Temple of the River an tSruith Drew Jacob released a statement today that the Irish Cottage Temple in NE Minneapolis is closing its doors and the religious community is disbanding. Lack of improving lives and changing spiritual needs are reasons cited.
The Old Belief Society, which practices a form of Iron Age Irish polytheism, has been active in the Twin Cities area for over seven years. The Society, which an tSruith Jacob helped found, uses Celtic social customs to understand Celtic spirituality. They built the first and only Temple of its kind in the US which opened its doors in September of 2010. Today, Jacob sent out a press release announcing, “As Drumclí of Temple of the River, with the full support of my students and the governing Council of the Old Belief Society, I am announcing the closing of Temple of the River.”
Just over a week ago, an tSruith Jacob made waves across the Pagan community with an article titled “Why I’m not Pagan.” In it, he talked about the successes of his spiritual community and said, “In less than six months we shifted from a small clique-like organization with no public presence to a bustling, dynamic community. … It was because of this surge of enthusiasm and interest—from a primarily non-Pagan crowd—that we were able to finally realize a dream of seeing ancient Irish religion alive and practiced as closely as possible to its original form.”
When asked to reconcile his former statement with the news that the group is dissolving and the Temple closing, an tSruith Jacob said, “There is no doubt that Temple of the River has attracted a large, diverse crowd of people who enjoyed our programs and ceremonies. If you measured success only in numbers, we’d be the most successful Celtic polytheist organization out there. But I’ve never been comfortable measuring success that way.” He says a better measure of success is to look at the spiritual good that a community does. “We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the [spiritual] impact I want to see it make.”
an tSrith Jacob says that he has witnessed a shift in peoples’ spiritual needs over the past 10 years. A shift away from needing accurate historical religious information and a place for community to meet and a shift towards empowering individuals to make changes in their lives. He says that the structure and traditions of his group does not meet those changing needs, “I continue to find these traditions beautiful, but they’re not fostering the kind of powerful personal transformations that I expect spirituality to provide. If they’re not helping people transform their lives, then they’re not earning their keep.”
A lack of improving enough lives and changing spiritual needs are the reasons Jacob gave for Temple of the River disbanding as a spiritual community and closing the Temple doors.
Erica Scanlon Schopper, found an tSrith Jacob while looking for someone to perform the marriage ceremony for her and her fiance. She then started attending Temple events and the meditations. She feels the Temple of the River had a positive impact in her life, ” I am meeting more and more people who are looking for different spiritual avenues to follow and though we may be in the minority I feel that the group’s structure is able to work in modern times. Drew and others at the Temple have provided me with many stories and Old Belief history and practices to assist me with my private spiritual time.” Ms. Scanlon Schopper hopes that a new Celtic spiritual group will form in the Twin Cities similar to Temple of the River.
The Irish Cottage Temple closes its doors at the end of June and is available for rent. Ms. Scanlon Schopper says she was surprised by the news and sad to hear the temple is closing its doors, “but I have hope that the cottage will continue to serve as a gathering place, no matter what the gatherings may be.” The current owner believes the temple may be rented out as an art studio or for another spiritual group to use. Jacob was the former owner of the land the Irish Cottage Temple sits on, but he sold the property in January of 2011 and presently lives at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Minneapolis.
The last event held at the Irish Cottage Temple is a costumed midsummer celebration, The Final Goodnight, on Midsummer Eve – Monday, June 20. Jacob says details will be announced soon. The final Meditation For All session will be Tuesday, June 14.
Jacob says he is now focused on what he calls a “a new spirituality for the 21st century,” the Heroic Life. To read the full interview with an tSrith Jacob and the Press Release, click the ‘read more’ link.
START OF INTERVIEW
PNC-Minnesota: You announced that Temple of the River is disbanding as a religious community. Can you tell me why?
Jacob: To put it simply, it’s not helping enough people change their lives. We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the impact I want to see it make. As a priest, I’ve witnessed a significant shift in people’s spiritual needs. The needs that Temple of the River was designed to fulfill—a place for community, and accurate knowledge about historic practices—simply aren’t as badly needed now as they were ten years ago.
Instead I see people searching for a way to take charge of their lives. That has to be the priority, because the world is changing, and people feel lost, or stuck. The economy, technology and culture are all shifting. 20th century strategies for life don’t work well anymore, so there are a lot of people out there who aren’t happy with their lives. What I want to teach people is how to change that. How to live boldly and lead a life of victory. I want to empower people.
PNC-Minnesota: You want to go in a new direction and empower people, but can’t the group continue with a different priest? Is there no one who could take on your role for the group?
Jacob: That’s really not the issue. I could continue to lead the temple as its priest. The Temple is closing because it is not improving enough lives.
PNC-Minnesota: A little more than a week ago, on your blog Rogue Priest, you talked about the success of your spiritual community: “In less than six months we shifted from a small clique-like organization with no public presence to a bustling, dynamic community. … It was because of this surge of enthusiasm and interest—from a primarily non-Pagan crowd—that we were able to finally realize a dream of seeing ancient Irish religion alive and practiced as closely as possible to its original form.” How do you reconcile that statement discussing the success of your group with your announcement that the group is disbanding and the temple doors closing?
Jacob: Temple of the River has been a huge success. In context, that statement was a reflection on growth that we saw three years ago and have sustained ever since. There is no doubt that Temple of the River has attracted a large, diverse crowd of people who enjoyed our programs and ceremonies. If you measured success only in numbers, we’d be the most successful Celtic polytheist organization out there.
But I’ve never been comfortable measuring success that way. When we were small, and people asked “how many members do you have?” I would always say the same thing: number of bodies is not a gauge of spiritual progress. It’s just as true now that we’re large.
I look squarely at the spiritual good that we do. I want to see a temple help people reach for their dreams, help them find the bravery to change their own situation. Affecting one person in a way that will give them lifelong inspiration or convince them to find their purpose is far more important than getting 45 people to chant at your ceremony. Ceremonies are beautiful but only if they are tools of change.
PNC-Minnesota: In a discussion, you said that you wondered if “Something so rooted in the past could have relevance in the modern world?” and you concluded it wasn’t or soon wouldn’t be relevant. Could you explain that a bit more?
Jacob: I wouldn’t go that far. I know that many people continue to gain strength from tradition, and that’s great. But I also see that reproducing ancient patterns is no guarantee of producing timeless wisdom. One of my favorite quotes is from a Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.”
That means following the ideals, but not necessarily the whole system. The Celtic ideals include virtues like bravery, endurance, and total honesty. If you follow those heroic ideals they will take you on an incredible journey. You can seek what the druids sought, what the Celtic warriors sought, and find immense spiritual treasure. Focusing on that journey creates action and personal growth.
PNC-Minnesota: Let’s talk about the Old Belief Society. The Old Belief is a religion as close to Iron Age Irish polytheism as possible. Are there other groups actively practicing this religion? If so, where?
Jacob: We’re a part of the Old Belief Society. The Society was designed to be an umbrella organization and found additional temples beyond ours, but Temple of the River was the first and to date the only.
There are many other groups that place emphasis on historical authenticity, but the Old Belief Society has a unique focus on using Celtic social customs to understand Celtic spirituality. For example I’ve never seen another group use the ardartha, the old Irish gesture of respect, to their shrine or altar. I’ve never seen another group use historically accurate ceremonial uniforms, or, most importantly, the altrama method of apprenticeship used by the druidic poets. These things gave Temple of the River an emphasis not just on spirituality, but on acculturation.
I continue to find these traditions beautiful, but they’re not fostering the kind of powerful personal transformations that I expect spirituality to provide. If they’re not helping people transform their lives, then they’re not earning their keep.
PNC-Minnesota: Explain a bit about what the Old Belief apprentice program is like and what you went through to become a priest.
Jacob: The apprenticeship program, or altrama, is based on a close relationship between teacher and student. The two must develop an incredible level of trust for one another. This trust grows organically over years of practicing together, and when it develops, it’s powerful. It’s this close trust that allows the teacher to guide the students through incredibly difficult practices, like retreats into the wilderness, fasting practices, or very challenging meditations.
To become a priest requires a three week fast that leads up to an initiation ceremony. Spiritual practices are performed throughout the fast, and only very experienced students are even allowed to undertake it. There are years of practices that lead up to that ceremony.
I’ve undergone that full three week fast many times. I did it once for my own initiation and have done it each time I’ve offered a student initiation as well. It is a beautiful, powerful practice with unique benefits that don’t occur with shorter fasts. Getting someone ready to safely, confidently undertake such rigorous spiritual practices is the reason altrama requires that close relationship and trust.
This kind of practice speaks to me because it is an opportunity for the practitioner to push their limits, which is always a life-changing experience. Helping individuals push their limits is my biggest interest, and a temple is not the best structure for that.
PNC-Minnesota: How did that program affect you on a personal and spiritual level?
Jacob: I have trained with teachers from several spiritual traditions, but my first taste of full-on apprenticeship was actually in traditional Japanese martial arts. As a student I learned that I had to trust my teacher immediately, without argument or explanation. Only when I had that level of trust could I be taught difficult or dangerous techniques. That experience took me apart and built me back up again. Years of disciplined training gave me incredible skills.
As one of the founders of Old Belief Society, I never had the good fortune to be apprenticed to a druidic priest. When I started out, no one in Celtic religion did that. I was one of the people who reconstructed altrama. It turns out that the teacher-student relationship in ancient Ireland was very similar to that in apprenticeship systems in other cultures, and we decided to take that mighty tool and use it as the basis of training druids, just as it was in the old times.
However, this is not the old times, and while the Temple’s public programs have grown at an amazing rate, its apprenticeship program has always stayed small. Last year I stopped taking new apprentices altogether. This kind of apprenticeship just doesn’t speak to most 21st century Americans.
PNC-Minnesota: You’ve said that you think this type of apprenticeship will die out as modern people are no longer willing to see this as relevant or as a priority – why?
Jacob: I don’t think it will ever completely die out, but the desire today is for collaborative learning between equals. Less and less people want a guru. It’s fair to question the value of a strict teacher-student relationship when you can compare it to an open, friendly mentorship. There will always be people like me who love getting their butt kicked by the full old-world experience, but most people don’t seek that out.
PNC-Minnesota: I don’t understand what you mean when you talk about shifting the focus to a more individual approach vs what many religions do presently – could you clarify that?
Jacob: Definitely. Let me put it this way: Many people go to churches or temples to medicate. If there is something wrong in their lives, they want a sense of comfort or reassurance that everything is OK.
Everything is not OK. If your life isn’t meaningful, your spirituality should help you change it. Until you make a change in your situation, things won’t get better.Doing that requires the individual to seek out a different way of living and then take radical action to re-orient their life around that. That is an empowered individual who will accomplish great things and feel fulfilled. That is what spirituality should do: empower the individual. But that takes a lot of work. It’s easier to just reassure people, and that is what most churches and temples do.
PNC-Minnesota: Polytheists and Pagans around the world celebrated the opening of the Irish Cottage Temple. Now that the group is disbanding and the Temple doors closing, what will happen to the physical structure?
Jacob: The Irish Cottage building is on privately owned land. I’ve spoken the landowner about how she would use it if the Temple is not there, and she had indicated that she would consider renting it out as art studio space or for another spiritual group to use. This is an excellent opportunity for a polytheist or Pagan organization to step in if they so desire. It’s a beautiful space with a lot of history and it immediately changes the mood of a ceremony.
PNC-Minnesota: I’ve heard you talk about the Heroic Life and how that is now your religion. You’ve said it is not about reviving an older religion so what is it?
Jacob: The Heroic Life is a new spirituality for the 21st century. It’s based on bravery and adventure, because when you’re adventuring—when you push yourself absolutely to the edge of your limits—that is when the most growth occurs. That is the spiritual moment.
PNC-Minnesota: You’re on the Heroic Life – what can we expect next from Drew Jacob?
Jacob: The Heroic Life is my experiment right now, and I’m testing it on myself before I teach it to others. That means I need to live it 100%. So get ready to see some big adventures in the near future!
END OF INTERVIEW
As Drumclí of Temple of the River, with the full support of my students and the governing Council of the Old Belief Society, I am announcing the closing of Temple of the River.
For seven years our Temple and community have done important, groundbreaking work. Together we proved that an old-style traditional apprenticeship, like that used by ancient druids, is possible in the
modern day. We taught meditation to an uncountable number of people, and guided many more in meeting, honouring and understanding the oldest gods of Ireland. We made national headlines and inspired polytheists around the country to work to build real temples to serve their communities.
I believe I speak for all of our members when I say that involvement in Temple of the River has been a privilege and an honour.
However, as a priest I see that the needs of spiritual seekers in the 21st century are changing. People everywhere work jobs they hate, lose touch with their dreams, and feel deep in their souls that something is not right.
The Celtic answer to that is to break free. The highest teaching is to charge forward, be bold and live life with a sense of glory. The structure and format of Temple of the River does not support this, and that means it’s not doing the maximum good in the community My students have worked tirelessly, but ultimately the Temple doesn’t have the resources to radically restructure. As such Temple of the River is not fulfilling its role of empowering people to change their lives. We would much rather see it close its doors at the highest point of its history, than presentanything but the greatest, highest-impact experience to spiritual seekers.
As always, the spiritual quest continues. I’m throwing my effort toward a new spiritual path, the Heroic Life. The heroic life focuses on living gloriously, challenging yourself to the very edge, and making a profound difference in the world. Those who would like to see this path unfold can join the adventure
All of us wish to recognize the great level of enthusiasm, support and friendship that we have had from our community members and numerous other organizations. On behalf of the Temple I want to extend the deepest thanks to our donors and to everyone who has attended our ceremonies, volunteered their time, given offerings, and helped carry on the sacred Celtic traditions. I especially want to thank Tim Printup (Tadhg), for his relentless and often exhausting work administering the Temple over the past year; and Kassy Gruszkowski (Fearg), for her inspiring leadership of the governing Council through many projects, challenges, and changes. My heart swells with affection for everyone who has helped make our Temple a reality.
In recognition of all of you, Temple of the River will hold one last very special event. Please join us for a costumed midsummer celebration, The Final Goodnight, on Midsummer Eve (Monday, June 20). Details will be announced soon. The final Meditation For All session will be Tuesday, June 14.
END OF PRESS RELEASE