Though Paganism is rapidly becoming a common and accepted practice in the United States, thanks in large part to sympathetic depictions in media and through the tireless work of community elders, it’s true that it can still be difficult to practice it with others in a public manner. This comes down to have very few physical locations that are established solely as places of Pagan worship. Inevitably, this starts a round of posts on social media: “We need Pagan temples”, we hear, and “we need permanent Pagan sacred spaces.” We gesture at the elaborate cathedrals of Catholic churches, the luxury camps of Protestants, and we wonder why Pagans don’t have similar facilities for use. Why can we establish legal Pagan churches (protected as non-profits under U.S. law) but seem to have difficulty building physical buildings?
In part, this can be explained by how decentralized Paganism is, not just as a movement, but also in terms of where we live. Many of us meet and discuss our practices online, and even when we meet up at conventions it’s a temporary gathering. It can be difficult to find more than twenty Pagans who live a drivable distance from one another, excluding big cities (and we’re all aware of the expense of real estate in places like Chicago and New York). Yet travel is easier these days, and recently people have been able to be more selective about the jobs they choose to work and the places they choose to live. It is possible to move closer to other Pagans and establish rooted communities.
Yet even in places where Pagans routinely gather in backyards and living rooms, bringing drinks and firewood for the circle, there is a conspicuous absence of volunteers, to say nothing of funds. Many Pagan volunteers, frequently called upon to provide rides, places of worship, and even Big Name Pagans to serve as entertainment or speakers, find themselves burnt out and out of pocket several hundred dollars in a matter of years. Even the Big Names among us, many of which try to pitch in and start churches or community organizations, frequently find that publishing contracts offer little in the way of actual compensation, and the events they are expected to travel to in order to promote themselves seldom offer payment (and even charge them to present).
Likely because of a backlash against tithing from Christian upbringings (and seeing how our former churches squandered the money on self-glorification), many of us are loathe to actually contribute financially to our faith…and this is holding us back. Many of the temples and sacred sites we see, not just in Christianity but in other faiths, are there because a community decided they were worth contributing towards and supporting. Part of this must be done financially, and it will be easier if we all share the effort.
There is the frequent argument that Pagans are a poor lot, but this seems at odds with the fact that our respective umbrella generally embraces materialism and specifies a wide array of “essential tools” that every Pagan is expected to own (the cost of candles alone is obscene). Modern platforms such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe have also demonstrated the immense power that even a few dollars from many people can have towards the resolution of a goal. It is entirely possible for us to come together and “tithe” towards a common goal: the formation and upkeep of sacred spaces.
While you may not have the funds to uproot your life and move closer to other Pagans, if we’re to progress as a religious/spiritual movement, we need to begin exercising our collective power. A good first step would be to establish an umbrella group that’s representative of our various facets and, having come together, proceed to pitch in to buy and establish sacred spaces for us. In this, our diversity would be our greatest strength: you don’t have to believe the exact same things or practice the exact same teachings as another group, but with syncretism and mixed pantheons, odds are good that you have a lot in common with your fellow Pagans and could share a space with them reasonably well.
Begin with a core component of many practices, something that was likely the gateway for your entry into Paganism: reverence for nature. Purchase a plot of land and work towards establishing its rewilding, Nurture and enhance the biodiversity in an area, and allow Pagans to make regular camping pilgrimages to the area to commune with the land and its spirits. Given enough time and dedication, the temple buildings and religious dwellings will come, arguably more nature-friendly and with less of a carbon footprint than our ancestors were able to achieve.
We’ve spent decades now fighting for religious freedoms and the right to practice openly. We are rediscovering sacred practices and establishing new ones, and our arts and culture are being established. These are ongoing struggles, but if we want to progress and achieve lasting progress, we need to take the next step and establish our holy places as physical locations. As with so much in this world, that can only be achieved financially, but if we come together as a community we can make this happen.
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]