I’m going to make some counter-intuitive arguments here, and I’ll start off stipulating (as we lawyers do) to a number of points.
Stipulations: First, I’m old and I realize that my (pre-internet!) experience of Wicca, from a time when you could hardly find any information on it and had to seek, do detective work, depend on luck, really want to find out about Wicca!, and hunt high and low for Pagan groups, is not the experience of most modern Wiccans. I think that my experience had some deep (and now mostly-ignored) benefits to it, although I realize that those times made it difficult for many people, especially those outside of major urban areas, to connect. They kept me a Solitary for many years.
Second, no matter what I say in this post, I believe that modern Paganism is moving towards having “buildings,” whether we call those buildings “temples,” or “community centers,” or whatever. (I hope we don’t call them “churches,” but that’s happening, as well.) That move will have its good points and its bad points, but it is where I think we are headed. I had the opportunity earlier this year to talk with Byron Ballard, whose group has now obtained a building, about both the pros and cons of this movement. I’m indebted to her for her insights, and for the insights of others who were in on the conversation.
Third, I’m not a “festival Pagan,” a “public ritual Pagan,” or even (it’s true, see, e.g., my gravatar) a very nice person. I love the idea of Pagan festivals, but I’m an INTJ, (with my Sun in leaky Pisces and my Moon in stay-at-home, comfort-loving Taurus) and, I’ve finally come to realize, a poor traveler and an even worse camper (The Four Seasons. I like to camp at the Four Seasons. But I’d rather be at home, except for the whole room service thing.) Large groups of people drain me, in rather serious ways. I’ve been to some local public rituals, and I’ve enjoyed them. But they’re far less meaningful to me that the rituals of my own, closed Circle. And I have to remain in the broom closet for my job. Both large public rituals and Pagan conferences endanger that, especially as rules about who can take pictures/video and what they can do with them are often non-existent or observed more in the breach than anything else. (Sacred Space, I’m looking at you.) And then there’s the whole leaky Pisces thing. So my experience of Witchcraft comes almost entirely from my practice, for decades, as a Solitary Witch and from my practice, over the past decade+, with a closed Circle of eclectic Witches. And I’ll freely stipulate that these things make me unusual, perhaps, in the larger Pagan community.
Fourth, as I’ll explain below, I believe that Pagan groups other than Witches may have more reasons for wanting/needing buildings than do Witches. Druids, Members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, Freemasons, Heathens, and others may well have less reason to avoid buildings than do Witches. I get that.
Finally, I’ll add that one of the things that I love about Paganism is its eclectic nature. Let, a la China 1957, a hundred flowers bloom. (Yeah, I know that didn’t last in China, and I’m afraid that it won’t last another century or so in Paganism, and maybe that’s a natural cycle. But I love it.) Don’t like your coven? Hive off. Want to worship an obscure deity? Have at it! Love to write your own rituals, develop your own tradition, sunder from the established group? Blessed Be. It’s why, inter alia, we say, “Merry Meet, and Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.” Part and be merry! Change your mind later and meet back up again! But it’s not conducive to building churches.
Arguments: So, with all of the above stipulations firmly stipulated, here’s where I’m going to say something less-than-popular: I’ve got no burning desire to see Pagan Community Centers get established.
/stands up, spreads arms, awaits thrown rotten tomatoes.
If there are other Pagans who want them, I wish them all the luck in the world. I do.
But I don’t see that we need them; I see serious downsides to having them; and I’m not working or donating to create them. And when they can’t be maintained, due, perhaps as much the craptastic economy as to anything else, I’m willing to see them mutate or disappear.
I’m not saying that if you’re working to maintain or establish one you’re wrong or that I don’t hope you succeed, because, see above re: hundreds of flowers.
But part of what drew me (and I get that, like Zuzanna Budapest, I’m part of a dying generation) to Witchcraft was its subversive nature. My conversion had a lot to do with the notion that religion, mystical experience, feminism, an attack on the structures of Patriarchy, and a sacrilization of the politics of protest could be practiced outside the boundaries of “acceptable” religion. Ellen Everet Hopman, once told me that the difference between a Druid and a Witch was that Druids worked within society, advising Queens and King and helping to form laws, while Witches were those crazy old women who recognized no laws and lived out in the liminal spaces between the village and the forest, doing wild magic that threatened the social order. And every cell in my body, lawyer that (by day) I am, cried out, “And that’s why I’m a Witch and not a Druid.” And subversive groups, well, they do better meeting at midnight in forests, congregating in members’ homes, convening in coffee houses or rented library rooms where no one really knows what they’re up to. They do better showing up outside the Supreme Court to scatter enchanted birdseed for the local pigeons (and then disappearing), law being an Airy business, than they do as law-abiding tenants, renting out a store-front and trying to act legitimate. AND WHEN THEY GET RESPECTABLE, START OWNING BUILDINGS, BECOME MEMBERS OF THE LOCAL MERCHANTS’ LEAGUE, WELL, THAT’S WHEN THEY STOP BEING SUBVERSIVE.
And so, I do see how, for Druids, for example, or ceremonial magicians, or Heathens, etc., it can be more important to have one central location than it is to be outside of the usual social constructs of landowners, associations, fundraisers. And there is a sense in which working together to find, purchase or rent, and maintain a central location can bind a group and create a community connection. And prickly old Witches aren’t too good at that, but maybe Celtic Reconstructions are (OK, I crack myself up, but you know what I mean).
But, having a building requires that a serious portion of your efforts (and in difficult economic times, an even larger portion of your efforts) go towards funding the building, paying for its upkeep, raising money to keep it in existence, governing its use. And I can hear some of the frustration related to that creeping into recent posts by those who are working — as they believe, for all of “Us” — to found or maintain Pagan buildings. It’s easy to underestimate how much work such centers take, how draining they can be for the few who do all the work of establishing and maintaining them, how bitter they can wind up feeling. I’ve known Christian churches where having fundraisers, and pledge drives, and business plans for the Building Fund became far more important than feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, preaching the Gospel, or enjoying fellowship. It’s difficult, it is, to work on maintaing a building and to also challenge the status quo, be in relationship with Nature, do a daily practice, and, as we (rightly, IMHO) require most Pagan leaders to also do, to earn a living.
Having a building also requires a bunch of rules (and if you don’t think so, you’ve never dealt with an insurance company or a landlord). No drinking or drugs, no Great Rites, no minors, no animals, no fires (and that means candles and incense and small fires under a caldron, and . . . .) It requires someone to decide which group gets Samhein (well, we reserved way last year, well we have more members and can pay more, well, we’re the group that founded the community center, well we had it last year, well it’s our turn, well the rest of you always discriminate agains those of us who . . . .) And Witch Wars waste more energy than anything else I know.
OTOH, renting. for a day. a local community center, meeting out in the woods, and (IMHO, best of all) meeting in members’ homes and yards, is cheaper, can be done on an as-needed-and-as-can-be-affored basis, only requires obedience to the local rules (or disobedience, if you so choose), and leads to better magic and deeper (although less accessible) community. Not having a designated space makes you be creative. If we’re doing a ritual to influence this session’s Supreme Court, what if we meet outside the court? If we’re engaged in magic to protect the landbase, let’s do our ritual at the local waste treatment plant. If we’re going to cast a spell to protect reproductive freedom, what if we circle the local abortion clinic three times three? If we need to connect with local trees, what if we meet outside the local arboretum? BTW, where DO they store the local voting machines that we’re worried may get hacked? Where IS Selena’s chemo going to be administered? The bank that’s holding up Robin’s loan is located just outside the B4 bus stop. One of our members is old and infirm and finds it helpful if we meet at her house so she doesn’t need to travel.
In the end, for me, it comes down to Witchcraft being a deeply personal practice, to my preference for magic done between and among a group of closely-connected, experienced-with-each-other magic workers, to a desire to remain outside the structures of a quickly-toppling social construct, to having no time for the million details that chew up hours when you’re trying to maintain a building.
I get that a Pagan community center can do some of the things that a local esoteric book store (now replaced by the internet) used to do. (But the internet does do a lot of those things, already.) I get that for Millenials, etc., it can provide a place to connect in “meat space,” and to offer classes, rituals, lectures at the same place each time, rather than in a shifting series of library lecture rooms, rented government centers, and downstairs church basements.
Interestingly, Christians, who’ve perfected the business of owning buildings, are now experiencing a movement away from churches and into the homes of their members. As noted above, I think that Pagans are, will we or nil we, headed into a period of building buildings. And I’m sure that whatever results will be interesting.
But this weekend, my Circle is meeting at my home. And part of my deepest spiritual practice will be, this weekend as many weekends during the year, cleaning my home in preparation for the priestesses, preparing the garden and the outdoors altar, polishing the silver, chilling the wine, making tea, creating a sacred meal, opening a serene and restorative space, and then welcoming Witches (Witches!) into my home. Earlier this week, we met at one of my Sisters’ homes, and I had the opportunity to give reiki to her pet, admire her garden, eat at her table, and discuss in complete privacy with my Sisters what we want to achieve. And that’s where I want to be.
Where do you meet? Are you working towards/currently supporting a temple or community center? What do you think are the benefits or downsides of such places? Are we heading towards having temples?
Picture found here.