Last week I wrote an article for the upcoming Walking the Worlds journal, titled “Religions of Relation”, on the subject of regional cultus in modern polytheist religion. Coinciding with that writing were some interesting developments in my own regional religion.
Two years ago, I burned my Temple to ash board-by-board during a sleepless three-day ritual fast from food and water, in a fire that raged so hot that it slagged the brass of the hearth. I did so under the guidance of my gods, for it was time to seek out permanent land for the living Temple, for the shrines, for my received lineage, and for them.
Two years ago, I set out in a sketchy purple van full of gods and snakes and carrion birds and drove three thousand miles through mountains (and, gods save me from ever needing to do this again, Wyoming), across plains and through at least one forest, before arriving on this coast. Then I hopscotched between Connecticut, Massachusetts, rural New Hampshire, and New York, before settling into a temporary situation in NY’s Hudson Valley, to hunker down and wait for the right signs.
A dozen years ago, or so, I made my way from New England to the San Francisco Bay Area, in a mad dash to put as much space between myself and some bullets as possible. I worked on a boat for a time, living out of a basement in hills so thick with fog that I expected magical bears to drive by shooting shit with rainbows, most days. I stayed in that area, cradled as it was between ocean and bay and sacred mountains, for as long as I could: but it could never be “home”.
Much, much longer ago, before California and the bullets that drove me there, I was a five-year-old child in the woods of New England, and I drowned in a lake at a dam in black still water, bleeding and sinking. My boots were too big — but I liked the weight of them, so I made them work — and filled up with water, so I might as well have been cinderblock-chained. I went down and I had a conversation about mortality with the spirits there, about the world up above. We talked for a time and the black water grew darker and then, just as it began to turn a frosted-glass white, one of those spirits — a big serpent, too big for that lake, too big for this age, too big for this world, but big enough for that moment — lifted me back to the surface.
That land is my home, though I was not born there in the conventional fashion. I was born there in another fashion altogether. I gave it my blood and I gave it my breath, in words spoken at depth of a life that was coming to a close: and for these gestures, I was given a home, there, on those lands, in those waters.
Just a short span of days ago, after a year in New York and a year before that living in a van, and a dozen before that thousands of miles away, land was acquired. A stone’s throw from that lake, nestled against a small river, three acres nestled into a quiet wooded area: home. Home enough for me, my gods, the oracular serpents, the 28 Miracles, for the birds, for community and for ritual, for education and for learning… and for a Temple, restored.
The process of rebuilding a Temple is no small thing. It will involved oracles and consultations and rituals and sacrifices and negotiations with the land spirits. A Temple is not a building, or a structure, or four-walls that hold shrines: a Temple is a being, which is born of a union with place. (In the Roman sense from which we receive this word and concept, templum refers not to the building but the grounds, which are staked out in accordance with oracular process and accord, not civic convenience or preference.) The process may take a long time, to come fully together: but that time will be well spent, building permanent relationships with the land and the locals, toward building a legacy that will pass from my hands and holdings to those which take up my work when I am gone. However, when permissions are in place and the process approved by the guardians of that place, and we have done our part as human-shaped-beings to make clear our sacred intentions and earn the trust of those who will host us in this undertaking, a new foundation will be poured to earth: the grounds of the Temple, given form once more.
Mine is a regional cultus, not some pan-polytheist religion or mental abstraction. It is a religion of the dirt and of the ash and of the water and of the rock, a religion of the blood and the bone and of screaming ecstasy that specific trees and specific stones will listen to, as they lend themselves as bodies or thrones for gods, who deign us worth of their divine presence. Mine is a religion which acknowledges the relationship between events and their places; in my House, the maxim “Know Thyself” is amended with the addition and double-meaninged “and Know Thy Place“, for absent awareness of one’s ordered sequence in relational regard for the all-and-everythings dotting round them, how much can they truly know of what sits within, or anywhere else for that matter?
And so now, my House will find itself returned to proper place: a place near to where it all began, where my gods ripped themselves through into this land, joining forever with that land, with epithets applied in accordance with this.
The space is enough to host events, community rituals, rotations of visiting priests and elders to lead intensives and retreats and workshops around the fire. There is land enough for respectful camping of assembled travelers for occasions such as these, and the interior residence enough to provide modest accommodations for honored guests. In addition to the primary residence, there is an attached private apartment, with closed bedroom, and private bath, open kitchen and decent living space, which will allow for some dynamic of students-or-priests-in-residence: near enough to a busy area of day-jobs and the like, but private enough for full-time residential religious undertakings.
Located about 45 minutes from Boston, near to easy and affordable commuter trains, equal distance between Logan and Manchester international airports, 35 miles to Salem MA (hub of all sorts of spiritual and witchy shenanigans) and a whopping 15 minutes to Salem, NH (home of the Temple of Witchcraft), we are going to be pretty centrally placed… but still far enough away from “stuff” to have the privacy needed and desired.
It is a damn fine time to be a polytheist.