How do we create a sacred space?
We begin with what we have, of course. Before stone or timber, before even the first shovel-full of dirt is turned, we begin with the first temple we ever knew.
We begin with the body.
Deep in the lore of many peoples, there are stories about how the world was made. Some of those ancient tales speak of a great giant, a primordial spirit of selfish chaos, a tyrant put down by his own children. His skin, they say, was stretched out of shape upon the sharpened skewers of his own bones. He who would have consumed all, was made all, and the universe as we know it, built from his immortal flesh.
There are other stories, of course. In some of these, we may find a great mother. She is the mother of all life and however far we wander, we are never far from her. The great hills are her breasts, the wind is her breath, and the distant horizon marks the subtle curve of her belly. She who birthed all is likewise home to all, and the universe as we know it is shaped from her immortal flesh.
The people who told those stories wandered through a world which was, every fiber of it, divine. The whole of the world was holy to them, and yet as they explored those uncharted places, they found tracts where the spirit was stronger, the land more alive. The ancients gathered in these places. They built temples and tombs and observatories, and in doing so, they focused the power which flowed there, bridging the gap perhaps, between the world we know, and the one which lie just outside our mortal grasp.
These were the first sacred spaces.
If you have read the first post in this series, you will know that I am endeavoring to design and build, either a small temple or a shrine, on the property behind my home. It is a big project and there are many questions which I feel need to be answered before I can even ‘break ground’.
The first, and I think, most obvious of these questions is: ‘What is a temple?’.
And the answer, I have come to believe, is that a temple is, at its most fundamental level, an extension of the body.
“My Body is My Temple.”
It is one of those catch phrases which you hear carelessly tossed around by yoga instructors and fitness gurus. And in this modern western context, the expression represents a philosophy of focus upon the self. In particular, it seems intended to promote a mindfulness on the health and wellbeing of body and mind.
Well, that’s a fine start, but I think we can do better.
Digging a little deeper, we see that this particular adage is actually paraphrased from the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the Christian Bible, where it reads like this…,
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Now within this particular religious context, we are told that the human body is a house built for the Holy Spirit, which is, according to Christian tradition, one part of that Holy Trinity which makes up the godhead. We are further admonished to treat the body as we would a physical temple: keeping it free from corruption and remaining reverent in its use.
The body then, according to Christian scripture, is a house for their god. And while the specific words may have their origin in the Bible, it seems clear that the basic idea behind those words is far older.
The ancients, as we have seen, understood that the world around them was a physical manifestation of the gods they worshipped. Throughout the homelands of my own ancestors, there are natural features, hills and rivers and rocky islands, that still carry the names of the deities of whom they were believed to form a part.
We mortal men move across the body of the land and it is the temple within which we worship. But even as we move upon the land, the gods move within us. We were not created in the image of the gods. We look like them because we evolved in a world which is made of their flesh and bone. The gods exist within us because we are part of them, and we have it within our power to sanctify that space and to invite them to be housed within our hearts and minds.
So why then, should we build temples at all? What need have we to house the gods when we have the power to hold them within us?
For most of us Pagans and Polytheists, just hanging on at the spiritual fringes of society, the only temple we will ever know is the one we build within ourselves. And for some, that may be enough.
But the answer to the question “why?” is in the phrase itself.
“My Body is My Temple.”
My temple. Not yours, not ours. Just mine.
Our ancestors gathered together within the sacred spaces, the temples, tombs, shrines and observatories, because human beings have an inborn need for shared experience.
We have grown too comfortable in our solitude, and it gains us but little.
Alone we contribute nothing.
Together we become powerful.
And the temples will be, as they have always been, where we go to share.
I wonder if it is only coincidence that when we gather into large groups we are often called ‘a body’.
This is the second post in a series following my progress in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property. If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.