Tag Archives: temple

Temporary temples and sacred spaces

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live somewhere that had temples I could go to. Sacred spaces that are relevant to me. There are some prehistoric sites locally that I visit. There are churches – which are not part of my faith but are part of the faith of my ancestors. I love Gloucester cathedral as a sacred space, and going there is a relatively short pilgrimage, but it isn’t my temple.

I make temporary temples – I build labyrinths that are in place for a few hours only. I’ve made ritual spaces out of circles of people, a temple constructed in the moment as people hold hands and commit to the idea of being in sacred space and time together. I’ve made altar spaces, but in this tiny flat, I can’t justify taking up much space with that. I’ve made temporary altar spaces outside working with whatever happens to be around. Sometimes my temple is made from the act of lighting a candle or burning incense. Sometimes my temple is a youtube playlist.

As a nature worshipper, I feel I should be able to hold a sense of sacred space any time I am outside. Woodlands should be my cathedrals. The hills are my temple. The sky is my church. Etc etc. And on a good day, that’s fine. On a day when I feel grounded and connected, I experience sacredness and I know how to be a Druid and it’s all good.

But, there are other days. Days when pain and exhaustion overwhelm me. Days when depression cuts off my roots and makes me small and unable to connect. On those days, I could really do with a fixed sacred space that I don’t have to make for myself from scratch. On those days, it would be wonderful to have a designated prayer space I could just go to, ideally with a friendly priest who might offer me counselling, guidance, support, or just an encouraging smile. On the days when I am threadbare and lost, I wish for somewhere to sit and admire the inspiring Pagan art on the walls, or the beautiful Pagan stained glass windows, or just the way the light falls on the stone. I crave the sound of other Pagans singing or chanting or dancing or drumming together. I just want to be able to turn up and listen to a service.

We are all our own priests and priestesses. That’s intrinsic to modern Paganism. While the autonomy is good, it doesn’t take into account how much work is involved in being even a mediocre priest or priestess. It doesn’t allow for how we all need support at times, and how we may become weary and threadbare, how life may grind us down so that we need solace and reassurance.

All I can do for now is make temporary sacred spaces. But, it has been on my mind for a long time that I would like to make something permanent. Something others can just turn up to for comfort, affirmation and inspiration.


The Temple I am Building

I have known for years that there is a temple I am called to dance in. It does not have a name. When I see it, it is a place of cool stone, quiet beauty, shafting sunlight, comforts and pleasures. I have been dancing there most of my adult life, but it isn’t something I’ve talked about much. I dance where I can, and when the music, the atmosphere and my dancing are just right, I also dance in the temple.

Of course it is a Goddess temple. But there has never been a named Goddess, or any sense of presence or interaction. I dance in the temple because it’s what I do, and there is a sense of sacredness and significance, but not of specific deity. I’m not very good at deity, or at belief. Aside from some distant experiences in my late teens, this just isn’t part of my life. But the temple has a kind of reality for me.

There is no physical temple I can dance in, and I do not have the resources to build a temple. There isn’t a suitable space I could hire. So the question of how to make the temple a bit more real, how to honour it and work with it, has been on my mind for years.

In recent weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of music I dance to and why. I realise that some of my sense of the temple comes out of the goth nightclubbing experiences of my youth. I started putting together a playlist of songs that gave me a sense of the temple dancing. Most of them are goth tunes from that time in my life, but I’ve found other things along the way and there are a fair few steampunk bands with songs that fit. It has a definite tone – passionate, sensual, deliciously, shamelessly a bit sleazy. Sexy and totally in control of that. Active, not passive. Playful, expressive.

I dance because I want to. I dance because this is my body and I am entitled to enjoy it. I dance to delight others, but I get to say who I dance for, and I get to say what happens around that and dancing most assuredly is not consent. I dance as an act of rebellion because this body is not the sort of body my wider culture considers sexy or appealing – which is true for most of us. I dance as an act of reclamation.

I have built a temple playlist. It may be the only temple I ever build, but for now, it will do.


The temple I am building – a poem

The temple I am building

 

There are no temples I can dance in

And while I glimpse in myth the names

Of women who may once have been

Goddesses of land, I can only guess

At whose temple I should dance

And there is no sacred music for me

And the steps are entirely lost

If they ever existed.

 

There are no temples I can dance in

But I will honour the call of music

With passion embodied. I will dance

The imaginary steps for a nameless Goddess

Wherever I can, I will shake my hips,

Open my thighs, raise my arms in salutation

In spiritual offering, make sacrament

Of rhythm, make sacred the energy

Of limbs and loins.

 

I make temples I can dance in

The width of my open arms

Any tune is my holy ground, any beat

Or song so long as there is sweat

And presence, breath and pulse,

Where there is desire I will build my temple

In the shadowed edge of your stage

In your club, your field, your kitchen

Summon ancient magic

And dance what enchantment I can.


At the Temple of Nodens

The ancestors did not speak to me, although I walked barefoot into their temple.

At the triple shrine, the Gods did not speak to me. I wondered who the other two might have been.

I sat in the grass and watched determined ants carry their eggs from the old place to the new place, wherever those were and for whatever reasons prompt ants to go to such great lengths.

I saw the tiniest grasshoppers I have ever encountered. They jumped, and I laughed like a child.

The wind that had come up the Severn played with my hair and chilled me until I could sit no longer. A raven and a buzzard soared over the site, calling.

I was not magically healed of my pains and woes. This did not surprise me. I did not stay for long enough for that to seem even slightly realistic. There were no revelations, but I do not know the words that were spoken in this place or the songs sung, and there were a lot of tourists, and it seems to be a lot to ask of a place just to wake up for me when there is no one to care for it from day to day or to sing its songs.

I left with no grand tales to tell, and no mission, and no particular insight. I left feeling blessed by the sun and wind, by the ants and grasshoppers, raven, buzzard, and all the small flowers in the grass.


My body is a temple

Forgive me the misleading title. I don’t have a great relationship with my body. Never did. It’s never moved well enough, or fast enough. Always been too fat. Not reliably been able to keep up with demands for output, work and energy. It gets tired easily, (I think) it hurts a lot, sometimes it doesn’t bend enough. And yes, I know there are implications in talking about my body as somehow separate from me, but that too is part of a whole-life issue. ‘Me’ is not this unco-operative pile of flesh I am required to shunt about in order to get anything done.

My body is not a temple, because with temples there at least is normally a period after construction when people feel enthusiastic about them. As a consequence I struggle with pretty much everything in Paganism calling upon us to recognise the divine in ourselves, honour nature as it manifests in us and so forth. Other bodies, sure. This one I struggle with.

Normally this is not something I poke around in much. I push against my limits, apologise for what my body is not, and what it fails to sustain. I try to keep it in passable working order – decent food, sleep, exercise, not too much alcohol, etc. What I’ve not been doing much of through my life, is thinking about why I relate to myself in this way. I have taken it as self evident that my overweight, can’t run, gets tired body is just something to try and overcome and apologise for.

It’s not entirely about me, I realise. It’s very much a response to other people’s demands and expectations. What other people wanted me to do, how they want my body deployed as a resource, what they want to be able to do with it. My relationship with my own body has been shaped almost entirely by the utility it has for other people. For an assortment of reasons (some pertaining to my body, some to the nature of the other people involved) I’ve spent a lot of my life failing to meet expectations. Rather than getting angry with anyone else for the impossible demands placed on me, I’ve internalised it as self loathing.

There was a patch, to take one example from many, when one set of obligations and duties had me up and busy until gone midnight reliably, while another set required I get up at 7. I don’t function well on reduced sleep, but the idea that something else in that situation should give a little didn’t even cross my mind at the time, and it certainly wasn’t on offer.

We all judge each other. If someone is struggling or claiming to suffer, we make judgements about whether we believe them. Some people seem to naturally attract sympathy and compassion. I have tended to attract assessments that I am lazy, trying to get out of things, making a fuss and not really making an effort. If I tried harder, that might help, I get told. I also tend to find that my body-problems are frequently assumed to be of my own making. Too fat, losing weight too fast. Too sedentary, too busy, eating wrong, eating too fast, not relaxing, not managing my time well enough, not making the effort to be well. Or that it is imaginary. At so many points in my history, any problem I’ve had has been my responsibility – blamed, shamed and pressured. It’s only in the last few years that the idea of being gentler with me has entered the equation.

The story I have been telling myself my entire life is that if I was thinner and prettier, people would be more sympathetic. No one is troubled by the aches and pains of the ugly sisters. I don’t treat anyone else that way or apply those measures to anyone, but I don’t put up much self defence. That’s just ‘making a fuss’ and it goes with the melodramatic and lazy accusations all too tidily.

So I live my life running, always trying to do more and better and faster, partly to appease the voices I have internalised, and to squash the fear that I am everything I have ever been accused of. To change that, I would have to entirely unpick vast swathes of my sense of self, and replace that with something. It’s a large task, but even to consider that it might have value is to step away from those old stories about who and what I am.


A temple of sky

For two years or so, I lived on the flood plain, down low, barely above sea level. Although I travelled about, mostly I lived on the flat, and most of my best views only gave me a handful of miles in any given direction.

I grew up on a hillside, hills are where I feel most at home. The flat lands were only bearable to me because they were the flat bit between hills, and I could at least see that which I love. It’s amazing though, how much can be forgotten, and how quickly.
This last week I’ve been able to get out and about on the hills around my new home. There are commons here, lovely open spaces that survived enclosure acts and the tendency of wealthy landowners to put fences around things. It may be my inner nomad, or my inner communist speaking, I don’t know, but I find the concept of land ownership difficult. I’ll happily respect living spaces, and crops in the fields, I’m careful with livestock, but fenced off spaces with ‘private keep out signs’ make me cross. The land should belong to everyone, and not be fenced off for the benefit of the few. Access and faming can be compatible so long as people are sensible and respectful. Yes, I know that’s a big ask, but I’m an idealist.

I love common land and the absolute right to wander about. In practice, many spaces owned by ‘the public’ are actually managed by some outfit or another. We see how that works (and doesn’t) around sites like Stonehenge, and national parks, where ownership on behalf of the public turns rapidly into a ‘right’ to charge a lot of money for access. That doesn’t sit well with me, either.
There are hilltops here with commons on them, and on that land are signs of all kinds of old and ancient human activity. There is wildlife – orchids, insects, all manner of things. I’ve found fossils, because this is old sea bed. Most importantly, there are the views. Vast, panoramic stretches of landscape open up before me. I can see the river, and distant mountains in Wales. Depending on where I go, the views carry me in many directions.

On a hill top, the sky is a vast and wholly visible dome, unbroken by manmade or natural intrusions. The wind is almost constantly present. The sense of being on the earth and under the sky is intense. This is my temple to air and space, to freedom and flights of fancy. Here I can open my arms and pretend they are wings, and feel the air rush past my face. Dwarfed by the landscape, and by the enormity of sky, I feel release and relief. All those things that belong to the human domain (down at the bottom of the hills) cease to be relevant for a little while. This is what matters. This is the important bit.

I cannot live in a temple in the sky. I have to come back, eventually. Reluctantly. Here in this space, the immediate and human concerns loom large. They seem increasingly like distractions from that which is truly important.