic Dilemmas: Reclaiming Religion

Not so much in the Hellenic community, but far too often in the general Pagan community, I see the words "religion" and "worship" met with sour faces and cold shoulders. I think that far too many of us still have the dogmatic programming in our heads from certain people and places, and we associate these terms with it. We think that, to say we are religious or that we worship, is to say that we beg, plead and cry to a God for forgiveness for being human, that we follow rigid, dogmatic structure, and that we're all grouped together under a church or group authority and nothing more. We think these practices leave no room for personal truth, practice or understanding, and that we are reduced to nothing more than drones. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Certainly, some people in these categories may use the words "religion" or "worship," but if we look to our ancient ancestors, the origin of our spirituality, we find another story. 

Our ancestors were very much religious people and they very much worshiped their Gods. They did not see themselves as being equals to the Gods, but rather as their servants and beings to respect. To be religious is to have a practice, and to worship is to give reverence to your Gods, and I think it's a mistake to dismiss these terms and practices simply because we think we have to be inhuman and grovel. We also do not have to abandon our individuality and force ourselves into a group category just because we use these terms. Religion and worship is literally an umbrella category, holding all the many spiritual beliefs and practices within humanity. I myself have no problem using these terms to describe my practices. I don't even consider myself to have a word for religion or worship because they are part of everything I do in life.

We all practice religion and worship in one form or another. I know there are people out there who like to call themselves, "Spiritual but not Religious," but the two can rarely be separated. If you have any kind of regular practice, that's religion. If you've ever given offerings, prayers, or done a ritual, you are religiously practicing. If you give honor and reverence to your Gods, that is worship. Anytime you have any kind of structure whatsoever to your practice, you are being religious, even if it's your own structure entirely, and anytime you recognize Deity as worthy of your respect, admiration, reverence and service, you are engaging in an act of worship. We seem to have developed the fallacy that religion and worship must = dogma. It's just not the case.

No matter what one's religion is, or what their practices and beliefs are, they can use these terms without falling into dogmatic and personally oppressive categories.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris.

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