Overcoming Destination Addiction Guideline #2: Visit a place of worship
It’s a widely known fact that the first step in addiction recovery is admitting it. What is not so widely known is that the second step is recognizing that a higher power can restore sanity. While Alcoholic Anonymous intended for this step to have a Christian context by praying to God for strength and will power, travel addicts can apply this concept to overcome destination addiction by exploring cultures right in their current city through religion. Religion is a great way to gain a deeper look into the beliefs and customs of a group of people and can serve as a gateway for cultural immersion. Based on this second step in addiction recovery, I developed the second guideline for ways to cope with destination addiction which is to visit a place of worship.
It’s estimated that there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. And for those cities with a population similar or greater than Jacksonville, which totals over 800,000 people, there is bound to be a smorgasbord of ethnic identities, each with their own traditions and belief systems. Therefore, religious organizations and places of worship are a great place to start exploring cultural diversification in your current city in order to feed your gypsy soul with the culture it craves.
In the past few weeks I have explored four different religions by attending a Mosque, a Buddhist Center, and a Hindu Temple as well as participating in a Pagan ritual.
Visit a Mosque
The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida hosts a wonderful program “Explore Islam with your Muslim Neighbors” the first Saturday of every month from 6PM-8PM. The purpose of this event is to open up the Mosque to the public to provide an educational opportunity to learn more about the religion with the intention of discarding any negative stereotypes about Islam and to promote cultural acceptance. The evening starts off with a tour of the Mosque and an observance of a call to prayer followed by an ethnic dinner and a classroom session to learn about the basics of Islam. The best part, everything is free! I highly recommend checking this out as its hands down one of the best cultural experiences I’ve had in Jacksonville.
Visit a Buddhist Center
The Maitreya Kadampa Buddhist Center in Atlantic beach is located in a small shopping center off Sailfish Drive and offers meditation classes and modern Buddhist teachings. The temple features a traditional shrine, seating up to 50 people and a bookstore and reception area where you can enjoy tea and discussion after class. Classes are held Sundays 10AM-11:15AM and Mondays 6:45PM – 8:15PM. These classes are meant for everyone, Buddhist or not, as they teach modern Buddhist methodology for being mindful, peaceful and living in the present moment which can be applied to your daily life, regardless of your personal beliefs. They also hold special events on Saturdays throughout the month. On February 6th I attended their mala making worship and learned how to make traditional Buddhist prayer beads. Check out their website for upcoming events.
Visit a Hindu Temple
The Hindu Society of Northeast Florida (HSNEF) is a Hindu Temple located on Greenland Road in the Southside of Jacksonville. This temple serves as a place of worship for Hindu devotees in the Greater Jacksonville area and aims to be the spiritual and cultural center for anyone interested in the Hindu tradition as it’s open to the public. The temple is open daily for worship and hosts weekly as well as special events. This temple also happens to be one of the best hidden cultural gems of Northeast Florida. I recently visited for the first time to attend Maha Shivaratri, an annual Hindu festival to celebrate the deity Shiva. While most Hindu festivals are celebrated during the day, this festival is celebrated through a night long worship as it is believed that Shiva saved the world from darkness and ignorance. This festival was held from 6pm-1am. I, however, arrived at 6pm and threw in the towel around 7:30 but none the less, an hour and a half was all I needed for a complete cultural immersion.
Upon arriving to the temple, I was met by a steady stream of devotees, all decked out in colorful saris, feeding into the temple, pausing only for a few minutes to remove their shoes and leave them at the door. Once inside, where there was enough incense burning to choke a horse, I joined the rest of the worshippers on the giant floor mat who sat cross-legged facing the main alter. For the next hour and a half, I became a witness to one of the oldest traditions in the world. Newcomers continued to pile into in the temple, paying their respects by walking around to the various alters in the room before taking a seat. The Archaka (Hindu Priest) dressed in a traditional robe sang ancient mantras while adorning an egg shaped shrine in milk and honey. If I closed my eyes, I could easily imagine myself sitting along the bank of the Ganges River. If India is a destination at the top of your list, I highly recommend checking out this temple to get a taste of India right here in Jacksonville. For more info on events at the Hindu Society of Northeast Florida, check out their website.
Participate in a Pagan Ritual
Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed but are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and derive insight from all major world religions. The beliefs of individual Unitarian Universalist range widely including atheism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Paganism.
Therefore, The Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church located in Orange Park is home to CUUPS, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. The purpose of this group is to provide a community and safe place for Jacksonville area Pagans to meet, socialize and learn from each other. The members of CUUPS come from all paths of Paganism, including Wicca. Wicca, also termed Pagan Witchcraft, is a contemporary new religious movement that draws upon a diverse set of ancient European tribal religions for its theological structure. Wicca tends to focus on the worship of a goddess and a god and often involves the ritual of magic. There are several denominations or “traditions” of Wicca.
On February 3rd, I attended a Correllian Wicca ritual to celebrate Imbolc, the Celtic Pagan festival marking the beginning of Spring and to honor Brigid, the goddess of the hearth from pre-Christian Ireland. In Wicca, Imbolc is sometimes seen as a “women’s holiday” with specific rites only for female members of the coven.
So what does a Pagan ritual look like anyway?
I had no idea of what to expect upon going to my first Pagan ritual but I knew better than to assume that it was going to be a group of women wearing black pointy hats circled around a bubbling cauldron. However, I must admit that my inner child was little disappointed that I was right. Upon arriving to the Unitarian Universalist Church, which looked like any other modern day Christian church, I was directed by a church staff member down a narrow hallway and told to enter the last door on the left, which was where I would find the other ritual participants. It was a small room with loud purple walls and in the center, a small alter with candles, an image of the goddess Brigid, a white rose in a vase, a plate filled with tiny squares of pound cake and a St. Brigid’s Cross, a small woven cross with four arms tied at the ends with a woven square in the middle. The women waiting in the room, about ten in total, all looked surprisingly normal. There were two high school aged girls and several middle-aged motherly types with a few young trendy hipsters mixed in.
It was time for the ritual to start. In walked the high priestess of the 3rd degree (the highest level in Wicca), a special guest from another temple who came to conduct the ritual. I was naively expecting an elderly woman with long white hair and flowing robe to effortlessly glide into the room exuding years of wisdom (I was basically waiting for Magi, the wise fairy from the kid’s cartoon movie FernGully). Instead, the high priestess just looked like your typical middle-aged soccer mom with a floral print spring dress and a short blonde bob haircut.
Once she came in, we were all directed to leave the room and wait in the hall so that the room could be cleansed. One of the younger girls took a broom (the only witch paraphernalia I saw) and metaphorically swept away the bad energy from the room. The rest of us were lined up in the hallway and re-entered one at a time after being anointed with a drop of oil on our foreheads and sprayed with a sage scented fragrance (traditionally you burn sage but these are modern witches). After the last person re-entered, we formed a circle and passed around the white rose from the alter and repeated “may love be your blessing” with each pass to signify the closing of our purified circle.
The next step was to invoke the guardians of the spheres in which we were all given a speaking a part (which were conveniently already typed up and printed onto tiny strips of paper). I was given the part of north.
“O, Earth, I call to the Northern Tower. Protect us with your strength and power. As your seedlings sprout, we see and know how our new plans must form and grow. Guardian of the Northern sphere we now seek your presence here. Come, North, come! Be here this night!”
Then packets of seeds were passed out (some vegetables and some flowers) to represent spring and a time of growth and plenty. We were then instructed to hold the seeds with our receiving hand (the hand you do not write with) and hover your other hand above the seeds as to direct all of your energy to the seeds to help them grow. Once all of our energy was transferred we feasted! (on dixie cups of orange juice and homemade pound cake that the priestess made herself) After that, the priestess said her closing words and the white rose was passed around again to signify the reopening of the circle. Afterwards, all the women sat around chit chatting, discussing their children’s play dates and the church’s upcoming bake sale.
The weirdest part of the whole experience was that it actually wasn’t all that weird. I highly recommend that everyone check out this organization to dispel any negative misconceptions about Paganism and Wicca and experience this nature-loving theology that celebrates feminine power for the peaceful religion is truly is.