Public Statues, Pagan Shrines
August 4, 2010 6 Comments
On our way home from Iowa City’s annual Lammasfest, Ruby Sara and I (along with RS’s intrepid spouse) stopped by the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site to do something pretty unexpected: We paid a visit to a Goddess.
You see, nestled inconspicuously amid the park’s weeping willows and replica buildings there is an amazing statue of Isis. As you can see in the image above, Isis is enthroned atop zodiacal symbols, holds a brazier, and is eerily veiled. We had all had a long day, so we didn’t stay long; but, RS left a coin at the Goddess’s feet and we took a moment to say hello.
This little excursion of ours got me thinking: Why don’t I see pagans leaving offerings at public statues? Wouldn’t that make sense? The concept even tickles the anarchist in me, a sort of popular reclaiming of urban spaces – religious squatting, perhaps. Time and again I hear pagans complain about having no worship spaces (“We need a temple, but we’ll never have the money!” is a common trope), and now I look around and see a city full of shrines just waiting to be used!
The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Semites all revered statues in one way or another, and I say that we can, too.
Interestingly, statues in the ancient world often changed usage: Though a given statue might be used by one people as the image of a specific deity, it might be appropriated by newcomers and used as a generic apotropaic image. Or, a rather unremarkable statue (one left long ago in a deserted city, perhaps) might be taken up as the image of (or very body of) a specific God. Sometimes, a statue of a given God could be taken to represent an entirely different figure by a new population. The re-use (or hijacking) of statues is as old as urbanism!
Did you know that outside the Chicago Board of Trade building there are two statues, one of “Industry,” the other of “Agriculture“? Why not leave a few coins at the feet of either of these two Goddesses? I’m talking about making each of these statues into a shrine, a place where the passerby might send up a prayer to Ceres for prosperity, or leave a chunk of bread for one of Hephaestus’s daughters (and the homeless, perhaps). I’m talking about creating a living urban polytheism, right here in Chicago (or any other big city), based on existing sites.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every statue in the city needs to become a cultic site, but some could. And remember: It doesn’t always have to matter why the statue was put there in the first place, or what it’s called now. For example, I happen to think that the so-called “Goethe monument” in Chicago would make a pretty good shrine to Apollo – What do you think?
Nor do the new shrines need to be “pagan” at all: Going off of what I was discussing in The People’s Saints, why don’t all the city’s thesbians go out and leave offerings at Shakespeare’s feet?
I realize that this isn’t necessarily everyone’s bag, but I’m curious if anyone has thought of the same thing. Do you leave offerings at any public statues? Do you think pagans could start doing this more often, and more visibly?
((On an unrelated note: You’ll notice that the website’s appearance is changing! Please forgive any terrible layout issues that might come about over the next week or so while I try things out! Thanks!))