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Who Needs A Temple?
You may have heard, as it was not without its own bit of controversy, that the Temple of Witchcraft has bought property in Salem, NH, and is doing a fund drive for our parking lot. Why start with a parking lot? Simple: no parking lot, no temple. To gain the town's approval, a religious organization in a residential zone requires a paved lot with adequate space, lighting, and drainage.
Beyond the parking lot itself, some have asked why do Pagans, Wiccans and Witches need a temple at all? Aren't we meant to practice solitary, or in small groups in people's homes, or outside? And if I'm not in the Salem, NH, area, why should this even matter to me? All important questions and here are some thoughts in response to many of the discussions I've had with people over the last few months:
Land Based Traditions – Most Pagan and Witchcraft traditions have a spiritual link to the land, and believe in the presence of not only globalized entities, but local land spirits. Divinity is expressed through the land itself yet, as a whole, we have little in the way of land based resources and places of worship and education. We think of ourselves as stewards of the Earth, but yet how much land do we care for directly? I've been publicly serving the Pagan community for the last twenty years, locally and internationally, and the vast majority of our gatherings are in Unitarian Churches, Masonic Halls, and metaphysical book shops. All wonderful opportunities, but none are ideal for a community to develop a relationship with one place, and the land it is on. There is not often a chance to hold ceremonies outside. Our gatherings change places often. A permanent site allows us to build cohesion and community in a different way.
Expansion – As a community that exists in both a physical location and through the ministries of various ordained Priestesses and Priests in the world, and through our online education, the Temple of Witchcraft operates nationally and internationally. Our long term goal is to be able to provide similar opportunities in other places in the country as these satellites expand, but to do so, we must start somewhere. A tree can have many roots and branches, but it must begin with planting a single seed. We have graduates and active members in Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Maine, and Washington. Perhaps, some day, another minority group will be able to rent space from us to help them get established in the world, as the Masons and Unitarian Universalists have done for us.
Growing Community – There was a time when, if you wanted to be a Witch, you had to find a coven with an opening that would accept you as a student. Covens are traditionally no more than thirteen people. Then the explosion of popular books taught people to recognize their own innate Witch through solitary or small group practice. Yet such self discovery seems to take most people only so far. The ratio of seeking students to traditional covens has changed greatly. People are seeking education and community in different settings, and a temple structure, with a physical site, provides opportunities and grounding in such teachings, with other experienced practitioners, beyond home-based, book-based study groups. It also provides a great place of support to find friends and peers to further weave the web of community.
Community Expectations – As the overall Pagan community grows and becomes less coven based, people are seeking the services they are used to from more mainstream religions, yet are not operating in the same mainstream religious structures. Three surprising areas that have become a huge part of my own ministry has been prison visits, hospital visits, and grief support. Yet none of these things fall under my services as a teacher or healing facilitator specifically. So established Temples allow support of such endeavors, a flexibility and a network of other ministers in the community so the work doesn't always fall to one individual.
Development of Ministerial Support – Groups such as the Temple of Witchcraft can not only fulfill the immediate need of community expectations, but eventually establish structures to help those who answer the call to service in the long term. How often have we seen elders who have dedicated their lives to teaching the Craft and serving the community left outside of more traditional structures and support because they did not choose a conventional career path and did not have the support of a congregation or organization as in other religions. Long-time students take on elder care responsibilities and the greater community is often raising funds for medical expenses. Legal organizations can help with training, long-term planning, and establishing structures to support those who dedicate their lives to doing ministerial work in the magickal communities.
Longevity - Trees with shallow roots easily fall over, and without deep roots and the worldly responsibilities that can go with them, many good intentioned organizations come and then go, often based upon the energy level and commitment of one or two charismatic individuals. With the legal structure of a Temple established, the protocol of both power and responsibility sharing is established publicly. The investment of the community of time and money into one site makes more long lasting commitments to the vision of community. Rather than watch an organization fall apart, leadership can be passed and continuity maintained. I've seen beautiful covensteads dismantled, and the homes where they were sold when someone's life circumstances changed or with the passing of the owner and the inheritance to family members who were not involved in the magickal community. When a community organization owns something, it can stay in the community's hands. The Temple itself owns our property in Salem, and I hope it will do so for generations to come.
Voice in the World – The establishment of legal organizations with physical locations give us a safe place to interface with the local community and alleviate fears and misconceptions. I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have knocked on the door and want to just talk, and come see what we are all about, despite not even being open to the public yet. The recognitions by the government as a nonprofit religion, and the establishment of physical resources give us greater legitimacy, even with those who seek to shut us out from great religious, environmental, social and political conversations. I've noticed a huge shift in some difficult conversations with people, once I've said “we're a 501c3” or “we've just purchased and are developing property in New Hampshire.” While we might always be in the fringe, it gives us a level of spiritual adulthood, to work with other organizations. Due to our status as a legal church, our community has participated, as the Temple of Witchcraft, in a helping the homeless program. That interaction with other religious groups will help change the hearts and minds of others, to see what our people believe and do.
My initial though when I began writing the Temple of Witchcraft books was to simply put out the teachings in the books, to give individuals and small groups a format to go deeper on their own. When I began, I would have thought “who needs a physical temple?” Yet, after many years of doing it, and watching the graduates evolve into a community, and readers all over the world reaching out for guidance and the connections of community, I realize that many of us need a Temple, and dedicated the next phase of my life to making it happen.
I'm a big believer in supporting causes—local, national and international—even if they do not directly impact me, if I believe they are doing good work and adding to the blessings of the world. If you feel the same, please consider donating to this very important first step for the Temple of Witchcraft to open its doors.
Thanks to the generosity of another donor and supporter of our community, we will have all pledges to our parking lot campaign matched and doubled between Friday April 19 at Noon to Sunday April 21 at Noon.
Mailed donations postmarked on Friday and Saturday will be counted toward the fund-matching donation. Please write PARKING LOT DRIVE on the check and mail to: Temple of Witchcraft (or T.O.W.), 49 North Policy Street, Salem, NH 03079.
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